Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Nodame Cantabile Review (2006)

Drama Rating: ****
Personal Rating: Loved it!

Megumi Noda (aka Nodame) is an extremely talented pianist studying piano at a music college where she meets Shinichi Chiaki, an aspiring conductor, who was also gifted in piano and violin.  Together, especially as next door neighbors, they learn more about each other, from Nodame's messy room to the fact she took showers once every few days to Chiaki's fears of flying. This relationship continues to mature and grow as Chiaki and Nodame draw on each other's support as Chiaki takes the helm of a student orchestra while Nodame faces her fears in attempting a piano competition.  Will they both be able to achieve their dreams?

*Spoiler warning*

A highly unusual jdrama, Nodame Cantabile is based on an anime and shares this similarity with GTO and Hana Yori Dango (off the top of my head) than most other dramas. When adapting a story over from an anime to a drama, a certain amount of artistic license is needed both to map the characters into real live people and to make anime scene depictions into real life situations. GTO tended to humanize this aspect and focus more on making Onizuka stand out as an unusual character quite successfully. Hana Yori Dango seemed to focus more on creating a fantasy-like wonderland in which to tell their story. Nodame is likely the first drama to have made the live action more anime-like than ever before by evincing a risky but highly original feel that is simultaneously both crude and humorous.  Exaggerations are employed not just in the actions but even in the ridiculously obvious makeup and costumes used by the actors.  However, once we delved right  into the music, all this became secondary to the beautiful sounds of the piano and orchestra. It is perhaps with this intent in mind that the scriptwriter and director called for such gaudiness to be used.  In doing so, the storytelling took on new dimensions never previously explored in past dramas, allowing for a fairly standard drama story to unfold in fascinating way.

Due to the unusual risks taken by this drama, the success or failure of the drama truly depended on the cast itself.  While there was certainly character exaggeration in GTO, Nodame Cantabile takes this a bit further.
Despite the bizarre nature of her character, Ueno Juri's performance as Noda Megumi (aka "Nodame) was one of the highlights of the series and a highly unusual, yet unforgettable performance. Her childish playfulness contrasted nicely with her growing maturity at the piano.  Tamaki Hiroshi's Chiaki certainly was no Kang Maestro in Beethoven Virus, but he does give a passable performance as a student conductor, better than that of the Kang Gun Woo in Beethoven Virus.

Unfortunately, this is where the Nodame experiment gets into murky territory. Aside from Kiyori and Mine, the rest of the cast generally gave extremely outlandish performances to the point where it was oftentimes a distraction and stretched the credibility of the story. By the end, it was quite difficult to 'believe' most of them were really professional music students or that Takenaka Naoto's Strezemann was a world class conductor.

The musical selection for Nodame was very well chosen and IMO, a better selection than that used for Beethoven Virus. Among the many masterpieces that were chosen, I'll just highlight I few that I thought were particularly well chosen and well done. Mozart's Sonata in D Major for Two Pianos was an excellent choice to start the drama off, especially to maintain the audience's attention. Beethoven's Symphony No. 7 was an inspired choice for S Orchestra and the final performance was very well choreographed. Rach's PC No. 2 was a bit surprising considering the difficulty but perhaps this was intended again to please the audience.  Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue was perhaps the piece that wholly captured the essence of this drama and was also wonderfully choreographed. Stravinsky's Petrushka was an appropriate and fitting piece for Nodame near the end.  Overall, I found the pieces to be well chosen both to acquaint viewers with classical pieces but also to keep it in sync with the development of the characters.

I struggled for a bit trying to decide how exactly to grade this drama. There was the highly unusual style of the drama which certainly created an air of uniqueness and flavor. I certainly do applaud the director for his attempt to bring this work to fruition. At the same time however, the flaws in the juvenile acting of most of the supporting were certainly not entirely masked by their ridiculous blond wigs and dyed hair. When they took their craziness to Europe in the movies that followed, the Europeans, who happened to be caught by the cameras, looked rather shocked by the unseemly insanity. Strangely though, their childishness stood in stark contrast to and lent more credence to Nodame's personal development and her seriousness towards the music. In light of this, the drama was well done and certainly left me a bit sad to see the series end. A terrific accomplishment for an imperfect drama.

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