Drama Review: Good Luck! (TBS, 2003)
KimuTaku: Full Throttle! aka The Aerodynamics of Luuuuve
by Ender’s Girl
Kimura Takuya, Tsutsumi Shinichi, Shibasaki Kou, Kuroki Hitomi, Takenaka Naoto
In a Nutshell:
Commercial pilot Shinkai Hajime sets his sights on earning another stripe, but must first navigate through workplace issues, personal dilemmas, and unexpected romance at All Nippon Airways.
(SpoilLert: Moderately spoilerish, but nothing to lose sleep over, haha.)
On the surface, Good Luck! looks as sleek as a newly minted airbus, with all the modern trappings of a workplace renai. But the plot encounters some, uh, turbulence due to contrived situations and mediocre writing in the first half.
The opening sequence is promising enough with its brisk editing, modish music and saturated tropical hues (very One West Waikiki… look it up, heh). But after the initial thrill of watching a tan, toned, topless (!!!) Kimura Takuya sprint through downtown Honolulu in the first few minutes, the rest of the first episode, well, never really takes off.
The pilot *wink, wink* episode is usually a pretty reliable gauge of how the rest of the drama will play out. There are some exceptions, of course, as some dramas get progressively better and end up surprising you, while others get progressively worse after a pretty promising start. Good Luck! is no such exception. So why does this drama fail to, uh, leave the ground? *more winking* Hmmm, let me count the ways…
Good Luck! may be technically smooth and glossy (TBS certainly didn’t stint on the production values and overseas shoots, I’ll give ‘em that), but the story also suffers from faulty writing and (amateurishly) tries too hard to string together what the writers must have thought were Cute Rom-Com Moments and Cool Pilot-y Moments (they must have been contractually obligated to include at least 3 of each per episode, heh). Many situations have a manufactured feel, and seem like they were written in as mere springboards to An Important Moment in the story.
Case in point — Important Moment # 1: Guy meets Girl for the first time.
The Springboard: In Episode 1, Kimura’s character (the rookie co-pilot Shinkai Hajime) makes a rather bumpy landing after the captain (a dear old man whom we see far too little of) is debilitated by back spasms mid-flight. As soon as the plane is on the ground, a visibly PO’d member of the technical ground crew (who is obviously a SHE, and obviously the Main Love Interest in the story) confronts Shinkai and berates him for, er, not taking better care of the frickin’ plane. I’m not a pilot, but any knucklehead would know that in an in-flight emergency, a SAFE landing is better than a SMOOTH one. A “lowly” mechanic telling a pilot off for any negligence (real or imagined) immediately triggered a red flag for me. Dude, it just doesn’t happen. In the airline industry, you can’t change the pecking order anymore than you can tow a Boeing 747 ten inches using your teeth and a metal chain. So this encounter was obviously contrived to create sparks between the two. Goshdarn, I hate it when the writers do that.
And Little Miss Grouchy Mechanic (Shibasaki Kou) herself… the feeling of annoyance each time I saw her was like living beside an airport, and each second of your miserable existence is permeated by the rumble of jumbo jets overhead. It. Never. Really. Goes. Away.
Yah, we know, her parents died in a plane crash 13 years ago and she’s carried this ginormous chip on her shoulder ever since, yah we know she became an airplane mechanic to make sure the planes under her watch are in tip-top condition, yadda yadda. But you can’t fully sympathize with her because she just grates on you. Her sullen face and snappish ways don’t exactly endear the character to you, as she seems to be in this perpetual state of PMS (which can also stand for: Plane Mechanic Sub-humanoid, hahaha). She talks like a bleepin’ ventriloquist, too: blinks a lot but never moves her mouth and lower facial area. How does she do that? Amayyyzing!!! Jeesh.
