Friday, March 6, 2020

ドラマ (Dorama) Time! 22 - pt. 1

I'm finally back with a new J-drama review! Pretty soon after posting my last review back in January 2019, I actually started five dramas from 2018 and 2019 that I was really interested in. But it took me a while to watch them all, and I didn't finish the last of them until three days ago. So I guess much of me returning to this blog in 2020 entails picking things up where I left off, and taking the time to not leave things unfinished. For part 1 of this roundup, I'll be writing about the two shows that had shorter episodes than the other ones (about 30 minutes long compared to the typical 45). Over the past year I used a number of different sites to watch these shows, but to make it simple I'll just say that at this time Maplestage remains the most consistent place to watch Japanese shows with Japanese subtitles or no subtitles at all (you might need to know kanji to find the show you're looking for). And for English subtitles, try FastDrama or DramaCool.

フルーツ宅配便 (Fruits Takuhaibin/Fruits Delivery Service) - TV Tokyo/2019
  • Sakita Shinichi loses his job in Tokyo, moves back to his hometown, and gets hired to work for a company that dispatches female sex workers to local hotels at male clients' requests. The women who work for this company are given names of fruit as nicknames, hence the "fruit" in "Fruits Takuhaibin".
  • Though Sakita is the main character, each of the 12 episodes focuses on a different woman who works for Fruits Takuhaibin (similar format to 'Blanket Cats' from 2017). Episodes usually explore why these women are doing this work, and what pressures they face that could put their jobs in jeopardy. (They're not allowed to have actual intercourse with clients or have relationships with them outside of work, but some clients arrogantly assume they can make the women to do whatever they want for the right price.)
  • As "manager", Sakita's job is to book reservations for the women, and drive them to and from the clients' hotels safely. He doesn't tell his family or his friends about his job, but he considers being more upfront about it when he realizes thatminor spoiler alert!his best friend Emi is a sex worker for one of the more brutal and cut-throat sex businesses in town. 
The theme of sex work is what drew me to this show. I was most curious about whether the characters would be portrayed as shameful and dirty, or if they would be given more respect and compassion than that. Thankfully, it's the latter! Though the show has some intense or even bleak moments, it also frequently has a comedic and tender tone. Fruits Takuhaibin seems to be the only sex service in town that treats women more like people than commodities. The staff Sakita works with are kind and caring, the women can refuse to see clients whom they no longer feel comfortable with, and even Misuji (the no-nonsense owner of the company) is somewhat lenient in his approach when firing certain women for breaking the rules. I only have two gripes. First, while things get better for Sakita as he comes to terms with this industry and realizes that helping sex workers feel safe and supported is what he wants to do with is life, nothing really gets significantly better for any of the women. The consistent consolation for pretty much every woman featured in each respective episode is basically, "keep your head up and things will get better for you some day, somehow", which... feels a little hollow. Second, there's a gratuitously violent thing that happens to Emi in the final episode that didn't seem to serve any purpose besides shock value, and I think we could've done without that. But overall, I was pleased with this show.

忘却のサチコ (Boukyaku no Sachiko: A Meal Makes Her Forget) - TV Tokyo/2018
  • Ever since Sasaki Sachiko was dumped on her wedding day and her would-be groom Shungo disappeared, all she can think about is what went wrong and where Shungo might be. She can't even pronounce the word "kekkon" (marriage) without stuttering, that's how torn up she is.
  • Sachiko realizes that she briefly stops thinking about Shungo whenever she's eating delicious food. So in addition to digging even more deeply into her work as a literary magazine editor, she throws herself into trying all the delicious foods she can find, from Tokyo to Miyazaki. But of course, she can't help but look for signs of Shungo along the way.
  • Will Sachiko ever see Shungo again? Will she be able to get over him if she can't find him? Will food solve all of her problems in the meantime? Gotta watch the show and see!
I hadn't realized until after I started watching this show that it was based on a manga of the same name, which makes the show's physical comedy and style of humor make a lot more sense. I also hadn't realized at first that I'd seen the lead actress before: Takahata Mitsuki played the mean girl in 'Mondai no Aru Restaurant' (2015)! She played that role just fine, but I was so incredibly impressed by the cleverness and sense of timing she displays in 'Boukyaku no Sachiko'. Sachiko's kind of awkward and the show's a little wackyat one point she and another character break into a full-on musical number extolling the virtues of onigiri, and that's just in episode 2. But I couldn't help but become endeared to Sachiko and sympathize with what she's going through. She's intensely serious most of the time (her huge eyes don't blink that often and her lips are often pursed), she's great at her job and is well-respected by her colleagues and clients, and for everything she's got going for her she just can't get over yearning for explanations and a second chance in the face of a major personal disappointment... Hmm. Perhaps I liked Sachiko so much because she is basically me, haha! But that's neither here nor there. This show is shot well, it's funny, and you get to ogle at a variety of dishes and cuisines that are available in Japan. If you enjoyed a similar food-themed show called 'Samurai Gourmet' (2017), and if you remember Herbal Essence's orgasmic shampoo commercials from the 1990s and early 2000s, then you've got Sachiko's food scenes in a nutshell. It's all in good fun!

Make sure to check out part 2 of this J-drama review to read about the other three shows that I watched over the past year, and to find out which one is my favorite of them all!

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