Drama Reviews: Gokusen 1 (NTV, 2002); Gokusen 2 (NTV, 2005); Hana Kimi (Fuji TV, 2007)
High School Farcical
by Ender’s Girl
With a precious few exceptions (like Nobuta wo Produce), high school-based J-dramas seem to be nothing but an endless wasteland of sheer inanity, where people are one-dimensional buffoons and situational plausibility gets pimped out for cheap laughs. In this world, school IS a joke. Literally.
I give you Exhibit A:
Groundhog Day with the Gokusens
Nakama Yukie, Utsui Ken, Namase Katsuhisa, and a truckload of Johnnies, Johnny-types, Johnny wannabes, and Johnny rejects… plus the seasonal posse of Angry Young Rebels aka Yankumi’s Core Group
In a Nutshell:
Young math teacher Yankumi + her homeroom class of toughies and teenage dirtbags = Too much violence, waaaaaay too much playing hooky, but not enough algebra. (Stand and Deliver this ain’t.)
(SpoilLert: Ehhhh… the whole damn nutshell IS the plot.)
[Recommended companion track: “Teenage Dirtbag” by Wheatus]
I finally gave Gokusen a try because of all the hype surrounding the series/franchise/commercial juggernaut. And I suppose anyone would’ve found the story *marginally* enjoyable… if they were FIVE years old, that is. Sitting through the Gokusens I kept feeling like frikkin’ Bill Murray in Groundhog Day: You’re forced to relive the same episode over and over and over again, watching various permutations of the same rehashed situations: The baaad, baaaad boys of Class 3-D are mean to Yankumi! Yankumi gets tough on them! The boys get into various scrapes/fisticuffs with the Criminal Elements of Society! Yankumi saves her “precious students” — because Yankumi is really… a Yakuza scion trained in the age-old art of a$$-kicking! So the boys inevitably end up learning Valuable Life Lessons! Like… Obey your elders! Choose your battles wisely! Learn to appreciate your teachers! Finish high school, and reach!your!potential! Follow your heart! (Hahaha)
Really, they could’ve done ALL OF THIS with just one SP and achieved the same result — instead of 3 seasons, 2 SPs and a feature film.
But for purposes of comparison: Gokusen 1 >>>>>>>>>>>>>>> Gokusen 2.
Gokusen 1 is definitely less frenetic and less cartoonish than G2, and loads more enjoyable. (And the 3-D classroom of G1 looks so… normal, unlike that pigsty from G2. *shudders*) I actually found myself emotionally involved at some level — the Kumai boy’s (Waki Tomohiro) story in particular. And Nakama Yukie has great chemistry with Matsumoto Jun as Sawada Shin, G1’s Alpha Male of the Angry Young Rebels. Nothing sexual or anything (she’s his frikkin’ teacher, duh), but their scenes make the viewer wish for some post-graduation romance, haha. NOW I understand why there are like, 1 million YankumixShin shippers out there (…and why the Kame haters increased by 1 million when the movie came out this year, lol).
And it’s interesting to see MatsuJun and Oguri Shun in their career-making roles (this was way back in 2002, after all)… even more interesting to see how they looked before the advent of eyebrow threading and orthodontia, lol.
<Now this is the part where my three regular readers get whittled down to two. (Run away!!! Run away!!!)>
Yes, I watched Gokusen 2 for Kamenashi Kazuya, yes Kame that sick little skank from KAT-TUN, because I’m a Kame Kompletist, and that’s what you DO when you’re a Kompletist, you watch all his dramas no matter how Krappy, and don’t even get me started on the Krappiest of them all, Gokusen is decent compared to the other things I’ve seen Kame in, oh my eyes, my eyes… /end of run-on sentence. Well, the only thing I liked about Gokusen 2 was… Kame. (Surprise, surprise.)
But was it just me, or did he actually have some chemistry with Nakama Yukie, as well? Heh heh heh… Not in a YankumixShin way, of course, but… Kame’s character (Odagiri Ryu, this season’s Alpha Male of the Angry Young Rebels) is the only one in his class who doesn’t treat Yankumi like she’s their teacher/buddy/bodyguard/knight in shining armor. I actually like how the Yankumi-Ryu dynamic is developed in this drama.
Oh, and I liked the music of the second season, particularly that horribly infectious “No More Cry” by D-51 as the theme song, and “Kizuna” (hehehe) by Kame as the insert track.
