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Live Action TV Dramas

A Side of Cheese with the Corn

Forgive this rambling post. I just go into one of those binge cravings for Japanese live dramas every once in a while, and after watching a particularly lame one last night, I felt compelled to write about it.

I usually download three or four different series at once when I get a hankering for live dramas. Three or four ends up being quite a bit for me because the format’s a little different from anime. While each show usually only last 10 to 12 episodes in length like some anime series, each episode is about twice the running length of your typical anime episode (not to mention the premiere and finale running even longer). By the time I’m through with two or three of these shows, I usually end up being pretty sick of all live dramas for a few good months or so before the process repeats itself. Why? Because they’re so goddamn corny.

Don’t get me wrong though — live dramas are fun for me because they are so sappy and cheesy. I just watched the first episode of some peculiar live drama about public notaries. Yeah, Tokujo Kabachi! wants to make the life of a public notary seem exciting. Tamura, our hero, is a public notary assistant who is kind-hearted and wholesome like every other shounen lead.

He likes to give free advice and aid to his clients much to his boss’s chagrin. We begin with his landlady’s case.

She’s a little easy to scam. Someone walked up to her front door and offered a 500000 yen vase to ward off evil spirits and she just happily buys it. Typical women, huh? We men never make useless purchases!

Of course, the landlady’s husband pops a vein after finding out about her 500000 yen vase. Enter Tamura and his public notary powers. No, seriously, he has powers. He throws out law terms like they’re video game moves.

Look at the conviction on the actor’s face. Certainly method acting at its best.

The “cooling off” technique causes lightning to strike the evil scammer. Yep. As if Tamura was a Pikachu pokemon. Sensing his opponent slightly off balance, Tamura goes for the right hook:

He successfully knocks out the evil scammer, his landlady gets her 500000 yen back and we go to bed at night feeling a little safer knowing that there are such good, conscientious public notaries out there defending our rights to, uh… return bad purchases.

This is the corniness that makes live dramas so initially appealing yet so thoroughly sickening when it’s all said and done. It’s like cotton candy; once the night is over, you and your stomach will regret ever buying that giant pink monstrosity.

Unfortunately, Tamura soon meets his match. Enter Misuzu:

Unlike the boyish Tamura, she is ruthless. She knows what she wants and she’ll grab you by the balls to get the job done. She doesn’t just shock her opponents with cheap lightning SFX… she sends them to another goddamn dimension. At least that’s what I think she does.

In fact, her characterization is a little creepy. Every time she finishes making a successful argument, she pulls out a cigarette and smokes it in her opponent’s face (usually Tamura’s) like she just fucked her opponent over hard and she’s enjoying the afterglow.

Read Misuzu’s description again and you’ll just notice “hates men” conveniently tucked in at the end. Like always, a strong and assertive woman in a story has to have hang-ups regarding men. If a woman isn’t demure and submissive, something just has to be wrong with her. It’s a man’s fault she’s so cold now! She goes around destroying the idealistic hearts of young men because a man once dared to break hers. If only there was a squeaky clean shounen with a heart of gold to teach Misuzu to love again…

When I say that live dramas are corny, I really mean it. Somewhere in the first episode, a kid learns that his dad can’t afford to pay his medical school tuition. Does he buck up and try to find a reasonable solution? Nope, he completely flips out and runs away from home.

I have no idea how Japanese universities work. If you can’t afford to pay for school in the US, you’d typically apply for a loan or maybe request a deferment on your enrollment. Maybe you can’t do either of these things in the East. Still, I wouldn’t completely flip out on my dad, the man who helped raise me all these years.

"FUCK YOU DAD FOR NOT BEING MY MEAL TICKET THROUGH MEDICAL SCHOOL. ALL THESE BOOKS ON THE GROUND WILL SHOW YOU!"

I’m sorry, but he’s a spoiled little shit. I’m betting, however, that the live drama expected us to sympathize with the son as if it’s really his dad’s responsibility. My Asian mom still apologizes to me because I had to take out loans for college.

