For every school drama out there in J-drama land, there is a detective drama. Arguably, I believe that the detective drama is the most popular genre, as you will always find a flurry of them every season, whether they’re new or old. The long-running Aibou, which is now in it’s 9th season, is currently raking up nearly a 20% ratings average and has two successful movies under its belt.
Detective dramas in Japan don’t have the highest production values either, especially if we’re looking for elaborate actions sequences. Of course, this isn’t Hollywood – there aren’t any huge budgets to be throwing around. While you may not find spectacularly (and cleverly) executed shoot-outs between heroes and villains within Japanese dramas, there’s still the expectation that the production team will give audiences a compelling storyline, heart-pounding soundtrack, and a group of actors who can emotionally move an audience. In Japan, it goes to show – you don’t need a big, explosive budget for big ratings – just a team who’s able to make the show larger than life.
So what do I think about this season’s detective dramas so far? Let’s find out.
Control ~ Hanzai Shinri Sousa ~ (Fuji TV)
Starring: Nao Matsuhita, Naohito Fujiki, Yu Yokoyama, Yukiya Kitamura
Nao Matsushita is riding high from her success in the 82nd NHK Asadora, Gegege no Nyobo, portraying Fumie Iida, the woman who would go on to marry famous mangaka, Shigeru Mizuki (of the Gegege no Kitaro series). She’s hosted the 2010 Kohaku no Gassen with Arashi, as well. The actress/model began her 2011 activities with the leading role in Control, as Rio Segawa. As Segawa, she plays the enthusiastic and sharp-minded detective to Naohito Fujiki’s more self-composed, yet eccentric pyschology professor, Jun Nagumo, who solves crimes using behavioral analysis. Segawa was previously on a two-month leave after being shot and then transferred to the city’s main police headquarters. Both Segawa and Nagumo become a detective pair both work at the Violent Crimes Division within the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Headquarters.
While the first episode took in a strong 18.4% and has a strong front billing with the Matsushita/Fujiki pair, the drama still has many weak points. For starters, anyone who has seen Galileo (starring Masaharu Fukuyama and Kou Shibasaki), knows this is an attempt to bank off the success of that show. The dynamic between the characters, physics professor Manabu Yusaku (Fukuyama) and detective Kaoru Utsumi (Shibasaki), was one of the huge selling points of the show. The show’s success able spawned a movie sequel and prequel episode. I can easily say that Control is half-assed in its efforts to produce a successful similar show like Galileo. I do think Matshuhita and Fujiki are both fine actors in their own right, but they don’t work together as a pair. There isn’t enough chemistry between the both of them to drive the show. So far, the cases within each episode aren’t enough to add any suspense. Supporting characters and guest stars haven’t thrown in any scene stealing moments or leave any sort of lasting impression.
But, can I say bonus points for using Keisuke Kuwata to sing the theme song, “Ginga no Hoshikuzu”? However, even with Kuwata returning to the entertainment scene following his battle with esophageal cancer in July 2010 probably couldn’t do much for this drama either.
And lastly, this is a random observation, but Nao Matsushita is REALLY tall. Homegirl is wearing flats and she still appears way taller than any of the other cast members. I guess it helps her stand out more? ::shrug::
Akuto ~Juuhanzai Sousahan~ (TV Asahi)
Starring: Katsunori Takahashi, Kotaro Koizumi, Rina Uchiyama, Kosuke Suzuki, Hiroyuki Hirayama
As I was going over the dramas for the winter season, I almost missed this hidden gem. I feel it hasn’t been receiving enough buzz or promotion. Katsunori Takahashi (who seems to age quite well) stars as Masayoshi Togashi, a senior detective who carries his own sense of justice. He along with three other detectives, Reiko Iinuma (Rina Uchiyama), Yasaharu Shibata (Kosuke Suzuki), and Manabu Yamashita (Hiroyuki Hirayama), are assigned within the Fourth Section of Minato-cho’s Police Precinct Criminal Affairs Division, handle cases thrown to them their own way – earning them a bad reputation within the police precinct. These methods are illegal: having ties to the yakuza, taking bribes, and extortion. Enter Keiichiro Satonaka (Kotaro Koizumi), the new section chief of the Fourth Section, who’s been also ordered to report back about their activities to Police Administration Head. Of course, things aren’t going to be that easy…
Within minutes of watching this drama, I was pretty hooked. While detective dramas with this premise aren’t anything new, I believe the storyline is a refreshing take. In the first episode, the audience is thrown into the lives of each detective within the Fourth Section – both on and off the job. Writers do an excellent job of giving us a slight taste of what’s to come in the future episodes, moving the plot (or even plots) at a moving pace. Of course, while their peers mark these four individuals as the “villians”, the show’s aim is to get us to see the various aspects of the “good cop, bad cop” trope. The Fourth Section wants us to believe in their sense of “justice”.
