Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Long Vacation Review (1996)

Drama Rating: *****
Personal Rating: All time favourite!!

Racing through the streets of Tokyo in full wedding dress, Minami Haruo barges into Sena's apartment looking for Asakura, her groom-to-be, who had apparently left her at the altar. With this rather unusual introduction, Sena takes in Minami (or rather, Minami forces herself into the apartment) as his apartment-mate. Thus begins their strange friendship as they confide in each other's life and relationship problems. As they grow accustomed to each other, will their feelings lead to something more than just friends?

*Spoiler warning*

This jdrama begins with one heck of a memorable theatrical opening. The story literally knocks down the door and bursts into full bloom in the first ten minutes, setting the stage for the entire drama ahead of it. Like Kekkon Dekinai Otoko a decade later, this drama focuses very heavily on character development with some lighter plot developments to push it along. However, unlike that drama, this one focuses less on the comedic elements and rather focuses directly on examining the lives of the key characters. The difficulty in creating character-centric dramas is with creating enough tension and generating enough interesting material to captivate the audience without overly relying on plot developments. Long Vacation does this with astonishing ease and in such a laid back manner that there is virtually no equal in the drama world.

Yamaguchi Tomoko has a penchant for being quite in-your-face and her brash performance as Hayama Minami is no different. Her spectacular entry makes an immediate impression that is hard to forget and she launches herself through the drama with much pizzazz and with the subtlety of an elephant. In contrast, Kimura Takuya's Sena is her polar opposite, a mellow, somewhat timid pianist. And while he conveys the same emotional self-doubt of a twenty-something year old, he also exudes an aura of calmness and understanding, enhanced by his innate ability to make you feel at ease and lift your spirits when you're down. Despite his youth, his performance gives off a surprising sense of depth and introspection. In this drama, Minami's overbearing nature complements Sena's passivity quite well, creating a truly memorable pairing.

Not to be left behind, the rest of the cast was equally strong and supportive, supplementing the lead pair with their own amusing quirks and oddities. A young Matsu Takako plays Sena's alternate love interest as a shy Ryoko while Yutaka Takenouchi's carefree nature, much like in Beach Boys, is exhibited in Haruo Shinji, Minami's brother. Izumi Imamori takes a great turn as the dreamy Momoko Koishikawa, long before her much sterner role as Dr Kato in Iryu, and a young Hirosue Ryoko does a great job as Takako.

The soundtrack for this drama is wonderfully suitable, reflecting both the more relaxed pace of a 'long vacation' while giving off an optimistic, encouraging tone. The two pieces Minami-Piano Piece of Sena and Close to You play an important role as Minami and Sena's themes, but they also serve as a great unifying feature of the drama. Other pieces in the soundtrack help to move the drama along at a steady, upbeat pace.

Where to begin regarding one of my favourite dramas of all time?  Its been over fifteen years since this drama first came out and its insightfulness and introspective nature remain as relevant and timeless as ever. Yamaguchi Tomoko and Kimura Takuya form a captivating duo with their sincerity and raw emotions leaping off the screen. Their various perspectives on relationships and love fill out the drama as you share in their ups and downs, successes and failures, cheering them on as they embrace the trials and tribulations of life.

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