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May 11, 2009

JDrama Review – Chance! (2009)

by Master Pillow

Fun though thoroughly unoriginal inspirational comedy that is a pleasant enough time waster but doesn’t truly make good use of either its leading lady Horikita Maki or its modest plot twist. Chance! is one of those tanpatsu, one-shot TV movies (or in this case 2 episodes) that you occasionally see each Japanese drama season. This time around we have a slice of life tale revolving around a struggling young woman Tamaki Kawamura (Horikita Maki) who after much disappointment manages to finally land a meagre job in a travel company. Shuffled to the lowest rungs of customer service she manages to make it through the days even though she’s saddled with a seemingly nasty boss and a less than bright career path.

Relegated to menial jobs like handing out complimentary tissues on the sidewalk she one day gets a bit of a break by being the only person left in the office to receive an emergency call from one of their tour groups whose tour guide has gone missing. Not knowing what to do she goes herself as the stand in and though she struggles with her poise she manages to be so personable and engaging that the group loves her as some of them take the time to write letters with their positive comments. Even though she is reprimanded by her boss this incident gives her a heightened sense of purpose to throw herself into her meagre job in order to be the best she can be.

However, as good an opportunity as that was she suddenly finds herself in a much bigger one when she mistakenly swaps cell phones with a crack senior exec named Tamaki Saori. Get it? They both have the same family name so they don’t realize that they have each other’s phone. Unbeknownst of this switch our heroine receives a call from the head of the company requesting her to make a presentation to some visiting Americans who want a customized travel plan. Initially befuddled that she’s been given such a prestigious opportunity she asks the CEO through the cell phone if he’s sure he’s gotten the right person for the job. When he replies affirmative she’s both nervous and excited that finally she’s been given a chance to prove herself. Hence the name of the show, “Chance!” – if it wasn’t blatantly obvious it is now.

Chance! is as formulaic as you can get with an easy telegraphing moral and your standard array of kooky sidekicks, mistaken identities and a romantic subplot for good measure. There’s hardly any surprise in store for the viewer and the only aspect not known is how exactly the plot will unfold. Even then we’re absolutely sure that our young heroine will prevail and life will be good and to that there’s no disappointment. Still, for a short running time there’s quite a bit crammed into these two episodes and while nothing surprising occurs it’s all done with a smart sense of purpose and levity.

It also doesn’t hurt that Horikita Maki just appears to be relaxed and back in her element after her exhaustively stilted performance in her first romantic drama Innocent Love. Thankfully, Horikita is a pro at playing young and perky heroines with a steely will and though we’ve seen this archetype a million times before it’s still entertaining.

The supporting cast is functional though never truly breaking through to make a powerful statement. Kuroki Meisa as the other Tamaki does get quite a bit of screen time but it’s an inherently passive role which has her running around for the bulk of the series in her wedding dress. Surprisingly the romantic subplot is all about her and not at all with Horikita Maki which, in hindsight, is a better choice as it frees Horikita to just have fun instead of getting dragged down into a sappy love triangle. Obviously, with a short running time the romance is only glossed over and not particularly deep yet for what is on screen it actually is effective and unexpectedly anti-Hollywood.

The comic relief is provided by Kawamura Tamaki’s eccentric friends and from her older policeman brother who runs around Tokyo in a vain attempt to find his lost motorcycle. I can’t exactly say that the comedy at hand is particularly effective and at times it seems to work as nothing more as padding to inflate the running time. Still, it isn’t too over the top which is a big plus and the actors are at least affable.

Gekidan Hitori works wonders as the company’s eccentric tour guide Inoue who throws himself into his work since he has an innate love with touring the city and finding out of the way sights of fancy. Indeed, the best character moments are those between Horikita Maki and Gekidan Hitori that strike to the heart of the series’ message to discover oneself and in turn what drives each individual to greater success.

There’s really not much to say with a short two episodes of content except that what is on screen is mildly amusing especially if you are previously enamored with Horikita Maki. She’s done much better than this but at least it appears that she’s not purposely trying to restrain herself or act unnaturally. The twist involving the switching cell phones isn’t well implemented yet this is a comedy so the audience isn’t really meant to question the lack of logic in some instances and the climactic presentation in front of the American investors comes off as inherently flaccid and yet again features a bunch of no name Caucasian thespians of dubious acting skill. Twenty years from now this will just be a minor footnote in Horikita Maki’s filmography but for what it is it works and that’s about all that can be said for this show.

**1/2 out of ****

2009, Japan, 90 Minutes, Fuji TV
Director: Kobayashi Kazuhiro
Screenwriters: Hashimoto Hiroyuki, Suzuki Chihiro
Producer: Nakashima Kumiko

Kawamura Tamaki: Horikita Maki
Tamaki Saori: Kuroki Meisa
Inoue: Gekidan Hitori
Yajima: Hamada Gaku
Kusaba Fumiya: Okada Yoshinori
Exec. Director Kaneko: Hiraizumi Sei
Kawamura Taizou: Muro Tsuyoshi
Ebihara Arisa: Kiritani Mirei

© 2009 The Galactic Pillow

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