Archive for the ‘J-drama’ Category

Gokusen The Movie – The perfect end to a great series!!!


I have finally gotten round to watching the Gokusen Movie and it was brilliant. I have been a fan of the J drama ever since the first season and I can say the movie doesn’t disappoint. All the aspects that made the TV series are there, it has everything a Gokusen fan would want from a film. The plot of the original series involves Kumiko Yamaguchi, the granddaughter of a Yakuza boss, Kuroda of the Kuroda Ikka. Her parents died when she was younger, and her grandfather has no other descendants, so Kumiko is next in line to head the family business with the title of Ojou. However, her lifelong dream has been to become a teacher. While her grandfather approves of her choice, others in the family want her to become the next boss. Kumiko (known by her students as “Yankumi”) becomes a teacher at an all-boys private high school. Her class is full of delinquents, but she tries her hardest to teach them not just about academics (her subject is Mathematics), but about lessons of life, much like any “dedicated teacher” story. Though she’s forced to keep her family a secret from the public, her Yakuza upbringing gives her the strength and the experience to reach out to her students, while also providing comedic relief. Each series she get through to the hearts of her students and stands up for them in turn helping them stand up for each other and showing they are more than the delinquents everyone believes them to be and that they are in fact good kids that eventually end up doing the right thing and making the right decisions. As each series ends her class manage to graduate (although there is always a big threat that nearly prevents them from doing so and a big fight that Kumiko has to save her students from) and Yumiko goes to find another teaching jobs. Each new series finds Kumiko again becoming the teacher of a delinquent class 3D.
While it’s not a good idea to watch all three series back to back as they pretty much follow the exact same pattern of new class the student don’t respect or listen to Yumiko, students get into fights, Yumiko saves them eventually they except her, students are framed, Yumiko the only one that trusts them, Yumiko proves her students innocence, students find out she’s Yakuza then there’s a big treat but students manage to graduate and go onto the next stage of their lives. Each series has its own set of 3D students and theirs problems but you’re guaranteed to hear these same lines each episode “I’m their homeroom teacher” and “give me back my precious students”. So if you watch it all in one go it ends up repetitive but apart from that I love this show. I love the teacher that comes in and helps the problems students, much like Rookies and Taiyo to Umi. The other great aspect of Gokusen is each season has its own hotness factor as well as plenty of eye candy. Series 1 had a great class and in particular the gorgeous Oguri Shun, series 2 had the KAT-TUN boys of Akanishi and Kamenashi me being a big Kame fan and series 3 the beautiful Haruma Miura.
So onto the movie, Yumiko is still working in the same school as the last season though her students have graduated she is now the homeroom teacher of a new set of 3D delinquents. The first part of the movie concentrates on her gaining the respect of her new students and teaching them the meaning of true friendship. Into the mix is thrown a new trainee teacher to shadow her who is none other than Odigiri Ryo one of her students from series 2.
The second part of the film concentrates on one of her ex students from series 3 (Kazuma Ren who is now working) accidently gets caught up in a drug charge. Even though he isn’t her student anymore Yumiko feels responsible and herself and the rest of the series 3 3D students try to find a way to help him and discover a corrupt businessman trying to get into politics but secretly running a drug ring. Everything leads to a big confrontation and a fight and of course a big speech by Yumiko that is aired on national TV since she interrupts said politician’s very public conference. So while the movie follows many of the motifs of the series and you get the “I’m there homeroom teacher” line the film does take it to the next level by upping the danger factor and giving it a much more serious threat than that of biker gangs.
The movie has all the humour of the series plus all the heart. It is just so much fun and the best bit is that it cameos characters from all 3 series. By the end of the film so many of Yumiko’s ex-students have seen her on TV they feel its right to make sure they come see her and let Yumiko know who much she helped and inspired them. As someone who has done teaching as a career there is nothing better than knowing you made a difference in your students live and just how important understanding and helping your students are. I loved seeing what had become of characters I had seen over the years and they couldn’t have done it better. So I highly recommend both the drama and the movie.

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Koshonin (The Negotiator) – One strong woman making her name in the male dominated world of the police’s Special Investigation Team.


