Thursday, September 29, 2011

Zenkai Girl J-Drama Review (2011)

Warning. Spoilers Ahead


Title: Zenkai Girl (Japanese: 全開ガール)
Episodes: 11
TV Station: Fuji TV
Broadcast Time: July 11, 2011 to September 19, 2011
Genre: Romance, comedy
Average TV Rating: 12.3%

Devoted to becoming an international lawyer, Ayukawa Wakaba is full of ambition. Her hard work pays off when she lands a job at an international law firm, but to her disappointment, the first prestigious assignment that is given to her is to babysit the boss' 5 year old daughter, Hinata. Wakaba loathes kids and nursing, but unwillingly takes on the job as she is fixated on wealth and success. One day when she goes to a preschool to pick up Hinata, she meets a man named Yamada Sota. Sota is a man without higher education, wealth, or a future goal, someone that Wakaba absolutely cannot stand, the complete opposite of her ideals. Once again, contrary to her will, she ends up looking after Hinata and a few other kids along with Sota. Despite being exhausted from all the first-time experiences in child care, Wakaba begins to realize what is truly important to her. A heart-warming comedy about work, relationships and love.


Aragaki Yui as Ayukawa Wakaba
Yanagimachi Kahana as young Wakaba
Nishikido Ryo as Yamada Shota

Samejima Sakuragawa Law Firm:

Yakushimaru Hiroko as Sakuragawa Shoko
Hirayama Hiroyuki as Shindo Kyoichi
Renbutsu Misako as Shioda Soyoko
Aoyama Noriko as Kujo Mika
Sato Jiro as Sakota Morice

Mitsuba no Mori Nursery School:

Takeuchi Riki as Hanamura Jin
Kaito Aiko as Hanamura Urara
Tani Kanon as Sakuragawa Hinata
Takagi Serai as Yamada Emitaro
Iguchi Koko as Hayashi Kobato
Aoki Keito as Chabo Junior
Kuroda Hiroyuki as Nishino Teppei

Restaurant Le Sato:

Suzuki Ryohei as Nishino
Minagawa Sarutoki as Torii Hiroshi
Arakawa Yoshiyoshi as Hayashi Samao
Suga Tomio as a Le Sato shopkeeper

My Review
Zenkai Girl follows your standard “money doesn’t buy happiness/love” plotline. Here, the main character Ayuwaka Wakaba (played by Aragaki Yui from Code Blue, Smile), is an ambitious female lawyer whom dreams of big money and being the “hawk of Manhattan.” In the process she has to babysit a 5 year old girl, Hinata, and meets a lower class guy, Shouta (Nishikido Ryo, 1 Litre of Tears) whom is also a single dad. It’s a plotline that’s been done a million times over. However, lack of originality isn’t necessarily a problem if the story is well executed. Papa to Musume no Nanokakan, another Aragaki Yui drama, has an unoriginal plotline of the main characters switching bodies but is quite a fun drama. That, however, is for another time.

The strength of the drama is its characters. All the characters in general are pretty likable, with solid development and great acting. The two main leads work well to develop each other, and they learn from each other.


Anchoring the drama is a strong main character, Wakaba. She's very well developed, and she's played by Gakky, whom I've been a fan of since watching her in Smile. She's quite a diverse actress, who can play the more serious characters like she does here or the incredibly cute ones like she does in Smile. She does a good job here, portraying her character’s changing emotions, ambitions, and struggles quite well.


The kids in Zenkai Girl also stand out. Often in many shows or movies, kids can be annoying and/or their acting skills are glaringly bad. However, on Zenkai Girl the kids are pretty likable and cute characters, and their acting is actually pretty good. This was really nice to see.


Also sticking out with a solid performance is Yakushimaru Hiroko (1 Litre of Tears), who plays Sakurakawa Noriko, Wakaba’s boss. Her character struggles to balance time between work and raising a kid. The developing relationship between her and her daughter, Hinata, was a really nice thing to see. There was also one scene in the last episode that was quite awesome, when she outsmarted another character who tried to take control of the law firm away from her.


There was much debate among J-drama fans about Nishikido’s character, Shota. Many dismissed him as being wishy-washy and lacking ambition, particularly for not chasing his dream as a French chef. However, I thought he was quite a solid character and was well developed. He’s a single father, and it can be tough to raise a kid and chase your dreams at the same time. I thought his struggles were well done. However, I will say that the writers didn’t do enough to develop his French chef dreams. It’s touched upon for the first four episodes, but then the plot is just thrown aside and not even mentioned again until episode 10 when Shota suddenly decides to go to France for no other reason than to avoid Wakaba.


While the characters are pretty solid, the romance plot itself leaves a lot to be desired. The first half of the drama starts out very promising, building anticipation. Through the first 6 or 7 episodes, there’s plenty of build up in the relationship between the two main characters, Wakaba and Shota. The problem lies in the last 4 or so episodes, where everything goes off track because of new subplots and a series of annoying near-misses, misunderstandings, and delays. Wakaba and Shota’s relationship goes practically nowhere from episodes 8-10, and their relationship ends up being underdeveloped. It was also somewhat unconvincing that Wakaba actually learned that love doesn’t buy happiness, which is the main point of the drama. Then everything is slapped together at the end, to make sure the main characters get together.


