I continue my quest to find the definition of likeable in dramas. I’ve done 27 dramas so far.
1. Ryoma Den – Sakmoto Ryoma
Ryoma is a historical figure, and certainly an important one for Japanese history. The drama gives an opportunity to meet this larger-than-life character and trace his development from zero-to-hero essentially. I can only speak of Ryoma as seen in the drama since I am, for now, very ignorant on historical detail. But since I am also not a purist, I think that this modern interpretation has its validity and Masaharu does a very good job portraying the character. For me, actually, this offers a very powerful incitement to explore the facts in more historical detail in the future.
Masaharu Fukuyama embodies the role to a degree that made me really not want to reach the end of the story. I knew what was coming-that much I can check with any random encyclopedia or even wikipedia. His struggles and efforts are strongly in the focus but the personal life is not omitted; his relations with his family (dad and sister in particular), friends, potential love interests as well as his wife, Oryo. In this respect, there is much to commend for Masaharu and the actress playing Oryo made me as a viewer believe the authenticity of their feelings. Rarely ever a love story in a drama comes as naturally as it does here. It was a powerful relationship, based on implicit understanding one that broke my heart to see forming in particularly troublesome times. But these two were presented as a perfect match. I am inclined to believe that in Oryo’s case the power of her feelings was just as strong in reality. I couldn’t help but feel sorry for her. And not just for her. We cannot discredit the role of the wives of those samurai. They chose husbands who clearly had a clear vision and determination to see that vision through to the end. Their role in the face of grand political transformation may seem insignificant but through life and love they gave just as much as they possibly could. Ryomaden’s final moments were extremely difficult to watch, possibly the most agonizing moments in any drama for me so far, because I bonded so much with this character.
The drama makes Ryoma into a very likeable character- not everyone may agree with that. However, no matter is our perception, I think it’s fair to say he was a colorful character with an incredibly story-like life- it is no wonder he inspired film makers and tv producers. He comes from a good family; he’s got an endearing relationship with his father and sister. The sister part is true, it seems- letters he wrote to his sister have been preserved. He starts out as a very innocent character with a kind heart. He evoles into a rpogressive minded reformator who wishes to change the ways things are viewed in Japan. He tries to find a way to protect Japan without going to war; he objects to the killing tradition of the samurai, the honourable deaths, the duty to the lord and most importantly the class divisions which make one caste of society suffer unequal treatment. Throughout his journeys he shows a lot of enthusiasm to learn and try to change things. He is not academically skilled but he is a man of experience: he develops an understanding of the world following his instinct of curiosity. Once that happens, change can take place. There is more to such an experience, more to gain, than through cerebral discussions. I think there are several things this taiga does well, and this includes showing the tensions and conflicts of interest erupting at this vital time in Japanese history. The defensive stance of those who fear pening up the country vs those who see that it has already happened and Japan could only benefit from it. It’s surprising to see how surprised they are when they are first shown a map of the world. Ryoma in all this leads the movement to progress and build a better world.
The drama does not ignore other important characters. I was particularly impressed with Takechi Hanpeita. He was a man who knew his way of life and saw it through to the very end. He certainly seems like a very rich figure and the the dignity he shows when facing trial for Yoshida Toyo as well as nurturing the Joi movement is quite powerful. His wife is equally dignified. I was also quite impressed with Sato Takeru’s portrayal of Okada Izo. Equally well I liked the Chiba dojo in Edo where Ryoma left to train.
Structurally, the drama is also very interesting. The drama is organised into several seasons which divide the various stages in Ryoma’s development and life, from his childhood in Tosa to the struggles to overthrow the shogunate- it is quite complete in this sense. Moreover, it is narrated by Yataro Iwasaki.
Watching historical dramas is to see history come alive. It should evoke emotion to stirr further interest. This drama delivers in this respect by drawing on a wide variety of figures, events- of both historical and personal resonance and makes it a very involving watch. There has to be some degree of gravitas and pathos to stir such feelings and it’s there. Furthermore I think that a historical drama wouldn’t be a drama without some colour or some romanticism. Facts can be checked in a textbook but just facts on a paper are rarely ever interesting. And even with some colorization here and there, Ryoma is presented as an idealistic and colourful character, which I think is fair enough and interesting as a cultural export abroad. The travelogues at the end of each episode are always very informative. I tend to think that Japanese taiga dramas do really well with historical accuracy on the whole and have much more credibility than Korean ones.
