Archive for July, 2007
It’s been awhile since my last Asian drama review and I had a couple sitting on the backburners, so let’s start off with the immensely popular Nodame Cantabile!
One of the reasons I prefer Japanese dramas to Chinese or Korean ones (even though Korean dramas are all the rage in Asia) is the greater variety. Whether that’s an actual fact or simply perceived reality is unknown to me, but Nodame Cantabile, a drama about classical music and student orchestras, seems uniquely Japanese.
The drama features two main characters. Chiaki Shinichi (played by Tamaki Hiroshi) is an extremely talented pianist and the top student at Momogaoka College of Music. He was born into a musical family and was fortunate enough to receive world class instruction from renowned instructors starting at an early age. Even though he’s haughty because of his skills and perfectionist attitude, the rest of the students nevertheless admire him, particularly the girls. But Chiaki feels confined staying in Japan and longs to pursue his dream of becoming an orchestra conductor by studying abroad.
The other main character is Noda Megumi (Nodame for short, played by Ueno Juri). She’s the polar opposite of Chiaki: a childish slob who often forgets to take baths and lives in an atrocious mess of a room. Though she actually has hidden piano talent, she plays piano according to her heart (which is a nice way of saying sloppily) and not precisely to the sheet music. In fact, even though she is attending a music college, she desires to be a kindergarten teacher.
When the two meet one day, Nodame falls instantly in love with the popular Chiaki. He is baffled and disturbed by this wacky girl, but becomes a little intrigued when the two are paired up to practice a piano duet. And so begins their wacky relationship, with an adoring girl chasing after an aloof star.
Fundamentally, Nodame Cantabile is a romantic comedy, but major emphasis is placed upon the classical music. Early on in the series, Chiaki transfers from piano to the conducting division and has an opportunity to be the conductor for a student orchestra. The concert performances by the orchestra are not shown in their entirety, but whole minutes can pass with only footage of the students playing and not a word spoken.
Don’t let that scare you off though, even if you hate classical music. As anybody who enjoys music should know, powerful emotions can be conveyed through music and the acting doesn’t stop just because the actors are playing instruments.
Actually, you might even discover a newfound appreciation for classical music by watching this drama. I saw Nodame Cantabile soundtracks being sold everywhere I went in Tokyo, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this drama inspired many people to start listening to classical music or even to start learning an instrument. Having a story attached to “boring old nerdy music” certainly gives it more meaning. I’ve been playing piano and violin since I was five years old and even I found a new favorite in Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2, thanks to its role in the drama.
Accompanying the two stars of the drama is a giant group of side characters, way too many to list (there are many members in an orchestra, after all). Some have more prominent roles though, such as Mine Ryutaro (played by Eita). He’s the rock star violin player. If you’ve seen Densha Otoko before, which is my all time favorite drama, you’ll have fun identifying some of the side characters because quite a few alumni from Densha Otoko show up here.
Nodame Cantabile as a whole is an excellent drama and highly recommended. There is one thing that bothered me about the show initially though. Since the series is based off a manga, some of its cartoon influences can be seen in the show (in fact, a Nodame Cantabile anime series started airing after the drama ended). That means occasional cartoony violence, such as Chiaki delivering a solid roundhouse punch to Nodame, who flys through the air. It doesn’t happen too often and is actually kind of funny, but it can be kind of startling to see all of a sudden in a live action series.
This also means over the top wackiness. Nodame the character took a couple episodes for me to get used to, since I initially thought Ueno Juri was trying too hard and exaggerating the role of a strange, hyperactive girl. Now I just think it’s endearing and great acting on her part.
The same was true for another prominent side character: Franz Stresemann (played by Takenaka Naoto), a famous conductor who becomes a mentor for Chiaki. He has an additional dimension as the perverted old guy, which seems to be a typical archetype for Japanese media. As you might guess from the photo, he’s supposed to be a European with the stereotypical hair of classical composers. Because of that, he intentionally speaks broken Japanese with a very bad accent, which is quite grating. I hated his character and his perverted ways (which is heavily played up by the drama) until a specific episode when he gets serious and proves by example why he is such a renowned figure in the classical music world. That’s when he won my respect, and I began to appreciate the work Takenaka put into his character in order to speak so poorly.
Whew, this is a long post. Bottom line, Nodame Cantabile is a must see and has secured a place in the “Amazing” category of my Drama Rankings. One of these days, I really need to start filling in the details for that list.
Aired Autumn 2006
Genre: Romantic comedy
Continuing on the topic of finding your way around Tokyo, I have to recommend this book as an absolute must-buy.
The 3rd edition of the Tokyo City Atlas is the only map book I brought with me because it had all the references I needed. Like I discussed yesterday, if you have a specific address you want to go to, finding the right block is essential. This book has clear English maps of all the wards in Tokyo labeled with major malls, hotels, and landmarks, which is extremely helpful in correctly orienting yourself.
Let’s say you’re in Shinjuku, standing in front of the Mitsukoshi Dept. Store and facing the Kinokuniya book store. A quick look at the Shinjuku page will tell you that you’re on block 29 and facing block 17 (both in the 3rd chome of Shinjuku). This is enough information to look at the numbered blocks in the book and be able to find whatever destination you’re looking for.
The included Tokyo subway maps are also very helpful and are labeled in both English and Japanese. What’s more, all the subway exits are depicted on the maps so you can find the most appropriate exit for your destination. The Tokyo subway can seem extremely intimidating at first, but it’s really no big deal after you’ve taken the first ride. However, finding the right exit can be troublesome so it’s very handy to have this book in your bag. The terminals of a subway station stretch underground for what seem like miles – you don’t want to take the wrong exit and have to retrace your steps, or worse, have to navigate above ground on the complete opposite side of the station.