Awwww, looky, someone’s feeling left out ‘coz E.G. didn’t mention him, not even once…
I think the best thing about the Gokusens would be Yankumi’s interaction with her granddad (Utsui Ken) and their Yakuza homies (Anan Kenji, Uchiyama Shinji, Kaneko Ken — hilarious, all). Entertaining stuff, if hardly realistic. The producers/writers obviously wanted to make the Yakuza angle as benign as possible, considering the school kids and tweeners who (presumably) made up the lion’s share of the TV audience. Yankumi’s gramps is portrayed as this kindly old man who couldn’t hurt a fly, but all the time I was thinking, “He’s a frickin’ MOB BOSS… how many people has he had killed, anyway?” But then pretty much everything else in the Gokusens is trivialized, so it’s easy to see why the writers glossed over this, er, little detail (Yakuza! = Organized! Crime! Syndicate!). Durrrr…
And as for Gokusen 3… hahahahahahha I’m not THAT shtooopidddd…
(But I’ll be watching Gokusen the Movie once the DVD is released, so I guess I AM. Doh!)
Artistic & technical merit: B- (G1) C- (G2)
Entertainment value: B- (G1) C+ (G2)
Overall: B- (G1) C (G2)
Hanazakari no Kimitachi e / For You in Full Bloom
Horikita Maki, Oguri Shun, Ikuta Toma, Mizushima Hiro, a dog, and more truckloads of Johnnies, Johnny-types, Johnny wannabes, and Johnny rejects
In a Nutshell:
Girl travels halfway across the globe to help Serious Sporty Guy “find himself,” but first needs to pose as a guy to get into Serious Sporty Guy’s all-boys school. This other dude, Funny Dorky Guy, completes the requisite love triangle.
(SpoilLert: None!!! Because I am Kind and Generous…)
But first, let’s sing…
The Hana Kimi Tiny Toon Adventures!
We’re tiny, we’re toony,
We’re all a little looney,
And in this cartoony,
We’re invading your TV!
We’re comic dispensers,
We crack up all the censors,
On tiny toon adventures
Get a dose of comedy!
I really don’t have to continue writing about Hana Kimi because that song from the Warner Bros. animated series sums it up beauuuutifully. But I will anyway, hahaha.
So why did I slog through this high school farce-o-rama? Because Oguri Shun is Love.
Repeat after me: Oguri Shun is L-O-V-E. Love. Okay, so maybe he isn’t classically handsome — but then this is Japan, so who is, right? Lol. (The only classically handsome J-actors I know would be Karasawa Toshiaki, Fujiki Naohito, Tsumabuki Satoshi, and (a pre-anorexic) Tamaki Hiroshi… Yep, that’s about it… Oh no, not you, KimuTaku, I never found you classically handsome, sorry… Nope, not even in Good Luck!… Back of the line, buddy! Lol) Back to non-classically handsome Shun: But there’s something about good acting that makes a character (and the actor playing him) so… compelling to watch. Towering over everyone else, Shun may look a bit too… mature to be playing a high school student on Hana Kimi (*ka-ching!* understatement of the year! hahahahaha), but but BUT I never would’ve found this drama tolerable without him in it. Yep, without him as Sano Izumi aka The Serious Sporty Guy, I would’ve chucked my DVD out the window right after Episode One.
Amid the crazy, meandering stupidity of Hana Kimi, Shun brings a certain… gravitas, and a core of believability to the story. I’ve seen him in pretty good productions (Hana Yori Dango, Stand Up!) as well as pretty awful ones (the abortion that was Yuuki, and now, Hana Kimi), but I was blown away by his performance in each one. He really seems to understand, as in really understand what each character is about — no matter how well, or how poorly written that role is — and he has that gift (yeah, the one soooo few actors have, lol) of inhabiting a character and making it his own, despite crappy writing/direction or mediocre co-stars. Shun can make whatever character he’s playing feel like a real person, whether the material is hardcore comedy, or more serious fare.
It also helps that his character on Hana Kimi is (writing-wise) the meatiest of the lot: the whole character arc of Sano Izumi is developed (i.e. his internal conflict, his motivation, his worries and insecurities, his family baggage) and so you really get to witness his personal journey throughout the drama. But then this is Shun, so even with the character of Sano being the best-written on the entire drama, a lesser actor may have messed it all up just the same, lol. And yeah, I’d totally believe his character was this record-breaking track star — with that super athletic body of his? *wolf-whistles, lol* Baby baby baby. You can (high)jump me anytime, lolz. (PLUS, sporting that jet-black hair, and walking around in those to-die-for Nike track suits, Shun certainly looks his cutest among all the dramas I’ve seen him in. Oooh-la-la!!!)
