The Year in Review – 2015: Japanese Dramas that made waves during the year + Favorite dramatic scenes & performances! [ Winter Shows – Part 1/4]

Last year we reported that there were 135 Japanese dramas produced and broadcasted all over Japan. That figure has since been adjusted to reflect all shows for 2014 and the final figure is up by 9, which means there were actually 144 shows. This year, pending adjustments from various TV networks, there are already 145 shows, including the trendy WOWOW series featuring 4-5 episodes that include Angel’s Knife and Ishi no Mayu (featuring the alluring Fumino Kimura) and Fuji TV’s She (led by the versatile Mayu Matsuoka) . Those figures, however, are less than half of Japanese movies shown in the same year.

While I’m not particularly impressed with J-movies of 2015, there are a lot of outstanding drama series for the same year, so let’s have a review by pictures and by season, starting with Winter 2015 shows…

I adore Yoko Maki. She never overacts and most of the roles she played were quite intense, yet compared to the likes of Erika Sawajiri or Ryoko Hirosue, she doesn’t figure too prominently in the Japanese press…

Among my favorite roles of her are in Yureru (Sway) where she played the young lover of Joe Odagiri and the award-winning The Ravine of Goodbye. But Fuji TV’s Mondai no Aru Restaurant [問題のあるレストラン ] maybe considered her most unforgettable role as a down but not out restaurateur.

Tanaka Tamako (Maki) had been working for a male-dominated restaurant business but was betrayed by her boyfriend who was hired as the chef. In addition, she is taken to the police as a result of an incident she caused because her friend Morimura Kyoko was subjected to sexual harassment. Tamako resigns from her unreasonable company and starts a bistro selling homemade pot-au-feu on a rooftop in an alley in Jingumae, Tokyo.

The FujiTV show has 10 glorious, inspiring and gripping episodes that feature one of the most talented ensemble cast – Fumi Nikaido, Mayu Matsuoka, Mitsuki Takahata, Masaki Suda, Masahiro Higashide and Ken Yasuda. If 2014 has produced the likes of Wakamonotachi and N no Tame Ni, then 2015 has Mondai no Aru Restaurant – enough said!

Strong female characters must be the trend in Japanese dramas circa 2015 because aside from independent and progressive female characters in Mondai no Aru Restaurant, Miki Nakatani portrayed one of the most manipulative, yet sympathetic female characters in Ghostwriter [ゴーストライター ]

Minami Risa (Nakatani) is a gifted writer in her 30s. She has already made a name for herself but actually feels that she is at the end of the road. At that moment, Endo Yuki, a young woman in her 20s who has come to Tokyo with the dream of becoming a novelist, appears in front of her. Tired of her title as a genius and unable to confide in anyone that she has exhausted her own ability, Risa entrusts Yuki with being her ghost writer. Risa gets distressed about pretending to be someone she is not in the shadows of her glittering career but continues to act the way the people think of her. The talented Yuki finds the admiration she should have for Risa gradually transform into bitter animosity. Oda Hayato, a rookie editor, is the first person to discover Yuki’s talent and becomes the one who understands her the most. He struggles in his attempt to make Yuki stop being Risa’s ghost writer and debut as a novelist

Ghostwriter could have been a great drama but Nakatani, unfortunately, has to act with Asami Mizukawa who simply cannot compete with her. Aside from Mizukawa’s lack of charisma and strength of character, her bland personality prevents her from participating in a bonafide acting showdown. The same can be said of the supporting cast – Shohei Miura is a disappointment though Mahiro Takasugi and Tetsushi Tanaka make up for the lack of stellar supporting performances.

Toma Ikuta and Shun Oguri had a reunion of sorts in the mystery-murder-thriller Ouroboros [ウロボロス]

Ryuzaki Ikuo and Danno Tatsuya have no families and grew up in an orphanage called “Mahoroba no Ie”. When they were elementary school students, someone who took care of them like an older sister, was killed before their very eyes. The two of them gave statements to the police, but their words were squashed by a police official wearing a gold watch. Fifteen years later, Ikuo has become a detective and boasts of the highest rate of arrests in his precinct. On the other hand, Tatsuya has risen to the top of the underworld as a leading member of an organised crime group. The objective of these two individuals is to locate the gold watch wearing man within the police, find out the truth and expose the darkness of an all-powerful organisation behind the mystery man.

While Shun Oguri is one of Japan’s most talented actors, Toma Ikuta has a more interesting career path – from a deplorable acting in the forgettable The Fallen Angel, Ikuta bounced back with stellar performances in The Mole Song and Brain Man. In Ouroboros, it was Ikuta who carried the show, though Oguri did his part. Aside from the performances of Oguri and Ikuta, the story in itself has a lot of “holes” which can be frustrating and annoying at times.