I guess that’s why the Co-PilotShinkai + GrouchyMechanic love arc was a letdown for me. There was always that niggling feeling you were being set up for IT, and manipulated into saying, “oh how cute, look at them spar, they keep pushing each other’s buttons, oh how cute they are, ad infinitum, ad nauseam…”
Flights of Fancy
There are other such plot contrivances in the first half of the drama, especially when the story overplays the human angle inasmuch as the passengers are concerned. I can see why the writers thought that injecting all the human passenger drama would give a show about jumbo jets some kind of a SOUL, but the accompanying implausibility was downright counterproductive, to say the least. I was shaking my head a LOT in certain episodes, thinking, man… these Air Nippon passengers have got to be the most spoilt travelers to ever ride a plane. All they ever do is whine and complain and browbeat the crew into acceding to their every whim, realistic or not. In the first episode alone, Shinkai co-pilots a flight bound for LAX, but the airport is suddenly closed to traffic after a fire breaks out. A businessman on board throws a tantrum on the freaking plane and demands he be taken to Los Angeles pronto! for the earth-shattering reason that a business deal might fall through if he isn’t there in time. Jeesh. What this really is, is a Springboard to Important Moment # 2: When the Pilot gives the “Why We Do What We Do” speech. So Shinkai ditches flight protocol by leaving the cockpit to confront the Truculent Traveler and make him see the Error of His Ways, and explain why trying to land a plane in a burning airport is, um, A REALLY BAD IDEA.
The implausible scenarios just keep coming: In a later episode, a politician demands to be let off the plane mid-air because he’s afraid of flying. Whoopee. Another passenger refuses to let the plane take off without seeing her dead hubby first (okay, that episode was really sad, but I’m including this for illustrative purposes). Still on another flight, a doctor raises a stink when a sudden thunderstorm prevents the plane from landing at Narita, because there’s some sick kid back in Tokyo whom she needs to operate on. What pissed me off was her unreasonableness and misplaced sense of entitlement, in demanding to speak with the pilot and single-handedly convince him to turn the freaking plane around and force a Narita landing, thunderstorms be damned. (Geez, lady, you ain’t the only competent surgeon in Japan, and if the medical procedure were such an emergency, I’m sure other doctors would be more than happy to save that poor kid’s life.) That whole episode = Logic FAIL!!! I mean, I know that the crew are committed to making a passenger feel comfortable and relaxed during a flight, but appeasing their antagonism and indulging their outbursts will serve no purpose at all.
What’s odd is that Good Luck! aired in the post-9/11 world, where flight attendants and plane marshals supposedly have wider legal latitude in dealing with Difficult Customers. Maybe the writers of Good Luck! conveniently forgot the other side of the coin: a passenger gone haywire poses a significant risk to the REST of those aboard, not to mention the flight crew, and must be dealt with AS SUCH. There’s only so much room to try and placate agitated fliers, because there are bound to be a few on any flight, on any airline. But when push comes to shove, when passengers become hostile and physically aggressive, then any airline worth its propellers should have the proper security measures in place to address these types of situations. Isn’t there some sort of Escalation Protocol? When reasoning with them fails, inform them (politely, but firmly) of the possible consequences of their actions. If that fails, threaten them with jail time. Handcuff them to their seat. Pump ‘em full with sedatives, if needed. I mean, for crying out loud, on any given commercial flight there are 300-odd people jammed in a metal cylinder whizzing at breakneck speed 10,000 meters in the air. Will everyone just let the freaking pilots do their freaking JOB? Which is to fly the freaking plane and get people from point A to point B in one freaking piece. True, emergencies happen, the unforeseeable can change a flight plan and all that, which is all the more reason to trust the crew to make the decisions and the judgment calls that only THEY are trained to make. And besides, we all know that in the Real World, passengers generally do as they’re told. All that drama aboard the Air Nippon flights in Good Luck! was just that… DRAMA.
When there’s no undergirding logic to the dialogue and actions, the story loses steam before it even leaves the ground. A drama without a feasible plot is a rudderless ship — er, plane. Mediocre writing is the proverbial bird-caught-in-the-propeller of any film or TV show. And you know what happens to the aircraft when a flock of wild geese gets sucked into the blades…? Crash and burn, baby.
