The measure of life is not its duration, but its donation!

The value of life is not in its duration, but in its donation. You are not important because of how long you live, you are important because of how effective you live

Myles Munroe

Title
  Nagareboshi (2010) 
Also known as
Shooting Star
Genre
  Drama, Family, Romance
Written by
Directed by
Starring
 Yutaka Takenouchi, Aya Ueto, Kie Kitano, Shota Matsuda, Goro Inagaki, Akito Kiriyama, Tetta Sugimoto Yuka Itaya, Mieko Harada
Country of Origin
 Japan
Episodes
10 

oh! … brief

Kengo Okada is a hardworking, honest young man who leads a fulfilled life, but he has secrets that he holds tightly to his chest, not wanting to bother or upset those around him, even the ones who he holds dear to his heart. In contrast, Risa Makihara, s a troubled young woman, orphaned at a young age and raised by her brother.

Risa Makihara is forced into the sex-trade industry to pay off the debt incurred by her manipulative brother, Shuichi Makihara. She sees no value or meaning to her life and wants a way out. Kengo Okada is juggling his upcoming marriage, work, a sister who is suffering from terminal illness, and a family secret that he feels obliged to keep. He also sees no way out of his current situation.

Fate brings the two together on more than one occasion and they eventually enter into a contract marriage that will benefit them both. Or at least, that is what they believed!

Family and friends, however, have different views and create drama and obstacles they have to overcome.

oh! … talks drama

I was completely blown away by this very human jdrama that explores the bonds between family members, in particular when a member of the family faces a crisis situation.

I must be honest and say I didn’t choose this drama series based on prior knowledge, or a referral or recommendation. I saw the poster as I was searching for another title and I liked the poster, so I decided to watch the first episode and take it from there.

The first episode had me hooked within the first half hour and so I had another drama-marathon session. But it was worth it, every minute!

Nagareboshi translated to English means ‘shooting star’ and this film is definitely that! Adapted from a Young Scenario Prize-winning screenplay Kurage Marriage by Motoko Usuda, the jdrama is a slow-burning-love-story-in-the-making that only sees fruition in the very last scenes.

The two writers of the script ,Usuda Motoko and Akiyama Ryuhei did a wonderful job of developing the characters and their backstories, in particular the relationships that Kengo Okada had – his family bonds with his mother, sister who he is very protective of and fiancee, the friendly, good-natured camaraderie with his work colleagues, his connection to the sea and his love of jellyfish, but most importantly for this production, the goodness inside of him that he projects to the world, even his kindness to fellow humans. It’s nicely done! In contrast, the two writers portray troubled Risa Makihara as aloof, she keeps to herself, is mouthy and stubborn, but mostly because of her relationship with her abusive and manipulative brother. Their relationship borders on inappropriate and he is more than a little obsessive.

The idea of a contract marriage is not new to writers of drama scripts, but this time around, Usuda Motoko and Akiyama Ryuhei added the moral dilemma of buying an organ for transplant into the mix and it gives this kind of plot a fresh spin. This and the fact that Kengo Okada saved the life of the woman he then enters into a contract marriage with, and that this woman is only entering the contract marriage to save her own self. It’s an interesting dynamic. Usuda Motoko and Akiyama Ryuhei put a lot of thought and effort into creating a great story, realistic and reflecting the conflict individuals in similar situations likely would undergo.

The other characters written into the script to put obstacles in the way of a successful organ transplant are none other than a doctor who strictly follows the law and a morally ambiguous brother, who has no intent of letting go of his meal-ticket who just so happens to be his only sister who he manipulates and steals from. He is the reason behind her agreeing to the contract marriage in the first place. And he is suffering from obsessive love disorder, the object of his obsession is his sister. It’s another interesting angle that the writers devised to keep the audience engaged in the story.

