Friday, May 11, 2012

Ume-chan Sensei

Friday May 11, 10:57 a.m.

Enjoying my second consecutive day of parole, as it were. No classes to sub for today. Just in my lounge wear, blogging or writing away.

My parents have been loyal customers of Japan TV via Rogers for several years, so when it comes to getting Japanese television, it almost feels like I never got away from the country, especially when it comes to broadcasting by the national station, NHK. It dominates much of the programming on Japan TV. Of course, one of the mainstays on NHK for decades has been the morning serial drama (asa renzoku shousetsu....朝連続小説). Every weekday morning from 8 to 8:15 on Channel 1, there has been a 15-minute telenovella, usually showing a drama based on Japan's yesteryears during the 20th century. Maybe the most famous one that has ever been shown internationally was the series "O-Shin" from 30 years ago which portrayed the struggles and eventual triumph of a woman from abject poverty to the presidency of her own franchise. Even Ronald Reagan dropped the name in a televised speech aimed at the Japanese people. I've never been much for schmaltzy melodrama, so I usually stayed in my room studying while I could hear my parents sniffling away while watching rented videos of the program.

Nowadays, my parents don't have to leave their home to get videos since they can watch their dramas via Japan TV, albeit at 9:45 p.m. EST. The current drama that started nearly a month ago is "Ume-chan Sensei"(梅ちゃん先生....Little Doctor Ume). As with the previous serial, "Carnation", the new drama is a coming-of-age story of a young dotty woman, Umeko Shimomura, in her attempts to become a medical doctor. The setting is postwar Tokyo 1945 so the city looks more like a shantytown than the gleaming megalopolis it is today.

I guess I've gotten mellow in my middle age, since I've been finding myself watching a number of episodes with the parentals. Mind you, I think the somewhat overly melodramatic tone of NHK rendora (the short form of the serial drama) in years past has itself mellowed out. Still, the Japanese like to watch their actors slap their hearts firmly on sleeves, so the Shatner effect pops up now and then. Frankly I think the dramas on the commercial stations are now far more hysterical (and not in a funny way) than the NHK ones; I gave up on those back in the late 90s.

Back to "Ume-chan". The era that I've always been most interested in has been the postwar era leading up to the Economic Miracle years of the 1980s...basically the path from rusted corrugated iron to gleaming steel and glass. Perhaps one of the reasons I've been more attracted to this drama is just seeing what life was like back then, the years that my parents had grown up in. The characters are amiable enough: Maki Horikita is the slightly annoying (for now, at least) but adorable and stalwart Ume-chan with her more with-it older sister, Matsuko and older brother, Takeo. The ever-grumpy father is the typical Showa-era master of his castle (and a doctor) with an ever-patient softspoken mother. Those last two characters are being played more as types than as real individuals, but even the NHK rendora have always been more about showing the sepia-toned fuzzy nostalgia than reality.

At this point, the situations have been fairly light and comical. Discovering the taste of that rare black gold....Coca-Cola, trying to sneak past the eagle eyes of Dad to attend an innocuous dance party, and Ume-chan just trying to figure out the German language so that she can succeed in medical school. Back then, all medical students had to learn German...the Chief of Staff at the local hospital in my town during my JET days could speak it fluently.

I think the only thing that I don't really like is that SMAP theme song......tortured, tortured, tortured.

courtesy of UBIC from Tokyo
of Flickr