Are you familiar with J-dramas? It’s short for Japanese television dramas, and it can be a ‘drama’ or a ‘comedy’ or even a ‘romance’ show. They either run 10-12 episodes, or 50 episodes. (a few run around 25 episodes) The period pieces generally have the long runs. But it’s nice to watch a show that’s only 10 episodes long, and is an entire story. And in general, at least the ones I’ve seen, they’re really very good. (K-dramas are from South Korea.)
Yasashii Jikan was my first J-drama. It’s translated as Affectionate Time, and it remains my absolute favorite still.
Wakui Yukichi, called Master (not for any Doctor Who-ish reasons, but because he is the Master of his cafe) was a workaholic businessman based in NYC. Two or three years before the story begins his wife, Megumi, back in Japan, is killed while a passenger in a car being driven by their 18-year old son, Takuro. Master comes home to bury his wife, and after the funeral quits his job and moves from Tokyo to the small town of Furano, on the island of Hokkaido. He and his wife had dreamed of opening a coffee shop, and Furano was Megumi’s home town. He gives Takeru some money, and leaves him behind. Blaming him for Megumi’s death, he hasn’t spoken to the boy since.
The story opens with Master and his cafe, The Forest Clock, living a slow, peaceful life, very distant from his high powered job of the past. His employees include Azu, a young woman with an unfortunate habit of breaking plates. This leads her, in the first episode, to a store in a nearby town to purchase new plates to replace the ones she broke. At the store she meets Wakui Takeru, Master’s son. Takeru was devastated by his mother’s death, by his part in it (he and his mother were arguing when the accident happened) but even more, by his father’s abandonment.
Unbeknownst to Master, Takeru has moved to Hokkaido as well, to a town about 50 kilometers from Furano and his father. He’s become an apprentice to a local potter, and his truly gentle soul shines as he patiently learns this trade, so different from the street racer life he left behind. But his love for his father is so strong he can’t leave him behind, and there is a sad, poignant scene of Takeru, hidden, watching his father in his cafe. Takeru is brought to tears by his need for his father.
Master, too, is gentling in the beautiful setting of Furano, with the townspeople who have become his friends. He is beginning to realize how much he lost when he told Takeru he was no longer his son.
Azu meets Takeru, and although he finds out she works for his father, he doesn’t tell her the truth, not at first. But when something happens in the cafe, and she complains about her boss to Takeru, he defends his father, and Azu learns the truth. That Master is Takeru’s father, and that Takeru was responsible for his mother’s death.
Megumi, Takeru’s mother and Master’s wife, is a large part of the story, and a leading character. Master finds himself talking to her every night, as they share a cup of coffee and he tries to understand the change that’s slowly washing over him. From her you see where Takeru’s gentleness comes from, and the serenity both men are searching for.
As each episode progresses, Takeru and his father get closer and closer to seeing each other. Both want to reach out to the other, but neither can find the courage.
As well as the gentle, sad emotions of the two Wakui men, there is also drama and comedy in the cafe itself. The regulars, the townsfolk who have become Master’s friends, and others who stop in for an episode or two (the couple who were thought to have died in their seats….) Friends from the past, pretty widows with a history, and behind it all, Furano and The Forest Clock. For the cafe itself, and the beautiful wooded area it is found in, is almost the backbone of the show. The show is gorgeous, the scenery breathtaking, the pace slow and serene.
The Master is played by Terao Akira, who starred in, among many other things, Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams. Dreams is a movie everyone should see.
Kazunari Ninomiya plays Takeru. He starred alongside Ken Watanabe in Clint Eastwood’s Letters From Iwo Jima. (also a movie everyone should see)
(as Wakui Takeru) Kazunari is also a member of Arashi, a popular Japanese idol group. (Japanese idol groups take boy-bands and girl-bands to a whole new level…)
Azu is played by Nagasawa Masami.
She’s an award winning actress, and has a place in my heart because she was the voice of Umi in Goro Miyazaki’s From Up On Poppy Hill.
Otake Shinobu plays Megumi.
Although I don’t think I’ve seen any of her other work, she was incredibly, sweetly, beautiful in this show.
Yasashii Jikan is an amazing show; beautiful, moving, funny, sad. You should watch it.
It was written by Kuramoto Sou, a famous Japanese playwright. Although he was born in Toyko, he moved to Furano in the ’70’s, and has set more than one story in his new hometown. Besides Yasashii Jikan, which was filmed in 2005, there is also 2008’s Kaze no Garden. Yasashii Jikan was set in winter; Kaze no Garden is spring and summer. I thought Furano in winter was breathtaking. It is even more so in the summertime. Kaze no Garden will get a post of its own. I watched it a couple of weeks ago, and it was so emotional I couldn’t even talk about it for a few days.
So – watch Yasashii Jikan. It is so worth it. Oh, fair warning. Do NOT buy the DVD that is for sale at famous online retailers. The subtitles were, I believe, translated into Chinese, then from Chinese back into English. They left the characters names as Chinese rather than Japanese, and the sentence structure and the basic translation is – well, it’s really, really bad. You’ll have some luck finding sites online that stream the show.
Go. Watch. Enjoy. It’s happy-sad, which the Japanese are so very good at.