Koshonin is an absolutely brilliant drama that is quite different from what I normally watch. I was drawn to it because I knew the very attractive and wonderful Shirota Yu was in it but I didn’t expect to enjoy this series so much. I’m not really into police dramas and I shy away from female lead drama’s because I never feel I can relate to the female characters or that they are too stereotyped for me. But Koshonin is different our female lead played wonderfully by Yonekura Ryoko as the female negotiator Usagi Reiko. Usagi is cold and determined not asking to be treated as a woman she wants to be treated equally and seen for how good an officer she is rather than her gender. The team don’t treat her with respect, she’s left out of decisions and missions, made a scapegoat and ignored and yet she soldiers on proving she has both the intelligence and durability for the job. Usagi also carry’s a secret past, her father (who was also a police officer) was killed and while the killer was jailed there are some facts that don’t math up and Usagi is determined to find the truth behind that fateful day. The killer himself was only 19 when the crime was committed and was part of a violent gang that went too far, called a child monster he was labelled a serial killer and placed in jail. Our killer is called Mariya Kyosuke and is played wonderfully by Shirota Yu. This shows us just how great an actor Shirota Yu is, his character is obviously suffering for some amount of mental instability, he is intelligent and calculating but at the same time unable to comprehend what he has done. Usagi visits him regularly trying to find what his motive for killing her father was but also they seem to have a bizarre relationship occurring. He offers insight into the mind of the criminals Usagi is trying to catch, he threatens to kill himself if she doesn’t visit and she says suicide would be too kind for him but at the same time seems to care about his safety. By the end of the series we learn so much about these two characters and their strange relationship, Mariya is a far more tragic character, he respects Usagi and Usagi understand this even sympathising with him.


Usagi herself is an excellent negotiator, she was top of her class and aced all the tests and challenges placed in front of her to get to this position and she proves herself in the field. She uses her words and confidence to negotiate and understand the hidden tragedy behind why the criminals kidnap or hold hostages. She begins to cement herself better with the team as they begin to understand that she is as good on paper as well as in real life, she knows how to talk to criminals and she has a clever and calculating mind. In fact she understands the criminals more than she does her workmates and seems to have a much better relationship with a deranged imprisoned murderer than any other human. She doesn’t form bonds as easily and she too has to learn how to relate and get along with regular people. This makes for an interesting drama, she may be female but she lacks feminine charms, she is beautiful but in a stern and imposing way. She doesn’t connect emotionally, she is driven with the desire to understand and to reveal the truth and overcome her personal demons.

The show has some great set pieces, kidnapping, hostage situations and bombs, it also has its conspiracies and the fact there is something wrong going on in this police system. Something isn’t right; there is corruption, the police like to make an example out of Usagi rather than allow for their underhanded tactics to be exposed. Episodes end on cliff hangers making you desperate to know what’s going to happen next. You respect Usagi’s determination and fear for her and the situations she places herself in. You want to fully understand the relationship between her and Mariya, the connection and understanding that runs between them. The music is also very good building the tension of the scenes and the genuine sense of dread. It is not a flashy series again like many of the things I love it’s about the characters their drama and struggles amplified by the danger of their jobs. Most of the characters are not in complete control of their own lives, they have their own issues and problems unable to help them selves and yet some how being responsible for the lives of others. It seems easier to save a strangers life than it does to face your own life. Many characters are excellent at their jobs but their personal lives are far messier. I like the dualities in this drama, having a strong empowered women being the central character while you have other characters like the emotional and less empowered new male recruit. This drama plays not only with gender roles but roles within society and also who is more dangerous the criminal or the people that forced him into his crime. Do we trust a corrupted police system or a mad and abused boy? I love this series and am very much looking forward to seeing the second series and watching the mysteries, dualities and conspiracies play out.

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Yasha – A tale of friendship, companionship and evil ambition


Based on a Shonen ai manga by Yoshida Akimi this J Drama is a beautiful and haunting tale of separation and companionship under the threat of ambition and jealousy and misunderstanding. It tells the tale of twin boys created in the lab to be perfection, strong and smart the ultimate humans. But this is also a story of how they are separated and the two very different paths they take. One of the brothers, Sei, grew up to be an elite bio-chemistry scientist in America. He was assigned to a project where he has to travel to a small island in Japan to investigate an unidentified virus that is spreading on the island. By a freak of nature, he found out that he has a twin brother, Rin, whose evil, dark personality is entirely opposite of him. But there is more to this tale Sei wasn’t always part of the bio-chemistry company no he was rescued at a young age by a women who was a scientist that developed a motherly bond for him and decided to take him away to raise him as her own. He grew up in a remote village and formed a bond with another local boy, the blind Moichi. The two were best friends, inseparable and even having their own secret codes to communicate with each other using a dog whistle. But happiness didn’t last long and the company found Sei, killing his mother, threatening Moichi and eventually bringing him back with them where he grew up to become an elite scientist for the company.

