Annus Horribilis – An Aotearoa Ajeossi’s Antidote

Few would argue against the view that 2016 was a bleak year. So I’m going to celebrate  Dramas that provided moments of relief. On Twitter and Instagram I’m a Happy Harabeoji, here are some of the highlights that helped me stay that way.

This is NOT a “Best of” list. These were my “Happy Pills”. Some were flawed, one was  mediocre (to be kind), but I loved them all for making me smile, and laugh, and swoon.

Contentment

Yeah, That’s How It Is

I’ve already waxed rhapsodic about this outstanding unseen gem, so won’t repeat myself too much. It tops this list because it provided a special kind of pleasure. There were funny scenes, most courtesy of a stellar comic turn by Wang Ji Hye, but the overall feeling it generated was quiet satisfaction, the contentment of knowing that “Yeah, that IS how it is”. 2017 WILL see a rerun of this Drama in my household.

Aesthetics 

Immortal Goddess

NOT a classic for the ages, but still a real highlight of my year. I am even more fond of my beautiful ballet-schooled bias than I am of alliteration, so an entire Drama built around showing just how beautiful she is was addictive ambrosia. The only complete Drama I’ve watched unsubbed from beginning to end, but I understood everything I needed to.

Jimi Ni Sugoi (Pretty Proofreader)

Ishihara Satomi may not have the greatest range as an actor, but she is really, really, really, ridiculously good-looking, and when she smiles, dazzlingly pretty. So a Drama that played to her strengths was a guaranteed winner. Much like Immortal Goddess, the Drama is built around showing off its lead’s beauty. The English title really is a good description of the Drama, it delivers exactly what it says. And that is definitely cause to smile.

Adorable Age Gaps

Beautiful Gong Shim

In a year dominated by Korean Dramas’ repellently creepy ephebophilia fixation, one of the biggest shots of happy came from a Drama with a big OTP age gap but without the female lead either in or eligible for a school uniform. Beautiful Gong Shim suffered from bloat toward the end, but the pairing of Namgoong Min and Min Ah was pure magic. A true ajeossi romance, the thirteen years between them disappeared onscreen, replaced by irresistible fun.

We Married As a Job

This Japanese gem is now my firm favourite in the contract marriage genre, thanks to the leads. Hoshino Gen’s Hiramasa is frustratingly low on self-esteem and awareness, but his gradual awakening is satisfying to watch. Aragaki Yui shines as Mikuri, a gangly bundle of sweetness looking for fulfillment in life and love, and Ishida Yuriko’s Yurichan is all kinds of awesome, a role model for the fifty-ish everywhere. Even the end sequence deserves special mention. It may be the best I’ve ever seen. It’s definitely the most FUN end sequence I’ve ever seen.

Joie De Vivre

Juhan Shuttai

Joie de vivre is literally the very essence of this nearly flawless Japanese Drama. The lead character exudes joy at being alive. It gushes out of her so irrepressibly that it infects everyone she comes in contact with, both characters and viewers. A rare 10/10 in my personal Drama list, there were no villains, but there was a heroine, and watching this cute, perennially happy bear cub grow was a recipe for uncomplicated joy. I am 99% certain that the clip below describes the reactions of 99% of this Drama’s  viewers.

Lame Humour

The Gentlemen of Wolgyesu Tailor Shop

This fifty episode Drama still has sixteen episodes to go, but even though the requisite conflict is starting to seep in as we enter the final third, I don’t recall ever laughing so much through a weekender. I look forward to each new week with almost as much eagerness as I did for Yeah That’s How It Is. Up to this point, it has been a lowkey laughfest The OTP is similarly rare, a slow-burning, muted merging of two very quiet characters. The remove from Drama stereotypes is highlighted by the male lead’s love of puns and similar wordplay, the “lame humour” referenced above. Throw in the unique talents of Ra Mi Ran, and the implausibly cute Lee Se Young and the result is a gentle confection, the Drama equivalent of a hot chocolate with marshmallows. I hope that it ends similarly, leaving me with a warm smile, like the ones it features so prominently.

 

 

 

 

Besides the Dramas above, the biggest Drama-related source of happiness for me has been my bias, Wang Ji Won. 2016 began with her shooting her first film, and ended with her getting a new agency, one I hope will support and promote her much better than her last one did. 2016 was also the year she got her first magazine cover article, which meant that 2016 was the year I bought my first 400 page magazine in a language I don’t know. Letting my bias know I’d bought a copy earned me a second DM from her, which made it a very worthwhile investment. Making a sizeable contribution to a very well thought out gift package was another highlight of my fanboy’s year, and as I look forward to her movie releasing early in 2017, I’m already considering gift options for THAT milestone in her career.

