Saturday, May 21, 2011

Japanese Drama - Producing Nobuta

Wow! I'm so excited that it wasn't just a one-show-in-a-million interest in Japanese drama! I honestly wasn't sure if I would actually find another show I liked as much as The Wallflower. While Producing Nobuta isn't based off a manga, it still has immense heart and substance. Weirdly enough, though, my favorite character is not played by Kame. YamaPi plays the wacky and wild best friend, Akira, to Kame's character Shuji. He started off as a constant irritant. Akira always seemed to be high or something, but the more I watched the show, the more I think it's a defense mechanism he has. By just being goofy and never showing the serious side to his personality, he's able to protect himself. Akira's uses his craziness as an emotional shield.

One thing that is constantly impressing me is how the Japanese incorporate life lessons into their dramas. Sure, they're a little hokey sometimes and incredibly zany most of the time. But there are still moments that make the viewer pause and think that maybe, just maybe, the writers were onto something profound in the midst of their stumbling. Take Producing Nobuta. This girl, Nobuka (or Nobuta is her nickname by Shuji and Akira), has been bullied her entire life. She's vulnerable and actually gave up trying to fight back because it never did any good. She reached the point of not caring because she thought it didn't hurt anymore. But it always hurts. Doesn't it? To be bullied and mocked hurts!

I'm not entirely sure why, but Shuji and Akira decide to help produce Nobuka into society. To help her become popular. It's more Akira's idea than Shuji's because Akira is just one of those guys that likes to help people. Plus, it gives him an excuse to spend time with Shuji who he genuinely likes and wants to like him back. Akira is lonely because he refuses to change and everyone thinks he's weird. Shuji is lonely because he pretends to actually like people that he really can't stand. He doesn't even care that much about his girlfriend and only fawns over her when they're together. Yet for some reason these two guys who have almost nothing in common, band together to help Nobuka find herself.

There's only 3 episodes left for me to watch. But so far, I love watching Shuji start to realize that he needs to stop being a phony. Because he is a phony and unless he wants me to rip his lips off then he'd better quit it. Having Akira realize his feelings for Nobuka is awesome too because this is the first time he's actually felt romantic love. My annoyance with Akira is no more. He's matured too. And Nobuka? Well, she's slowly learning to move forward. She's realizing that she can't let circumstances bother her or prevent her from looking to the future.

There's no guarantee that Akira and Nobuka will have a happy ending. For all I know she'll choose Shuji (heaven forbid since they'd be a dreadful match) or she'll pick no one at all. But in the end, the romance doesn't really matter. It's watching Shuji's maturity lightbulb slowly start to flicker that counts. It's seeing Nobuka blossom like a flower. And it's cheering as Akira banishes his most childish behavior to the closet. It's like reading their journals in a way. Shuji actually puzzles over his decisions, wondering why he does this and not that. Why he stays silent when he should speak up. These kids are just like any other kids. They go through the same fears and paranoia as American kids. The language barrier isn't even a barrier. Their fears are the same as ours. The most important thing to remember in Producing Nobuta is that fear is there to be surmounted.

We'll see what I think by the end of the series.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Ending of "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon"

Lo & Jen
I don't really consider myself close-minded. I'm not really open-minded either. How does the saying go? Something about being so open-minded that you have no opinion? That's not me. I like examining other cultures and pondering their history and belief system. I usually do this through entertainment since I'm a whiz at remembering movies and television but struggle immensely with historical facts and dates. It's best for me to learn about a culture by observing it through their entertainment media. What can I say. The system works for me.

But I doubt anything could help me understand the ending to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. The movie is beautiful. I'm not denying the filming is tasteful. But the end has me flummoxed. I'm used to films either having a definite happy ending or a definite sad ending. There is no real in-between for most of the movies I watch. Movies that end like Dear Frankie tend to make me go "eh" and move on to something else. But in this one, the ending is just too weird. I'll be pondering it for days. I get that the entire film takes place in a mythical reality set in China. The type of martial arts used is physically impossible since no one can actually walk on air or water. Not gonna happen. So, the movie is established as make-believe.

That's all well and good. But just because a movie is set in a mythical realm doesn't mean the audience wants an obscure ending. The secondary heroine, Jen, is a lovely girl with martial arts abilities and a desire to be something more than a wife. I understand that. Most women want to be accepted as being more than just the counterpart to a man. So, her fiance is not her choice. Instead, she prefers a bandit she met when he attacked her caravan on the way to meet her fiance. This would be Lo, or Dark Cloud, as he's called. But her family searches for her and her father's men move closer and closer to Lo's hiding place. So, he tells her a story as they stand together staring at a nearby mountain, about a man who made a wish and jumped off the mountain. But he didn't die because his faith was so great. He wasn't harmed at all, but landed unscathed and his wish came true. I think it had to do with saving someone's life.