The paperback book is just barely over 100 pages and is very lightweight. The downside is that it’s too big to fit in a pocket, so you have to either hold it in your hands or bring a bag along (which most people will do anyway). Some people say that part of the fun of exploring Tokyo is wandering aimlessly and discovering random cool places. That has its merits, but for those of us who have specific places to visit or don’t have all the time in the world, bringing along the Tokyo City Atlas is a must.
I went into Tokyo having throughly planned a list of stores I wanted to visit, mapping their locations using Microsoft’s Virtual Earth software. For pretty much any other country, this level of preparation would be overkill. But if you’ve ever been in Tokyo before and wanted to find a specific address, you’ll know how difficult it can be to arrive at your destination.
Tokyo blocks and buildings are organized very haphazardly, and hardly anybody besides the government uses the address system, preferring instead to navigate using landmarks. If you get into a taxi and give an address to the driver, chances are he’ll have as much of a clue how to get there as you do.
Let’s take a look at a sample address: 2-29-1 Dogenzaka, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo. This says that the store is in the city of Tokyo, in the ward of Shibuya, in the area of Dogenzaka. That’s pretty easy. Going deeper, the store is in the No. 2 chome (sub-area) of Dogenzaka, in the 1st building on the 29th block.
Without a detailed city map, it would be nearly impossible to figure out which block is the 29th (let alone where the 1st building is) as there aren’t any signs posted on the streets or on the buildings. None of the maps I have go into sufficient detail to label individual buildings, so the best you can do is find the 29th block using a map by orienting yourself with nearby landmarks, and then walk around the block until you see a sign for the store.
It just so happens that this address is for Shibuya 109, which is a major landmark in Shibuya where trendy teenage girls shop for clothes. This place would be easy to find even without a map.
Anyway, here’s the multimedia goodies I picked up on vacation. Even though I went to all this trouble finding stores, I actually didn’t have specific things in mind that I wanted to buy and just browsed around. This was probably a bad idea going into Akihabara, the electronics neighborhood of Tokyo and the “gaming mecca” of the world. I’ll explain in a future post.
(clockwise from upper left)
Phantasy Star Online artbook, purchased at Mandarake in Shibuya.
Railfan: Taiwan High Speed Rail, purchased in the Shin Kong Mitsukoshi shopping mall in Tainan, Taiwan. This is the PS3 game that I alluded to several posts ago. I bought this even though I don’t even have a PS3 system and have no plans to get one anytime soon! But I did ride the Taiwan HSR twice last month, which was pretty cool. This game lets you drive it.
Bomber hehhe!, purchased at MediaLand in Akihabara. This is an obscure game about blowing up skyscrapers and one I’ve been wanting to get for years. I believe this game was released after 9/11, which is surprising in itself.
Pro Yayku Team de Asobou! (Let’s play pro baseball team!), purchased at Super Potato in Akihabara.
Frame Guide, purchased at Super Potato in Akihabara.
An assortment of music CDs purchased at Book Off in Harajuku and HMV in Shibuya. (clockwise from upper left)
melody. “Be as one” album
melody. “Lovin’ U” single
melody. “Ready to go!” album
Genki Rockets “Heavenly Star” single
Nobuchika Eri “nobuchikaeri” album
Leah Dizon “Koi shiyou” single
Most of these games and music CDs were purchased used, which has none of the negative connotations associated with it in the U.S. In fact, I prefer buying used goods when I’m in Tokyo. The conditions are graded with labeled tags by the stores, and you get high quality merchandise at the low prices. For example, I found a used copy of the melody. “Ready to go!” album a few days after its official release in stores. I bought it for $10 less than the new price and the condition was pristine.
It was announced today that the Burj Dubai skyscraper in Dubai, currently in construction, is now the world’s tallest building. That means Taipei 101 in Taipei, Taiwan has been stripped of that honor, which it held for several years.
Oh well, Taipei 101 had a good run. It’s too bad I just got back from Taiwan, since it would have been interesting to see what people thought about this news. Maybe I’ll watch the Chinese news channel tonight.
I snapped this photo outside the Taipei World Trade Center, where I was attending the 2007 Taipei Digital Audio & Video Expo. I have more photos to come when I finish organizing everything. In total, I took almost 5,000 photos in the last month on vacation.
I’m at the Kaohsiung airport right now, flying to the Taoyuan Airport near Taipei so that I can connect to a Los Angeles flight. I thought I would check the D-Addicts forum briefly to see whether subtitles for the 2nd episode of Yama Onna Kabe Onna had been posted (they weren’t up earlier this morning). Lo and behold, the subs are up! Now the trans-Pacific flight will feel one hour shorter ;)
More on Yama Onna Kabe Onna when I get back. I also bought my first PlayStation 3 game despite having no plans to get the system anytime soon. Bet you can’t guess what it is…
I’m back in Taipei and returning to Los Angeles in about a week. Japan (especially Tokyo) is awesome, and while it was made painfully clear to me that I’m nowhere near fluent in Japanese after 2.5 years of classes, at least I could still communicate somewhat and get my point across. When that failed, gesturing usually did the trick. If you ever want to improve your charades skills, fly to a foreign country.
As I expected, even in Tokyo, the vast majority of Japanese people I encountered knew very little English. It was far easier for them to try to decipher my broken Japanese than for them to comprehend English phrases. So I got to practice my Japanese quite a bit. Lots of fun, and I would love coming back and visiting Tokyo again.
My next post will likely be up after I return to the U.S. Get ready for lots of photos!
Today has gotta be a popular day for weddings, Vegas trips, and the like ;)
I’m currently staying in Tokyo, Japan (Shibuya to be exact) and shopped at Shibuya, Harajuku, Omotesando and Aoyama today and yesterday. Tomorrow I’m heading to Akihabara!!