Thursday, October 20, 2022

ドラマ (Dorama) Time! 29 - pt. 1

No matter that October is almost over! I've just finished watching all four of my J-drama selections from the summer 2022 broadcast season, and I'm here to review them in the order that I finished them! (Which, coincidentally, is the exact opposite from the order that I started them.) The Meh/Better/Best approach that I came up with last time worked really well for me, so I'm going to keep rocking with that. First up are two dramas that I'm categorizing as "short and sexy (?)". They both only have eight episodes, around 25 minutes each, and there's onscreen intercourse that is meant to be sexy, but I was more intrigued by the narratives at play than the backs being cracked (hence the question mark). Plus I'm not usually in the habit of using "sexy" as a descriptor, so there's that too.
復讐の未亡人 (Fukushuu no Miboujin/The Vengeful Widow) - TV Tokyo/2022
  • Mitsuki (Matsumoto Wakana from 'Kingyo Tsuma') is the titular widow, whose husband Yuugo was the ace software developer at his job. That is, until he went to work one day and jumped from the roof to his death due to overwork and a hostile office environment.
  • A year later, Mitsuki (going by "Mitsu") has infiltrated her late husband's workplace as an ace software developer just like him, using her friendliness and helpfulness as a facade to investigate Yuugo's demanding boss, the co-workers who offloaded their work onto Yuugo the most, and whoever was the last person to interact with Yuugo before he jumped. She methodically zeroes in on each target and ruins their lives, from poisoning tea to temporarily abducting a cat to playing someone's adulterous sex tape at their wedding reception.
  • Behind the scenes is her brother-in-law Youji, a private investigator who disguises himself at the office and other locations in order to complete whatever task or gather whatever intel Mitsuki needs. Meanwhile, one of Yuugo's former co-workers (now Mitsuki's co-worker) becomes fond of "Mitsu", and adds perspective to who Yuugo was at work.
Meh: What I'm about to say is petty, but this show has the same problem as 'Tokyo Girl' on Amazon Prime. (FYI, I watched that J-drama when it initially debuted on Amazon Prime years ago, but chose not to review it because I wanted it to be just for fun. I might re-watch and review it later though.) And that problem is the hair! In both shows, the main character has a bob in the present, and when she's shown in the past having long hair, it's clearly the same bob with poorly-disguised extensions attached. I'm no hairstylist, so it's not like I could do a better job myself, but come on! At least don't make it so obvious, please!
Also, the backstory is that Mitsuki grew up with her future husband and brother-in-law (twins) because they were... her first cousins? Meaning she married (and boinked) her own first cousin? I kept replaying those parts of the show to confirm whether the trio was referring to each other as family in the figurative sense—like how we Black Americans often call non-blood-related loved ones "my cousin"—but I'm fairly certain they were being literal. Which means there's incest in this show that goes completely unaddressed, and it's treated as completely normal that both Yuugo and Youji fell in love with Mitsuki at some point. Apparently she only ever had eyes for Yuugo, even though Youji's the one who acted as her knight in shining armor when she was being abused by her stepdad, and who shared a bond with her that Yuugo knew he wasn't in on. (They committed double-murder as kids and promised to never tell Yuugo about it, but he somehow found out anyway.)
Better: Something about the way grief informs Mitsuki's revenge still lingers with me. I was expecting that Mitsuki would want to take the entire company down, but I was wrong. Suing the company would likely be unsuccessful (and the less interesting route), and it actually means something to her to not destroy the entire company, because in her mind that would erase the legacy of her husband's hard work. So the best solution she can come up with is to dole out specific punishments to specific people, using their most precious or most used items against them. Her approach is cunning, but also doomed to leave her dissatisfied because it's not all-encompassing.

On a separate note, I found out after I finished 'Fukushuu no Miboujin' that it's written by the same manga artist (Kurosawa R) who wrote the manga that 'Kingyo Tsuma' is based on. Tonally and from a "women dealing with dark situations but still getting their rocks off" standpoint, this revelation makes perfect sense!
Best: Regardless of the results, Mitsuki's commitment to her plan is what sells the entire show. Imagine being so loyal to your loved one and so committed to vengeance that within a year, you: change your name, learn to code, get hired as a programmer on the same research and development team at the same company that worked your husband to suicide, and even have an affair with your dead husband's unrepentant boss so you can slowly poison his tea every time y'all boink? And you convince your private eye brother-in-law to show up as the tea vendor/delivery man/custodian/security guard/whatever invisible role you need him to fill on any particular day? That's a woman who commits, and I respect it! Wouldn't be me, but I respect it!