I enjoyed the fact that Usuda Motoko and Akiyama Ryuhei didn’t write a flourishing romance between Kengo Okada and Risa Makihara, but rather allowed the feelings to develop slowly, naturally, and over a period of time. And even while they grow closer, they never utter the words, ‘I love you’, let alone ‘I like you’ or ‘I feel something towards you that is more than just friendship or a contract’. This slow-burner romance is great! The realization that ‘love’ was what both felt and missed in each other coming only in the very last scenes. It was also a new take on this type of contract marriage plot. Audiences mostly see contract marriages that either end with the two in love or dissolve and then reunite and have a happy family. In this case, the audience can decide the fate of Kengo Okada and Risa Makihara. The end is just the beginning!

This story explored the bonds of the two families, the secrets held tightly within those bonds and the love or sense of responsibility each member had for the others. It also explored the ethics behind hospital transplants and the potential insidious repercussions when laws are flouted and organs are purchased outright. They could have taken the illegal organ purchasing aspects further and delved into some of the grittiness to reveal why hospital transplants are strictly governed – that would have made for some interesting watching. However, they took a more natural approach, but this approach did explore the lengths that people are willing to take to keep someone near and dear to them alive.

The use of and constant return to the jellyfish was astute. I’m not sure if this was written into the original script or was decided on once the director had been shooting at the Shin Enoshima Aquarium. Whatever the case may be, these jellyfish scenes were instrumental in bringing Kengo Okada and Risa Makihara together. They share insightful conversation and quietly tender unspoken moments when they watch the jellyfish, both at the aquarium and in Kengo Okada’s bedroom. Risa Makihara bares her soul and her pain in these moments and Kengo Okada gains a greater understanding of who Risa Makihara is and how badly she has been hurt.

Overall, this script was a blueprint – a well-thought out plan! And the writers made it easy for the director, Miyamoto Rieko, who created scenes for this simplified story, managing to balance, yet capture the complexities of the characters.

This jdrama is extremely understated. There’s a quiet stillness, even in the chaotic moments, that make this production that much more powerful and leaves a lasting impression.

Miyamoto Rieko did a great job of directing the camerawork for this production. I particularly enjoyed the shooting at Shin Enoshima Aquarium which provided beautiful background. All in all, the cinematography was beautifully executed – Miyamoto Rieko translated Usuda Motoko and Akiyama Ryuhei ideas, words, actions, emotional subtext, tone and all the other nonverbal communication of the characters into visual terms with a subtle mastery. Directing the camera work with precise cinematic technique, he added layers of meaning and subtext to the content of the script – including dialogue and action. Factors accounting for all the shooting of all scenes, included décor, lighting, props, costumes, body language (posture, facial expressions, gestures) and of course composition, could not be faulted. Camera height, angles, distance were all above par for a drama series.

The wardrobe of the characters was paid attention to. Given the obvious age difference between the actor and actress who play Kengo Okada and Risa Makihara’s, more detail was paid to the wardrobe. On the whole, the character’s each had their own unique style and were dressed accordingly.

The accompanying theme song by Kobukuro was well-suited to the overall mood of the production and the lyrics were well suited to the growing relationship – (translated) kimi yori kirei na hito demo / kimi yori yasashii hito demo / kimi ni wa narenainda mou dare mo (Even if there’s someone more beautiful than you / Even if there’s someone who’s gentler than you / Nobody can become you. These few lines mimic the nature of the blossoming love and respect between the two leads. Of course, there is other accompanying music, but this was the best for me.

The cast, collectively, is why this jdrama turned out so well. As a unit, they became the story. Yes, a few ups and downs in performances, different approaches and different styles appeal to different audiences, but, generally speaking, everyone pulled their weight and delivered solid performances.

Yutaka Takenouchi broke his nine-year hiatus and played Kengo Okada with a moving performance. He owned his character and entirely convinced me of his affection for his half-sister with his portrayal of a kind, caring, a thoughtful brother who is willing to take risks and flout the laws in order to save her. You can see the character’s affection for Maria in his facial expressions and hear it in the tone of voice he uses with her, even when he is angry or frustrated. Likewise, the character’s relationship with Risa Makihara, while being contractual, still is undertaken because of an innate kindness. Yutaka Takenouchi carried the sentiments and emotions of his character exceptionally well. The character appears to be emotionless, with a mostly deadpan expression and concern on his features, but, the deeper emotions are lurking and make him so intriguing – thanks to the delivery of this touching performance by Yutaka Takenouchi.

