Friday, 8 November 2013

The Fourth Annual November 8th Awards

And so, as is usual on this blog, I mark the anniversary of If By Japan's birth with a pretend awards ceremony. These last twelve months have seen Japanese dramas offer up an embarrassment of riches in one season, followed by the embarrassment of being really quite incompetent for months at a time.

I found my free time greatly reduced as, despite still being unemployed, I started doing voluntary work this year. This means I still haven't seen Lady Joker or finished Hanzawa Naoki, although I fully intend to. One day.

Also, it seems to me that the nominations this year are more repetitive than before, with the same names cropping up. Whether that is a reflection of my viewing habits or of a patchy year in J-drama, I don't know.

But anyway, my favourite TV shows out of the past twelve months are...

Best drama

Going My Home
Osozaki no Himawari
Hitori Shizuka
Furuhata Ninzaburo

Koreeda's charming drama takes the prize. Despite being a ratings disaster (13% share down to just under 5% by the end) it was a joy to watch. Almost no story at all was somehow kept going by subtle performances and a gentle soundtrack. Osozaki no Himawari was everything that made me like J-dramas, all wrapped up in one lovely bundle. Hitori Shizuka was challenging and sometimes confusing, but still a compelling, dark drama. And it had the best shoot-out I've seen in years. Furuhata Ninzaburo remains heads and shoulders above most other murder mysteries, even 16 years after it was made.

Best comedy

Yuusha Yoshihiko to Akuryou no Kagi
Saikou no Rikon
Mahoro Ekimae Bangaichi

I tip-toed through SOIL thanks to a patient Japanese friend (who's now, sadly, gone back to Japan) but found it's David Lynch sensibilities very funny. Yuusha Yoshihiko... isn't as good as the prequel, but still was funnier than most. Saikou no Rikon is a grown-up comedy about failing relationships and it was so excellently played and it came so close to winning, but Mahoro Ekimae Bangaichi was just stunning. Original, inventive, unpredictable and perfectly cast. I said it is the closest that J-dramas have ever got to being rock'n'roll, and I stand by that.

Best film

Still Walking
The Sun
The Thieves
The Emperor's Naked Army Marches On

The Thieves is a great big martial arts rush, and one of the few films which I've wanted to watch again the moment it ended. The Emperor's Naked Army Marches On is a brilliant documentary that challenges its viewers to sympathise with a very unsympathetic subject. The Sun is an acting masterclass from Issy Ogata, but Koreeda gets his second award with Still Walking. What can I say? I'm a sucker for anyone who can turn non-stories into compelling viewing.

Best Actor

Eita (Mahoro Ekimae Bangaichi, Saikou no Rikon, and The Foreign Duck, The Native Duck and God in a Coin Locker)
Abe Hiroshi (Still Walking, Going My Home)
Issy Ogata (The Sun)

Eita, for me, was unstoppable in this past year. His versatility and adaptability is a constant source of amazement. I saw him in several things recently, and each time he's seemed like a different actor. Abe Hiroshi was effortlessly good in two of the Koreeda works I saw this year, and Issy Ogata was riveting in his role as a falling Japanese emporer at the end of the second World War.

Best Actress

Miyazaki Aoi (Going My Home)
Ono Machiko (Saikou no Rikon, Like Father Like Son)
Maki Yoko (Saikou no Rikon, Like Father Like Son, and Osozaki no Himawari)
Gouriki Ayame (Biblia Koshoudou no Jiken Techou)

Miyazaki Aoi was great in Going My Home, as the villager who seemed to know more about local fables than she admitted . Gouriki Ayame was surprisingly well suited to her role as a timid book-keeper. But really, it was between Maki Yoko and Ono Machiko. Both were brilliant this year, but I think Ono Machiko just edges it. Not sure why. Possibly just because Ono Machiko seems like more fun to get drunk with.

Best Game Show

Running Man
Game Centre CX
Vs Arashi

It was episode 124 that won it again for Running Man. Any game show that makes me want to go and research history has got to be a winner. And, despite feeling a bit predictable at times, it still has the ability to do things that no other TV show can do. Vs Arashi pushed it close, though. Especially with some subtitled shows coming online, and Game Centre CX remained fun.

Best Album

Amado Leejaram Band “Debut”
Tokumaru Shugo “In Focus”
Girls' Generation “Girls Generation II: Peace and Love”

I've been following Tokumaru Shugo for only a couple of years, but he's already become a favourite. I love his inventive approach to music, somehow folky and somehow modern, and the tunes are good, too. I was also impressed by the folk-blues from Korea of the Amado Leejaram Band, and the quality selection of pop goodness that was Girls' Generation II.

The safe pair of hands award

Eita (Mahoro Ekimae Bangaichi, Saikou no Rikon, and The Foreign Duck, The Native Duck and God in a Coin Locker)
Abe Hiroshi (Still Walking, Going My Home)
Ono Machiko (Saikou no Rikon, Like Father Like Son)
Maki Yoko (Saikou no Rikon, Like Father Like Son, and Osozaki no Himawari)

In a year for Japanese TV that veered from excellent dramas all over the place to literally nothing worth watching, you could at least rely on Eita to have excellent choice in anything he did. Whether it was wry character driven comedy, or off-beat indie drama, or physical action, he can do it all.


  1. Nice list! With Eita, Koreeda san and Mahoro Ekimae Bangaichi as the big winners. My taste in J-dorama/ movies is much the same. Hence me frequenting your blog : )
    There's one name that I'm really missing though: Mitsushima Hikari! She really shone in "woman"! Although "Woman" wasn't perfect, it still had the best writing and cast this year! It's only my opinion though and much in the eye of the beholder : )
    B.t.w. Through Mahoro Ekimae Bangaichi I discovered Sakamoto Shintaro (and realised that he was a main player in Yura Yura Teikoku) To make Mahoro Ekimae Bangaichi's victory complete, I would like to smuggle Sakamoto san into your music list for his soundtrack of that series : )
    Anyways! Thanks for your nice blog and the wonderful subbing you do! Will keep checking it out!

  2. Oh yes, you're right. I found Woman to be tough going, but you're right, in terms of performance, she should be in there. Certainly more than Gouriki Ayame - I think that just shows my bias towards the shows that I've subbed!

    And if anyone's wondering where Amachan is, I still haven't finished it! It'll have to wait until next year.

  3. I love your love for Machiko Ono. Whereas Eita does get his share of love on the web, you're one of the only ones to show some appreciation for her ^^

  4. I've never seen anyone be so unglamorously (I don't think this is a word) natural. I love her.