Top Five Japanese Dramas of 2011

In keeping with previous posts, I am looking back at 2011 and recalling my top picks in the world of entertainment. This time up it is the top five Japanese dramas from last year.

2011 was a strange year for Japanese drama in that there were definite trends each network tried to follow. They had cop shows, doctor shows, then then the idea of cop and doctor dramas with kids mixed in! All three are bummers as far as I am concerned. One of the reason I stopped watching most American TV was down to it all being same cop, medical or legal series time after time. I certainly hope it wears off because no one needs to watch a second-rate CSI Tokyo type show.

OK, here goes…

5. Zenkai Girl (全開ガール)
Of course, the first one up is about a young woman hoping to be a high powered lawyer, but finds herself having to become the boss’ nanny to get a foot in the door. Lawyer show with kids… ding! I know, I have just put my foot in my mouth. Really, this series is so much more than that and it is all down to the relationship between the two main characters played by Aragaki Yui and Nishikido Ryo. Their budding romance is a constant source of frustration and elation making for one of the most entertaining series of the year.

Devoted to becoming an international lawyer, Ayukawa Wakaba is full of ambition. Her hard work pays off when she lands a job at an international law firm, but to her disappointment, the first prestigious assignment that is given to her is to babysit the boss’ 5 year old daughter, Hinata. Wakaba loathes kids and nursing, but unwillingly takes on the job as she is fixated on wealth and success. One day when she goes to a preschool to pick up Hinata, she meets a man named Yamada Sota. Sota is a man without higher education, wealth, or a future goal, someone that Wakaba absolutely cannot stand, the complete opposite of her ideals. Once again, contrary to her will, she ends up looking after Hinata and a few other kids along with Sota. Despite being exhausted from all the first-time experiences in child care, Wakaba begins to realize what is truly important to her. A heart-warming comedy about work, relationships and love.

4. Taisetsu na Koto wa Subete Kimi ga Oshiete Kureta (大切なことはすべて君が教えてくれた)
That’s a mouthful for a title, huh?! This drama stars Erika Toda and Haruma Miura as teachers working at the same high school who are set to get married in the coming months. However, the night before the school year’s opening ceremony, Miura becomes involved with a young woman (played by Emi Takei), without realizing that she will be a student in his class starting the next day. As the revelation comes to light, it leads the three on a path that will see what they hold dear destroyed.

Taking up a prestigious Monday night slot, this TV series had a mixed reaction after its release. I found it to be both tragic and hopeful, cementing a very good character based series where emotional struggles are key. The acting is understated and controlled and the production design is top notch. A really great drama.

3. Watashi ga Renai Dekinai Riyuu (私が恋愛できない理由)
According to research, more than half of Japanese women in their 20’s to 30’s admit to “currently lacking a boyfriend” and that’s what is at the heart of this drama. Men, love, sex, work, marriage… All the issues women face today are tackled by a trio of young ladies sharing a house in Tokyo.

Taking up the prestigious Monday night time, Watashi has been a pretty huge success. All the ladies, Karina, Yoshitaka Yuriko and Yuko Oshima, have wonderful chemistry and they really get you to care about what is happening in their life.

2. Shiawase ni Narou yo (幸せになろうよ)
Katori Shingo stars as a successful advisor at a marriage consultation agency who finds himself conflicted after falling in love with one of his clients. At first, he is skeptical about the girl’s (Meisa Kuroki) true intentions, but then gets to know that she is way more than he could have ever thought… she is the woman of his dreams.

It took a bit for me to warm up to this drama… about 15 minutes. It is just what I like in a drama, sad, melancholy, equally hopeful and filled with bits of genuine humor. It also has Meisa Kuroki and no drama starring her can go wrong, not even the one about the Yakuza who take over an old folks home!

1. Soredemo, Ikite Yuku (それでも、生きてゆく)
This is a hauntingly sad tale of loss and how one act of violence reverberates through two families. Eita stars as a man whose younger sister was killed by a friend, then meets that friend’s sister 15 years after the incident. Both of their families have been burdened with grief, but through their meeting they struggle to find a brighter tomorrow.

This is a very heavy, emotional drama and I really wasn’t expecting it to be so good and engaging. The performances are brilliant and writing is so dead on… you just want one ray of light to fall on them and make the future seem bright. Be prepared to weep because it had me trapped in my own glass cage of emotion!

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