Among the subplots used in the last few episodes include Wakaba having to learn to accept her father’s sentiment (episode 8), a lawsuit involving a toy factory (episode 9), and a custody battle over Shota’s foster-son Pitaro (episode 10). I did like the storyline with Wakaba’s father, which helped develop her character further. Her father was mentally retarded, did the best to raise her, despite getting fooled and in debt. It was a great subplot and finished some loose screws that were left during the early episodes. However, the placement of the toy factory subplot could have happened much earlier in the drama. By the time the drama gets to the custody battle plot, it just feels like the writers are doing everything they can to delay Wakaba and Shota getting together until the last episode, trying to make it more dramatic.


However, I will say that I did enjoy the interaction between the two leads throughout the series. We get a good sense of them developing from distrusting each other (mostly Wakaba cringing at the thought of Shota) to them slowly falling in love. I also really loved the ending of episode one, which had one of the goofiest and funniest kissing scenes ever, and the ending of the entire drama, which was really sweet.

Overall: 7.5/10- Overall it's a descent show, and a good watch for Gakky and Nishikido Ryo fans. However, it's not nearly as good as other romance dramas I've seen.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Kamisama Mou Sukoshi Dake J-Drama Review (1998)

Warning: Spoilers Ahead


Title: Kamisama Mou Sukoshi Dake (Japanese: 神様、もう少しだけ)
English Title: God Please Give Me More Time/Precious Time
Episodes: 12
TV Station: Fuji TV
Broadcast Time: July 7, 1998 to September 22, 1998 on Tuesdays at 21:00
Genre: Drama, romance, disease/disability
Average TV Rating: 22.5%

A touching love story about a girl Kano Masaki (Fukada) who contracted HIV after selling her body in order to earn money for the concert of a famous composer Ishikawa Keigo (Kaneshiro). After the concert, Keigo saw Masaki chasing after his van. She was drenched, and thus Keigo took her to his apartment, where they spent the night.

Kaneshiro Takeshi as Ishikawa Keigo
Fukada Kyoko as Kano Masaki
Kato Haruhiko as Hibino Isamu
Nakama Yukie as Kaoru
Yazawa Shin as Oda Asami
Hirata Mitsuru as Kano Nogiro
Tanaka Yoshiko as Kano Yaeko
Masuoka Toru as Arida Yoshikatsu
Tonesaku Toshihide as Kubo Takashi
Tanaka Yukimi (田中有紀美) as Tamura Kana
Takeshita Kotaro (竹下宏太郎) as Isawa Hiroyuki
Nagahori Taketoshi (永堀剛敏) as Noguchi Takaaki
Isayama Hiroko as Hiratsuka Ishi
Miyazawa Rie as Takimura Lisa
Katsurayama Shingo (ep3)
Kohinata Fumiyo (ep10)

Television Drama Academy Awards:
Best Drama
Best Actor: Kaneshiro Takeshi
Best Supporting Actress: Fukada Kyoko
Best Theme Song: I For You - Luna Sea
Best Scriptwriter: Asano Taeko
Best Director: Takeuchi Hideki
Best Cast
Best Opening

My Review
Kamisama Mou Sukoshi Dake is one of my all-time favorites. It has everything you would want in a drama. A touching story, great cast, awesome soundtrack, and a very good romance. It's as close as you can get to being a masterpiece.

The story circles around Masaki (played by Kyoko Fukada), whom contracts HIV after trying prostitution to get enough money to go to a concert. The concert she goes to is set up by the music producer Keigo, whom Masaki is a big fan of. Later on, the two develop a friendship that starts out of Keigo's sympathy for Masaki and eventually turns into a romance. On paper it does sound a little far fetch but to be honest almost anything on TV (rather it's J-Dramas or Hollywood) has some unrealistic parts. The plot is daring, tackling controversial subjects like HIV, prostitution, and social attitudes. What really makes the story great is the depth that it has. It's more than just about AIDS and prostitution. Other issues tackled in the drama included school bullying, having kids, social attitudes towards AIDS patients, and child-parent relationships. This makes for an intense rollercoaster ride of emotions, and you can really sympathize with the characters. It's a tearjerker, yet very beautiful.


Fukada's role as Masaki is generally agreed by most to be her best acting performance. She won a J-Drama academy award for best supporting actress in the drama, though it makes absolutely no sense why she won the award for supporting actress since she portrays the main character in the drama. Indeed, Kyoko was excellent in her role as Masaki. It was a vastly mature role for Kyoko, especially considering that she was only 15 at the time of filming the drama. She's able to bring a lot of depth to her character and shows a wide range of emotions. Her character is somewhat on the immature side initially, but looking from a teenager's point of view you can't really blame her. Besides having to deal with the virus, she's bullied at school once her classmates find out. On top of that her mom is having an affair and her dad neglects his own responsibilities as head of the household. Masaki's also unable to take the medication given to her due to the strong side-effects. Masaki's attitude does change throughout the drama, and matures tremendously. Later on there's some really good moments that bring out the best of her character. A couple great examples are the speech she gives at her school where she confesses to having HIV, and in the last episode where she's willing to sacrifice her life to give birth.


