最高の離婚 (Saikou no Rikon)

Saikou no Rikon is penned by Soredemo Ikite Yuku’s writer Sakamoto Yuji. Eita starred in both dramas but the two are polar opposites in terms of their tone and theme, proving the writer’s versatility. Saikou no Rikon tackles the woes of marriage as well as the benefits and consequences of divorce in an offbeat, laugh-inducing way.

Mitsuo Hamasaki has been married for 2 years to a wife whose personality is the complete opposite of his.  They just can’t find a common ground, it makes people wonder how these two even ended up getting married.  Quarreling over some Hagi no Tsuki (sponge cake with custard cream) one night turned into a more serious argument that led them into an abrupt (or long overdue) decision to file a divorce. Though they fight over the most trivial things for the past years, at long last, they both agreed that divorce is the only way to stop their bickering. They ran out of paper to print the documents so the plan did not push through but just when Mitsuo has decided to go home to his wife and just endure their differences one more time, he was surprised to find out that Yuka has filed the divorce papers they filled out the night before. There were some errors in her handwriting but she said the Meguro District Office accepted the documents anyway. Mitsuo was baffled by the sudden twist of events. He thought he was breaking up with her but she was the one who cut ties with him completely. However, breaking the news to their family is not easy so they are forced by circumstances to continue living together.

Mitsuo ran into his ex-girlfriend Akari (Maki Yoko) and this encounter brought back a lot of good memories. Following his divorce, he thought that this might be his chance to rekindle a college romance. But to his disappointment, his ex-girlfriend is now married (or not really?) to promiscuous lying bastard, Ryo (Ayano Go).

These two couples who live in the same neighborhood built a very unlikely “friendship” as they struggled through the intricacies of their marriages.

tumblr_inline_mzltmk6hpg1swr5rcEita plays Hamasaki Mitsuo. From his moss-lovin’ badass Nitta Teru character in Lucky Seven, to the shabby chain smoking jack-of-all-trades benriya Tada Keisuke in Mahoro Ekimae Bangaichi, he transformed once again and this time into a zany, unfashionable character with OCD. He works at a company that installs vending machines. He also runs a laundromat with his wife, and often goes for dental check-ups to rant about his “horrible” married life.

I thought marriage was torture but I was wrong. Marriage is a food chain. If my wife is the tiger, I’m the deer. If she’s the anteater, I’m the ant. If she’s a bee, I’m honey. I’ll eventually be grass. I can only wait silently to be eaten. Ah, it’s trying. Four times trying …

– Mitsuo Hamasaki

Mitsuo is probably one of the most annoying Jdorama leading men I’ve ever seen. Who’d marry a guy like that? The moment he opened his mouth, more or less I already knew why he and his wife ended up getting a divorce. Insensitive, whiny, overly meticulous, and embarrassingly straightforward to the point of being rude. Even his own grandma Aiko-san said she can’t believe someone actually married her grandson whom she thought would end up being a criminal. The humor is dark and subtle and I love it.

Mitsuo has a quirky way of sharing his love for animals by writing an annual list of Top 10 Favorite Creatures. He also has an unusual loathing for cherry blossoms which is ironic because he lives literally right next to the scenic Meguro River. The character is almost manga-like with his fast talk and exaggerated actions. With a long list of pet peeves, he’s certainly a difficult person to live with. It’s hard to sympathize with a character like this but since Eita is simply a gifted actor, he amazingly turned a cartoon-ish, tactless loser to a realistic, funny, harmless dorky sweetheart.(Even swoon worthy when he finally took the glasses off and changed his hairstyle.)

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Ono Machiko plays Yuka Hamasaki. She’s both tough and feminine, she’s free spirited and can get along with everyone.

It’s my first time to see Ono Machiko in a drama and I was both entertained by her energetic character and emotionally moved by her dramatic performance. “Sou?!” I love her when she says that in her I-don’t-give-a-damn face. Her acting is so natural that just like Eita, she made me believe that Yuka is not a drama character but a real person. So it totally broke my heart to see their marriage in her point of view. While Mitsuo thinks that it might have been a mistake, Yuka unequivocally confessed that for her, it was surely out of love.