Another reliable source of smiles this year has, once again, been my remarkable Twitter timeline. While 140 characters is not optimal for nuanced and complex conversations, it is a great medium for fun and frippery, and my diverse Twitterati have supplied plenty of both all year, thank you all. A professional polyglot man of mystery with an adorable niece, a pharmacist with a cute nephew, a salty film student in a VERY complex long distance marriage, an itinerant Aussie and a friendly Frankfurter are among those who deserve special thanks for having provided many smiles through the year as victims of my maliciously bad wordplay.

An end of year post traditionally references the year ahead, and my Drama calendar for next year includes checking out two sageuks, a development so shocking I’m surprised Dispatch didn’t break it as front page news. I am interested to see how Lee Young Ae’s return to acting goes in the fusion sageuk written specifically for her, Saimdang. I am also keen to check out the upcoming Hong Gil Dong sageuk, mostly for the talented and beautiful Lee Ha Nui. Fingers crossed she plays the gayageum in it! 2017 might also be the year I finally clear my backlog of both K and J Dramas waiting to be watched.

Other things that have brought this Aotearoa Ajeossi happiness this year have included seeing a lot more of Aotearoa, and getting to play Harabeoji a lot more often. I hope that any who read this have had real life joys and seen Dramas that provided entertaining distractions too. It is a festive time of year, so I sincerely wish everyone a happy, safe and satisfying holiday season. May you be snowed under with happiness, or baked brown with bliss, according to your hemisphere. Ka kite ano, noho ora mai!

Number 2: Day 28

Top Three Drama Sisterhoods

Otona Joshi
Three working women in the circa 40 age bracket, good friends for years, each with their quirks and foibles, strengths and weaknesses, joys and sorrows. At various times in the Drama I got annoyed with the lead (centre) and the one on the left in this screencap, but the working single Mum on the right was all kinds of cool, as attested to by the harshest critic possible, a teenage son. As he said  after she had proved the point yet again, she really was
It was the sisterhood that won me for this show. From my perspective, they seemed like real friends, with no Drama nastiness and a solid connection that survived the sorts of up and downs any friendship has. A feel good favourite in which the bond of the three women proved more of an appeal than the OTP for me.
It’s back to another Japanese favourite for sisterhood number two. The clip above nicely illustrates the relationship between these three. They were  part of a “marriage club” formed at the school they all taught at, and despite different ages, personalities and life stages, they became very close friends. The clip above shows the faux combativeness of their friendship. They claimed to be rivals, who would prey on each other if needed to get their man, but in fact they were very supportive and loyal. One more reason to give this excellent low key Drama a look!

OFFICE GIRLS

Office Girls is an interesting Drama. There’s A LOT wrong with it  – stupidly overlong, with a tiresome “comic” side character, a truly vicious second female lead, and far too much drawn out melo. The main reason it works is the quite astonishingly magical chemistry between the leads, Alice and Roy. The other consistently good point in its favour is the bond between Alice’s and Yao Yao’s characters, shown above. Roommates and workmates, they were a reliable source of positive vibes, even when the Drama was in its tedious low points. For helping make the long journey to the end worthwhile, they round out the top 3 for me.

Number 3: Day 25

Drama Character You’d Actually Want To Date

As a happily-married man, I used this entry to celebrate female characters who appeal for their authenticity, the sort of characters I might want to date were I single. The fact that there’s zero chance they would want to date me is happily irrelevant.The clear winner here is the remarkable woman above. And what makes her such an attractive person is the self-awareness summed up in that screencap. She was called Ms Temper by others and the mental images people had of her ranged from this:

To this:

but the reality is she was neither, and both. Ok Da Jung was a woman who knows herself, and that is very attractive. She owned her past mistakes and had learned from them. She refused to bullied and cowed, and it’s that lack of servility that earned her the Ms Temper tag from the chauvinist men she worked with, who all either struggled to, or were completely unable to come to terms with a competent, confident woman who was good at her job and who knew it. She confronted incompetence and the patriarchy head on, every time, usually at the same time:

I really enjoyed the progression of her character throughout the Drama. She was not a one-dimensional Superwoman. She had a fractious relationship with her mother, and having been divorced several times, she had a wariness of emotional closeness. Again, she knew and accepted these things about herself, and tried to change them when she saw a need.