Years later Sei returns to Japan to help find a cure for a deadly virus that has been released into a small island. The entire Islands population has been killed and there is fear that this virus will spread to main land Japan. Sei comes to work on the virus; aloof and cold he is distant from the other scientists and acts with an air of superiority. Through a twist of fate he happens to be working at the same research facility that Moichi is helping with some tests on enhanced hearing in blind patients. Sei and Moichi are reunited and the obvious bond and friendship is still there between them. Sei shows real emotions only when concerned to Moichi and wishes nothing more to spend his life with him. Being based on a shonen ai manga (boys love) it is obvious that there’s more to this relationship than just friend ship, it implies a much deeper bond between them and you see real love between these boys. The care about each other and through out the series are willing to risk themselves for each other wishing nothing more than to live a normal life together. All this happiness and normality is ruined by the introduction of Sei’s long lost twin brother who doesn’t share Sei’s moral grounding and sanity. He is jealous of this friendship he wants his brother to join him and use their intellect for much bigger things. Rin seems nice enough to start with but he proves that he is far more calculating and manipulative than his brother; he plays mind games as well as toying with the feeling of those around him. He manipulates his girlfriend to carry out a lot of his dirty work and he has a sexual relationship behind her back with his bodyguard and childhood friend Takeru. Though this too in its own twisted way seems to have more to it, he does seem to have genuine feelings for his friend even though they share their bed with others as well.


It soon becomes apparent that it was Rin that created this virus; the island was a test to see how well it worked before releasing it in Japan. His goal to destroy the population of Japan and then using his own anti virus choose who lives and dies rebuilding Japanese society as he sees fit. He is quite evil and shows very little compassion towards anyone other than his Friend/lover/bodyguard Takeru. There are twists and turns along they way, politics about the state of modern Japan, conspiracy’s between the government and the bio-tech firms, manipulation from powerful families with invested interests and these two brothers stuck in the middle of it. Their different up bringing having shaped the people they became and the decisions they made. There is also a fair amount of tragedy. From the tone of the story you know from the beginning that this is going to have a tragic ending it’s all very Shakespearian and I knew I was in for tears. Do watch this drama with a box of tissues nearby especially for episode 8. But saying that you know there isn’t going to be a happy ending, the ending itself is perfect for the story it’s the only logical way it could have played out. By the end the Brothers have taken away so much from each other yet have started to understand each other they know what they need and what they want from each other and maybe in death only then can they find the peace they never found in life. After all they have lost all they love and care for in life, they were never meant to have been in the first place, created by science for the ambition of men with power, no chance of a normal life and they’ve hurt each other to much too really forgive each other. There own genetic mutation is failing them its only a choice of who will live out who, which twin will see his final sunset, which twin will give the other what he wants while the other waits for his unavoidable fate. It tragic and sad but sometimes a sad ending is really the only good choice.

The series is filmed with a lot of soft lighting and sombre moods; it has a gentle tone until things become more dangerous and frantic. Also noth the parts of Rin and Sei are brilliantly acted by Ito Hideaki. A note of interest is the use of Stings Desert Rose as the opening theme as well as using an instrumental reprise version of the song through out the series. The heart of the series lies in the relationship between Sei and Moichi, the love and understanding they share and how they complete each other. Even Rin and Takeru share a relationship similar but too twisted by their more brutal upbringing they can not love and share on the same level their ideas of love and companionship have been poisoned. The series is quite stylised even with the obvious fact that the brothers have superpowers and are inhumanly strong, they can achieve great feats but this is understated and not over done. I for one as a slash fan enjoyed this series immensely but also because of its more subtle and delicate approach. It was as much about the relationships between the characters and the human drama as it was about looking cool and have superhuman fighting and playing cat and mouse games. I recommend this little gem of a drama, well worth a watch.

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Majo Saiban – A witch trial filled with twists and turns.

I started watching this drama because I’m a fan of Ikuta Toma, he’s not one of my major J idol loves but I enjoyed him so much in Hana Kimi that I thought I would check out some of his other dramas. Also the fact that this drama was called the Witch Trial drew me in as I love my supernatural television. What I found was a different drama to what I had expected. Think Runaway Jury but Japanese. This drama focuses on a new system for judging criminals that was introduced this year in Japan. This is the first drama to tackle the issue of Japan’s new “Saiban-in” (lay judge) system. The series started about a month before the actual jury system went into effect. In trial you have the three main judges that preside over the trial in court but to help them make the final choice of “guilty” or “not guilty” 6 lay judges and 2 reserves are brought in to help make the final decision. The lay judges sit in the court much like our jury system and based on the evidence in the trial must cast a vote, the votes are counted up and the winning number of votes by lay judges and main judges will decide the final verdict. The lay judges like our jury are people picked at random from our society and must vote based on what they have heard in court not their personal opinions or opinions clouded by what the public and media are saying.


