WOWOW Cold Case: Towards Better Race Representation in Jdrama

While it’s fairly easy to keep up the myth of Japanese racial homogeneity in more rural areas, any trip to big cities like Tokyo and Osaka will assure you that Japan is not as homogenous as it seems. Immigrants (both legal and illegal), long-term and short-term workers, tourists, children of inter-marriages – all these make up a diverse population. And for a long time, even when people of other races were portrayed on Japanese TV, it has been at best embarrassing, at worst incredibly racist.

Then Cold Case comes along, and makes me sit up because of its willingness to bring up race without it being the MAIN POINT of the show. Different races exist within the Cold Case universe, as it should, given that the show’s set around Tokyo, Kanagawa and Yokohama. So I decided to explore how this show deals with race, and what I like about its attempt to do so.

Three things to note: For convenience I’m just going to lump all these people into one broad category of ‘foreigners’, but it is too simplistic to name describe them all that way. Also, even though I think Cold Case is a sign of dramas moving in the right direction, it does not mean that I think their race representations are perfect. Thirdly, my posts are extremely spoiler-y.

Here goes.

1)      Foreigners exist as people and not as caricatures

What immediately sets Cold Case apart is how many foreigners are presented to us, and how varied their backgrounds are. We have the illegal Filipino immigrant, the Spanish-speaking bi-racial janitor, the bright Brazilian art student who dropped out to vandalise on the streets, the proud and beautiful Korean post-WWII prostitute. Sure, not one of these are portrayals of upper class (or even middle class) foreigners, which is a shame, but we do get a greater range of people. We also get a greater range of personalities, which is important because foreigners are so often stereotyped as either evil thugs or naïve, always happy child-adults. Too simplistic.

Take for example the Filipino lady who was afraid to come out and confess what she witnessed. Essentially, she is a person who wants to do the right thing, which is why she confesses even years after the incident. She didn’t just let it be. Yet on the other hand, one could argue that she shouldn’t have withheld such important information for so long. It’s a grey area, and within the context of the show, this is presented without moral judgement.

Detective Yuri’s reaction to the situation is basically this: You withheld information because you didn’t want to be caught for illegally entering Japan? Ok, makes sense, now tell us what you know.

Then there’s the Brazilian artist. He’s compassionate and kind, but he’s also a small-time criminal, what with all his vandalism. He has valid complaints that he gets treated more harshly by police than Japanese people who break the law. However he still has to admit that just because the police aren’t fair doesn’t mean he’s in the right.

2)      Foreigners are the victims of crime perpetuated by locals

Episode 6 was both difficult to watch but also praise-worthy precisely it portrayed violence in such a realistic manner, making sure that there was no doubt as to how horrific it was. But it’s also incredible in that it’s not just any violent crime – rape and murder were the subject matters. As you know, rape is a really touchy issue in East Asia, mostly due to Japan’s refusal to admit to using Korean and Chinese women as comfort women during WWII. While this episode is set post-war and not during the war, it essentially admits that there are rapists among the Japanese, despicable men who think they are great, men who think they are acting in Japan’s interests but are actually prejudiced jerks. I mean, well done show.

Sujeong as a character is doubly disadvantaged in post-war Japan. She’s Korean and she’s a prostitute – either way despised.

What’s clever about Ep 6 is that we see Suzaki Kiyoshi, a Japanese man, slowly fall in love with her and accept her despite her being a prostitute. He tries to save her against the vigilantes, but here’s the catch – the moment she confesses to being Korean he’s at a lost. In a way I feel like the narrative makes some excuses for him like – Oh, he was in shock. His life had been a lie and it was just a lot to take in. He saved her from being raped by more men…

But then in the rape scene we see Sujeong plead continuously to him and bites him when he tries to keep her quiet. Even as she’s gagged she keeps looking up at him.

