Best of 2011 – Live-Action Film and TV

This past year, I have struggled to keep up with movies. I already don’t watch many American ones, and foreign films rarely make it stateside the same year they are released in their home country. Even Bunraku, which starred Hollywood A-listers, hit theaters a year after its debut. Therefore, I’m including movies that were released in Japan in 2010 but didn’t make their U.S. debut until 2011.

As usual, manga and novel adaptations were quite common in both film and television. 2011 also saw a rise in films based on true stories, such as Tengoku Kara no Yell, and remakes of older works, such as Hara-kiri. In the world of J-drama, several series tackled serious issues like intersexuality (IS), drug trafficking and illegal immigrants (Quartet), and surrogate motherhood (Madonna Verde). The lighthearted shows were still around, but it was nice to see the media tackle little-known or controversial issues.

NOTE: This recap may contain spoilers!

Best appearance in an overseas production – Masi Oka in Hawaii Five-0
Even though Oka is considered an American actor, I have to give him props for being one of the few Asian TV stars. He won over enough viewers as the eccentric Dr. Max Bergman, whom he dubs as the “first Asian-Jewish-Hawaiian character on TV”, that he was promoted to a cast regular in the fall.

Best line – “That was for you… not for our dress.” (George Koizumi, Paradise Kiss)
There was so much triumph and heartbreak in that line. On one hand, it captured the moment when Yukari realized her calling and took control of her life. On the other hand, it signaled the end of Paradise Kiss and the dreams of the other characters.

Best pairing – You Komiyama and Haruna Nagashima (High School Debut)
The cool guy-makes overs-awkward girl trope has been around for a century now (Pygmalion was published in 1912). However, High School Debut puts an interesting spin by having the girl ask for the makeover. This gives You a heart as he is helping her out of good will, and we can’t help but hope that he realizes his feelings for Haruna.

Best theme – “FRiDAY-MA-MAGiC” by miwa (Ouran High School Host Club)
This song is cute and catchy without being overly saccharine. The fact that miwa is not your typical J-pop star (in that she writes her own music and plays guitar) makes the song fitting for an adaptation of an atypical shoujo manga.

Most memorable character – Bela (Yokai Ningen Bem)
While I believe much Bela’s charm has to do with Anne’s acting skills (her facial expressions are great), the duality of her cynicism and maternal instinct makes her interesting. It also doesn’t hurt that she looks like an old-fashioned beauty with her bold make-up and retro style.

Most memorable scene – Haru comes out to the entire school (IS ~Otoko Demo Onna Demo Nai Sei~)
This scene had me in tears. Haru’s unflinching fortitude was inspiring, and the fact that we knew the fall-out was going to be tremendous made his actions even more admirable. Saki Fukuda could’ve given into the tension surrounding Haru, but she remained calm and that gave Haru’s words even more power.
Because Haru’s body was growing more feminine on the outside and his family registered him as female, he had to masquerade as a girl at school despite identifying as a boy.

Biggest disappointment – Paradise Kiss
This wasn’t a bad movie, but it did Ai Yazawa’s manga a huge disservice. Paradise Kiss is about learning to go for what you want in the world and then realizing that you can’t have it all. George needed to be the sexy heartbreaker, and Yukari needed to learn from her mistakes and move on for both of them to really grow up.

Breakthrough role – Yuya Matsushita as Takuya (Quartet)
I was surprised that this was Matsushita’s debut role. While many J-pop stars have tackled the cocky delinquent role with pouting and glares, he turned Takuya into a sort of vigilante with a big vendetta. He also managed to inject humor into the show by being a fish out of water without killing the serious mood.

Actor of the year – Saki Fukuda
Fukuda has a busy year with five dramas, and through them, she has proved her versatility and acting chops. She went from being a vengeful undercover agent to a shrine maiden. Then she had to adopt male mannerisms as Haru. After that, she starred in a romantic comedy and finished year with a more adult role playing a young mother. Although I’ve only seen two of these dramas, she was stellar in both, and her Mandarin in Quartet wasn’t half bad either.

Drama of the year – IS ~Otoko Demo Onna Demo Nai Sei~
Everyone should watch IS. Not only does it teach the public about intersex individuals and the struggles they and their loved ones endure, it inspires us to be ourselves and to accept others for who they are. The characters demonstrate bravery yet they are imperfect and must learn to cope with inner conflicts and pain from the past.

Movie of the year – Kimi ni Todoke
I reviewed this film after seeing it in July so I’m counting it as part of this year. Although it wasn’t the most exciting movie, it demonstrated the kindness of individuals. The acting was excellent, and if you were maybe put-off by the silliness of the anime, this cut down on a lot of it while maintaining the humor.
KnT1, From Asian Film Festival of Dallas

Most anticipated show/film for 2012 – Rurouni Kenshin
Ah, this brings back memories of my younger otaku days. Rurouni Kenshin was one of my favorite series in high school, and I wasn’t sure that a live-action adaptation could do Kenshin’s cool moves justice. Then I saw the trailer and am now thoroughly amped for the film’s release.

Members of the film and TV industry who will be missed in 2012:

  • Minoru Tanaka – Captain Shingo Sakomizu (Ultraman Mebius)
  • Kiyohi Kodama – host of Panel Quiz Attack 25
  • Miyu Uehara – idol and TV personality
  • Hideo Tanaka – director of Sukeban Deka
  • Yoshimitsu Morita – director of The Family Game

Listening to: “HELLO ~Paradise Kiss~/Shake My Heart” live – YUI

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