This Drama is about a certain high profile case about a women who has killed her husband, because she was younger than him most seem to think it’s a simple case of trying to get the inheritance but the pieces are not fitting together well and because of her demeanour and strange events surrounding the case she has been dubbed “The Witch” and thus this case is known as The Witch Trial. Here enters our lay judges one of which is played by Ikuta Toma, Touru. He doesn’t really care about social issues see’s this as a bit of fun maybe some publicity for him and his t-shirt range “think twice” (by the end of the series you’ll also want one of his Think Twice T-shirts).


But this soon all changes as it becomes apparent there is more to the trial and things are going on in the background. The truth of the matter is someone is trying to fix the trial and that each of the lay judges in turn is getting threatened to make sure their vote is the same as the mysterious Kurokawa’s. Kurokawa is using every underhanded tactic to bully, threaten and manipulate the lay judges to do what he says and vote what he says they should vote (Kurokawa also happens to look really cool and has a lot of style one of those bad guys you just love). Our hero of the piece Touru discovers this and tries his best to help his fellow judges stand up to the black mail and get an honest vote. All is not helped by the fact that the Witch herself may be also manipulating things; she is very good with words and reading people and is playing a more psychological battle.

This series is one that has as many twists and turns as a roller coaster really. Characters change their votes and alliances each episode you never know who is working for who and right to the end you are not sure of the final outcome. I was so certain at one point but by the end there was only one character who could tell me if she was guilty or not. I do enjoy a good thriller after expecting a supernatural drama I was a little disappointed but soon got caught up in the drama of this cat and mouse who did it story. The characters all have their failings, which is why they can be manipulated, but they also have reasons to be praised. You never really know who has the upper hand and who is really in control you have to watch to find out the truth. The characters get so twisted you don’t have time to feel relief for them because someone behind the scene is ready for the next game and when things look up they soon crash down. I enjoyed this series because it was different to many things I’ve seen before as well as being relevant to contemporary social issues in Japan such as their changed court procedure. It’s interesting to see how characters crack under their own pressure, how easily manipulated people can be and how people can hold on to what they truly believe. It’s an interesting journey to see how people react and what people find most important. I loved the fact that through this drama you ask whether the name comes from the fact the woman on trial is manipulating people, are they under her so called spell or is it called a witch trial because she is being used as a scapegoat, if she gets burned it means someone else gets away with murder. After all the true meaning behind the Salem witch trials was to sacrifice women thought of as witches to keep everyone thinking they were safe and cared for, the authorities had to look like they were doing their job and tackling the issues. So its up to you really to see what you think of the trial and who is in control.

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Taiyo to Umi no Kyoshitsu – a drama about finding your lost childhood and innocence

Taiyo to Umi is the kind of drama I always love to watch, a drama that deals with the problems of youth culture in modern Japan. It is one of those triumphs over adversity dramas where a new teacher comes in and changes the live of their students. Our teacher is Sakurai Sakutaro he is here to help Japanese students realise what is becoming of their lives when all they do is study but don’t really live. In Japan so much pressure and focus is put on the entry exams of university that for 3rd year high school students there is no time to have social lives, joins clubs or have any real fun at the age of 18. Students devote their lives to studying for exams and never have the chance to make “memories” of their last year as children before they enter the world of adulthood. I myself used to teach English in South Korea and it’s a very similar situation. High school students only study from 8am to 11pm, 6 days a week. I wanted to make my English classes as fun as possible for them because these teenagers have nothing else, they are continuously pressured to get the top scores and aim for the best universities, anything less than perfect is seen as an offense and punished. It seems cruel to a westerner that all their focus is on studies and you see students so withdrawn and depressed, they don’t smile or talk to each other only work away on their various studies.


This is a drama I can relate to as I have been a teacher in a similar environment and believe there is more to life than just studying, of course you want your students to do well but not if it sacrifices their lives, innocence, childhoods and happiness. This is what this drama is trying to say about modern Japanese youth culture. That its great to have generations of high achieving well educated graduates but what about their own personal dreams and ambitions what about just enjoying their youth before they enter the hard working world on an adult. It is not only these issues that are dealt with in this drama, it also deals with many other problems faced by school students like bullying, self loathing, insecurities, compensated dating, love and suicide. I have always found these dramas interesting not just because I teach and like to inspire my students but because they open up a very different world to one we grew up in. Japanese youth culture is different from ours and therefore has different problems and issues to ours but on the flip there are some issues that are universal to all teenagers and young people. It doesn’t matter if you’re English or Japanese you can feel ostracized and inadequate, you may even think about horrific acts such as suicide. The one difference is that teenage suicide is very high in countries such as Japan, I know that South Korea has the highest suicide rate of teenagers in the world and I have seen first hand why that is so. So dramas like Taiyo really try to make the audience understand the problems of youths and the need to help prevent such drastic issues as suicide.

