23 January 2011

Sunday Drama – Utahime (歌姫)



Utahime, roughly translated means “Diva”.   This is a story that moves through two time periods – something that normally bugs me.   Utahime begins with a famous singing diva announcing her retirement much to the dismay of her son.  The son, played by Nagase Toyomo, pretty much is a loser who clings to his mother.   She wants him to man up and sends him on a mysterious mission to a small town to watch the final movie being shown before the local cinema closes forever.



When he gets to the small town, it’s unclear whether we are are flashing back in time or if the other story is meant to be the movie.


Same small town in the Showa (1950s-60s) period, which is absolutely wonderfully recreated.  I was going to say realistically recreated but, let’s face, I know bugger all about what a small Japanese town would have looked like in the 60s.


The story centres around the Orion cinema and the family who own it.  Years before, the youngest daughter of the family finds a soldier, Taro, (again played by Nagase) who has washed up on the beach.  He has lost his memory and comes to live with them as part of the family.  This is a huge problem for Suzu (Aibu Saki) because she has fallen in love with him.


I have spent most of life living near the sea and walking along the beach and seriously, I’ve found driftwood and bits of plastic and dog turds and used condoms.  Why do I never find a hot soldier with memory loss? My life sucks.


Nagase helps run the cinema and we see him returning, very dapperly dressed, on a bicycle through the beautiful seaside country, with all the locals running after him wanting to know what the new movie will be.


Meanwhile, the local yakuza (Japanese mobsters) are trying to muscle in on the town.  The yakuza leader, nicknamed Croissant (Sato Ryuta) has a fearful reputation.


The town holds their annual singing competition and Suzu decides to win the grand prize, a motor scooter, so she can give it to Taro and have him see her as a woman rather than a sister and thereby win his love.  Personally, I’d say flashing your tits would do a better job but what would I know.


Suzu has some fierce competition though because every other wacky character in the town also wants to win.  Also she has intense stage fright.


Then a mysterious stranger comes to town, a professional singer who has been planted in the competition by the yakuza as a ploy to take over.  That’s how the yakuza worked in Showa Era Japan.  No guns, no violence – just singing.


After Suzu is foiled, Taro decides to enter himself.  He gets up and does a version of Jailhouse Rock to rival Elvis, shocking the small town residents who have no knowledge of ROCK! 


Now Suzu is wondering – how does Taro know how to sing in English?  How does he know Elvis?  OMG he has this whole lost memory life she knows nothing about and one day his memory might return!


Like most Japanese drama, there is a whole supporting cast of wacky characters.  My favourite is the woman who runs the local guesthouse.  Sabaco is conniving and money obsessed and the whole town is scared of her.


This week’s drama review is very light on the boy love but, of all the Asian dramas I’ve watched,  I would say this one has the strongest storylines and the most satisfying ending.   People criticise Nagase because he often plays the same character but I don’t have a problem with that.  He’s like the manliest man in Japan so of course he’s going to play manly roles.   I like the manliness.


Normally too I have issues with love stories that start off when one of the characters is a child.  It’s getting into a really grey area that can be a bit creepy.  I didn’t feel that at all in Utahime though because there is such a huge struggle for Suzu to get Taro to see her as an adult. 


I’d totally recommend Utahime.   Awesome story, awesome setting, awesome Nagase.