Again, this isn’t a simplistic angry kid or naïve happy-go-lucky adult-child. Here I am comparing Sujeong with other portrayals of foreigners. Yokokuhan (the 2015 movie) for example, featured a young Filipino boy, but I felt like he was way to naive and forgiving to be believable. It actually felt a bit condescending.

Meanwhile this is a Korean woman – fiercely nationalistic, loving and motherly, proud and resourceful, but ultimately cruelly overwhelmed by the Japanese.

He killed her – and there’s no excuse. Suzaki acknowledges that. Acknowledges that his prejudices were wrong, and he did something horrible, both in his actions and by his initial inaction. He experiences genuine regret. When discussing race, it’s refreshing to see a character realise his wrongdoings and repent. Not forgetting that he spells out that discrimination still exists in Japan. I mean, really, well done show.

With this development, I feel mildly optimistic. Here’s to no more brown faces, black people = hip hop mentality, and embarrassing ads featuring ‘white’ men with long noses

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WOWOW Cold Case: Towards Better Race Representation in Jdrama

‘Dear Sister’ Reinvents the Wheel: Misaki’s Pregnancy

I previously wrote about Dear Sister being one female-centric show in recent years that has really risen above the rest in terms of careful storytelling and well-written characters. It’s not that it’s incredibly groundbreaking, but it makes small changes to make characters more believable, and dare I say, more relatable.

So for a while I’ve been thinking of writing a more in-depth series where I write about what I most love about the show.

First let’s start with how the show handled Misaki’s pregnancy.  How can you encourage people to value human life and hopefully prevent a greying population? It has nothing to do with shaming people for their lifestyle choices (women being the main victims of such arguments) or awkwardly slotting in research data in the drama. It has everything to do with showing that human life is to be celebrated, a burden that can also bring happiness.

In light of this, these are four ways in which I think Dear Sister dealt with unwed pregnancy well.

1)     Misaki was not slut-shamed

One of the most amazing things about this show, to me, was how Misaki’s family reacted her being pregnant. Sure, Hazuki couldn’t stand the way Misaki would get with countless men and not get her life together in the way she herself (supposedly) had. But this was only early in the show. She didn’t nag or say anything demeaning to Misaki when she found out that Misaki was pregnant. She was mostly hurt that she didn’t hear it from her sister herself. Other than that, she was elated to find out that she was going to get a niece or nephew.

There was no huge tirade that I so often see on Asian dramas along the lines of “You’re such a disgrace to the family!” or, “How could you be so careless and irresponsible and get yourself pregnant!”

I couldn’t help thinking that this is the family support system that would be good for unwed/single mothers to have.

Also, while it was just a tad unrealistic, Misaki’s enemies in the hostess bar also congratulate her when they see her visibly pregnant. They acknowledge the fact that she doesn’t have to be alone, and that was a nice moment where life is not only seen as precious, but was great because it didn’t lead to more gossip and bad mouthing – another drama staple. You know – “Oh my god have you heard, that slut’s pregnant!”, “Whose child is it?” or, “I don’t know but…” – that sort of thing.

2)     Misaki was determined to keep the baby

Throughout the show we start to see how creative Misaki is in terms of making and saving money. I know this is a rather controversial subject and people have differing opinions, but personally I thought that Misaki not resorting to abortion because she wasn’t financially stable, or married, or had a roof over her head, sent an empowering message. Her child was the catalyst for her to start making more responsible decisions.

This by no means meant that Misaki became a model citizen. However, it showed how bearing a child informs the woman as a person in ways that can be positive. It also showed that women are strong even when they make decisions that might not be considered ‘world-changing’. By deciding to keep the baby, by quitting alcohol in a pressurising environment…Misaki showed her strength and determination as a person.

3)     Misaki didn’t feel the need to marry to raise her child

Sure Misaki does end up marrying Eito at the end of the series, but the series makes it very clear that it wasn’t because she needed him in order to bring up the baby. In fact, Eito was just one person in her support system that she could reach out to if she needed it. I think this is important because this  show’s stand is clear. You don’t end up in a marriage that is linked together only by guilt or duty (though duty is a part of marriage).  That is not a healthy response to the situation. Instead, having a child and marriage as an entity are both respected for their own worth.