Liiiving on a Jet Plane
That being said, what probably prevents Good Luck! from taking a complete tailspin into Drama FAIL!!! territory is the improved writing in the latter third of the story. In these final episodes, the implausible situations are (thankfully) jettisoned and the plot streamlined as the main characters’ trajectories come to a head. Important Decisions need to be made, and Formidable Obstacles must be hurdled. Old Grudges and Past Sins are revisited, and the Requisite Confrontations must take place before Personal Healing can commence. Lives are re-examined and motives are questioned… Self-doubt and recrimination are Dealt With. But it is the Human Spirit that Triumphs In the End. And, well, you don’t ever complain that it does.
I found myself thoroughly involved (and just as satisfied) with the final 3 episodes, as the denouement kept me on the ragged edge, asking — Will Shinkai ever get to fly a plane again? Will Koda (Tsutsumi Shinichi) and Togashi (Kuroki Hitomi) end up together? Will Koda ever forgive himself after all this time? Will Ogawa (Shibasaki Kou) forgive HIM? Again, you know your buttons are being pushed and you’re being set up for something, but this time, it WORKS. Maybe it was the heart-stopping climax, or the acting tour de force from the main cast (with the notable exception of Shibasaki Kou), or the writing having a more natural feel than the first few episodes. At some point the drama stops trying too hard to bear the onus of its own lofty ambition — i.e. to make an Ultra-Cool Pilot Drama with a Heart. And when that happens, as the final episodes prove, the story becomes more of a human drama dealing with real people and not mere stereotypes, something less artificial and more personal — and thus, infinitely more believable.
[A note on the soundtrack: Loved it from the start! Such infectiously funky, up-tempo tunes! I also liked the statelier pieces used for Important Dramatic Moments, which made my spirit soar. And the whole feel of the theme song by Yamashita Tatsuro, “Ride on Time” (despite the English lyrics making NO SENSE whatsoever), perfectly mirrors the warm, mellow colors suffusing the hangar as the cast members pose languidly by the jumbo jets in the end credits sequence. This song is best listened to on a lazy Sunday afternoon; it evokes a future free of worries, and just beyond the horizon — an endless blue sky of possibilities. Plus, every time Kimura turns around wearing those Ray-Bans and his Kimura Smile of Awesomeness, my head explodes. Ouchy.]
[A note on the airline industry inside stuff: I really was impressed with the production values, and all the efforts of the drama to (literally) bring you into the cockpit, and witness how those pilots and flight crew Work It. From my standpoint, all the flying stuff seemed credible enough, though somewhere in Japan, a REAL aviator (or two) might have screamed, “That’s NOT how you maneuver the center stick, you eejit!!! Baka! Baka!” (Or something to that effect.) Wow, All Nippon Airways must have given TBS the keys to one of their hangars and told the production staff, “Planes are all yours, baby. Go crazy!” Lolz. At first I wondered why TBS didn’t use JAL (being the flagship carrier and all), but that would have been pushing it. Hehe. So ANA it is.]
Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (haha)
I was very much caught up in the interesting dynamic between the senior flight attendant Togashi, and the perpetually dour, audit-happy cyborg-pilot, Koda. I just want to get this in: as far as the East is from the West, I adore Chief Togsahi as much as I, well, abhor Ogawa the Grouchy Mechanic. Amid a gaggle of flaky, flight(y) attendants, Togashi’s sensible, down-to-earth ways are refreshing indeed. Kuroki Hitomi is terrific! She nailed the maturity and grace of a flight attendant past her prime, the quiet sadness and wistful irony over a lost love, her dedication to her passengers, and the warmth of her smile belying the defeat in her eyes. Love her!
As for the Flying Cyborg Koda, most ably played by Tsutsumi Shinichi (he’s well-built and good-looking, I’ll give him that. a true hunk in the sense that Kimura isn’t, heehee!), for the first few episodes I must admit being peeved with him, going around like a heartless Tin-Man-Robot-God-Inhumanoid who’d ground his pilots if so much as a speck of lint was found on the windshield — or something like that. NOT the kind of dude you’d want to mess with: piercing gaze, stiff upper lip, obsessed with propriety and rules and manuals, who can’t stand it when a “Maverick” (look — an homage!!! an homage to Top Gun!!! I managed to sneak it in! My Pilot Movie Reference # 1! *ka-ching!* hahahahahahaha) like Kimura’s character flies a plane using his heart more than his brains. Ahaahh — thought I, welcome to the Jedi Master Koda School for Losers, where reverse psychology and sadistic cruelty are but a two-pronged approach to Making Pilots Better here at All Nippon Airways. Whip them into excellence! Mess with their heads — they’ll thank you later! Wonderful.