 But even though I understand her, I also find it quite unfair that Mitsuo seems to be getting all the blame when they both should have tried to work things out.

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The other couple is the opposite of the Hamasakis. The mysterious Ueharas seem like the ideal good-looking pair who never fights about anything. Ryo and Akari are happily married but eventually we found out that Ryo didn’t even register their marriage. And they’re definitely not happy! They seem so cool about their issues but only because they chose to put on a front when in fact they are both emotionally damaged. Akari is crazy for being nonchalant about Ryo’s cheating spree but Ryo is crazier for even thinking that any woman will be okay with it. At one point, Akari has finally lost her cool and chased him out.

Yoko Maki and Ayano Go are both good actors but their characters are complicated and a bit unrelatable. I like the Ueharas only when they’re having interactions with the Hamasakis: all four of them or Ryo and Mitsuo/Akari and Yuka together. But with Ryo and Akari alone, the atmosphere is just so cold and awkward and totally pretentious. I don’t know what it is that made them attracted to each other but I’m actually not convinced that they should get back together.

It’d be fine if Mitsuo also stays single for a while and I bet he won’t mind but having someone beside him is a good way to develop his character, adjust his introverted self and learn how to get along with others.

I want Yuka to be in a relationship. Obviously, she’s my favorite character. I can see a bit of myself in her. Naturally being the life of the party, YukaImage caught the attention of the men she met at a goukon. Going out with the potential match Keisuke Omura (EXILE’s Keiji) did not work out but turns out her goukon seat mate Hatsushima Junnosuke (Masataka Kubota) developed a crush on her too. He’s industrious and dependable but proposing to a woman who just had a divorce is a short-sighted decision that proves he is indeed still young and immature. And Yuka’s heart still belongs to Mitsuo after all. Hence, their reconciliation is definitely more believable and endearing than Ryo and Akari’s.  

Saikou no Rikon is a dialogue-heavy, romantic dramedy made more memorable by its lead actors’ gripping performances. I cannot totally relate to the divorce theme since I’ve never been married (and I’m not even sure if I want to). But at least I have been in a relationship that I could somehow feel my connection to both pairs in terms of the Hamasakis’ irreconcilable differences and the Ueharas’ huge trust-betrayal issues. I love the witty dialogue and some sudden drop of pop culture references like Yuka’s crush on Miura Haruma, Junnosuke’s favorite EXILE, and Mitsuo’s hilarious “Funky Monkey Families”. Each episode is worth watching from start to finish. Don’t miss the slightly suggestive but hilarious end credits.  

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信長協奏曲 (Nobunaga Concerto)

Nobunaga Concerto is the Oguri Shun-Takayuki Yamada reunion that I’ve been anticipating for quite a while now. The series is based on the ongoing historical manga by Ayumi Ishii that began in 2009. It is the story of Saburo, a typical carefree high school boy with a sketchy knowledge on Japanese history. He travels back in time and in a sort of The Prince and the Pauper kind of tale, takes the place of one of the most prominent figures in the Sengoku Period – Oda Nobunaga.

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Oguri Shun plays both Saburo and Oda Nobunaga. Yes, I know what you’re thinking and I agree – he totally wouldn’t pass off as a high school student anymore! The dark circles aren’t helping either but I think this is better than casting a younger actor with no acting chops. Shun will play a dual role and his versatility certainly comes in handy.

I enjoyed the anime even with an animation style that looks a bit old fashioned and unconventional. It’s a feel-good experience for someone who’s a sucker for anything about Japanese history since it feels like watching a lighter version of the usually hard-hitting Taiga dorama. However, there are plenty of changes between the anime and the live-action series so it becomes pretty much subjective from hereon. A more mature cast created deeper character developments and bigger plot conflicts.

