News Nibbly: KimuTaku, TBS Gear Up for Big-Budget Antarctica Drama
MUSH!!! (South Pole or Bust!)
by Ender’s Girl
No question about it: with his active, fun-loving, outdoorsy lifestyle, Kimura Takuya is Dog’s best friend. (Unlike sedentary, cat-owning little me…eow.) Word is he keeps two canines, a Labrador and a guide dog of unspecified breed. And the above photo of him with a Golden Retriever (one of my all-time fave Kimura snapshots) says it all: the Dorama King digs dawgs… Dawg. I mean, just look at that Gatsby-Waxed animatronic canine plushie ensconced in his lap (see video below), and tell me they weren’t made for each other, lol. (How something can look like creepy sh*t and be beyond adorable and cool at the same time is lost on me.)
Now picture Kimura with not one, but fifteen dogs — Sakhalin Huskies to be precise, and all of them stranded in the harshest imaginable place on earth. (Clue: it starts with an “A” and ends with an “A” — but it sure as heck ain’t Australia, lol.) It’s Man plus Dog… vs. Wild! Human and canine, battling the elements together! Oh the blizzards! The whiteout! The frostbite and hypothermia! The deadly leopard seals! The Abominable Snowman! (Wrong hemisphere I know! lol) And what could possibly be worse than getting stuck in Planet Earth’s butthole? Why, it’s having to ditch your loyal sled dogs in Planet Earth’s butthole while you get rescued with your fellow humans!!! (Tsk tsk) Would you risk life and (frostbitten) limb to go back for your furry friends, even with no guarantee that they’d still be alive? Would you?
If this scenario sounds like the stuff of Disney movies, it IS in fact the stuff of a Disney movie – specifically the 2006 film Eight Below (starring Paul Walker). But what audiences then probably didn’t know was that Eight Below was inspired by the 1983 Japanese blockbuster Nankyoku Monogatari (South Pole Story). The film was based on the dramatic events of the 1957-58 Japanese Antarctic Expedition, when extreme weather conditions forced the Showa Base research team to evacuate via chopper and leave behind an entire pack of Sakhalin Huskies (or “Karafuto-Ken”) still chained to the base. It was almost a year before Antarctic weather conditions permitted the team to make their way back to Showa Base in the hopes of burying the dogs. But what they didn’t expect to find was that two of the Huskies, Taro and Jiro, had miraculously survived and were awaiting the team’s return. (Cue: *giant sniffle*)
Network giant TBS has unveiled plans to cap its year-long 60th anniversary celebration with a re-imagining of the Nankyoku Monogatari story for the Fall 2011 lineup, retitling the drama Nankyoku Tairiku (Antarctica)… aaand with none other than KimuTaku on the marquee, natch! TBS is all but emptying its coffers for this mega-production of icebergian proportions, proclaiming Nankyoku Tairiku to be their most expensive drama like, evar — that will outcost even the flashy, high-tech 2009 police procedural Mr. Brain that was Kimura’s last collaboration with the network. Suffice it to say that Nankyoku Tairiku will be the mother of all massively ambitious undertakings, and arguably the riskiest one, too — for it’s now been proven that — ALL TOGETHER NOW! — big-budget KimuTaku vehicles with high-profile ensemble casts and hot, sexy co-stars do not always a good (or even passable) drama make (i.e. Tsuki no Koibito).
Still, TBS seems bullish on the prospects of Nankyoku Tairiku achieving television immortality in the years to come – and corollarily, network immortality as well. After all, this incredible account of the 1957-58 South Pole Expedition and of the Karafuto Huskies left behind is well-woven into the fabric of contemporary Japanese lore… kind of like the story of the little Dutch boy who jammed his fist in a leaking dike and saved his village but froze to death — but only factual. Plus, human interest (and animal interest!) stories inevitably push that one button in all of us: there’s something universally appealing about these tales of courage, brotherhood, survivorship, heroism and endurance in the face of extreme adversity – regardless of time or setting. And these factors, I suppose, are what the network execs are banking on to haul the TBS sled all the way to the top of the ratings slope. (Plus the fact that Kimura’s recent critical duds notwithstanding, the Dorama King is still the most consistently profitable TV actor in Nihon, bar none.)
This final scene from the 1983 movie, though a slow edit by 21st century cinematic standards, nevertheless made my heart leap, my insides twist and my tear ducts zing at the sight of the two surviving Huskies loping down the icy landscape while their two rescuers waited from a distance, holding back tears. (I guess this cat person has some canine sympathies after all.)
It’s reported that Nankyoku Tairiku won’t be a frame-by-frame remake of Nankyoku Monogatari, but we can probably expect the 2011 drama to retain the bleak sense of realism that’s so characteristically Japanese (Snow Dogs this ain’t!), and which the 2006 Disneyfied version apparently chucked in favor of a more feel-good ending. (In the factual account — faithfully depicted in Nankyoku Monogatari — all but two of the 15 dogs were found to be either dead or missing, while in Eight Below, all but two of the eight dogs survived their delayed rescue attempt. Well, that’s Hollywood for you.)
