J-drama: Gokusen

9 November, 2009

Gokusen 1

I had my whole weekend cleared so that I could concentrate and catch up on my embarrassingly low word count for my Nano novel for Nanowrimo and what did I do? I spent most of my waking moments watching some fine Japanese tv drama, more popularly known as J-drama or J-dorama, on my favourite website Kimamaniyoutube. I’ve only realised the site is in Japanese, but the drama has English subtitles.

This time I got hooked on Gokusen, a tv drama adaptation of the manga by Morimoto Kozueko. The beauty about the internet (and DVDs) is that you don’t have to wait a week for your next fix, you can watch it straight away. The downside is that eight hours can pass and you don’t notice. The shock, the horror, the shame… Of course I told everyone that I was busy writing…but still, eight hours?? And what was even more scary was I ended up with a serious crush on an 18 year old high school tearaway, waaaay too young for me. I love you, Matsumoto Jun!

Matsumoto Jun

Anyway, this is making me sound like a crazy person, but J-dramas are very big business in Japan and Asia. My sister and I were obsessed with them when we were living in Japan and would sit in front of the tv come rain or shine once a week waiting with bated breath for the next episode of the drama we were then watching. When we left Japan, we would treasure the videos my mum and friends would make like the precious gems they were and watch them again and again, crying, laughing and discussing them all throughout the holidays.

Now, I watch them with a sense of nostalgia. I can smell the chill crisp of autumn, the hazy heat of summer, the delicious steam of a proper ramen, and it brings back memories of growing up in Japan. What can I say, I am seriously missing Japan!

Gokusen follows the trials, tribulations, tears and laughter of Yamaguchi Kumiko aka Yankumi, a rookie teacher who is put in charge of final year class 3-D of Horikin High School. The students in 3-D are the worst delinquents in the school: rough, violent and troubled. What they, and the rest of the teachers, don’t know is that Yankumi is no ordinary teacher. She lost her parents when she was seven and was taken to live with her grandfather, the head of the Oeda yakuza clan, and is the fourth generation heir to the family business, although she has decided to leave the path of the yakuza to pursue a career in teaching, a decision which leaves some of her clan members unhappy. Naturally she needs to keep her family connections a secret or she’d lose her job. We follow Yankumi as she gains the trust of her students, slowly bringing them out of their shells and teaches them the value of friendship, family and the difference between fighting for something you value and violence. Her aim is to get them to graduate together. Will she do it? And will they let her?

The casting in Gokusen is inspired. Nakama Yukie as Yankumi is seriously funny and touching at the same time, her trademark tracksuit and glasses covering her ethereal beauty. Her students are a group of misfits who are blamed for everything that goes wrong in and out of school and she is the only who believes in them, and their acting is superb. But my favourite scenes were those of Yankumi’s home life where she is the treasured daughter of the house. The way she scares all the big, strong yakuza men is hysterical.

Gokusen is short for gokudo no sensei or yakuza teacher, and Yankumi’s name, Yamaguchi Kumiko is a nod to the Yamaguchi Gumi (Kumi means clan), the largest underworld clan in Japan.

As you can probably tell, I loved this series which had me in stitches and in tears. If you have a chance to watch it, please do! Of course, I have a soft spot for Japanese high school delinquents, such as in the movie Crows Zero, but Gokusen is not that violent and focuses more on change and the important things in life such as family and friends, rather than becoming the strongest dude in the school.