Thursday, May 10, 2007


Wild Herbs and Wild Heroines


Another of the "mountain vegetables" which you can pick and eat is tsukushi, or horsetail shoot.


To eat these shoots, you'll need to pick them when they are young enough, remove the brown "wrapper," then saute and season them. I found a tip on cooking tsukushi here.

Kitty Sansai

Of course, nothing Japanese can be truly considered authentic until Sanrio has released the official Hello Kitty version. So now that we've covered a few sansai delicacies, I present to you the Hello Kitty bamboo-shoot, fuki no to and tsukushi collectibles. I will go on record now, though, and say that I've never picked these in the wild.

But then there's a more heroic kind of Tsukushi. Recently, I've been watching a number of Japanese dramas. It's a good way for me to keep up my Japanese "ear," and to some degree, it helps stave off the Japan homesickness that I feel. Of all the dramas I've watched, there is one drama that has completely captured my heart and it's called "Hana Yori Dango," which roughly translates as "Boys Over Flowers." The heroine is named *drumroll* Tsukushi.

The drama was originally a manga, which became and anime, then was released as a film, and just concluded its run as a drama. Oh, how I love this show. It's the perfect combination of fantasy, human foibles, angst, darkness and humor. It's no coincidence that the first part contained a recurring theme that was a riff off of Harry Potter, though there are no actual wizards in the show--just some very evil real life corporate witches. The acting is terrific; ditto for the direction and editing. Here is the basic premise:

Tsukushi is a new student at Eitoku Gakuen - an exclusive school attended by rich families' children. Being poor, she is always bullied and sabotaged by her schoolmates. Things become worse when she crosses the path of F4 (a group comprised of the 4 richest and most fashionable guys). On the orders of Domyuji, the leader of F4, Tsukishi receives a "red flag," the official notification that she is to be bullied and driven out of school. But Tsukushi stands up to the arrogant Domyoji and declares war right back. Stunned that someone would challenge him, Domyoji begins to fall for Tsukushi, though his emotions surprise him and he is incapable of telling her how he feels. Meanwhile, Tsukushi makes friend with Rui, another member of the F4 who stepped outside of his "clan" to help her. Tsukushi naturally falls in love with Rui. Domyuji is a mess of emotions. His best friend has gone against his "orders" to help this girl, and now seems to be winning her over.

How to convey the love and enthusiasm I have for this show? One blogger does it quite nicely after learning that part 2 is set to air. I read her reviews and thought, "Yes! Yes! This is how I feel."

When I got to thinking about it, Japanese dramas and animes have a history of portraying girls like this--wild "weeds" like Tsukushi who, through their intelligence and natural goodness manage to overcome obstables. Heroines are very rarely to ethereally beautiful women who haunt the 18th century paintings and woodblock prints. The Japanese heroine is much more like Tsukushi, spunky, temperamental, expressive, flawed and heroic. "Spirited Away" anyone? Or Princess Mononoke"? How about "Escaflowne" , for you non-"Miyazaki" types? They are all girls from the same spunky template.

And this made me think about all those books and articles written about the poor modern Japanese woman who struggles to express herself in a patriarchal society--she's doing very well in popular culture and in people's imaginations.

It goes without saying that I realize how much of this has affected my own writing and work. I have a hard time writing angsty, neurotic and defeated female characters. Mine tend to end up pursuing the truth, taking on a perceived injustice, fighting the good fight . . . and occasionally embarassing themselves in the most public fashion. Not that I identify with this kind of behavior of course!

J-dorama plots are very dofferent than what you are used to seeing on American television. In general, I'd say that characters aren't so much roadblocked by their own neuroses, as they are by the deepest matters of the heart--family loyalty, obligation and . . . obligation. As a result, in Hana Yori Dango, as in other doramas, heroism requires knowing and acting on the true feelings of the heart in the face of social expectations.

I realize that this isn't what we generally think of as being a Japanese characteristic; the Japanese are often accused of being repressed. But the more time that goes by, the more deeply I realize just how sensitive the Japanese really are. Certainly for me, every interaction I have in Japan is sincere in a way that I just never feel in the US; there isn't the same veneer or irony or "attitude" to break through in Japan in order to really reach someone and make a connection. I always end up making a "connection" with someone when they reveal the truth of their lives to me. In storytelling, therefore, the experiences of characters and the stakes are always higher for the reasons described above. And for me, the best writing and certainly my best stories, always happen when I approach life in that fashion.

Anyway, after all my rambling, if you are at all curious about this excellent drama, there are a few ways you can see it.

The first would be to register with the good folks at Crunchy Roll , do a search for Hana Yori Dango (just make sure you start with the first season) and get started.

The second way would be to purchase the DVD and watch it on your television. I can recommend walawala which I've used. They are safe and they are fast. With DVDs, you can also subject your fiance to the show. If he resists, you can make a deal with him. You can ask him to watch just ONE episode, with the promise that he doesn't have to watch anymore if he hates it. Most likely you'll wind up staying up until 2 AM begging him to leave the rest of the series for the weekend so you two can go to sleep while it's still dark. Yeah. It's THAT good.

I loved the Hana Yori Dango anime and hope to collect the licensed DVDs. It's a fantastic story.

