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July 29, 2007

JDrama Review – Proposal Daisakusen (Operation Love) (2007)

by Master Pillow

Although it runs for far too long Proposal Daisakusen (Operation Love) has just enough of a twist narrative to keep viewers somewhat entertained. The premise is about as believable as pigs flying with science fiction / fantasy stylings that don’t particularly make a whole lot of sense yet the general air of romance that permeates every episode is especially welcome to fans of the genre.

Current Japanese “it” guy Yamashita Tomohisa is Iwase Ken a young man who stands morose watching his childhood friend Yoshida Rei (Nagasawa Masami) sitting next to her soon to be husband Tada Tetsuya (Fujiki Naohito) at a nearby wedding table. Ken has spent his life trying to express his true feelings for Rei but due to his inability to confess now stands helpless as his love is about to get hitched to their former professor. As is customary for many wedding ceremonies a slideshow flashes onto a big screen displaying various photos from Rei’s childhood but each acts as an arrow to Ken’s heart as he laments his lost love.

Then out of no where time stops for everyone except for Ken who looks around in disbelief as an eccentric man (Mikami Hiroshi) appears claiming to be a fairy. Ken is undoubtedly less than convinced at this but the fairy gives him the power to look at the events depicted in each slide and magically go back in time to just before the fated photo in order to correct his mistakes that led to Rei’s ultimate decision to marry someone else. Of course, the fairy is very much real and so is the power he bestows upon Ken thus our hero begins his quest to attempt to change the future and win back Rei’s love.

True romantic dramas seem like a dying breed in Western cinema as audiences have recently shunned serious Hollywood fare in favor of lighter material. Thus, instead of purely theatrical love stories companies have turned to churning our romantic comedies where the actual love pairings sometimes take a back seat to generating laughter. At its core Proposal Daisakusen is an outright drama and although there are surely moments of levity usually caused by the supporting cast the focus here is to once again show a genre staple – the man who just can’t express his feelings towards the woman of his dreams.

Obviously, this is a creaky old plot device but audiences seem to easily identify with such a character. Unfortunately, while anyone can forgive the generic setup what isn’t so easily forgotten is the show’s languid pacing and ridiculous amount of filler material that literally plunges huge tracts of the series straight into a pit of quicksand. This is a plot that would have worked well as a feature film or mini-series with a running time of about two to four hours but the filmmakers have made the lamentable decision to string the audience along for almost five times that length as events play out in a mind-numbing repetitive sequence.

There’s no doubt that the fantasy elements add a refreshing wrinkle to the proceedings but with it comes the inevitable question of suspending disbelief. This actually isn’t much of an issue as once the method to travel through time is revealed most members of the audience are sure to buy into the conceit. As oddball as it sounds watching Yamashita Tomohisa shout out, “HALLEJUJA CHANCE!” in broken English while pointing at the camera is a hoot. What can’t be ignored though is that each episode feels like it is going over the same ground multiple times like Bill Murray stuck in Groundhog Day. The setting might have changed but the core concern revolving around Ken’s lack of self-confidence and drive do not.

This is not Yamashita Tomohisa’s fault and though he’s never been known as a standout actor the problem lies solely with the screenwriter Kaneko Shigeki who plays up Ken’s indecisiveness to stratospheric levels. It also doesn’t help that Ken feels totally subservient to the plot machinations stemming from his indecisiveness. Every time he manages to travel into the past it quickly becomes obvious what he must do in order to correct his mistakes but Ken either is a dunderhead and totally misunderstands what to do or he clues in too late to totally change the outcome. Inevitably whatever he changes doesn’t feel like it’s the optimum solution and instead of being active Ken merely stumbles around like a man not fully in control of a skidding automobile.

This is unfortunate since the concept is sound and intriguing in that sometimes the smallest situations and events are the ones that matter most. Therefore, the show doesn’t keep sending back Ken to overblown events where he can profess his love but to correct smaller errors like not realizing that Rei had given him a birthday puzzle or to score a run in baseball to impress her. Although these occasions might appear to lack oomph they in fact work well to express the show’s intent that while taken separately they won’t amount to much change in Rei’s feelings but as a whole they inevitably lead to her coming to realize how much Ken is an integral part of her emotional life.