Then there’s Ikuta Toma aka “The Johnny That, er, Johnny Forgot” (lol), as Nakatsu Shuichi, the Funny Dorky Guy who develops feelings for Horikita Maki’s character — which naturally convinces him that he’s gay, which naturally generates more laughs for the story. I thought that Toma’s “dark” (lol) turn on Hana Yori Dango 2 was rather laughable, but he really surprised me on Hana Kimi. Providing the comedic foil to Shun’s straight-arrow character, Toma is freaking hilarious as Nakatsu Shuichi — typically J-com, but never annoyingly over the top. And I like that as an actor, Toma doesn’t balk at making fun of himself, and is refreshingly unselfconscious despite all the outrageous situations his character finds himself in. Nakatsu doesn’t realize right away that Horikita Maki is a SHE, and it is this (erroneously based) Gay Awakening of his that provides the drama’s funniest moments. (Nakatsu’s 5,866 nosebleed scenes were highly amusing, and I was LMAO during the scene when he goes all moony over Ashiya Mizuki (Horikita Maki) at the okonomiyaki parlor, and the camera zooms in on his expression, with water dribbling from his mouth and love cataracts glowing in his eyes.) At least I had fun watching Toma, even if the rest of the comic acting from the cast felt so fake.
But oh dear, Horikita Maki: the weakest link of the three. I was HOPING to see a Girl acting like a Boy (same kind of role that Amanda Bynes NAILED!!! in the 2006 film She’s the Man — aka Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” for the MTV Generation, heh), but it was sooooo frustrating to watch Maki Not. Even. Trying. Or. Acting. Like. She. Was. Trying. What we have instead is a Girl who still acts like a Girl but has everyone thinking she’s a Boy because: 1) the boys at Osaka High are THAT dumb, and 2) the writing decreed that nobody would ever find her out until the last episode. Durrr. Maki doesn’t even lower her voice, or walk like a dude, or adopt other mannish mannerisms — things Amanda Bynes did in She’s the Man, with delightfully hilarious results. She’s the Man was so entertaining (despite being — yessss, another high school rom-com) because Bynes attacked her role with an almost gleeful gusto, and wasn’t afraid her Disney/Nickelodeon-weaned image would take a beating by appearing in a gender-bending role, or by deglamorizing herself to the point of being unrecognizable. The whole film is really about the comedy of errors that ensues as Viola (Amanda Bynes) tries her darnedest to fit into the all-boys school, despite getting into a lot of hairy near-scrapes, compounded even more by the maddening proximity to her super-stud of a roommate, Duke Orsino (Channing Tatum).
On the surface it may not seem fair to pit Hana Kimi against She’s the Man. “Comparisons are odious,” as the saying goes. But they ARE inevitable. And cultural differences aside, the only valid point for comparison between Maki’s turn on Hana Kimi and other gender-bender roles would lie in the believability of the performance: did the actress play a girl playing a guy to a convincing degree? Horikita Maki = not in my book. What made me want to tear my hair out was watching this insipid, half-a$$ed effort from her that would’ve been pleasantly watchable — if her character hadn’t pretended to be a guy from the start. She’s SUCH a girl here, and what astounds me even more is how the writing loves to make her character dress up in ladies’ formalwear (e.g. the pageant, then later the dance contest), then later makes a big deal of her being outed as a girl, when everything about the drama (the writing, Maki’s unconvincing acting) somehow conveniently forgets how bloody important it is for Ashiya to act as boyishly as possible, and not give even the barest hint that she’s actually a girl!!! Argh!!! *self-destructs*
Granted, Japan is crawling with bishounen types, so mannishness (even in men) may not be as idealized as in other cultures. But Maki didn’t even play androgynous convincingly, IMO. She obviously got poor direction from The Director, who (with The Writer) ought to take the brunt of the blame for the whole phony treatment of Hana Kimi. The effectivity of a performance (or lack thereof) is really the net effect of the writing, the direction, and the actor’s own interpretation of the role. Which is why it’s SO important for actors (especially those serious about TEH CRAFT!) to view their portrayal as a collaborative process. And this can only be achieved if the actor and director truly understand how the character was written and share in the same creative vision. But if all the lead star ever does is mouth her lines and hop when the director says “hop,” and never really goes deep into her character, then that’s another story altogether, heh.
What’s best about Hana Kimi: Oguri Shun, Ikuta Toma, the Nike track suits, and the dog.
And the worst? Everything and everyone else. Especially YOU, Maki, you… GIRL.
Artistic & technical merit: C+
Entertainment value: B-
Photo credits: crunchyroll.com, dramawiki.com, hallyudorama.com, kitine.wordpress.com, soompi.com, ampf.vox.com