But then, maybe that’s exactly the kind of person a pilot ought to be. As the story progressed I found myself agreeing with Koda more and more with each flight decision he executed, each judgment call that he made, even if they sometimes ran counter to what the Pampered Passengers demanded, or to what Average-Skilled-Pilot-With-Compassion-in-His-Heart (read: Shinkai) sometimes so misguidedly pushed for. Aside from his competence and cool efficiency, what won me over to Team Koda was the fact that among everyone else, he never lost perspective, and refused to be swayed by sentiment or public opinion. He had a JOB to do, as did the crew, and he never let them forget that. We learn later on of his involvement in the plane crash twelve years prior, which further explains why he would ride everyone so hard. But history or no history, I’d still be on his side. Let’s just say that I’d feel WAAAAY safer riding a plane if I knew Koda was the skipper. Sorr-ee, Co-Pilot Shinkai… but it’ll take more than niceness and a good heart to be an excellent pilot. *shrugs*
As much as I adore Kimura, it really is Koda’s character that’s better-written and more… complex. This is seen especially in the second half of the drama, when he grapples with past demons as well as more recent ones. And you cheer him on his journey, until he finally breaks free from his own personal prison of guilt and self-condemnation. This sounds like trite crap, but it’s only when you’ve first forgiven yourself can you truly enjoy the forgiveness of those whom you’ve wronged. Kimura’s character Shinkai is ostensibly more likeable than Koda ever is, because Shinkai is this Good-hearted Everyman (and a bit of an Underdog, as well) out to prove his Worth in the world… How’s that for likeability? But the real meatiness of Shinkai’s character only comes out in the final two episodes of the drama, when his personal life unexpectedly takes a nosedive (pun intended). Life IS unfair. Life SUCKS. People, circumstances, even your own self, can let you down. It is how Shinkai comes to terms with this adversity that causes his character to truly shine. I love how Episode 9 takes the viewer along his downward spiral of disbelief, denial, anger, bitterness, and defeat, before a fresh tail wind of hope (in second chances), and faith (in himself and in others), and the promise of love, lifts him out of the depths.
On the Wings of Love
As I’ve said, the Koda-Togashi love arc is definitely one of my favorite secondary-lead romances. As early as the first episode it’s clear that these two share a Past, and that their relationship Did Not End Well. But you continue to root for them, you can sense the strong feelings rippling underneath the impeccable professionalism, and you can’t wait to dig up the rest of their history, can’t wait for the story to take you back to What Happened Between Them — and you suspect it had something to do with the fateful 12-year-old plane crash. Maybe the writers of Good Luck! do Mature Love best — obviously, the Koda-Togashi dynamic is light years more satisfying for me than the Shinkai-Ogawa engineered romance. As the Senior FA, Togashi’s warm disposition is a perfect foil to Koda’s stony aloofness. You hate it that he’s so mean to her, but you know he loves her still, after all these years, after all that’s happened since. Mature love has something that young love, sweet love doesn’t: again, perspective. Mature love has perspective, one shaped by the passage of time, by experiencing some loss, by growing up a little, by moving on, by LIVING. And it’s attributable to both the writing and the spot-on performances from Tsutsumi Shinichi and Kuroki Hitomi, that despite their limited scenes together (they’re JUST supporting characters, after all… would it were not the case! heehee) and sparsely dished personal history (you really have to read between the lines to milk it all out), it’s entirely believable that these two persons once shared a deeply committed love, but lost it to chance, or choice, or circumstance. Some of their scenes together actually frickin’ made me cry — that’s how emotionally invested I was in their story. How both individuals find their way back to Love (in a most satisfying manner, too!) isn’t so much a happy ending as it is a new beginning, as they learn to let go of the past before forging a new future — together.
