Posted tagged ‘kusanagi tsuyoshi’

Drama Review: 99-nen no Ai ~ Japanese-Americans (TBS, 2010)

February 21, 2011

99 Years of Zzzzsolitude

by Ender’s Girl

The Cast:
Kusanagi Tsuyoshi, Matsuyama Kenichi, Nakama Yukie, Nakai Kiichi, Izumi Pinko, Kawashima Umika, Terashima Saki, Yachigusa Kaoru, Kamijo Tsunehiko, Kishi Keiko

In a Nutshell:
A family of Japanese immigrants struggle to survive in America in the years leading up to the Second World War, enduring bigotry and injustice – both on their farm, and later, in an internment camp – from an increasingly xenophobic society and its government.

(SpoilLert: It’s A WAR DRAMA, so it can’t possibly end well, can it?)

“But when we came out of camp, that’s when I first realized that being in camp, that being Japanese-American, was something shameful.”

– George Takei

This multi-generational saga begins when the founding patriarch leaves his hometown in search of a better life and a better future…

[*buzz* What is “One Hundred Years of Solitude”?]

…and he embarks on an epic journey across the ocean, where America beckons with the promise of land so green and bountiful, as far as the eye can see. And on this land he unexpectedly finds love…

[*buzz* What is Far and Away?]

…But he and his wife soon realize the hardships faced by migrant sharecroppers – the unfair wages, abusive landlords and wretched living conditions…

[*buzz* What is “The Grapes of Wrath”?]

…Still, the young couple persevere until they acquire their own farm and start to raise a family. But when war breaks out between America and Japan following the Pearl Harbor attacks, the family is forced off their land by the U.S. government and relocated to the Manzanar Internment Camp…

[*buzz* What is “Snow Falling on Cedars”?]

…And in this production, the lead actor appears in multiple roles…

[*buzzzzzz* What is Coming to America???????]

(LOL.) Er, sorry to disappoint the Gabriel Garcia-Marquez fans, the Tom+Nicole fans, the Steinbeck fans, the Ethan Hawke fans (lol) and most of all, the Eddie Murphy fans reading this blog, but the answer is “none of the above.”

When 99-nen no Ai (99 Years of Love) ~ Japanese-Americans aired for five consecutive nights in November of 2010, it wasn’t just touted as TBS’ 60th anniversary offering — a worthy milestone in itself — but as something more momentous, not only for the network but for the whole country. For this tanpatsu wasn’t just any historical drama, it was a drama about a particular subset of Nihonjin who lived in a land not their own, amid a people hostile to their race, and during one of the most harrowing periods in 20th-century history. By following the story of the fictional Hiramatsu family, 99-nen no Ai gives viewers a glimpse into the injustices suffered by the first-generation Japanese-American immigrants (called Issei) and their American-born children (or Nisei) on U.S. soil during the 1920s-1940s, the most egregious of which being their blanket labeling as “enemy aliens” during the Second World War (despite the Nisei being American citizens) and subsequent incarceration in concentration camps.

Click to read MOAR!!! MOAR!!!


Drama Review (Part 2): Ninkyo Helper (Fuji TV, 2009)

March 6, 2010

The Ties That Bind

by Ender’s Girl

[Read Part 1 of review]


The Cast:
Kusanagi Tsuyoshi, Natsukawa Yui, Kuroki Meisa, Kato Seishiro, Yabu Kouta, Igarashi Shunji, Yuki Jutta, Ukaji Takashi, Naka Riisa, Osugi Ren, Yamamoto Yusuke, Matsudaira Ken

(SpoilLert: Ze zpoilerz continue! Allez allez!)

[Recommended companion track: “Sotto Kyutto” by SMAP]

“Freely we serve,
Because we freely love, as in our will
To love or not; in this we stand or fall:”

– John Milton, “Paradise Lost”


They say that relationships change you – for the better, or for the worse. But for Tsubasa Hikoichi, there’s really nowhere to go but UP, right?

Ninkyo Helper is one of those dramas wherein the interactions between the main characters actually transcend the plotting. If you peel away the first two layers — a yakuza caper, and a commentary on aging and eldercare — you’ll get the beating heart of Ninkyo Helper, which is really a deep but empathetic exploration of human relationships. (Although funnily enough, it isn’t evident from the title  — “Ninkyo” pointing to the yakuza angle, and “Helper” to eldercare.) I’ve realized while writing this review that I tolerated the gangster part, appreciated the social commentary, and fell head over heels in love with the main characters’ interrelationships.

