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