As a fan of Japanese film it’s probably no surprise I have interests across the rest of Japanese pop culture: I’ve written before about videogames and anime, but until now, avoided the topic of Japanese TV dramas. Once upon a time as a student of Japanese language I was a prolific ‘dorama’ watcher, with old favourites like Ikebukuro West Gate Park (2000), set in my ‘home town’ of Ikebukuro, Tokyo, and Yume wo Kanaeru Zō [The Wish-Granting Elephant] (2008), a bizarre sitcom where the protagonist’s new roommate is the Hindu god Ganesh.
Until recently, though, it was fairly hard to acquire Japanese-language television of any kind through legal means if you lived outside of Japan, and for English language subtitles, you had to rely on legions of dedicated, and often very skilled, fansubbers. Now things have changed: it’s possible to stream dorama from services like Crunchyroll and Netflix. That doesn’t mean it’s all worth watching, but a new, irregular feature here on Kino 893 will cover some of what’s out there – especially as I burn through the various Netflix imports to see if they’ve found anything good!
First up, Million Yen Women (2017), a collaboration between Netflix and TV Tokyo that adapts Shunju Aono’s manga of the same name. Like many dorama, the premise is as simple as it is bizarre: struggling author Michima (RADWIMPS vocalist Yojiro Noda) lived alone until five women abruptly moved in with him, each paying a million yen (around £7000 or $9000) in rent per month. The series picks up six months after they moved in, with the central mystery being who sent the invites that brought them all together, and why.
There are multiple angles from which to approach a discussion of the premise. Wikipedia describes the original manga, which I haven’t read, as a hybrid mystery and romantic comedy – and certainly some aspects of that have made the transition to live-action television. There’s no small amount of tonal whiplash as the series lurches from the harem-comedy premise of a single man suddenly living with five women, to his startlingly dark backstory as the son of a convicted multiple murderer on death row, to the obtuse mystery that only really picks up in the second half of the series. The first six episodes are basically a steady introduction to each woman, establishing who they are and how they came to be able to afford the outrageous million yen rent. More perplexingly, the series never really addresses why they accepted the invites to live in Michima’s house or abide by the strange rules governing the whole exercise; even though there’s a fairly satisfactory conclusion to the overall mystery of who sent the invitations and why, and how the women can afford the rent, there’s little explanation of why they would agree to pay it.
Most of the cast is unknown to me, with the exception of The Wolverine’s Rila Fukushima, who also stands out as one of the most interesting characters. The five women all have varying degrees of agency and are not all obsessed with the male protagonist, which is refreshing and surprising for Japanese TV in general, never mind a show with such a harem-like set-up. Outside the six core characters there are some other oddballs, from Michima’s publisher Sakurai (Takashi Yamanaka, The Land of Hope) to his main rival and critic. The latter two are hilariously terrible human beings, locked in a one-sided battle against Michima and his books.
As a Netflix original, it’s broadly available worldwide, and the twelve short (for a J-drama) ~25 minute episodes are eminently bingeable. It’s definitely not the most high-brow entertainment but if you’re already a fan of Japanese dramas or want to try something different, Million Yen Women is worth a shot.
Million Yen Women / 100万円の女たち
Japanese Release Date: April 7, 2017 (Netflix Japan) / April 13, 2017 (TV Tokyo)
Streaming Platform: Netflix