As a Kimura fan, this news nibbly certainly took me by surprise. You’d think that after last year’s debacle that was TsukiKoi, he’d be one to hedge his bets in 2011, and maybe take the time to regroup and re-test the waters by starring in a drama of far less epic proportions – i.e. anything NOT so potentially Waterworldian (lol) in scale, budget and and risk factor. But it turns out the Dorama King is going ALL IN. Like, hardcore, ice-core ALL IN. And we know this can only end as either an epic WIN or an epic FAIL; with a production like Nankyoku Tairiku, there’s just no middle ground.
What I’m most interested in is how the writing will flesh out what appears to be a very thin storyline: humans bond with dogs, weather goes to shite, humans abandon dogs, humans wait a year and try not to kill each other with guilt, dogs meanwhile fend for themselves and try not to eat each other (or do they?), weather clears up, humans return for surviving dogs, credits roll. I just hope the creative brains behind Nankyoku Tairiku will avoid the pitfalls of manufacturing dramatic fillers and sub-plots that don’t feel realistic and organic to the characters and setting (just like in the 2003 TBS drama Good Luck!, where the airline passengers were made to act up just so they’d have something to do on a 10-hour flight, lol). But I’m not sure that the story of Nankyoku Tairiku can be stretchd to 12 episodes without sacrificing audience interest. Perhaps this is one of those times when a tighter 7 or 8-part series (as Kimura’s last two dramas have been) will be a better fit for the material…?
But I actually don’t mind the apparent absence of a romantic angle from the plot. Besides, I’m done clamoring for love stuff in a Kimura renzoku; the last time we fangirls did that, we were royally screwed over to the moon and back (hatesss!!!). Instead, I’d like the writing to fully explore the interactions among the expedition researchers – and how their leaving the dogs behind at the base will change them and the dynamics of their team. For this reason, I’m quite happy that a very able supporting cast has been announced.
Masato Sakai will be playing the meteorologist and team leader, and – if their role dynamics in the 2005 drama Engine were any indication – the emotional counterpoint to Kimura’s geologist character. I can already imagine Masato Sakai turning his squinty-eyed disapproval on Kimura full-blast while curtly ordering Kimura to – gasp! – abandon the dogs that is a direct order abandon dogs!!! Lol. (So if Masato Sakai reprises his fastidious, party-pooping role, does this mean KimuTaku’s character will be another permutation of one of his most famous stock characters, The Maverick? Don’t hold your breath, hahaha.) Rounding off the cast are the likes of Kagawa Teruyuki (last seen screaming his head off at Kimura in Mr. Brain, lol) and Yamamoto Yusuke (who for all his admirable supporting work in other dramas will always be known as the Tumbling Boy). I dunno ‘bout you, but I’m actually kind of stoked, lol.
The last time Kimura played someone who had to contend with anything frozen, he did it with a pair of skates and a 2-meter hockey stick. And he had a girl to (shyly) cheer him on. That was back in 2004. (Sorry, I’m NOT counting that scene in the snow in his 2007 drama Karei Naru Ichizoku… Happy thoughts, E.G. Happy thoughts…) It’s now 2011, and the arena from Pride has gotten a little bit bigger – like, the-whole-freakin’-continent-of-Antarctica bigger. That’s a whole lotta ice, and TBS will need a whole lotta money to make it all happen. Perhaps the recent box-office success of Space Battleship Yamato has emboldened Kimura – and the networks whose fortunes seem inextricably bound to his – to blaze a trail and literally go where no other Japanese TV network has gone before? To Antarcticaaaa and beyooond!!! South Pole or bust, baby!
So let’s hope the reception among drama viewers will be anything BUT… um, glacial. And with that I wish Kimura and TBS all the best on this production, which hits the road – er, ice – in February. It may not be the kind of project I would’ve wanted for him this year, but no biggie, no biggie. I’ve realized that at the end of the day, what I’m really really looking for in a drama are just the bare essentials done RIGHT, regardless of genre or scope: coherence in storytelling, and credibility in acting. Doesn’t matter whether the drama is a ren’ai or a procedural, a comedy or heavy melo; or whether the production is a grand spectacle or something more modest in scale. And if Nankyoku Tairiku is done well, if it’s done right, then Kimura and TBS’ little baby might just go down in history as Japan’s greatest show on ice.
Sources: Sanspo via Tokyohive; Wikipedia
Photo credits: DramaWiki.com, Japanator.com, Soompi.com, Tokyohive.com
Video uploaders: 40530b @ YouTube.com, thenomad1986 @ YouTube.com