The Sun vs. the Center of the World

by mo on 03/18/2008

Yamada Takayuki has bad luck. Every girl he falls in love with dies a few months later of a long-term illness.

Yamada has starred in two dramas of note, Sekai no Chuushin de, Ai wo Sakebu (2004) (abbreviated to SekaiChuu), which in English would be “Crying out Love in the Center of the World,” in which the object of his affections dies slowly of leukemia, and two years later in Taiyou no Uta (2006) (“A Song for the Sun”) in which he falls in love with, Sawajiri Erika a gifted singer/songwriter who happens to be allergic to sunlight, and is beginning the final decline into irreparable nerve damage, and ultimately, death.

Needless to say, these shows are downers, since you have to go into it knowing that the lead is going to die (there’s really no alternative here — if she made it, there wouldn’t be much of a story). However, in Taiyou no Uta, unlike in SekaiChuu, they manage to avoid making the drama 100% about Kaoru’s disease. In fact, the plot is surprisingly centered about her aspirations to debut as a singer/songwriter, and Yamada’s history in the music business with a pop star named Asami complicates the affair, leading to a somewhat involved subplot that gives the drama something to do besides sulk about the girl’s impending doom. Since she can’t go outside during the day, she simply just operates nocturnally, and all of her friends and family seem to be totally used to this (which I suppose they would be, after years of her illness), but the parents seem relatively unconcerned about her whereabouts. It’s also unclear when the parents actually sleep, since their daughter calls them in the middle of the night when she’s off galavanting, and yet they seem to be operating a restaurant during somewhat normal business hours as well.

Kaoru writes songs and performs them at night on some sidewalk (see clip below). The music aspect to the show has a pretty light tone, interspersed only with tension caused by Kaoru’s disease — the nerve damage arising in her left hand leaves her unable to play guitar, and she eventually suffers throat damage, which she mostly ignores. By the end of the final episode, Kaoru, Yamada, and their friends (the backup band) are about to go onstage to debut in their first public concert. Kaoru is dolled up like a Jpop star, and without the disease storyline, this would be the classic chick flick/Disney/Hilary Duff movie ending where the girl goes onstage and sings a great song, filling the viewers’ hearts are with bubbly warmth and happiness. Unfortunately, this was in fact, the last segment of the last episode of the show, so really, she didn’t have a chance.

In stark contrast, Yamda’s girlfriend in SekaiChuu literally spent all 11 episodes dying, rather than putting it off to the last minute. She also wanted to go out with style, insisting that she visit Australia with Yamada (at this point she was unable to walk, talk, or really even breathe), and there is this incredibly disturbing scene with him carrying her over his shoulder through the airport, until he has no choice but to take her back to the hospital.

So while SekaiChuu is a little heavier, and Taiyou no Uta a little more fun, in both shows, Yamada is the same sweet, devoted, serious, and truly nice guy. In fact, his character in Taiyou no Uta was so clearly the same person as from SekaiChuu, that during the beginning episodes of Taiyou no Uta, I was fairly concerned that he was still upset about the death of the girl in SekaiChuu.

Kaoru in her element, episode 2:

SekaiChuu I watched last year in something like under 24 hours (recommendation: never do this. Afterwards, shock), and Taiyou no Uta was watched this week in ~5 days (a more reasonable length of time to watch such a show). Normally I avoid tear-jerking, depressing dramas, but since this seems to be Yamada Takayuki’s forte, I think I can make exceptions anytime he comes across such an ill-fated girl.