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Anime Saburo is more assertive and in control. He accepted his fate way too easily and is determined to win. His popular seiyu Mamoru Miyano, who is well-known for being the voice of Death Note‘s Yagami Light, gave this character an air of confidence and coolness despite the limitations of the anime’s movements due to its art style.

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Live-action Saburo is a bit more childish and confused and the immaturity is apparent when he amusingly takes pictures in the middle of an actual war. It’s different from the original but somehow, I get the idea that this version gives Oguri Shun a chance to flesh out his character. The drama explores his character’s progress from the initial naiveté in clamoring for peace to his eventual growth as he comes to terms with his new identity and responsibilities.

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Some may not agree but I liked the changes in Tsuneoki and Kichou. Osamu Mukai’s modern ikemen appeal radiates even when he’s donning historical clothes and hairstyle. His Tsune-chan is more than just a blind follower. He has a clear view of what needs to be done for the glory of the Oda family and in the process has become a confidant and a voice of reason amidst all the craziness Saburo has gotten himself into. I like a series that has a dose of bromance.

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Shibasaki Kou plays the toughened up version of the all-too delicate Kichou. Her tsundere live-action persona provided a funnier, more interesting and more romantic relationship than Saburo and Kichou’s “dates” in the anime. Those sweet moments in the anime would probably look cheesy in the live-action considering the age of the actors so their adorable bickering gives the audience a breather for a comic relief as well as a different take on Saburo and Kichou’s dynamics.

Today is Takayuki Yamada’s 31st birthday. He briefly appeared with his good-looking somber face perfect for what seemed to be a merciless assassin character. He plays Denjiro, a man who is harboring a grudge on Nobunaga.

The series also includes some of my favorite actors: Yuya Yagira, Shotaro Mamiya, and Naohito Fujuki and I am looking forward to their performances.

Nobunaga Concerto exceeded my expectations with a solid premiere and I’m hoping that this live-action series will be able to give us a more satisfying ending than the anime. Judging by the first episode alone, it’s obvious why Oguri Shun was chosen to play the lead in spite of being too old for the character. His star power and his chemistry with his co-stars can create a huge impact on this amazing yet underrated franchise.

地獄先生ぬ〜べ〜 (Hell Teacher Nube)

There were so many awesome animes in the 90s, Hell Teacher Nube wasn’t really included in my Top 5 favorites but I totally enjoyed watching random episodes when it was broadcasted dubbed in our country. I was quite excited when the news about a live action series came out since there are a lot of elements that can possibly make this show even better than the anime. Dorky teacher with a badass alter-ego:check! Heartwarming school setting:check! Layered characters: check! Supernatural action and spooky entities:check! Enormous amount of humor: check! Were all these things given justice in the live action premiere?Err…nope.

The nostalgic Jigoku Sensei Nube stars Kanjani Eight member, Maruyama Ryuhei, as Nueno Meisuke (nicknamed Nube). He certainly has some Yamapi vibes going on which make this casting a bit of a letdown because Johnnys are generally known more for their looks and not for their acting skills. To be fair, I watched him before judging but just as I thought, although Ryuhei is quite a charmer, his acting felt too cued, too forced especially on the supposedly comedic scenes.

Mokomichi Hayami is Nube’s school rival Tamamo Kyosuke. The epitome of tall,dark and handsome, Moko is already one heck of an ikemen so I don’t see why his coolness needs to be exaggerated. The whole blazer stunt and red rose introduction was just corny. I also can’t stand the sight of his fake hair.

Kiritani Mirei plays Nube’s funny perverted obsession,Ritsuko Sensei, while former Kara member Kang Ji Young is Yukime,Nube’s yuki-onna stalker and self-proclaimed fiancée.

I’m currently on a marathon of Jdoramas starring high caliber actors such as Eita,Oguri Shun,Ayano Go, and Matsuda Ryuhei, so I totally felt the dullness of the performances in Nube when I made that sudden shift from watching something great to this mediocre one. I was expecting Jigoku Sensei Nube will induce laughter with its anime-ish slapstick and whatnot but I had a pokerface the entire time I was watching it. I don’t know if I’m too old to appreciate the humor or it’s just that the comedy is really bland.