In terms of the Drama Challenge category there was a similar progression. The “I’d like to date her” went from the perhaps predictable attraction felt by a (very) beta male for an alpha female to the attraction felt by an adult who saw another adult. That sense of grown up realism is exactly what I’d be looking for, and the end of the Drama was perfectly in tune with that reality. Too bad that I know for a fact I’d be at the back of a LONG line of people wanting to date this awesome woman!

Option B
Hayako Sensei
Not a runner up, since she’s also someone I’d be happy to date in this hypothetical alternate reality.  I tagged the image Hayako Sensei because being a teacher was at her core. Like Ok Da Jung, she was very good at her job, and knew it. She was thoroughly committed to her job too. The whole Drama was about her looking for someone she wanted to marry, but when she found one, both their respective jobs were put first, and the marriage was left as an assumed future event.
Again like Ok Da Jung, the 34 year old Hayako knew herself quite well, except when it came to love. Towering above everyone else in the Drama, “awkwardly gangly” would also be a good description of her personal interaction. Seeing her get advice from her married and pregnant little sister showed her uncertain hesitancy in understanding her own feelings. Staying at home all her life to help and support her parents and pouring herself into her work as an elementary school teacher had been her focus, leaving her uncertain and awkward in dealing with romantic love.
Another woman who knew who she was, in terms of her strengths and weaknesses,  Hayako had a sweet heart, and a disarming diffidence. Like the Drama she was in, she was a no-drama person. Her description of what constituted her ideal marriage gelled very nicely with mine, perfectly summed up here:
Two women with much in common and some significant differences. The hypothetical harabeoji would be happy to date either one.  Such a pity that one is far too alpha, and the other far too tall!

Number 8: Day 13

 

Western Series You Think Could Be Adapted Into A Drama

When I started the 30 Day Drama Challenge, I expected Day 13 to be unlucky, too tough to answer. In fact, it was easy to answer. So easy that I came up with two good candidates:J-Dorama: Black Books

This is not an excuse to plug two of my favourite comedies. Well, not just an excuse to plug two of my favourite comedies. Watching the compilation above solidified my conviction that a Japanese adaptation could really work. The slightly surreal nature of Black Books antisocial vibe seems a better fit for Japanese Drama than Korean, I think. Also, the 9-11 episode run of a J-Dorama would be ideal, allowing the show to stay sharply funny to the end, without running the concept dry.  I started off with a very clear image of who should play the Dylan Moran character:
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Odagiri Joe would be great, I think, and his Drama Juhan Shuttai features Yasui, a character who embodies A LOT of Bernard Black, as in this clip:
Another Japanese character who reminds me strongly of Bernard Black is Takumi, the  unforgettable male lead character from one of my favourite comedies, Date. Smug, insular, hard to like and burdened with a crushing superiority complex in the fields of literature and movies, there is a lot of Bernard Black in Takumi.

Not only does Takumi display many of  the key Bernard Black characteristics, but I think Higashide Anne’s  performance in Date shows she could pull off the Fran character. She showed herself capable of  displaying the right mix of desperation, fragility and silliness, I think:

 

So there you have it: Take the bitter, jaded  cynicism of Juhan Shuttai‘s Yasui, the bookish reclusiveness and neuroticism of Date‘s Takumi,  meld them into the smoky bemused detachment of Odagiri Joe’s Iokibe, and you have a viable J-version of Bernard Black. Besides Higashide Anne, Matsushita Nao’s earnest, amiable awkwardness in Hayako Sensei  suggests her as a possible  Fran. I haven’t seen enough J-Doramas to have a clear picture of a J-Manny, so I’m very open to suggestions.

K-Web Drama: The IT Crowd

 

One thing that struck me about Juhan Shuttai  was how curiously analog Japan still is in many ways. Korea, on the other hand is possibly the most wired country on Earth. I think a short web series would be the ideal setting for a Korean version of The IT Crowd, and based on his performances in Beautiful Gong Shim I’d love to see Namgoong Min in the Roy role. Choi Siwon could probably pull it off too, going by his She Was Pretty  performance. Lee Dong Hwi seems like a potential Moss, while Lee Yeol Eum or Dasom could work as Jen – especially given Web Dramas tendency to cast idols. There is another possibility, one I offer very reluctantly, solely in the interests of being ruthlessly objective.Wang Ji Won is older than my other suggestions, nearer Jen’s age, and is capable of displaying the sort of fish-out-of-water naivete and credulity that marks Jen.
I would love to hear your views on this, dear (putative) readers: Do you think either or both of these would work, and if so, who would you cast?