Dekichatta Kekkon [できちゃった結婚] Great drama, but the reason it's so IMO is because Yutaka does an excellent job of making Hirosue look good as an actress.
Kunimitsu no Matsuri [クニミツの政] I loved Manabu Oshio as the inspiring leader and Misaki Ito as his silent backer. The ending is slightly disappointing, but it gives hopes for an eventual sequel!
News no onna [ニュースの女] Honami did a great job of putting over Takizawa as a credible actor. A great farewell to a legendary actress.
Only you aisarete A great story that has been unfortunately underrated and relegated to collecting dust. You can see here early Izumi Inamori and Uno Kanda, who have great roles. Osawa convinces me as a developmentally disabled guy, and he and Kyoka have great chemistry here.
Pride [プライド] A winner on hand. Despite the (IMO) similarity to Love Generation, Kimura & Takeuchi make a great combo who despite not being so lovey-dovey has great chemistry. I've got nothing but great respect for the man. And Yuko, despite not being as sleazoid as in Queen of Lunch, is able to pull off sweetness.
The all-Queen soundtrack rocks too, I've got to buy these songs!
Suna No Utsuwa [砂の器] Based on Seicho Matsumoto's 1961 classic, translated in English as "Inspector Imanishi Investigates." For a change of era, the story still looks good. Notice that the TV version is more from Waga's POV than Imanishi's.
Mikami Hiroshi [三上博史] The best J-drama tragic hero around. Whenever he's the main event, as in The End of the World and Cross of Roses, he seems to take most of the beatings (storyline-wise) for others, and he does an outstanding job of it.
For those who think a real man's man is not supposed to cry, watch Mikami in the two works I mentioned and tell me if you don't find a reason.
Narumi Riko [成海璃子] Even though she's WAY underage... Ruri no Shima makes you want to fall in love with her!
Sakaguchi Kenji [坂口憲二] Sakaguchi has always a happy presence, like the guy who will always stand behind you. His roles in Hatachi no Kekkon, Shiawase no Shippo and Itsu mo futari de show it.
Of course I don't think he had any presence to partner with Takako Matsu, but I respect him for trying.
Did you know?: Sakaguchi's the son of former Olympic judoka and pro-wrestling champion Seiji Sakaguchi.
Bara no Jyujika [薔薇の十字架] Rating: 10/10 (Watched) Underrated gem that you don't need to stereotype as 'dark' before watching. Hiroshi Mikami is, like his character in "The End of the World" - a tough but suffering figure who takes a lot of punishment before finally finding the light at the end of the tunnel. I couldn't help but be sad at his plight...
Yuki Amami, whereas not as moody as Honami Suzuki was in The End of... , is certainly beautiful and sexy while playing a kindly and caring but stern mother who is deciding whether to allow her father's child into their lives. And Yuriko Ishida and Mie Nakao's psycho fights give it the great touch of darkness. Masanobu Katsumura is always the good compadre who puts a little fun in things (as in Hakoiri Musume), and Tamayama and the guy who plays Junya do their roles very well. This is Tamayama's first Fuji TV drama since he jumped from Sentai series. And the soundtrack rocks - Chaka Khan's "Ain't Nobody," Richard Marx's "Now and Forever" (Aki's favorite song), Christopher Cross's "Arthur's Theme", Karyn White's "Superwoman", and more - there's a lot of Western quality!
Here we see easily what Japanese society has reaped from its long history of sexism: some men getting the shaft, being shunned or downright denied by their partners and offspring, and being forced to grin and bear it. And then, when the family is finally reunited by circumstances, come the questions. What did Togo feel for Aki? Love? A mere sense of responsibility? Ditto for Aki, who I can tell never married him because that would force her to stay tied to the home walls to take care of their son, Seiji (played by young Hekikai Tanaka). Seiji is a cute kid, too. I can tell why in her bout of madness Togo's mother confused him with the real Togo when he was a kid.
Overall, this dorama is a hidden treasure as valuable as Seiji was for both Togo and Aki. See it and you can't go wrong!
Boku dake no Madonna [僕だけのマドンナ] Rating: 10/10 (Watched) A definite winner! It's WAY more original and not just a Long Vacation ripoff as some of the commentators here say. Sure it's got nearly the same situation, but the characters here have personalities entirely their own. Kyoko isn't that sexy, and Takky is more of an unsure young thing, but that's precisely the drawing point - their chemistry is more unlikely to draw sparks of fun, yet it does! You won't be disappointed!
Kobayakawa Nobuki no Koi [小早川伸木の恋] (Watched) The Japanese title is "Kobayakawa Nobuki no Koi."
Here we see Karasawa playing a good guy for the first time in many years. He plays a doctor, but unlike in Shiroi Kyoto, he actually has a heart and does not follow the corrupt boss (Ikko Furuya from the TV version of Shitsurakuen) and his ways. In fact, his closest rival, Shosuke Tanihara (Seikei Bijin, Diamond Girl, etc). is the bad guy. Karasawa has a young wife (Nana Katase, who is as lively as her character in Dekichatta Kekkon, though was muted down in Last Christmas) who is quite jealous, annoying and brainless, so he has to turn to Mahiru Konno, whom we saw earlier in Hotman 2 as the sweetie of one of the Saito twins.