I like the idea of Jigoku Sensei Nube altering its setting from elementary to high school. The older the students, the bigger the conflicts. The first episode about focusing on one’s true self featuring a yokai behind a mirror is an almost perfect means of character and plot introduction. However, the horror side failed the same way the comedy did. The yokai targeted one of Nube’s students who didn’t have enough backstory to justify why it was specifically going after her. Humans are greedy and insecure. They’re all students, still immature and unsure of themselves. I didn’t see what sets her apart from the rest.

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The mirror yokai finally revealed itself and of course Nube runs to their aid and save the day. There’s a dramatic “getting all beaten up” sacrifice cliché before he finally decided to take his glove off. And that’s only thing I appreciated in this show: his prosthetic demon hand!

The rest of the CGI was painful to watch.The yokai was ridiculously alien-ish and I wish they just hadn’t shown the cheap-looking hell scene anymore. The story would progress the same way even without seeing Nube literally talk to his inner demon.

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*sigh* Jigoku Sensei Nube didn’t even meet my low expectations. It was just like another Gokusen but less funnier and instead of bullies it has monsters. I’d continue to watch at least one more time to see if my thoughts about this series would change somehow. Tamamo is about to unleash his kitsune identity so hopefully, there’d be some improvements on the succeeding episodes.

まほろ駅前番外地 (Mahoro Ekimae Bangaichi)

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It’s never too late to post about a 2013 drama if it’s as good as this one and just in time for the upcoming release of its 2014 movie Mahoro Ekimae Kyousoukyoku.

I didn’t know what I was getting into when I started Mahoro Ekimae Bangaichi.I just wanted to see how my favorite actor Eita would transform into a different character again.

Of course, he was awesome as the constantly uptight Tada but Ryuhei Matsuda’s eccentric Gyoten stole the spotlight. I loved the look on their faces while tuning in to  Mahoro FM’s narration of the unpaid benriya who lives with his boss though he is afraid that he’d sexually assault him. This is my kind of humor, I thought. And before I knew it, I was hooked.

Mahoro Eki Mae Bangaichi is based on Shion Miura’s 2009 novel of the same name. The series is a continuation of the 2011 film Mahoro Ekimae Tada Benriken directed by Tatsushi Omori.

Directed by Hitoshi One, Mahoro Ekimae Bangaichi is an episodic series focusing on two divorced men, Tada Keisuke (Eita) and Gyoten Haruhiko (Ryuhei Matsuda), who have known each other for a long time and just somehow ended up living together in a fictional town called Mahoro. Tada runs a benriya located near the train station. Gyoten complains about working without being paid but Tada insists he never hired him in the first place. To earn money for their basic needs, they accept any kind of job requests from their clients. Well, it’s not really “any”. According to Tada, it’s more like, “as much as possible”. Thus, their humdrum lives become more exciting as they encounter different people with some pretty absurd and at times even dangerous demands that are too much for a handyman. They go around in their beat-up truck doing simple tasks like walking a dog to physically strenuous ones like becoming a pro-wrestler, the disposal of an oddly positioned life size female wax figure, some shady deals like getting rid of a handgun, and hiding a teenage fugitive. Some of their customers are more interesting than others and some episodes could be a bit predictable for me but I like the way the show tries to send a message or prove a point without going all too cheesy and preachy. I love the coolness,the subtlety.

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And they get to realize that being a benriya (handyman) can somehow make a change in other people’s lives.

But the highlight of the show is definitely the bromance between Tada and Gyoten. Two ikemen actors in scruffy,ordinary-looking,quirky yet totally charming but extremely opposite of characters.

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(Even with your unshaven face,unkempt hair and shabby jumpsuit, Eita, you can’t deny the truth.)

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And the funniest part of the bromance is whenever Gyoten insists that he’s gay in such a deadpan tone, you might actually believe him.