And as a corollary, I can’t stress enough how disappointed I was when the Shinkai-Ogawa chemistry fizzled, sputtered — and DIED A THOUSAND DEATHS!!! (You see, I had just come off watching Pride and Hero, both dramas with the good fortune of possessing that elusive winning formula: excellent writing + fine acting from BOTH LEADS + terrific chemistry = Romance WIN!!! So am I being a tad too harsh on Good Luck! for being such a dismal Romance FAIL!!! between the two leads? Perhaps, perhaps not. Damn you, Pride and Hero, for setting such high standards!!! *Charlton Heston mode: shakes fist at Statue of Liberty* Damn you all!!! /end rant) To be completely fair (and I’m not *just* speaking as a Kimura Fangirl here, see), what made the Shinkai-Ogawa scenes borderline watchable was Kimura Takuya himself, and the 4,505,233 megatons of pure, undiluted Kimura Awesomeness that he brings to all of his roles, all of his scenes, all of his dramas. The Kimura Awesomeness sometimes made me fuhggedabout how insufferably obnoxious Grouchy Mechanic was (an emotionally tepid, one-dimensional performance care of Shibasaki Kou’s Acting FAIL!!!). All she ever did in this drama was sulk and skulk (around the hangar) and give Shinkai the Evil Eye. The only rational explanation I could think of for her behavior was that she’s actually a robot — and probably self-assembled too, which would explain why she was so good with the machinery, hahaha. I seriously wanted to kick a wrench in her direction and scream, Oy! lassie, you pissy little missy, don’t waste your time—and mine! Just… go fix a propeller blade, or something! Go… screw a plane! Hahahahah — geddit? Hahahahaa… Jeesh.
Okay, so maybe by the time I reached the last two episodes of Good Luck!, I wasn’t exactly hurling invectives (and my dad’s tool box) at my TV screen anymore. Whatever you think of Shibashaki Kou’s acting (or lack thereof) in this drama, you still want those two lovebirds to end up together — because it ain’t exactly rocket science or particle physics to figger out that Kimuradoramas like Good Luck! ARE REALLY ALL ABOUT THAT. Airplanes, hockey rinks, race tracks, and the various characters and dilemmas therewithal — are but the shifting, interchangeable mise-en-scene to a KimuTaku Romance, whose one inviolable law is that KimuTaku Always Gets the Girl. So by sealing their, um, turbulent, oft-interrupted romance with a tender kiss on the beach in the final episode, the Shinkai-Ogawa love arc finally takes flight — and soars off into clear azure skies and the warm Hawaiian sun. And what else can you do but give the happy couple a thumbs-up and wish them, “Good Luck!”
I just LOVED the family angle of Good Luck! because these scenes had that normal rhythm that was sorely missing from the rest of the drama (aside from the Koda-Togashi moments, that is). No stilted situations here, or encounters that just screamed: “Trying too hard!!! Logic FAIL!!!” Kimura has marvelous chemistry with the actors playing his dad and his brother — nothing forced or self-conscious, just the normal relational dynamics within a family. Those family scenes were moments of such honesty and emotional connectedness, and affected me more than a dozen of the Requisite Romantic Encounters (with their manufactured sparks—boo! hiss!) ever could. The longish sequence in Episode 2 where Kimura visits his family while contemplating resignation made my eyes mist over; also notable is a later scene where the family go on a midnight fishing jaunt. In Episode 9, Shinkai’s hospital scenes with his father are as moving as they are uncontrived, and I kept hitting the rewind button because I couldn’t get enough of their respective performances. Had the Love : Family screen time proportion NOT been so effin’ skewed, Good Luck! could have actually turned out a great drama.