And all things considered... Mitsuki gets an ending that isn't completely miserable. She executes her plan, has many of her questions answered, gets to walk away from the company without her true identity or motives being exposed, and then as a form of closure she ends the series by sleeping with the one co-worker she'd grown close to during this entire process. She herself is not "happy" per se, but she's done what she set out to do, and she's not all alone at the end.
ワンナイト・モーニング (Wan Naito Moningu/One Night Morning) - WOWOW/2022
  • Based on a manga by Okuyama Kenichi, each episode of this anthology series features a pair of young people—mostly 20-somethings, a few teenagers—spending a night together and then deciding how to address their encounter the next day. Despite the show's concept, sex isn't involved in every episode. Sometimes it's simply a pair of characters spending the night together because one of them is too drunk to go home, or one of them has no other place to go for the night, or they're working the night shift together. There's some sort of romantic tension in every episode, but that tension doesn't always lead to sex.
  • Each episode has a central color that informs all the visual elements. Episode 1 is lime green. Episode 2 is yellow. Episode 3 is light pink. Episode 4 is orange. Episode 5 is emerald green. Episode 6 is blue. Episode 7 is purple. Episode 8 is hot pink. Every episode, someone from the featured couple visits the same convenience store, where the lighting and the silent, bored-looking convenience store clerk's uniform always match the central color of that episode. 
  • Each episode also has a central food that the featured couple shares. These foods also tie into the morals of these stories, which I would paraphrase as, "You're more than fine as you are; even if you feel unremarkable, you don't have to become somebody else just to be valuable or useful or lovable. Sometimes you just need someone to see you, and eventually the right people will." Episode 1 is umeboshi onigiri. Episode 2 is shokupan/honey toast. Episode 3 is soumen. Episode 4 is gyuudon. Episode 5 is egg salad sandwiches. Episode 6 is cup ramen. Episode 7 is tsukimi soba. Episode 8 is nikuman.
Meh: The show's title refers to the morning after a one night stand, often referred to by English speakers as "the morning after". Obviously this show was made for Japanese audiences, but if the show creators were going to use an English title anyway, then I'm not sure why they didn't simply call the show 'The Morning After'. Maybe 'One Night Morning' sounds slightly more unique and mysterious? I don't dislike the title as it is, but the phrasing remains curious to me.
Better: I was so surprised to see Shigematsu, the silent convenience store clerk, get his own episode and actually talk! Episode 8 (the final episode) is mostly about him and his co-worker bonding over how isolated they feel due to being respectively hyper-visible (her and her large breasts), and invisible (him and his social anxiety). I was even more pleasantly surprised to witness how that finale paints 'One Night Morning' to be an understated thank-you letter to service workers, because after hearing how lonely it makes Shigematsu feel to be ignored by customers, we see a montage showing how the couples from the previous episodes wouldn't have experienced the intimate moments and revelations they had together without Shigematsu selling them the items they needed. He's had a significant impact on at least 14 people, without even realizing it. The last line of the series is literally a new customer telling him "Thank you" after he directs her to the walnut bread that she's come to the store looking for.
Best: Absolutely exceptional attention to detail and commitment to color schemes! From lighting to sets to costume design, everything is consistent with the chosen color of each episode. If you're someone who enjoys more of the stylistic aspects of film and TV, then 'One Night Morning' is for you.
And there are so many additional moments that I adore from this show! I adore how the male love interest in episode 3 is so smitten with the episode's lead character (his co-worker), that he proposes to her with the assurance that he'll take her last name if she doesn't like the way her new name would sound if she took his. Personally I wouldn't be thrilled to be ambushed with a proposal like that, especially not when I'm eating, and especially since the man and his co-worker have never so much as gone on a date. However! A man who's willing to take my last name? How very special and rare and feminist of you, sir! 
I adore all the different shades of blue shown in episode 6 because blue is my favorite color, and I adore that the episode uses Nicholas Britell's "Agape" (or a very convincing sound-alike?) as background music for some of its more emotionally-affecting moments. 
I adore how much the bespectacled and seemingly straight-laced lead of episode 7 (a widow who's also another co-worker of the woman from episode 3) is committed to being a discrete horndog. Emphasis on discrete. She has a secret "sex friend" (friend with benefits) of six months that she goes to love hotels with, after which they always eat tsukimi soba together before going their separate ways. Strictly sexual, plus soba. And I adore how vulnerable yet determined her sex friend is when he practically pleads, "I love you, woman! I know you're scared and grieving, but please let me love you!" at the end of that episode, when she tries to deny their mutual feelings for each other. (Also, I know I intimated I was "meh" on the sexiness of both 'Fukushuu no Miboujin' and 'One Night Morning'. But the love hotel scenes in episode 7, coupled with all the purple decor and purple lighting everywhere, truly delivered.)
That's all for part 1. Don't miss part 2!

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