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Mama Haha Bugi (1989)
Silly, but endearing in its own way
The 1980s drama has lots of cartoonish, exaggerated slapstick that can grate a little, but ultimately the silliness, like in a sitcom, directs us toward a message about the rewards of reaching out towards other people. Yes, it's sappy, but in a begrudgingly charming way.
The plot isn't exactly the most tightly written to come out of the TBS factory. There are times, for example, when the story gets lost in indecipherable rants. But the drama does have its moments, including a nice showcase of Oda Yuji's talents playing emotionally distant but ultimately decent men. Mama Haha Boogie also serves as a fine reminder of Asano Atsuko's comedic talent, oft forgotten today in her more recent roles as stern, no-nonsense women (101 Marriage Proposal, Coach). If you haven't seen it, try to find some of her work in the Abunai Keiji series. She's a little shrill and yes, very ditzy, but no one can play the endearing airhead quite the way she does.
I will say that one strange element in this series is the not-so-subtle sexual tension between Ranko and Makoto. Atsuko and Oda always have an interesting chemistry together onscreen and this only added to the drama's implications that stepmom and stepson would be a more passionate pair than stepmom and dad. Interestingly enough, it was just four years later when the two actors would play star-crossed lovers in the tv drama "Subarashiki na jinsei" (1993).
Fukuyama Engineering (2002)
Kudos to a pop idol trying to pursue simple pleasures
The premise of this variety/talk show revolves around Fukuyama Masaharu's pursuit of quality items that are either inherently valuable or capture some sort of simple pleasure. Every week he invites celebrity guests to his television "factory" where they conceptualize, design and create various goods. Given his diverse interests, Fukuyama dreams up varying themes for each show. Past items have included everything from synthesizing his own brand of sake and spices under the watchful eye of masters; the building of a customized, souped-up scooter; planting himawari (sunflowers) and eating regional dishes in his native Nagasaki as inspiration for a new recording; designing luxury bath goods; building a guitar from a motorcycle gas tank; recording new songs in his studio; and cooking outside under the stars. Admittedly, some seem a little silly when taken out of its Japanese context (a spiffy, portable ashtray?) but it's clear that Fukuyama, who is now in his 30s, is trying to pursue things of quality and substance.
The set of Fukuyama Engineering is a hip workshop that pays homage to American iconography. Wall items include a Texaco sign, Rt. 66 pics, license plates, and an enlarged PMRC warning label. Despite the set, though, the show's truly about pursuing quality elements and goods that are of Japan; a rare (and admirable) quest in an entertainment industry full of those pursuing trivialities.
In addition to producing goods for general sale, Fukuyama Engineering has also led to a new album of classic covers called The Golden Oldies.
Celebrity guests and collaborators so far include Yusuke Santamaria, Kato Haruhiko, Issa from Da Pump, Koji Imada, Yuzu and Yamamoto Taro.
Mahiru no tsuki (1996)
Not one of Oda Yuji's better dramas
Oda Yuji's usual smolder and chilvarous fire can't bring life to the plodding plot and what ultimately proves to be a deadweight of a drama. Somehow Fuji TV has always made better vehicles for the actor than rival TBS. (My fingers are crossed for 'Mayonaka no Ame' in the fall and I hope TBS throws tons of cash at the production). While audiences ought to feel sympathetic towards Tokiwa Takako's character because of her emotional and physical trauma, Mae just comes off as whiny and irritating.
One appealing aspect to the TBS drama is how it lets Oda play the everyday guy next door, as opposed to the hotshot professional [doctor, lawyer, teacher, cop, criminal] or his pratfall-ridden, comedic alter-egos [Okane Ga Nai]. Unlike previous dramas where he plays the straight man to the whimsical, fiery ingenue [see Tokyo Love Story and Mama Haha Bugi], Oda also gets to tone down his intensity for the better part of the story. It's a nice change of pace from many of his more moody, emotionally unavailable characters.
In a nutshell: This drama is only for diehard Oda Yuji fans or people who like to snark on TBS's production values. (Lifetime could have done better with this storyline and in just 90 minutes no less). People who didn't like Tokiwa Takako's Beautiful Life won't like this one either.
Great JPN variety show that continues to amuse
Whether you are a big fan of the Japanese "boy" bands or can barely stomach even the best of "jpop," Smap x Smap is a boy band showcase that amuses and remains surprisingly enduring. Most boy bands in Japan fade quickly after a three or four year career but Smap has been around since the early 90s. Their self titled variety show allows them to showcase their entertaining skills, whether that be cooking for lovely young actresses in a regular segment called Bistro Smap (a knockoff of the network's "Iron Chef"), acting in parodies of popular movies (e.g. Titanic, Spider-Man), or just being good sports at whatever nonsensical game the producers put them in. Though most of the group's members are tepid singers at best - Kimura Takuya being the most vocally gifted - the show lets people enjoy what's best about Smap, and that's their personalities. Smap x Smap or 'sma sma' continues to do well in the ratings and it's likely it'll continue to do well in it's prime tv slot.