Marriage between two loving persons is a good thing. But marriage simply because you can’t bring up a child otherwise is not a very empowering message. If anyone has watched Shitsuren Chocolatier you would know that this was the kind of unhealthy message that was sent out when Saeko went back to her abusive husband after finding out she was pregnant. Though it was made to seem like he repented of his ways, I find it highly disturbing that they would show a female character making such a dangerous decision. I’m glad Dear Sisterdidn’t go down that road, even though I have to say, Misaki’s baby daddy Soichiro isn’t nearly as bad as that abusive husband in Shitsuren Chocolatier.

4)     Misaki had a support system to rely on

It takes a village to raise a child, and Dear Sister is a show which shows Misaki being surrounded by a village. Her mum, her sister, Yohei, Yohei’s sister…All these are people who take care of Misaki and who Misaki can turn to.

Without shoving it down my throat the show sent an important message. Women can help women. Men can help women, without needing a romantic or sexual relationship in return.

With empathy and kindness one can have the strength and opportunity to follow through with life decisions.

‘Dear Sister’ Reinvents the Wheel: Misaki’s Pregnancy

Thoughts; Fan Perception of Morio as the “Evil Second Female Lead”

Honda Tsubasa’s lacklustre acting aside, one of the reasons why I continue to watch Jimi ni Sugoi! is because of Morio. She’s not an outstanding character by any means, but I find her really relatable. I feel like there are many aspects of her character that might have been better portrayed if played by a stronger actress, but I think she’s easy enough to understand regardless. 

That being said the main point I want to explore is the easy dismissal of Morio as the baddie in JnS, or rather, the jumpiness of many a fan to assume that Morio is going to do something ‘bad’ and get in the way of Etsuko and Yukito’s relationship in some way. It’s interesting, because it’s in direct contrast to what the drama has been showing us thus far.

At every turn, people seem genuinely surprised when she turns out to be pretty decent. I can’t help but wonder if fans are ascribing negative traits to her because of their previous drama watching experiences. There has been a long tradition of spiteful, conniving second female leads in Asian dramas, and could it perhaps be colouring people’s perception of who Morio is, and what she may do? 

So one of the better aspects of JnS is that there is no one person singled out so far as the stereotypical (read: boring, predictable) villain of the show. Granted, it still remains unclear why Morio asked Yukito to stay with her in the first place. Seeing that she only recently realised that she likes him (that is, after he left), the most we can assume is that she either wanted to make sure he didn’t run from the deal to be a model, or perhaps she had a level of attraction to him, that she was not fully conscious of. Whichever the case she certainly did not do that to ruin any relationship, that much is clear.

The drama is also really clear that Morio kissed Yukito because of her own confused feelings and frustrations regarding her aimless life. She didn’t have a place to relief herself of them, so she went for the person closest to her. Yukito himself acknowledges this fact and thus pushes her to talk about what’s reallygoing on. I actually felt like that was a real turning point for Morio, and it was a sweet moment of friendship between the two. Morio finally could get everything off her chest, and in realising she was not alone in not knowing what on earth she was doing in her life, she could finally take Etsuko’s advice and move forward in her work.

But yet online I see a good number of fans who are truly annoyed by 1) her kissing Yukito, and 2) her being jealous of Etsuko. Both of which I felt weren’t things to crucify her for. Etsuko’s boundless energy and passion is what makes her so lovable, but it’s not something that everyone can have. And when a person just going through the motions sees a person like Etsuko, yea they might get jealous. I’m actually really glad that she didn’t just pretend that she wasn’t jealous of Etsuko. To me that just makes Morio more human.

