Slow Dance

by mo on 11/26/2009

Get ready for one of the most awkward moments you’ve ever seen in your life:

Slow Dance is a 2005 drama, classic romance, with a great cast, amazing dialogue, and a few major flaws.

Flaw #1: The first episode.

It’s just boring. I smile at all the wildly famous, awesome actors that appear, but no one seems interesting enough to care about, and the soundtrack is kinda eh.

Flaw #2: Fukatsu Eri is the star.

She plays a 31 year old woman named Isaki, who just passed up a mediocre marriage proposal, and is realizing her loneliness and a lifetime of failures with the dudes. Her biological clock is ticking (not for babies though, she hates children). She falls for Riichi (Tsumabuki Satoshi), a younger guy (25) who is pining away for a stewardess, Ayumi, whom he broke up with 3 years ago.

But instead of pulling off a Long Vacation style romantically-agressive older woman with a younger guy type relationship effectively, Fukatsu Eri just continues to be as needy, childish, and obnoxious as she is in the very first episode when she meets Riichi pseudo-cutting in the cafe line, and tells him repeatedly to「順番を守ってくださる?」(which effectively means “get your ass in line” politely enough that it’s rude). She’s definitely no Minami-chan from Long Vacation.

Instead, she’s outshone by almost every other actor or actress in the show. I suppose this does elicit some pity, at least. Hirosue Ryoko plays her BFF, Mino-chan, who is typically the life of the party and the all-the-guys-like her kinda girl, despite the fact that she’s actually been pining away for a high school BF who went long distance to med school and promised to meet her and ask for her hand in marriage after a 6 year break (as if). Which brings us to:

Flaw #3: Too many characters pining away for too long.

Mino-chan and her 6-year med school “prince,” and Ayumi and Riichi who have BOTH been pining for each other for THREE YEARS since they’re both too scared to just, you know, ask each other what they think. I know this is love we’re talking about, but three years is a long time.

However, this brings us to the things that Slow Dance does completely right:
Strength #1: Jealousy.

First of all, in this rather incestuous love-hexagon, there is a LOT of jealousy. Riichi is perpetually jealous of his older brother, Eisuke (Fujiki Naohito) in both a sibling rivalry kind of way and a love-rival kind of way. He assumes all girls like his “more handsome”, more successful brother (if Tsumabuki Satoshi is worried he’s not cute enough… something is really off with his perception of reality).

Secondly, all the girl-on-girl jealousy is really well done. It’s perfect that Isaki, the sort of annoying lead, kinda gets in the way anywhere it’s convenient — when Ayumi is thinking of telling Riichi her feelings, oh, look, it’s Isaki. WHY IS SHE HERE? Or, when Mino-chan likes Eisuke, and she sees that Isaki is already chilling at his bar (it’s not a real drama unless one of the main characters owns a bar), and WAIT A MINUTE WHY IS SHE HERE?? Jealousy. Eisuke clearly doesn’t care about his former girlfriend, Yukie (played by Ebi-chan. He’s insane, who would GIVE UP Ebi-chan??)

I tried to pin down the jealousy relationships into a diagram. Arrows go from the jealous person to who they are jealous of, and somehow touch or go around who-the-jealous-person-is-jealous-over.

However, while the jealousy is going on in a major way, most of it is relatively realistic. Unlike in ridiculous shows like Strawberry on the Shortcake where jealousy is equally pervasive, the jealousy in Slow Dance does not leave the audience convinced that any particular character is COMPLETELY BATSHIT INSANE (unlike in SOS). Kudos.

Strength #2: Fujiki Naohito. This is the 6th drama I’ve watched with Fujiki Naohito, and although he has been gradually growing on me (starting with pure dislike), this is the show that tipped me over from ambivalence towards him into genuine fandom. Maybe just a timing issue, but Eisuke’s character was great, and the first time I’ve seen him be MORE than the stuck up asshole he always is (yes, every other role, he’s been the anal-retentive one about cleaning or the environment or he’s the douchebag the girl shouldn’t actually get with… etc). Here he was still a bit of an asshole, just because he was so popular (and if I were dating Ebi-chan I would let it go to my head too), but he was a good guy, offered interesting insight to all relationships and his own aspirations. Also, a good brother.

Strength #3: Great dialogue. Like in any romance, the characters are continually obsessed with their own love lives and analyze them to their friends and themselves constantly. But something about all the lines in this show just seemed much better, it was all carefully crafted and there were great lines in almost every conversation. A lot of it was Japanese dependent language that struck a chord. Unfortunately, I’m not sure I’m fluent enough at Japanese to say with certainty whether the writing was ACTUALLY very good (then again, that sort of thing is rather subjective anyway).

Here are a couple of favorite conversations:

「探るキス」(saguru kisu, or “investigative kiss”).
The idea is that when you kiss someone it might be either a) find out your own feelings for the person, or b) test the other person’s feelings for you. In either case, once the investigative kiss is over, assuming the kiss has passed inspection, there should be an immediate follow-up kiss. Right?

告白する vs. 告白される (kokuhaku suru vs. kokuhaku sareru)
If you aren’t familiar with the concept of kokuhaku, it is basically a love confession. In America I guess the closest thing is “telling the person you’re into them” but somehow it feels a bit more formal in Japan. Like it’s necessary to proceed. Anyway, during this part of the show, Mino-chan was feeling weird about pursuing Eisuke, since she had only ever kokuhaku sareta before (i.e. she had only had guys tell her they like her, but never the other way around) and Isaki responds that wow, she’s only kokuhaku shita (told guys she was into them, but never had a guy tell her he likes her). But now the time had come for Mino-chan to kokuhaku suru and she was completely out of her element, searching for the right words.

驚き・桃の木・山椒の木 (odoroki momonoki sanshou no ki)
Apparently this is a punny way of saying “SUPER FREAKING SURPRISED” in Japanese. odoroki=surprised, but it sounds like / rhymes with momonoki and sanshou no ki which would be “peach tree” and “pepper tree” respectively. Isaki says it to Riichi in an appropriate place in conversation. However, apparently this phrase was created by a Japanese comedian a long time ago, so saying it really shows Isaki-san’s age. Riichi warns her “don’t say that in front of young people… they won’t know what you’re talking about.” It’s kind of like the day my linguistics professor was discussing word structure and gave “Un-cola” as an anomaly/example from pop culture (har har) and then realized no one in the room had any idea what he was talking about. See all the wonderful Japanese you can learn from jdrama? With this phrase, Slow Dance almost justified my claims that “watching jdrama is like studying!” Well…sorta.