Yesterday’s Curry. Today’s Bread: NHK still working its magic

UntitledNHK (roughly speaking, the BBC/PBS of Japan) is dazzling me once again with its ability to craft endearing, engrossing drama series. This time, it’s got me charmed and delighted with Yesterday’s Curry. Today’s Bread (昨夜のカレー。明日のパン), a 7-episode series which follows a young widow living with her father in law, a co-worker smitten with her, an ex-flight attendant who can no longer smile and several other characters.
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There’s a bittersweet feeling to the descriptions of and flashbacks to (especially at the end of the episodes) the past. They convey this sense that the good times—those comparatively halcyon days—are over and the present wasn’t supposed to turn out the way it is, so now what do we do? Can we just loiter in this present, which though not great, has at least become pleasant enough?

As the protagonist Tetsuko puts it in the first episode, “Everyone says to move on, but is pausing here so unacceptable? I don’t want to move forward yet.”

But over the course of the series, the characters find that in the present, there are still Continue reading

Sandwiches, Soup and Satomi Kobayashi: パンとスープとネコ日和

Just slightly more eventful than Kana Matsumoto’s earlier work Mother Water and with more of a plot trajectory, brightness and slightly faster pacing than her last feature film Tokyo Oasis, パンとスープとネコ日和 (Bread and Soup and Cat Weather) is an immersive, relaxing, short Japanese drama series that’s quietly beautiful and delightful. With characters drawn from the casts of めがねプールかもめ食堂 (Glasses, Pool, Seagull Diner)、Mother Water and Tokyo Oasis (like Ryo Kase), along with settings and relationships similar to those films, there’s a familiar, airy atmospheric quality to this 4-episode j-drama.

episode 4 title scene

I love how the series brings you into the kinds of cozy places you’ll find in Japan—cafés with simple yet stylistic decor and good, unique food, little side streets of shops and restaurants. It’s also great how there’s time for relationships to be revealed and developed in ways that couldn’t in the movies mentioned above. And the sandwiches and soups look delicious, reminding me of some of the menu items at the Hi-Rise Bread Company in Cambridge, MA and at Soup Stock Tokyo.

If you’re interested in watching the series, the DVD set will be released in just a couple days on January 15th and can be purchased via CD Japan or Amazon Japan.

There are only a few clips from this series on YouTube. Here’s a fun one from the ending of the series (no spoilers) featuring all the characters めがね メルシー体操-style. This part is much quirkier than the rest of the film which is highly quotidian and may border on understated for some viewers—I prefer to think of the film’s ambiance as unhurried, leisurely and thoughtful.

The j-drama I couldn’t handle: 高校教師

After hearing the plot basics of the 1993 j-drama 高校教師 (High School Teacher), I really wanted to watch it. For mainly two reasons: to see (a) how this teacher-student romance (a j-drama/anime archetype right up there with step-siblings getting together) would be treated and (b) 90s Japan (which I have some peculiarly idealistic nostalgia for despite never having been in Japan in the 90s). To my wondrous delight, I found the series available via d-addicts. After a night of torrenting, I had the DVD-ripped episodes ready for bouts of procrastination of the emotional-rollercoaster variety. But it was a ride I didn’t have the stomach for. Continue reading

Old cravings flare anew

Every time I think I’ve kicked (outgrown?) the j-drama addiction, I get hooked on some new series. Over the summer, that series was 私が恋愛できない理由 (roughly: The Reason I Can’t Romance). What really pulled me into the series were scenes of the two characters here, Saki and Takumi—the emotions that resonate between them during those moments. While the drama has other characters (almost overnumerously so) who are melodramatically interconnected (e.g. Takumi’s wife—yes, wife, no, that doesn’t give anything away), I rapidly became engrossed in the unfolding of interactions between Saki and Takumi, pretty much watching the drama just to see what would happen with them hoping they would continue to share something special together.

There’s something spectacular about the scene above, a turning point when rapidly everything changes between these two people who have a fundamentally deep need for each other, yet with all they’re entangled in, have significant challenges in forging the sort of connection each wants to have.

I can’t say I recommend the series, but if you like the notion of people who are capable of transforming one another even if only momentarily yet possibly profoundly while meeting in the midst of tough circumstances, you might find Saki and Takumi as compelling as I did.