And besides, is history ever true? How can we tell? History is written by the victors, they say. And isn’t history just a nightmare from which we all try to wake up? There is nothing wrong with history and colorful figures from history inspiring various interpretations for semi-educational and semi-entertainment purposes. Let me highlight again, I think the Japanese taiga drama do quite well on the factual front anyway and they supply short but informative travelogues. I think this is of immense value. Ultimately, however, there is no point in raising alert that the drama may not be 100% accurate. A drama is always just that- a drama. Isn’t it great though, when it can inspire further research? I tend to find that the best learning comes through -or rather as a result of- entertainment; emotions and impressions have more permanence than just pure facts, but the overall impression is usually a combination of pure facts and emotional responses
2. Oh Dad
The dad is actually a likeable character. He’s a bit the old-fashioned type who nonetheless urges his children to follow their hearts. He and his wife also have some insecurities left over from the past. The drama shows how he deals with them as well as how he helps his chidren find their place and dreams along the way. Japanese do have a way with family dramas.
3. May Queen – the foster dad, adult Jae Ha, uncle and aunt
It seems Korean melodrama makjgans have one common feature- they usually have some very likeable chearacters as a side dish. May Queen is no exception. It’s such a cry fest and moreover follows all the typical tropes, but…To be honest, I tend to like the side characters much more than the leads in cases like May Queen.
There is the loving foster dad who takes the girl in in times of need and supports her there is Jung Woo and the Aunt who sort of have a relationship and don’t at the same time; they struggle to make it happen because of complicated family relationships.
Jae Ha plays a noble idiot character in this drama; you know the sort who being a ship would play hide in wolf’s skin just to get to know the enmy and exact revenge for something that happened to his family.. buuut it’s just the actor himself has likeable appeal, so he makes the character likeable. But Jae Ha didn’t really have any extraordinary role since 3-Iron. He really ought to be better used. In this drama he’s the man seeking justice and so does the typical things Korean drama characters do to make it happen.
4. Good life arigatou papa
This is a tear-jerker slice of life father-son story. It’s difficult not to like because the boy is utterly endearing. Sormachi Takashi seems a little underused these days but as always he makes his character sympathetic. Despite sad subject, the drama offers many heart-warming moments in the development of a very honest understanding between this father and his son.
5. Densha Otoko
Ohhh Densha-san! What can I say? I was absolutely inspired by Densha-san. Hr’s the type of a lead who rarely ever appears in dramaland: shy nice guy, an otaku introvert who really needs to pluck up all his courage to open up. It’s a very positive story, one that many of us itnroverts may find relatable. That being said, his friends are all whacky butt super supportive. Atsushi does a wonderful job.
Hermes-san is a refined lovely lady, a dream come true for some perhaps? She’s worth the effort though as she is able to believe in Densha. When someone believes in you, you feel more at ease with yourself and things become slightly easier to handle. It’s important to have someone who can believe in you. This is a romcom with a heart.
6. JIN – Jin, Saki
JIN is a time travel drama which offers a contemplation on how our actions fit in the larger flow of history, what are their consequences and how they impact the future.A modern surgeon gets transported to Edo period just before Meiji Restoration, somewhere around 1863. He meets and interacts with various historical figures, including Sakamoto Ryoma. As a result he faces many dilemmas. He befriends a lovely lady, Saki, who will from now on follow him and try to help him as much as possible. A quiet and subdued affection develops between them.
All of this finds its conclusion in JIN2…both time travel is smartly closed and the affection is given both a heartbreaking and heartwarming conclusion; in any case it;s a conclusion which for me brought out the feelings which series 1 developped. Doctor Jin Munakata is an extremely likeable character and a kind and progressively minded person.
It’s not difficult to think that Ryoma would have liked him and I find it justified. The two actually develop a fond friendship, which is also touching and funny. Massaaki gives his Ryoma the larger and than life frame that is appropriate for this character.
In this drama in particular notions of historical accuracy are not as important because as a time travel drama it leans towards the speculative anyway. It preserves accurate decorum for the period, however, or so it seems.It’s one of the most intelligent time travel dramas to have been done in Asian soap operas, and certainly one that had finesse and some philosophical depth. Ryoma is only a side character but given time period it was inevitable to include him. I’m glad they did, Masaaki is an excellent character actor. Besides the character of JIN himself justifies the time period to which he travels and meeting Ryoma is even more of a prerequiste given Ryoma’s propensity for progressive thinking. I found JIN to be a rather poetic drama with a clever conclusion in JIN2.