Meet the Motley (Flight) Crew
Of the supporting cast, I particularly liked the actor playing the Chief Purser Ota, that persnickety little ajusshi (er, wrong language, I know) so lovable in his earnestness to Do a Good Job. And of course, there’s Takenaka Naoto as one of the Air Nippon pilots (a character so incongruously named Jane Naitou), who in Good Luck! reprises his inimitable role as Hentai-with-the-Many-Accents. The first time Takenaka Naoto came out in Good Luck!, I fairly sat up and screamed, it’s that “German” conductor from Nodame Cantabile!!! Sans the white flowing wig and the fake Mr. Potatohead Nose!!! (Man, in Nodame Cantabile he was just SO debauched… but SO fascinating, lol.) Seriously, who can play the part better than this guy? He reminds me of all those men (in real life) who have no redeeming physical attributes whatsoever but have no trouble at all scoring some babes. (Must be the sense of humor. Ain’t it always the sense of humor?) Here in Good Luck!, free of that ridiculous disguise from Nodame Cantabile, I found Takenaka Naoto to be no less hilarious — more so, even. His sarcastic, off-the-cuff one-liners (delivered with such incongruous panache!) were SO hysterical to watch, especially when aimed at Kimura’s character, that you wonder how much of it was ad lib. Brilliant!
The other minor characters were forgettable at best (like Shintai’s mental Korean neighbor, so very YAWNNN for me), and annoying at worst (like that rookie flight attendant Fukaura who has the hots for Shinkai and creates trouble for Pilot Koda somewhere in the first half of the drama). Natch, it goes without saying that my favorite characters (aside from Kimura’s Shinkai Hajime, for as you all know by now I am bound for life to this man and his 4,505,233 megatons of Kimura Awesomeness) are Koda (Tsutsumi Shinichi) and Togashi (Kuroki Hitomi). Kuroki Hitomi is just sooo lovely!!! And Tsutsumi Shinichi, I gotta admit, is one Hunk with an Attitude! Heehee… I can’t decide if I’d go with Tsutsumi Shinichi’s chiseled face and Terminator physique over Kimura Takuya’s, er, whippet-like frame and less conventionally handsome features, but I MUST say that both men are incredibly good-looking male specimens, a double-whammy of stupendous yumminess!!! (So who wins? I do!!! I do!!! Hahahahahahaha)
Air KimuTaku, Ready for Takeoff!!!
I’d love to see Tsutsumi Shinichi in whatever other stuff he’s in, but my heart and soul are unabashedly Kimura Country. Whatever I’ve said about how Good Luck! was written, or how Co-Pilot Shinkai’s character was written, I have nothing against Kimura’s performance. Kimura’s comedic timing is pure frickin’ gold, baby, every single time. I don’t know how he does it — it’s one of those things you either have or you don’t. And this guy’s got it wholesale. He’s a winner, that one. I’ve got to tell the guy (to use pilot lingo): “You. Have it!” Hahahahaha. He’s so handsome here that I often forget what those little white characters near the bottom of my TV screen are. It’s only when that fickle, treacherous camera leaves his face that I remember they’re supposed to be the fan-subbed lines of dialogue that I kind of NEED TO READ in order to understand the story.
Which brings us to: “How to really enjoy Good Luck!, despite its flaws:”
Whenever Kimura Takuya appears in a scene: Hit pause. Play. Pause. Rewind. Play. Slow frame. Rewind. Play. Repeat all over again.
Good heavens… Seeing him so uncharacteristically clean-cut (with hair shorter than his collar line–whoopee!) and looking so dapper in those crisp white uniforms with the pilot stripes, and the aviator shades — I lose, man. I lose it. I lose it completely. I hit pause, go to the nearest corner of my room, and start to CHEW ON MY BIG TOE. Because that’s JUST WHAT YOU DO to survive the KimuTaku Onslaught of Awesomeness. (I’d sometimes wonder whether Air Nippon ticket sales, er, skyrocketed while Good Luck! was being aired in Japan. Wouldn’t be surprised if they did, heh.)
IF Kimura were THIS cute in all his other stuff, the universe as we know it would simply explode in an endless haze of pixie dust. So it kind of works out that he has to have the hair of a troll figurine in most of his other dramas. He’s really doing it to SAVE THE WORLD from total annihilation!!! Ain’t KimuTaku just the best?
Gaaahhhh. I obviously have some more toe-chewing to do…
Artistic & technical merit: B-
Entertainment value: B+
Photo credit: gel.com.au/koala/goodluck/characters.htm