One particular part of the story I really enjoyed was Masaki's relationship with her parents. The process in which her relationship with both her parents changes leads to some good character development for both her and her parents, as well as some touching moments. She struggles to tell them that she contracted the HIV virus. Besides that, both of Masaki's parents have their own issues. Masaki's mom is having an affair, and after finding out Masaki is even more reluctant to talk to her. Despite her affair, Masaki's mom is deeply worried about Masaki after noticing a change in her. Eventually Masaki opens up to her mom after realizing that she does care for her. Meanwhile, Masaki's dad is pretty much your stereotypical father. He neglects his family's needs, and yet is overprotective and overreacts to anything he doesn't like. Eventually he changes and admits his own faults.


The male lead is Keigo, played by Takeshi Kaneshiro who is more well known for playing in a handful of Chinese wuxia films such as House of Flying Daggers and Red Cliff. Keigo is a cold and emotionless character due to his dark past. His character balances out Masaki, who's younger, bubbly, and cheerful (before learning she has HIV). Like Masaki he has his own issues to deal with, such as his dark past and his dwindling music career. Like Kyoko, Takeshi won a J-Drama Academy Award, winning the Best Actor award. He's just as strong in his role as Kyoko is.


Eventually, the two leads develop a romance. Both lead characters help each other to develop. Takeshi and Kyoko have fairly good chemistry, and are a likable couple, with many good kissing scenes throughout. However, it's this romance where the only real flaws exist. First is the character Kaoru played by Nakama Yukie (Trick, Gokusen). Kaoru is the annoying, jealous woman whom tries to steal Keigo from Masaki. The other flaw is an idiot ball plot over the last three episodes. Keigo willingly has offscreen unprotected sex with Kyoko, and it's implied in the lead-up. Yet Masaki gives birth to a child and somehow neither Keigo nor the child get infected. Admittedly it is possible and Masaki's child birth did make for some really good drama and touching scenes later, but the writers didn't need to go as far as they did to imply that they had unprotected sex. It just makes the scene somewhat disturbing to think about.

The only other issue I had with this drama is that the ending is bittersweet. Masaki dies, which is expected since she had HIV. I wasn't really upset about her dying since it was inevitable throughout. The bigger issue I have was Masaki dying at her wedding, which is what made it bittersweet. Still, it's not as painfully bittersweet as other dramas, like Summer Snow, and everything before Masaki's death does feel like a happy ending and leaves you satisfied.

A major bonus that this drama has is the OST. The soundtrack is one of the best among J-Dramas, filled with many great songs. Highlighting the soundtrack is the opening theme song, I For You by Luna Sea. The intro itself is fun to watch. There's other great songs as well, including a beautiful piano piece, Wishes by S.E.N.S. and In The Sky by Kudo Shizuka.

My Rating
9.5/10- This drama has the complete package. The cast is great, the music is awesome, and the emotional yet beautiful story outweigh the flaws.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Zenkai Girl Episode 8 Review and Screenshots

Warning. Major spoilers ahead.

In this episode, Wakaba misses her initial engagement party with her co-workers because she was still consoling Shota. Afterwards, Shindo asks Wakaba to have an engagement party with both of their parents. However, Wakaba is reluctant, thinking that her dad will give Shindo's family a negative reaction. Wakaba does send her dad a telegram invitation, but thinks her dad will never be able to make it. To her surprise, Wakaba's dad does make it over to Tokyo. Wakaba's dad is mentally handicapped, struggles to pay debts, and is often fooled by getting into more debts. Wakaba doesn't think highly of her dad. Also showing up is a debt collector, whom Wakaba's dad owes money to. However much to Wakaba's surpise, not only does Shindo's family pay off Wakaba's father's debt, they actually preferred to help Wakaba. Later, Shota gives Wakaba a checkbook from her dad, that had 2,705 Yen deposits each time. The total didn't amount to much, so Wakaba initially dismissed it. That is until Shota finds out that 2,705 was Wakaba's birthweight in grams. Wakaba then recognizes how much her father cared for her.

This episode was somewhat mixed for me. I liked that they developed some story with Wakaba's father, and felt it was necessary for Wakaba's development. This episode had some heartwarming moments. However, the major issue I have is that Zenkai Girl is starting to fall into the trap of waiting until the last possible moment for the romance between the two leads to blossom. This kinda annoys me sometimes with J-Dramas. While some J-Dramas that wait until the near end for the leads to get together, it does kinda get tiring when you constantly have to wait. However, I still do like this series, particularly the character development of the two leads.