Hikoichi and the Taiyo residents have an interesting dynamic: he relates to them in the same churlish, unchivalrous manner that he treats everyone else (lol). But Hikoichi shows them the gruff, tough side of love, the side that can tackle an elderly wheelchair-bound man to the ground to get him to walk again, and the side that tells a paralyzed and semi-blind lady off for riding her daughter too hard. Hikoichi’s stint at the Taiyo home is very much a journey of self-awareness, because now he’s on the other side, on the side of the old and the infirm, the weak and the helpless. A critical moment occurs in the final episode, when Hikoichi receives a call from a smooth-talking swindler posing as a lawyer, ready to suck a pensioner dry — and oh, how well Hikoichi knows this style, he’s done it a million times before — and so he sees himself for the conning monster that he is. Or was. He slams down the handset in disgust and can feel the room closing in, the air thick with his own guilt. He makes for the nearest window and sticks his head out, fighting for breath. Oh. My. Goodness. I loved this moment, I even gasped when Hikoichi gasped. (Thank you Ninkyo Helper writer, for showing and not telling.)

When the Taiyo staff and residents throw a surprise birthday party for Hikoichi in Ep. 7, you can tell it touches him deeply. This little moment is just one of many that build and build until you realize, along with Hikoichi, that the Taiyo home has become just that: his home. And from the troubled faces of the other yakuza – Riko most of all – you know they know they’re losing their aniki bit by bit, though he may not have realized it yet. It’s how Hikoichi was written, how you really get to know him, that makes the character immensely appealing and truly unforgettable. The moral tension is real, it’s there, an actual battle of wills raging within. And his quirks and behavioral patterns really feel organic, and not mere embellishments — like how he always drinks the same black coffee brand, how he lounges on benches chain-smoking (with one foot up, lol!), how he picks the veggies out of his food. (Super LOL moment in Ep. 4 — when Hikoichi crankily tries to get a veggie-hating geezer to eat the carrots in his beef stew, saying “Don’t waste food.” Hahahaha OH HIKOICHI!) And I especially LOVED it whenever he’d go “Huh?” with that matching I-don’t-give-a-sh*t face, LOLLL!!!! Like, he must’ve done it at least five times every episode. Oh Hikoichi.

What is Hikoichi’s kryptonite? Click to read MOAR!!! MOAR!!!

Drama Review (Part 1): Ninkyo Helper (Fuji TV, 2009)

March 6, 2010

Training Day

by Ender’s Girl


The Cast:
Kusanagi Tsuyoshi, Natsukawa Yui, Kuroki Meisa, Kato Seishiro, Yabu Kouta, Igarashi Shunji, Yuki Jutta, Ukaji Takashi, Naka Riisa, Osugi Ren, Yamamoto Yusuke, Matsudaira Ken

In a Nutshell:
Six mid-level yakuza gunning for a coveted promotion find out that to qualify for the post, they must first hurdle their toughest gig ever: as undercover care workers at the Taiyo Nursing Home.

(SpoilLert: I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you… heh heh)

[Recommended companion track: “All My Soul,” Ninkyo Helper OST]


Deconstructing Mr. Tsu

It isn’t easy being Kusanagi Tsuyoshi.

For starters, you were never as popular as other members of your manband. Yes, you’re part of a manband — one that used to be a boyband, but considering most of you will be 40 in a few years, your group can hardly be called that nowadays. Still, you belong to Nihon’s preeminent pop group S… M… A… P…, with a string of sold-out concerts, hit singles, TV and radio shows, a bajillion CMs, and a googolplex of magazine covers accrued over two decades — and counting, if you include the years before your official debut. No other boyband/manband has enjoyed the same level of success or staying power as SMAP, or has even come close. But for how much longer, is anyone’s guess.

Being part of a manband means there have to be some things you’re marginally good at, a few perfunctory talents up your sleeve to lend a semblance of credibility to your J-Pop icon status. Singing? Oh, you don’t have a terrible voice — not as bad as your mate Nakai’s, which could be mistaken for rapping — but yours won’t stand out in room full of people with real vocal talent. Sure, you can play a couple of instruments like the piano, but virtuoso you ain’t. Dancing, then? Oh no, no no no, your dancing is even worse, and you know it — painfully. No matter how hard you try, your stiff, gangly body always ends up doing these herky-jerky moves devoid of any iota of musicality or grace.

What is Tsuyoshi’s Secret Weapon? Click to read MOAR!!! MOAR!!!