Risa Makihara, troubled and dysfunctional character, was played by Ueto Aya. I loved her interpretation of this ‘who cares’ attitude that she consistently delivers from start to almost end. Ueto Aya painted her character as a nonchalant woman who is existing in life for one reason and one reason alone – to pay off the debts her brother keeps selfishly incurring knowing full well his sister is trading sex and sexual favours to pay his mistakes off. I liked that Ueto Aya transitions her character into a more natural human being – the cooking, the manicures, the forthright argument with Maria and then the softening of the character at the end, finally understanding and owning the love she feels. It was breathtaking to watch!

Marie Okada, younger sister to Kengo Okada was played by Kie Kitano. Her performance was solid as Maria but not on the same level as the two leads. Kie Kitano played a convincing free-spirited teen with a serious illness well. She even convinced me of her character’s strong love for her family and his brother’s fiancée, but, her sometimes childish antics came off flat! On one hand, the character is obviously intelligent and bright and then suddenly she is this whining brat whose emotions take over and it just didn’t suit the rest of the story. I’m not sure that can be blamed on the writers, although there the possibility, I think it’s more the directing of the acting and the actress’s interpretation of line delivery. Anyway, she did put in a strong performance, I just believe she could have done better.

Another perhaps miscast actor was Shota Matsuda who played Dr Ryo Kamiya. The performance was strong, but it didn’t make sense having such a young doctor in such a position where he is diagnosing and going to be operating. It doesn’t make complete sense. Besides this fact, Dr Ryo Kamiya is a loveable character. Shota Matsuda displayed the character’s anxiety and angst over the organ transplant well. Caught between doing what is right by the law and what is morally right as a doctor is difficult. I would have liked to see more maturity, but we don’t always get what we want. Good performance though!

The character that everybody despised was Shuichi Makihara, Risa Makihara’s despicable brother was played by Goro Inagaki. As I have previously alluded to, this character is obsessed with his sister, not in a protective caring way, but in a way that he is protecting his ‘bank account’. Goro Inagaki did a fine job with painting the drive behind all the obstacles the character creates for his sister to overcome. Goro Inagaki’s facial expressions and emoting perfectly depicted the uncaring, selfish man that the character he plays is. The manipulation is unbearable to watch!

oh! … sidekicks

Quick mention of other performances that add to the story –

Akito Kiriyama as Ryota Sawamura, an inpatient at the same hospital as Maria Okada. Such a good performance as the annoying teen who won’t let Maria off with all his jokes and spirit. It was great.

Tetta Sugimoto as Junji Kawamoto, Kengo Okada’s workmate and friend who knows something is amiss and wants to help but because he doesn’t know exactly what is going is at a loss and keeps blundering about in efforts to make things right. Tetta Sugimoto was flawless!

Yuka Itaya played Minako Aizawa, Kengo’s fiancée who works in a hotel. I found her performance flat at times and couldn’t wrap my mind around the character’s inability to think and decide for herself. All things aside, the overall performance was okay, but, it could have been stronger!

Mieko Harada as Kazuko Okada, Kengo Okada’s mother and adopted mother to Maria Okada. She gave a solid, solid supporting performance. I’d like her to be my mother and cook me all those amazing dishes. She’s welcome to drop by anytime she feels like it 😊 Okay jesting aside, Mieko Harada was convincing as Kazuko Okada.

oh! … tidbits

This production marks Yutaka Takenouchi’s return to Getsuku drama (primetime drama) after a nine-year hiatus. His last Getsuku production was Dekichatta Kekkon in 2001.

This production is the second time Aya Ueto has played a supporting role for a Getsuku drama.

This jdrama was nominated in its own right and the performance of actors and actress for a number of awards. Ueto Aya won the Best Supporting Actress Award at the 67th Television Drama Academy Awards and the same award at the 14th Nikkan Sports Drama Grand Prix ceremonies.

oh! … soundtrack

oh! … gallery

oh! … trailers

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