Proposal Daisakusen goes over the same concept as other shows such as Hachimitsu To Clover (Honey and Clover) and the following argument I penned in that review still applies:

“Many great philosophers have always wondered just what attracts people together to form lasting relationships spawning literally hundreds of theories and copious amounts of self-help literature. However, as I watched this series with my wife she said something which I completely agreed with and to paraphrase her she couldn’t stand men who kept their feelings bottled up inside and showed no courage in going after the girl of their dreams. Of course, this situation works the same in reverse but the gist of it is clear – why would you ever fall in love with someone who never showed any drive or want for you, instead keeping their unrequited love a secret almost as if they desired to be emotionally tortured.”

While Ken is a truly sympathetic character his constant waffling over trying to express his feelings is often times annoying, bordering on downright ridiculous. As each episode rolls by the combined effect of his indecision will wear down even the most resolute viewer as watching Ken constantly flub his chances at redemption will have many pulling their hair out.

Yamashita Tomohisa is at his deadpan best which is disappointing considering how effective he was playing the slightly unhinged Akira in Nobuta Wo Produce. Instead he’s in full “cool guy” mode here resorting to giving a low-key and ultimately distant performance. This along with his wavering commitment to rectifying the past drags down the show but it’s ultimately saved by his innate sensitivity which finally kicks in as he realizes he’s running out of time to correct the past. This heightened sense of motivation jump-starts the final third of the show but it’s just another reminder that the audience had to sit through too many monotonous episodes just to get to the climax.

Nagasawa Masami gets much more to do here as we’re blessed with a multi-layered take on a young woman who is struggling with her huge swings in emotion towards her childhood friend. Yamashita Tomohisa might be the lead but Nagasawa Masami is certainly the emotional heart of the show and it’s refreshing to watch her weave her character through the potholes left by Ken’s past indifference. That said her narrative arc does get a bit lax as it pertains to falling in love with her teacher Tada Tetsuya and though he’s obviously a nice guy there’s never a time in which we’re completely convinced that she’s finally given up on Ken and switched her heart to Tada. In that sense there’s an overriding feeling that she’s settled for a second choice merely out of convenience, that while understandable, basically torpedoes any chance she will ever end up with the wrong man.

Fujiki Naohito as said teacher Tada Tetsuya has a basically thankless task of playing the series antagonist and rival to Ken but at least the filmmakers have not turned him into a snarling evil man with ulterior motives. In fact, he’s a sparkling upstanding guy as well making it hard to root against him.  Still, one can’t help but chuckle that once again we’re presented with the dreaded teacher/student romantic angle which will either titillate or repulse viewers depending on their viewpoint. Yet, Tada is no letch and one gets the feeling that his intentions are totally genuine.

As always the supporting cast is made up of characters that are there merely to either help our protagonist or for comic relief and though this is once again true the show wisely spends much time building them up into fully rounded personas. This helps greatly in establishing the inherent camaraderie and friendship between the five friends and better elucidates the lengths in which they will aid one another. This ensemble works well giving the impression that they would be friends for life and the show noticeably perks up whenever they converge as a group.

If it weren’t for the bloat and extraneous filler material Proposal Daisakusen would have flowed much easier as the emotional cliffhangers and hooks are compelling. It’s too bad that the show inevitably drags for so long before ratcheting up the suspense as episodes don’t so much as fly by but wallow along like a beached whale. It doesn’t help that the finale feels ridiculously contrived as every plot element is wrapped up in a small time frame making one wonder why things weren’t spread out more evenly considering the length of the show. In the end the intent is sound and the series certainly has a rich romantic atmosphere, not to mention a truly standout vocal end song, “Ashita Hareru Kana,” by Kuwata Keisuke that perfectly fits the overall tone. Proposal Daisakusen is still recommended but it’s going to be a frustratingly long slog to the emotional pay-off.

**1/2 out of ***

2007, Japan, 11 Episodes, Approx 600 Minutes, Fuji TV
Director: Narita Takeshi
Screenwriter: Kaneko Shigeki
Producers: Takiyama Madoka, Misao Reiko
Music: Yoshikawa Kei

Iwase Ken: Yamashita Tomohisa
Yoshida Rei: Nagasawa Masami
Tada Tetsuya: Fujiki Naohito
Oku Eri: Eikura Nana
Enokido Mikio: Hiraoka Yuta
Tsurumi Hisashi: Hamada Gaku
Yosei/Fairy: Mikami Hiroshi
Ito Matsunori: Matsushige Yutaka
Minorikawa Junzo: Yamazaki Shigenori
Yoshida Takanori: Morimoto Leo
Yoshida Reina: Miyazaki Yoshiko
Socrates: Watabe Gota
Matsuki Yuko: Hara Fumina
Nishio Tamotsu: Kikuchi Kenichiro

© 2007 The Galactic Pillow

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