So here comes the meat of the show. The annoying kid’s father can’t pay the tuition because he loaned 4 million yen to a close friend. That close friend can’t afford to pay back the loan because he’s barely scraping by as it is with a fruit and vegetable shop. Misuzu represents the father and Tamura represents the shopkeeper so this is where they butt heads. While Misuzu is busy playing the one-dimensional, man-hating uber-bitch role she’s been cast in, Tamura pines, “I was wondering if there was some solution that would make both parties happy?” His boss literally socks him for even suggesting such a humanist idea. C’mon, we’re lawyers! All lawyers are heartless! TV taught me this. Continuing on, the punch only sets up the incredibly corny ending to the first episode. Tamura rises tearfully from the ground, in the middle of a rainstorm, and boldly proclaims to the world that he’ll never become a jaded attorney. Never!

Yeah, you show that rich lawyer what’s what.

And finally, I must mention how the live drama feels like a Dora the Explorer for public notary enthusiasts. Every time someone has a problem, Tamura breaks the fourth wall and gives us a little quiz.

The show then literally pauses for the audience to sit there and go “Hmm, is the verbal delay of payment lawfully permitted or not?!” After the show expects you to answer the TV like a 5 year old, Tamura excitedly exclaims, “The answer is ‘A: Permitted!'” A little glitter effect highlights the right answer on the screen accompanied by a some stock fanfare.wav.

Actually, the real gimmick is that you can actually win something from watching the show, but don’t expect much. First, you win that shitty vase they called a scam on the show:

And second, a bunch of szechuan peppers… just, uh, because.

After sixty minutes of Tokujo Kabachi!, you might wanna use them as a suppository.

You wanted something else on the table instead?

No, of course you can’t have the giant crab.

7 replies on “A Side of Cheese with the Corn”

A clever plot to get more lost Japanese kids in the notary business? Say it isn’t so.

I get the impression that taking out loans to pay for college is a distinctly North American thing. The way Japanese college students EXPECT their parents to pay tuition came as a bit of a shock… But it’s a culture thing, so I try not to judge.

How many kids would watch this though much less be convinced by it? That’s not a rhetorical question. I really don’t know how popular live dramas are with younger people in Japan.

Culture thing or not, I personally think it’s unfair to expect your parents to afford a ~90K dollar tuition (according to the translation). But it’s not the sense of entitlement to a college education that bothers me so much. It’s the flipping out, trashing your room and running away from home part that seems particularly pathetic.

If it airs in the late afternoon/early evening, chances are pretty decent. Teens in Japan are like teens everywhere: They like silly comedies and whatever has their pet heartthrob in the lead role. But I was imagining more like twenty-something NEETs who live in front of the television. :)

Culture thing or not, I just think it’s unfair to expect your parents to pay for everything.

I absolutely agree. My knee-jerk reaction is to sing Star’s “Leech” song from Arakawa Under the Bridge… But you and I have been raised in an environment where being supported by one’s parents well into adulthood is strange and unacceptable, except perhaps for the very wealthy.

It would work, in a system where children eventually grow up and faithfully take care of their parents. But the times, they are a-changing.

My initial reaction was to compare something like Tokujo Kabachi! to those silly sitcoms that come and go in America, but this is just a guess and I could be dead wrong. It might actually be the equivalent of the Entourage, Heroes, Lost, etc. type shows for all I know.

But you and I have been raised in an environment where being supported by one’s parents well into adulthood is strange and unacceptable,

Well, we’re not really all that different anymore. You always see a couple articles on the boomerang generation crop up every now and then in the West. In the end, I just think a little perspective is required. People are treating post-secondary education as if it’s a human right.

The only one I’ve watched an episode of was this cheesy detective one that they were advertising on Crunchyroll maybe about a year and a half ago. It had some really crappy explosion effects, that’s for sure.

Hmm, there’s quite a few detective live dramas. The first thing that popped in my head was Sexy Voice and Robo, but it could be anything.

One other reason I tend to like live dramas is the relative lack of fanservice. At most, you’ll get a guy’s bare chest I guess.

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