We fast forward through a lot of emotional upheaval and angst including a couple of battles where Jen turns scary ninja on people and throws them through walls. Pretty awesome scenes. Unfortunately, a man she greatly respects is poisoned and he dies in the arms of the woman he loves. Jen knows an antidote for that poison but arrives too late. Instead of killing Jen (because Jen is partly responsible for the death), the woman sends Jen away to meet up with Lo and instructs to live her life in a way that pleases her. To not just give her life away to the desire of others, essentially. So, Jen finds Lo and they spend another night together. He wakes and she's gone, so he follows her and finds her on an overlook of the hideaway where they're staying. They're on a mountain. They talk a little and she asks him to make a wish and he says that he wishes they were back in the desert together. She looks at him and jumps off the edge of the mountain while Lo stands there with this expression that says he's lost her.

Jen plummets, or floats depending on your point of view, down the side of the mountain. And the movie ends.

Does this make sense to anyone? If we were to go according to the mythical realm theory, which works well so far, then shouldn't Jen's jump have an effect? Shouldn't she land unscathed because this girl has nothing if not faith? Her mentor would awaken from his death and perhaps even she and Lo could live together peacefully without anyone chasing them down. But no, the movie just ends, cutting to the name of the brilliant but frustrating director Ang Lee. Honestly, she should at least splat!

My mind must be less circular than I originally thought. I'm not much on philosophy and circular thinking. I like people going from point A and actually arriving at point B. Not squeaking right to the edge of point B and then falling into blackness. I was actually rooting for Jen and Lo. That girl has emotional hang-ups, yes, but she's best when she's with Lo. But nothing is decided, because the movie just ends with no conclusion! She could have survived and her mentor could have been brought back to life. It's possible and the audience just doesn't see it. But why? Why not show us that conclusion?

It's like watching that darn top spin at the end of Inception and never knowing if it actually falls or not! Oh, the frustration! I know I'll be watching Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon once a year for the rest of my life until I apply some logic to it.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Manga in My Life

{Yamato Nadeshiko Shichi Henge icon by sailorprinzess @ Livejournal}

Well, Tokyopop is closing its doors to North America. I normally wouldn't care about a manga publishing company but since I've started reading manga, this actually hits me pretty hard. The very first manga I purchased is published by Tokyopop. Just thinking about not getting Shinobi Life updates is depressing! Oh well, it looks like scanlations will be my life for now. Unless another company picks it up, which is entirely possible. I'll be praying. Either that or I could learn to read Japanese. Yeah, right, not! Learning to read Japanese could take my entire life. Speaking it however, that I'm considering.

You know how sometimes an interest or hobby seems completely out of character? Well, that's how manga is for me. None of my friends read manga, almost none of them watch anime, and certainly none of them watch Japanese live action dramas. Yet from the moment I picked up that first volume of Shinobi Life I was completely hooked. Why? I keep asking myself that question. It really doesn't make any sense. I don't speak Japanese. I don't understand the language except for the most minimal terms like "thank you" and "please." So why would I be drawn to such a completely foreign entertainment experience?

I guess I needed a change. These mangas take my mind to a completely different world. It's so totally unique from what I know! I love reading the little habits and polite behaviors the mangas so accurately represent. Most of the main male Japanese characters have the most amazing little ticks and reactions. They move differently, speak differently, and even love girls differently than American men. Most of the mangas I like express a pure love between the main female and male characters. Yoh and Haruna in High School Debut learn to love each other through trial and error. Neither one of them is experienced in love. It's beautiful and funny and awesome to watch them grow together.

Maybe, just maybe, these shoujo mangas and Japanese tv dramas have reignited my hope that true love exists. I watch Kyohei in Yamato Nadeshiko Shichi Henge learn to love, learn what love actually is, and it warms my heart. It makes me think "Wait a minute, maybe this is possible." I admit to becoming, not embittered exactly, but definitely disillusioned with the idea of romantic love. Especially over the last couple of years. Manga has reinstilled that belief in me, that true love can and does exist. It may not find me for years or ever, but that's okay. Just so long as I know it's out there somewhere.

That's why I read manga.

It gives me hope.

It makes me laugh.

It makes me cry.

It reminds me to live.
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