Then there’s the fact that Morio post-kiss is very considerate of Yukito and Etsuko’s budding relationship. She apologises when she has to interrupt their date. She agrees that it’s best that Yukito tells Etsuko about their living arrangement. She is genuinely apologetic when Etsuko finds out they were staying together before Yukito has a chance to say it and reminds Etsuko that she has a boyfriend. She insists that Yukito go and find a place of his own instead of staying with her indefinitely, even though it’s clear that it’s not really what either of them wants. Then she apologises to Etsuko AGAIN.

Then in Ep 8 Morio confesses to liking Yukito and suddenly some fans are like, “She better not try anything funny”, “She better not wreck things”, and I’m like, ehm, can a girl live? Is she not entitled to feelings? She confessed it privately in order to reject a man she was not interested in (POOR TAKO BUT OK I DIGRESS). It’s quite likely given her reserved personality that she wouldn’t have even told Hachiro if he didn’t ask her to date him. Keep in mind she didn’t mention any names, so she wasn’t trying to pull a sneaky stunt then.

I can only assume that fans are reacting based on their previous experiences with romance dramas. And truth be told, with another 3 episodes to go anything could happen. She could go “villain” on us. But if the show really goes in that direction then it would certainly make me quite disappointed. So far, they’ve kept themselves from going down that predictable direction and I hope they keep it up.

Also, I find that the relationships are not set in stone. Maybe I’m saying this because I don’t ship Etsuko/Yukito, but I feel I can say it with some confidence because the show has made some really questionable choices with regards to Etsuko and Hachiro’s, subtle but obvious, growing closeness. And that’s actually another aspect I want to explore – fan confusion regarding who the ‘male lead’ of this drama is. Maybe next time 🙂

Thoughts; Fan Perception of Morio as the “Evil Second Female Lead”

Thoughts; Jdramas and Adultery

So, it must be the season of marriage infidelity in Jdrama land, what with Fukigen na Kajitsu just wrapping up and Seisei Suruhodo, Aishiteru airing soon. It’s not to say that there’s never been affairs portrayed in Jdramas, but they tend to focus more on a male protagonist and long-suffering wives and mistresses who know what’s going on but kind of just deal with it because…loyalty, societal pressures and what not.

So it’s interesting that females are now the protagonists of these stories. The last show I watched with an affair was Shitsuren Chocolatier, it ended disastrously in my opinion and (spoiler alert) I was truly offended that 1) Sota couldn’t get a grip and pursue the good thing he had with Erena and 2), the drama had Saeko returning to her ABUSIVE HUSBAND.

While I still don’t know what slant Seisei is going to take, and what it’s stand on this issue will be, it seems that it will highly romanticize it. I’m not big on either Takizawa Hideaki and Takei Emi so I’m not keen, but I may just watch out of thematic curiosity.

Fukigen na Kajitsu I sped watched and here’s the thing, I appreciate that it had a candid look on affairs and relationships. It showed that no person, no matter how romantic or perfect they seem, actually are. It took a dig at the fact that if a person cheats at one point, they could very do so again.

I understand and appreciate TV for portraying societal realities. In fact, I think that there is definitely a place for that. TV is not meant to be sunshine and roses. It’s not meant to be clandestine.

But I don’t think Jdramas have reached the point where they are really grappling with the issues. They are inching in that direction, and Fukigen is certainly one of the ones that try to examine motivations and consequences.

Yet at the heart of it I’m still not sure that I feel comfortable watching shows that, in general, portray adultery in a positive light. I’ve just had so many family members and friends hurt so badly by cheating partners. I’ve also had friends cheat on their partners as well, and hey it’s not that awesome for them either. It’s just so much pain all around.

And on the other hand I wonder if it’s a problem with me as a viewer? Things that I can objectively view on American TV, make me slightly disconcerted in Jdrama – does that speak of my expectations? And on a related note, do expectations and the maturity of Jdrama audiences hinder the growth of the industry?

I’m not sure if anyone has the same mixed feelings regarding this?

(P.S. Caps not mine)

Thoughts; Jdramas and Adultery