I've only seen the first season and the first episode of the second season of the drama. I loved the first season up until the end, which I thought went a little off the deep end. The second season, I just couldn't really get into, though I do plan to give it a chance once the sea of really good shows I'm currently riding dies down.

Do you think you would classify Japanese media with plucky heroines as being shojo, or do you think that pluckiness extends to other genres? I think we see a completely different kind of woman in, say, mecha anime, or harem anime, or something along those lines that is obviously targeted towards boys. In those you've typically got the yamato nadeshiko type, the brazen type, the bombshell type, the ditzy type, the annoying type, the extraordinarily shy type, and/or the manly type, and sometimes one character can embody more than one type.

Of course, I think the genres are changing nowadays, and there are many anime that actually make fun of what's expected of their genre, which is cool.

But I do think the "ideal woman" stereotype is still being perpetuated.
Heather--I should have known you've already watched the anime and the dorama! I was a little bit let down by the end of season 1, as well, but I think that's only because the creators intended to leave space for a season 2. I wanted more happy Domyoji/Makino time, but this is a rather angst ridden story, so I suppose we couldn't have too many happy moments.

I should also have known that you'd be so knowledgeable about the anime categories! Certainly the plucky heroine dominates the shojo stories and it says something about me that I tend to like those the most. I just never could get into Cowboy Bebop, for example. It wasn't a show for me. But it is true as you say that there are crossovers. And of course, there are the powerful/evil female characters (like Domyoji's mother) who also defy the stereotypes people hold of women in Japanese media.

And, yes the "ideal" female is certainly perptuated. You definitely see that in many of the Taiga dramas where the men have fun and the women suffer and make tea (even Tom Cruise got one of those "ideal women" when he played samurai).

But I do still think the plucky heroine is an interesting phenomenon--I don't feel like we have quite the same thing in the US. I guess Veronica Mars, from what I saw of the show, is sort of similar. And the whole Anne of Green Gables series plays on the same thing--no wonder the Japanese like to go to Prince Edward Island! In movies we get the occasional character who reminds me of the Japanese plucky heroine, as you put it: Reese Witherspoon in Walk the Line. Nothing else actually comes to mind right now.

Anyway. Any other dramas you've watched and enjoyed recently?
I loved the comic when I stole it from my friend, was OK with the anime, experated with the Taiwanese version (Meteor Garden), and finally loved again the Japanese drama.

My favorite heroine, though, is Matsu from the historic drama Toshiie and Matsu (and portrayed, amusingly, by Matsushima Nanako - Doumyouji Tsubaki in HYD). I wouldn't call her plucky, but she does have many of those characteristics.
Oh I'm so glad you liked the HTD Japanese version drama! The production quality sure is high, and the editing is very good. I'm particularly impressed with the way that characters sit in the background, growing more and more colorful and then finally being inserted into the plot as necessary.

Thanks for the tip on the drama! I'm always looking for recommendations, though I think it'll be hard to find something I love as much as HYD for a time. But who knows. I'm really curious about Masion Ikkoku, but it'll be a while before I can see that on DVD!
I honestly haven't watched too many doramas, so I don't know much about them. I really liked Densha Otoko, and I also enjoyed the Detective Conan live-action prequel (starring the actor who played Hanazawa Rui in HYD, who was coincidentally also in Densha Otoko).

The Sailor Moon dorama was also quite good, in my opinion--it went places the anime never did, and I'm not even sure the manga explored those themes. (Queen Beryl actually having a point? What?) The follow-up OVA was terrible, though.

And the Great Teacher Onizuka dorama, the first dorama I ever actually watched, was awesome.

I also watched the H2 dorama, and loved it, but that may be because the story is so similar to that of Touch, which is one of my all-time favorite anime (it was a manga first--so was H2--but I haven't read either).

But those are really all I've seen. I'm definitely interested in breaking further into the medium! (I hesitate to call it a "genre" because there are certainly subcategories...but "medium" implies the mode of presentation, like "film" or something. We need another word!)
Oh, I love Oguri Shun! I loved him in Densha Otoko. Never did an actor seem so cool as when he first typed out all that ASCII code to urge the train man (or boy, as my fiance calls him) to go get the girl, all while looking out at us from under that feathery layer of hair! Men are not supposed to be that beautiful.

I'm still very sad that Hanazawa Rui ended up without a girl. Did you know there was a 2 hour Densha Otoko special last year in which the two are supposed to get married? It makes a HYD3 not impossible, though in a way I hope they don't make it.

I'm trying to be careful in the dramas I watch. I haven't, for example, seen the Korean "Winter Sonata" drama because I'm afraid of crying and being depressed for days on end. My hairdresser keeps bugging me to see it because she says it is so good. But the sad Japanese/Asian dramas have a way of just being so devastating . . . I don't know what it is. I think it's the lack of a layer of cynicism or irony or something. I remember once crying so hard over a drama when I was a child, my mother got annoyed at all the adults for having allowed me to watch it. She then went on some tirade about how overly emotional her culture is . . .

I'm pretty sensitive, so there's only so much catharsis I can take in a year!
I've heard of Winter Sonata, but I haven't seen it either. I'm pretty sensitive myself, so I'll have to keep that in mind!
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