Moteki February 9, 2014Posted by ayasawada in Drama, Music.
Tags: Japanese drama, Japanese movie, Moriyama Mirai, Moteki
Moteki is Japanese slang for a period of romantic bloom in your life where you are suddenly attractive and popular. The very idea of a ‘moteki’ seems absurd, the kind of thing that could only happen in harem manga and Hollywood romantic comedies. But where this franchise succeeds is taking this bit of seemingly wishful-thinking and turning it into a something real, human and honestly (don’t laugh) quite profound.
A 2010 drama series adapted from a manga, Moteki is the story of Fujimoto Yukiyo, a nerdy temp worker, who, after 29 years of little or no luck with women experiences a moteki. As three girls from his past present romantic opportunity, for shy, indecisive, desperately-wanting-to-be-loved Yukiyo moteki proves as much a curse as a blessing, yet one that may ultimately help him grow up a bit.
I stumbled across the drama on some late night repeats while in Tokyo over Christmas. Bumbling in mid-way, although I had no idea what exactly was going on, I was immediately struck by the harem-like scenario, graphic displays of affection (such as kissing) and of course the cute actresses. But what really got my attention was the spectacular soundtrack. Unlike most Japanese dramas with a standard BGM and two insert songs which they repeat ad infinitum every week, Moteki had a stunning array of Jpop hits – everything from pop to indie – as well as a fantastic OP and ED from Fujifabric and Half-life respectively.
This was more akin to what one would expect from some of my favourite movies such as Jerry Maguire and (500) Days of Summer, only with Jpop. I’d always thought it must be a licensing and financial thing that kept most Japanese dramas from having a decent soundtrack. In an interview I would later hear with the Director, One Hitoshi, he revealed that this was a conscious decision to match Yukiyo’s character as a pop-culture geek and his ‘inner monologue’ narrative with a soundtrack he himself would have been fantasising. Arranging all of those licensing deals must have been difficult, but well worth the effort as it really adds to the atmosphere and is in-keeping with what many 20-somethings (certainly myself) have going on in their minds.
But the show is inventive in many other ways too, Director One splicing in karaoke scenes (literally words appearing on your screen) to illustrate Yukiyo’s state of mind, or breaking the fourth wall a little by jokingly cutting to the end credits as Yuki declares “Is this the end?”.
Above all, Moteki is endlessly entertaining, and also excruciating to watch at times – I had to watch it through my fingers sometimes, so embarrassing were some of the situations and painful were Yukiyo’s mistakes. That’s testament to the good writing, direction and performances, particularly Moriyama Mirai in the lead role. The script cuts so close to the bone it’s too true – I’m sure I’m not the only one for whom this has dredged up memories of similar romantic embarrassments as we fumbled our way through the bramble bush that is male and female relationships. As with the best portrayals of this, it shows the imperfections of such attempts to connect, the pure never-truly-knowing how another human being feels, and the frustration and confusion of there being no right or wrong way of doing things. People are different, people change and people are unpredictable, their reaction at any given moment depending on a multitude of factors such as timing, chemistry, history and whether either of you is hungry. One might as well leave it to the fates, or, as Yukiyo ultimately learns, all you can do is be yourself, try your best and keep moving forward (clichéd but sound advice).
I love this show. Clearly what resonated is an empathy with Yukiyo, the seemingly born loser. But what appealed to me most was its heart and the surprising amount of realism and wisdom it conveyed. As I said, the harem-like idea of a moteki seems ridiculous, but the more I thought about it, there have been periods where people have suddenly called me out of the blue and, whether serious or not, romantic chance probably was there. In the socially mobile time of one’s twenties, this is particularly true. Yet we are no more likely to know what to do as when we were confused teenagers. As the series progresses to its second half we learn not just about Yukiyo’s travails but the doubt and mistakes that strike his seemingly-got-it-all best friend Shimada, the beautiful Doi Aki, carefree Komiyama Natsuki, and uncertain tomboy Nakashiba Itsuka. Everyone’s a bit of a loser at times, the difference is how they look at it and deal with it.
The drama was supremely successful when it first aired and, as is tradition these days, spawned a ‘gekijoban’ movie a year later in 2011. I was lucky enough to catch the film – and a Q&A session with Moriyama Mirai and One Hiroshi – last week as part of the Japan Foundation’s annual film season. A rare chance to hear from star and director the week after I’d marathoned the drama!
The film is surprisingly excellent, retaining the good-humoured tone of the series presenting an all-new story, and taking all the series’ tropes and pop culture references to the next level with full on guest appearances – there are live band appearances, the Sense of Wonder festival as location for the climax, Moriyama Mirai sings in character live on stage over the end credits, Yukiyo’s job in the movie is one big advert for entertainment website Natalie. And lest I forget, there’s a spectacular redoing of the drama’s ‘Baby Cruising Love’ dance sequence, this time featuring Perfume themselves!
The plot also seems to have levelled up. Set a year after the series end, the film features a new set of girls through which Yukiyo is once again torturing his own heart. Although not really a ‘moteki’ as such, since it’s really only two girls he has proper dalliances with, the focus on one girl in particular gives the story a slightly more mature, more meaningful plot. There are some heartbreaking believable lines and scenes – Rumiko’s ‘omoi’ scene and Miyuki’s ‘I can’t grow with you’ in particular. According to One, many of these were based on real experiences from himself and the other production staff. Like the series, the film is surprisingly moving, when all you’re really expecting is a few good laughs.
The film originally came out a few months after the 2011 tsunami and, in the Q&A, One said he hoped it would “cheer up” Japanese audiences at that traumatic time. While not the kind of ‘worthy’ film one normally associates with such events, pop culture is a big part of modern life and, like Yukiyo, I do believe such things can help motivate you through tough times (much like the scene where Yukiyo listens to Momoclo in the movie :P). It made me think a lot about the regrets of my past, but also look positively at the future. And I also had a really great time watching it.