Here we have another frustrated man on a Thursday night (re Bara no Jujika in Fall 2002), but unlike then, Karasawa can actually both smile and cry with no hesitation or kinks in the transition. He's cool, but not a villain or a sad sack! Trying to "put over" Konno (a former Takarazuka) on TV, like Hiroshi Mikami did with Yuki Amami in BnJ, is a good task for a legend in the making as Karasawa is, and this time is even more light-hearted and enjoyable. Tune in!
Ai wo kudasai [愛をください] Not much, only to pass the time [Rating: 7/10] Less than what I expect from such talent because:
-There's no buildup to the eventual relationship between Kanno and Ito;
-Eguchi's influence is overpushed, as is the conflict between Miho and her father (actor = Kazuyoshi Kushida).
I had actually turned off the TV in 2000 when this came out and only recently took the time to watch it in its entirety from rentals.
The ending is good, but at the same time disappointing. Seems to me as unlike Kono Yo no Hate, these guys are just happy to be themselves and there's no reflection on what the relationship means to both.
Fukigen na Jiin [不機嫌なジーン] Enjoyable [Rating: 8/10] From the creator of Long Love Letter and Queen of Lunch comes this new series. So far so good on the love triangle with Yuko as its apex. Uchino is cooler than what he was in Love Generation, too.
Hagure Keiji '97 [はぐれ刑事純情派] Pretty interesting. [Rating: 8/10] Hagure Keiji has been a staple of Japanese TV since 1988 and the seasons that came around here, NY, USA (97-99) were the only Japanese subtitled material around, so I had taken to watch them.
Somewhat unrealistically, nearly all the criminals caught in the weekly whodunnits have sad stories of their own, (or else accused people have them), so Yasuura and his colleagues must use them in catching the real criminal, or if they already have 'em, force 'em to confess.
Most of the episodes I've watched include Shigeru Joshima as the junior detective. I haven't seen previous ones nor the recent one including Kane Kosugi as well as Cha Kato as a new staffer (forensics expert). I must say that nevertheless the stories are not to absolve criminals, but to show each and everyone of us their human side which becomes warped in the presence of hate or otherwise disdain.
Haru Ranman [春ランマン] Great couple and group [Rating: 10/10] I actually enjoy this drama. Oshio has shown me he's made of good stuff, and Tomosaka Rie plays better as a normal person (instead of the limited person she was in Kimi ga Oshiete kureta koto, which is also a favorite of mine). The 2x3 group of friends is actually more lively and better than the one in Omiai Kekkon. Overall a fun comedy.
Hatachi no kekkon [２０歳の結婚] A funny battle royal for love [Rating: 5/10] If you like amorous/friendly/funny battle royals, hot girls, and/or hunks, this is a good one to watch. It made me laugh more than anything else (aside from, of course, watching Yuka, Yonekura, Anzai, and even Hirayama) and you may get annoyed from all the shouting. More like a loud Addams Family.
Home & Away [ホーム＆アウェイ] Great! [Rating: 9/10] Sure it may be unrealistic but it takes you on a tour of the Japan you've never seen if you're so weaned on Tokyo storylines! Miho Nakayama may have lost sexiness, but she's still talented and cute to be the main eventer. Nishida, Wakana and Kotaro make for greatly funny supporting characters, the bad thing is that the husband's face is never shown, a trend previously seen in Omiai Kekkon with Ayako Kawahara's on-screen hubby.
Kira kira hikaru [きらきらひかる/法醫物語] One of the best of the year [Rating: 9/10] Whereas the title character is too sweet, Kyoka certainly steals the show. It gives a more realistic view into unnatural causes of death. Certainly more realistic than Kori no Sekai, I'd say.
Kono yo no hate [この世の果て] All-time great! [Rating: 10/10] One of my personal favorites, mainly because I've been depressed myself (though never to the point of being a drug addict, however). I must say Maria's method to cure Shiro is quite effective, if only because of all the love she puts into it. This has a religious connotation, Maria representing the Virgin Mary and Shiro her dying Son whom she nurtures. Either way, it must have been very controversial when aired. Suzuki and Mikami show great chemistry as a realistic, rugged couple with their ups and downs.
Koori no sekai [冰の世界] So-so, but music is GREAT! [Rating: 7/10] Only good thing about this one was the music and the ending chapters.
Love complex [ラブコンプレックス] What you see... is what you won't get! (Storyline- [Rating: 9/10] Very weird and not one where you can even blink as loyalties shift and the "war" between the Secretarial Section factions goes on. Yoshino and Ito convince as sexy @$$-kicking bitches. Karasawa and Sorimachi make a good tag team, but you'll be really surprised at the way they fall out (they will).
Lunch no Joou [ランチの女王] Superb! Outstanding! [Rating: 10/10] Way more dynamic and funny than Mika Omori's previous dorama project, Long Love Letter (the first one featuring the "triad": Tsumabuki, Yamashita & Yamada), in which they play second fiddle this time to Yuko Takeuchi and Yosuke Eguchi. Despite Tsutsumi not appearing for most of the episodes due to his outlaw character, he's very funny too.
