April 23, 2012

Ume-chan Sensei

NHK's Asadora or "morning (asa) drama (dorama)" is a fifteen-minute family melodrama that runs six days a week. The latest series is a "Showa drama," meaning it takes place in the middle part of the 20th century.

Showa dramas typically depict Japan (symbolized by the spunky female protagonist) struggling through the ashes of WWII to make a place for herself in the world. In this case, scaling the very high hurdle of becoming a medical doctor.

The television season in Japan officially begins in April, and Ume-chan Sensei is now the third Showa drama in a row since the 3/11 earthquake and tsunami, and the fourth of the last five (only two of the nine before that were Showa dramas).

Unlike the previous four, where the end of the war came at the climax of the first or second act, the very first episode of Ume-chan Sensei takes place on August 15, with the Emperor's radio speech announcing the surrender.

One thing this and previous Asadora have pointed out is that the Emperor had never made a radio address before, used stilted and dated language, and nobody under the age of forty could understand a thing he said. No King's Speech here.

The previous Showa dramas I've seen took place far from Tokyo, where the only damage came from an off-course B-29. Ume-chan Sensei begins in Kamata. I've been there. It's right between Tokyo and the industrial port city of Kawasaki.

Pretty much ground zero. The first scene starts with the family eating breakfast. Then Umeko runs outside—into an utterly wrecked and charred landscape. It was hard not to think of post-tsunami scenes from the Northern Japan.

I'm sure the director intended the connection to be drawn, and it makes for a fascinating and detailed look at post-war Japan I haven't seen before. Needless to say, the lead actress, Maki Horikita, makes it very much worth looking at too.

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