I make Taiyo out to be quite a dark or heavy drama but it really isn’t. It has a light tone and is a bright and clean drama. It starts of with a much happier feeling and is rather amusing but once it gets serious it turn a little more heavy and depressing before the inevitable happy ending where our teacher does get through to his students and makes a difference to their lives. I really enjoyed the journey and was surprised by some of the twists in its directions, it made me long to be back in teaching and being there with the students. One of the more surreal aspects of the show is the fact that the theme tune for the series is “I love you baby” which for some reason I could never quite come to terms with since its sung in English and played a lot as background music. But after a while it does begin to fit even if I find it an odd choice for a drama theme.

The last thing I’ll say about Taiyo is the fact that a big draw for me to this show was the fact that the incredible attractive Yamamoto Yusuke is in it and I love him so it’s a big bonus having one of the J-idols I follow in a really interesting, moving and beautiful drama.

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Rookies – delinquent japanese youth, friendship, hope and the love of Baseball

ROOKIES1Rookies has to be one of my all time favourite J-Doramas. It is a classic story line for a Japanese drama, new confident teacher with goals of making his students realize their dreams comes to a school that has a problem class (think Gokusen). The problems in the class are the dissatisfied and delinquent youths that make up the remaining members of the schools Baseball team. 6 months ago the team got into a fight with another team over the result of their game and the whole team has been given a 1 year ban from competing in the baseball championships, bringing a end to their dream of going to the Koshien high school baseball tournament. The seniors (sempais) have moved on, the underclassman don’t want to join the team because of their violent reputation so the remaining members have become more of a gang of thugs. No longer able to play the sport they love and the only reason they came to school taken from them they now skip class to hang out in their club room. When their not smoking, gambling and brining girls over, they are getting into fights and disrespecting everyone. Enters Koichi Kawato our new teacher with a past who also happens to be exceptionally strong both mentally and physically. He believes in passion and achieving your dreams and likes to shout out his highly motivational speeches, I have no idea how he has a voice left, trying to bring morals and ambitions back to the Futakotamagawa high school baseball team.

As with this type of drama his passion and optimism starts to get through to some of the students who begin to think maybe it’s not too late to give up on their dreams as their ban is coming to an end. The baseball team is made up of some exceptional players with real talent going to waste as they use it to bully and fight. We all know where this drama is heading, Kawato brings the teams together, realizing and releasing their potential. Each member struggles with the idea of moving on from the past and turning to a new life and working towards their dreams. They play baseball, they fight they win, they lose, they fight, they cry, they fight; they face obstacles, media attention, prejudices and learn that violence isn’t the way. They grow as people and realize how much Kawato has done for them and how much they owe him. They become reformed delinquents with respect and passion but not before facing each challenge.

Its great viewing you laugh and cry with them, I have a great soft spot for ‘triumph over adversity’ stories and a real interest in dissatisfied youth culture in Japan and this series ticks all the boxes. It really builds up the tension and the drama, putting this team through every hurdle and unfairity life throws at them. It also has many light hearted and funny moments to keep you smiling and a fun score. The best thing about the scoring is the ‘here comes some bad guys’ type music that accompanies our boys walking slow motion towards a camera looking angry and unapproachable, its great. But the determination feels real you are right their with them hoping they succeed and grabbing the side of the sofa hoping they make it, equally as frustrated by all the people who underestimate them and try and get in their way.
This was a very popular drama and has to be said has some attractive stars, Sato Takeru is good eye candy but the winning vote has to be the fact that my all time favourite J-Idol Shirota Yu is a lead characters. He plays the most violent and quick to fight member of the team, terrified of the team changing and growing and no longer staying together he rather beat his mates and Kawato to a bloody pulp than move on. He has the longest and toughest journey but also is desperate to protect his friends even if they don’t understand his feelings. Shirota yu plays his character wonderfully and well is just plan gorgeous. I did love this drama and originally was drawn to it because of Shirota Yu but it completely won me over and I felt for all the characters. Even if my favourite idol had not been in it I would have loved this drama it had so much passion and kept me entertained desperate to know how it was all going to turn out. All I can say is can’t wait for the movie, hopefully can import my copy when it comes out in Japan at Christmas!

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