The four detectives are cast well – Takahashi plays up the “badass” cop pretty well. He’s well known for playing cool, tough guys with a heart of gold (enter the Salaryman Kintaro series). I was pleasantly surprised to see Uchiyama within this cast – it’s been a while since she’s appeared in a television drama (the last being a mobile drama) and I’m used to her playing the “other girl” in dramas from the early 2000s. This is a refreshing change to see her take on this kind of role. Both Suzuki and Hirayama are strong support cast members. The “good cop”, Koizumi (who is also famously known as former Prime Minister Junichi Koizumi’s eldest son) is probably the only person that doesn’t really surprise me here. I believe he has the same aloof personality in every single one of his roles, which can be a good or bad thing. In this case, it doesn’t really hurt him.
Korean girl group 4Minute makes their Japanese theme song debut (and fourth Japanese single) with “WHY”. While the song is catchy and is a nice break from using a dramatic ballad or score, I’m not quite sure if the song fits well within the show’s overall theme and feel. Nevertheless, I have high hopes for the show.
Deka Wanko (NTV)
Starring: Mikako Tabe, Ikki Sawamura, Yuya Tegoshi, Takeshi Masu, Koji Ohkura, Kensei Mikami
Based on the manga from Gokusen manga-ka, Kozueko Morimoto, Deka Wanko follows Ichiko Hanamori (Mikako Tabe), a rookie detective with a dog-like sense of smell, which she uses to solve cases. Did I mention she dresses in a Gothic Lolita fashion (helloooo Angelic Pretty product placement!)? While she’s at the bottom of the totem pole within a section of six other male detectives and is treated as their errand girl, she’s quickly learning a bit on the job.
While I’m trying really hard to not find this show offensive (the girl is treated as a dog amongst a hierarchy of men in the workplace), I feel that this show will have a great appeal, especially for those who are fans of the manga. Rising young actress Tabe is the perfect fit for this role. I don’t know any other young actress who can produce so many facial expressions the way she can. Tabe, as well as the rest of the actors, are great at the slapstick comedy, but I feel there is something lacking in the execution. The cast doesn’t quite come together as a strong comedy ensemble in the first few episodes. With a drama like this, it’s necessary to have that.
Nevertheless, I believe the drama is entertaining – and each actor produces his or her own good moments. Ratings have been pretty steady so far (within 12-13%), so it’s a good sign for the show. Perhaps in future episodes, the ensemble coming together as a comedy unit within the show will happen.
Gaikoukan: Kuroda Kousaku (Fuji TV)
Starring: Yuji Oda, Kou Shibasaki, Teruyuki Kagawa, Kaho, Kei Tanaka, Takahiro Nishijima
Riding on the success of the movie Amalfi: Rewards of the Goddess from 2009, Diplomat Kousaku Kuroda (Yuji Oda) comes to the small screen in a drama sequel, as he comes from his travels around the world, solving secret cases for the Japanese Anti-Terrorism Office (a division also under wraps). He is assigned to Ministry of Foreign Affairs, working for the Latin American Bureau – but is also searching for the connections between an older incident involving Japanese officials at the Mexican Embassy with a current investigation on an old colleague, Takeshi Shimoura (Terayuki Kagawa), who had previously faked his death in order to return to Japan after he was suspected of murder while in San Francisco. With everyone on Kuroda’s back, (and wanting him out of the investigation), he seeks aid through Reiko Ogaki (Kou Shibasaki), a clumsy, map-making otaku/detective.
Unlike the movie Amalfi, we are treated to a lot more plot and back-story within the drama. Kuroda Kousaku’s past is explored more thoroughly, as he just remained a static character within the movie, which was one of it’s more frustrating points. However, the drama allows for a larger cast of characters to become much more developed through a series of plot developments. I’m wondering, however, if the movie would have been much more complex had it come after a full-fledged drama series? I still think it’s a great cast – especially for Yuji Oda. There’s not a cooler actor out there in Japan than Yuji Oda to play this kind of role. As an actor, he’s talented for making memorable character. Shibasaki makes a strong return to the small screen after her last long drama series, Galileo in 2008.
While I suspect this drama had a larger budget (filming locations in San Francisco, Mexico, and Japan!), the action sequences of the first episode were still of low standards. I’ll admit though, it was really nice to see multiple shots of San Francisco in a Japanese drama. I really believe the show has a strong enough plot to carry the drama despite its setback on action. However, I still think the show is still moving a snail’s pace. I hope it won’t do a huge reveal in just the final episode. I need buildup!
Since the movie was set in various parts of Italy, the timeless theme song “Time to Say Goodbye” (as made famous by Andrea Bocelli and Sarah Brightman) was used. In the drama, Il Divo’s version was used instead, but still in continuity.
OH. Did I mention Lee Byung-hun makes a guest starring appearance in the first episode? And he speaks entirely in English? I HOPE HE COMES BACK FOR MORE.