Personal-biased, personal favorite Japanese actress Mao Inoue takes on her first lead role in a Taiga NHK series entitled Hana Moyu [ 花燃ゆ ] (Flowers Burn), featuring an all-star cast led by Yusuke Iseya, Masahiro Higashide, Kengo Kora and Koji Seto.

In the year 14 of the Tempo era (1843), a little girl was born into the Sugi family named Fumi, and she was the 4th daughter in the family. She went on to marry Katori Motohiko, becoming his second wife after her elder sister, Ju.

After playing the main character in an asadora (Ohisama) back in 2011, Mao Inoue completed the acting cycle with an NHK taiga drama, Hana Moyu, making her one of the few Japanese actresses who have played roles in an asadora (morning drama), Taiga (NHK long-running historical series) and highly-rated TV shows and award-winning films (She won Best Actress for Rebirth in 2012.)

Date Koi to wa Donna Mono Kashira [ デート ~ 恋とはどんなものかしら ] – Japanese Drama fans found the perfect couple in Hiroki Hasegawa and Anne (Higashide) in this quasi-rom-com that aims to be more than just a rom-com. Just read the synopsis below –

Yabushita Yoriko is a 29-year-old economics expert who holds a Masters degree from the University of Tokyo and works in the field of macroeconomics research. She is rigid and refuses to pander to others. As she aims to get married by 30, she registers at a marriage agency in order to find a partner.

Taniguchi Takumi depends on his mother for a living while being absorbed in the world of literature, arts, music and entertainment. He regards himself as a high-class nomad and decides to register at the same marriage agency as Yoriko to find a wealthy woman who he can depend on for a living if his mother is no longer around. The two of them, who are said to be unable to love and unsuitable for love, get paired up together and through a number of dates, become closer to each other while viewing the topic of marriage as a mere contract rather than the union of two people who are in love with each other.

Anne has an acting range that surpasses the well-loved and popular Juri Ueno and pairing her with the equally talented and versatile Hiroki Hasegawa has brought about one of the most memorable series for Winter 2015. Yuto Nakajima was also noteworthy in a performance as a prelude to his leading dramatic role in Pink and Grey.

Rounding up the Winter 2015 Japanese drama season are two youth dramas that can either inspire or infuriate the viewers (or both).

Ryunosuke Kamiki’s amazing acting range – and his ability to deliver speedy monologs is a lesson many of his peers in the acting industry can discover and learn for themselves. While Suzu Hirose delivered a decent enough acting, the rest of the supporting cast failed to catch up with Kamiki. Of course, Shotaro Mamiya is in a completely different zone in Gakkou no Kaidan [学校のカイダン ]

Haruna Tsubame (Hirose), an inconspicuous high school girl, is always sensitive to people’s moods and keeps the peace in school. One day, she gets pushed to become the president of the student council by the people around her. Tsubame’s encounter with a man who is a genius speech-writer, leads to a revolution in school. She struggles to change a school full of irrationality and dissatisfaction with the power of words.

Angel’s Knife [天使のナイフ] – If there is any drama series that showcase the best of what Japan can offer in terms of young talents, then it’s this WOWOW show. Tenshi no Naifu delivers both a convincing story and noteworthy performances that it can be considered one of WOWOW’s best trendy short (omnibus?) dramas for 2015. Imagine having Nijiro Murakami (Still the Water, Anohana), Hiroya Shimizu (The World of Kanako, Solomon’s Perjury) and Takumi Kitamura together in one show.

Three 13-year-olds murder Shoko, the wife of cafe manager, Hiyama Takashi. Their motive is money. The detectives cannot hold them criminally responsible because they are protected by the Juvenile Law due to their age. On the other hand, Hiyama and his mother-in-law, Sumiko, are hounded by the mass media and everything about their lives are exposed. Four years go by. Ignoring the warnings of his daughter’s nursery school teacher, Hayakawa Miyuki, and cafe employee, Fukui, Hiyama privately starts to look into the outcome of the “rehabilitation” and “current situations” of the youth who have returned to society. But right after that, the youths are attacked one after another and one of them is killed. Detectives come to visit Hiyama, who had said to the mass media “If the state cannot punish the criminals, I want to kill them!” right after his wife’s murderers were discovered. He is their prime suspect. Hiyama searches for the truth of the youths’ motive while facing attacks from the police, a human rights lawyer and a journalist. What emerges is his wife’s unexpectedly dark past and several traps which lie behind the case … … The truth that was hidden by the Juvenile Law is laid bare. And then the story heads towards a jarring conclusion as it questions what is right and wrong.

Read more about the cast here.

Also worth mentioning is Zannen na Otto [残念な夫。] The Disappointing Husband, with the resurgent Hiroshi Tamaki in the lead.

We’ll talk about Spring Japanese drama season 2015 next.

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Statistics and synopsis of the shows were taken from JDorama.


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