Moto Kare [元カレ] Not so much original [Rating: 4/10] Reminds me too much of Mukashi no Otoko, only without the sex. So far the same is there - "other woman" is made the victim, we're supposed to feel sorry for her, etc. Only real good thing is the side story with Sonim and Hiro Amano, believe me. Nao is hot, but I will be p'ed off if she doesn't bag the guy...
News no onna [ニュースの女] The original and best! [Rating: 10/10] This is actually the first J-dorama that I watched one that hooked me on the genre. Honami is superb in her last comeback ever. She had been a top idol since 1986, and with good reason. Her acting with current teen favorite Takizawa shows a lot of good chemistry. You almost wish Honami was really his mother... Nagatsuka, a veteran of samurai and workplace movies, plays a good fountain of wisdom. Norika is very credible as the antagonist. Fukigoshi actually looks better here than in Naguru Onna (too plain) and Ashita ga Aru sa (a weasel). A great drama which I recommend!
Perfect love [パーフェクトラブ！] Hilarious! [Rating: 9/10] Yoshino shows that she can play funny as well as meek (OverTime) or @$$-kicker (Love Complex). She and Fukuyama make a cute, funny couple. The supporting cast is very good (particularly Yusuke and Hatano).
Shiawase No Shippo Great material [Rating: 9/10] This is one of the better doramas I've watched. Miki and Nagatsuka play their roles well. Sakaguchi, Hara, Sachiko Kokubu and Kotaro Koizumi show good ability. Aoi Miyazaki, who was with Sakaguchi in "hatachi no kekkon," is so grown into an attractive girl. The plot is straightforward and even spinoff plots (Miyazaki, Kotaro, Sachiko, and Minoru Tanaka) don't veer too far. The ending is bittersweet, but still very satisfying. Sachiko is so underrated here!
Shin Hoshi no kinka [新・星の金貨] One of the best of 2001! [Rating: 10/10] OK, so I never watched the original nor its sequel, so go ahead, flame me... But I still think this was one of the best doramas I've watched. Hoshino, in his first leading role, shows a lot of promise to be a great actress. The supporting cast works good for their ages and don't seem to "pretend" to be something they are not.
And the best part of all - this one ACTUALLY had a GOOD ending. I won't say GREAT since the ending situation isn't so good (see for yourself!) but it's still satisfying.
The theme song as sung by Hoshino is great and has me hooked as well. Too bad most idiots who think this is Rocky III may overlook it.
Shomuni Final [ショムニ ファイナル/庶務二課] Worthy addition, if only for the inevitable change [Rating: 8/10] -Nonomura is gone. (Toshihito Ito had died before filming, so they replaced him)
-New, younger president. The company is now called "Manpan-George Smith" after a merger.
-The real ending to the Shomuni saga is the special known as "Shomuni Forever" which aired on this New Year.
Sugao no mama de [素顏のままで] All-time great [Rating: 10/10] One of the best of all time! Whereas it did not have the drawing power of any of the Honami Suzuki dramas, Narumi Yasuda's acting convinces of why she is a legendary idol. Her partnership with Akina Nakamori is convincing as the odd couple who in the end sees that their friendship is the only cure against betrayals by men and abandonment by other people. Watch it - you'll enjoy the story.
Tentai Kanzoku [天体観測] Sorry... too un-original. [Rating: 4/10] If you've never seen, or for some reason can't remember, Ai to iu na no moto ni, go for this one, the faces here are fresh and talented but the plot is WAY too similar. And then people in this site dare compare Boku Dake no Madonna to Long Vacation...
Tokyo Love Cinema [東京ラブ・シネマ] Enjoyable [Rating: 8/10] This was actually the first dorama series I rented in many months, and it didn't disappoint me. The relationship between Masaki and Haruko comes off well, despite they not having a burning rivalry as the synopsis proclaims. Tamayama has evolved a lot since I saw him in Gao Rangers (thanks to my kid brothers), and the rest of the cast plays very well.
A note to Webmaster: The one who plays Teruko is not Kanako Fukaura, it's Miyoko Asada. If there's an older woman I'd fall for other than Hitomi Kuroki, it would have to be her.
Overall not bad, but if you expect bitter business and personal rivalry, then you'll be disappointed.
Tokyo Wankei [東京湾景] Good [Rating: 8/10] I have seen reverse-Cinderella type dramas before (Only You Aisarete, Bus Stop, Yamato Nadeshiko...), but Tokyo Wankei is all the more enjoyable because of the cultural-difference factor. For the first time I can truly say that Yukie Nakama deserves to be a leading lady. Wada, despite his unassuming demeanor throughout (think Mitsuhiro Oikawa without the posing), comes through as a good, but not great, lead. (Is he another Takeshi Kaneshiro who only does movies?) Anyway, the supporting cast is good, particularly Ryuta Sato as Mika's good Japanese friend and Toru Nakamura, a behind-the scenes supporter. Not the greatest drama of the season, but you won't be much disappointed.