Lady ~Saigo no Hanzai Profile ~ (TBS)
Starring: Keiko Kitagawa, Tae Kimura, Yuta Hiraoka, Jun Kaname, Yusuke Santamaria
While most detective dramas in Japan have focused on point of views from high and low ranking detectives, negotiators, forensics, traffic officers, I found Lady to be a little refreshing as it’s solely based on the profession of profilers, who deal with analyzing criminal behavior. Enter the CPS (Criminal Profiling Support) team, headed by Chief Profiler, Akira Yuki (Tae Kimura), who comes with a strong belief that a division like CPS is necessary in Japan. Her team: Keisuke Niibori (Yuta Hiraoka), a topgraphical profiler with two doctorates, Takehiko Terada (Jun Kaname), a profiler with a background in forensics medicine, Marie Okui (Risa Sudo), the information analyst (and IT elite), and finally, the new profiler, Shoko Kazuki (Keiko Kitagawa), who’s trained under the FBI (rather than Japan’s Liverpool method) and a murder case fanatic – she’s a walking encyclopedia of serial killer profiles.
So how’s the acting? Keiko Kitagawa, a profiler – you are not. Sure, she may be a popular actress, but all she can be is beautiful – without the FBI-trained profiler part. I really wanted to like her in this drama, but I cringed most of the time at looking her efforts of being a “serious actress”. She couldn’t connect with her character, which unfortunately leads to the audience not connecting with the drama on an emotional level. I find her more believable as a lead in a romantic drama. However, the rest of the cast is pretty solid, so the drama does not fail entirely. Both Yusuke Santamaria and Tae Kimura are veterans in a genre like this, so they’re both to able to fill in the emotional void very easily. Jun Kaname and Yuta Hiraoka have some ground to cover, but are doing a much better job at handling their roles than Kitagawa is.
While the ratings have been dropping, I still think the show has promise despite Kitagawa’s acting and failure to lead the drama. There’s a decent plot (while somewhat predictable) that will be entertaining to watch as it’s revealed towards later episodes. Notably, I’m a fan of dramas with female leads in high-profile career positions. It’s always nice to see strong female characters amongst a male-dominated hierarchy, especially within the police force.
Honboshi ~ Shinri Tokuso Jikenbo ~ (TV Asahi)
Starring: Eiichiro Funakoshi, Nene Otsuka, Ren Kiriyama, Takaaki Enoki, Renji Ishibashi, Masahiro Takashima
I originally picked up this drama because of its translated description somewhere: “A cool Kyoto detective uses facial expressions to solve crimes!”
I was sold.
(I’m easily amused by one-liner descriptions.)
Honboshi is another detective drama that is focused on a team of specialists from the Kyoto Prefectural First Investigative Division: the Special Investigation Support Unit, led by section leader, Hidetoshi Sanada (Masahiro Takashima). These specialists are: forensics officer Rinko Tomoeda (Nene Otsuka), crime profiler Mamoru Mikoshiba (Ren Kiriyama), and psychologist Kosaku Kirishima (Eiichiro Funakoshi), who was brought in from Tokyo, unlike the other two.
This drama is probably closest in similarity to Lady, but of course there are many marked differences. Funakoshi is a veteran to crime dramas (as he was the star of Sono-Otoko, Fuku-Shocho for all of its three seasons) and commands his role very well. He indeed is the “cool” detective described in the description. The rest of the cast seems pretty standard to me, as it’s not as a high profile cast as Lady. However, since Funakoshi is a much stronger lead, Honboshi makes for a much better drama in terms of captivation. So far, the script involves much more interesting cases, as well.
I’m not sure if it’s a drama that will keep me coming back every week for a new episode, but it is one of the stronger detective shows this season.
Jidankoshonin Gota Keshi (NTV)
Starring: Akihiro Nishino, Shiori Katsuna, Gori
Comedian Akihiro Nishino (1/2 of popular manzai duo King Kong) stars in his first leading role in a drama about a diplomat turned settlement negotiator – who also hates people. He also has white hair (which is really grey, contrary to the show’s description) because of a traumatic incident during his diplomat days. Young actress Shiori Katsuna stars a freeter, who also assists him in his various negotiation cases.
I suppose this drama isn’t really a detective drama in the traditional sense that there aren’t actual police officers involved. It deals more with solving people’s daily issues (“human cases”), rather than say, a homocide. Even with that in mind, I found the first episode to be dry and incredibly boring. I was hoping for SOME slapstick comedy, as this Nishino is probably more known for – but alas, the serious acting isn’t cutting it for him. He’s not making his character compelling enough. Katsuna isn’t a memorable actress here either.
I can easily say I probably won’t be picking this up again. Yawn.
Whew! That was a lot – but there’s still more dramas to cover! Continue to part 3!
Missed Part 1? Read it here!