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November 12, 2009

JDrama Review – Hotaru no Hikari (Glow of Fireflies) (2007)

by Master Pillow

Hotaru no Hikari (Glow of Fireflies) is yet another in a long line of Jdrama romantic comedies featuring colourful leads who initially bicker and butt heads like oil and water yet deep down the audience inherently knows they’ll eventually hook up. Like just about every Jdrama out there in this genre the key for the audience here is presenting events and dilemmas that keep them apart or present alternate love interests in ways that seem justifiable and realistic but at the same time show the slow romantic buds blooming between the leads. In that sense Hotaru no Hikari works despite having next to no originality but viewers will be rewarded with energetic performances and some delightful chemistry that keeps episodes humming along even though the plot reeks of too many clichés.

Amemiya Hotaru (Ayase Haruka) is a cheerfully perky office worker who works as a junior member at a prestigious interior design firm. By day she’s the model Japanese business woman impeccably dressed with good manners and acumen for her job but all that is a charade as when she goes home she goes back to her normal routine of being a “himono onna” – a woman who lounges around in ripped up jerseys and track pants, ties her hair in a samurai knot, scratches her ass and sprawls out on the floor chugging down cans of beer while lying amidst a garbage strewn room. Suffice it to say, none of her co-workers has any idea that she’s basically a bum.

Her manager, Takano Seiichi (Fujiki Naohito) is unfortunately going through a divorce and moves out of his apartment thinking that he can go back to his father’s house but when he arrives there he finds Amemiya Hotaru instead. She explains to him that his father loaned her the house while they were talking one night in a bar. Initially shocked at her lifestyle he decides to move in anyways yet informs her not to tell anyone at work as people would misinterpret their living in the same house in all the wrong ways.

Meanwhile, at work, a hot shot interior designer named Teshima Makoto (Kato Kazuki) has suddenly returned to the firm and immediately catches the eye of every female office worker, especially Amemiya and her friend Saegusa Yuuka (Kuninaka Ryoko) and the two soon get into a competition between them in order to win over Teshima’s love.

Hotaru no Hikari’s success is attributed solely to its leads Ayase Haruka and Fujiki Naohito who manage to create an affable air of chemistry between them as they indulge in various forms of bickering and name calling. The series soars when it focuses on the duo especially the interactions in their household that literally flow and ebb with ease accentuating the building relationship between the two. In fact, the whole series would probably have worked entirely set in this house as they are by far the two most interesting characters.

As I have only seen Ayase Haruka in serious dramatic mode ala Byakuyako, Sekai no Chuushin de Ai wo Sakebu or even as the blind swordswoman in Ichi I have to say that her turn here as the jovial lead character is wholly refreshing. Watching Ayase Haruka basically throw away any pretense of dramatic license and let go completely into her wacky himono onna character is a pure joy and though she sometimes pushes it too far at least her high degree of energy is infectious as is her propensity to make up works on the fly like shouting, “Itadaki mambo!” or aggressively rolling around the floor while hugging a pillow shaped as a giant fish. Any series that features excessive pillow squeezing gets a few extra points in my book.

Fujiki Naohito is playing the straight up-tight businessman here which is not exactly a stretch as the role is clearly much more dramatic than his co-star yet once the duo settle in to their daily routine it’s obvious that they hit it off. What starts out as a boss to subordinate relationship (heck, she still calls him manager “buchou” at home) soon becomes much like a married couple as they talk back and forth about any subject under the sun. Obviously, with the building love triangle between Amemiya, her boss and Teshima much of the talk centers on our heroine lamenting her lack of romantic experience as her manager attempts to help her out. However, as viewers might have easily surmised, what starts out as an honest attempt to guide Amemiya slowly turns into the realization that he has growing feelings for her yet she remains almost completely oblivious to this fact. Will she eventually realize what is going on and go with her manager instead? What do you think?

Not faring as well is the entire supporting cast not because of their lack of talent or acting ability but merely because the rote subplots generate zero interest as they are incessantly telegraphed from the very first episode. Then again, this also applies to our leads but at least watching Ayase Haruka and Fujiki Naohito indulge in a kooky rendition of Hepburn and Tracy is enjoyable whereas watching Kuninaka Ryoko as Amemiya’s best friend Yuuka fend off advances by fellow officer worker Takeda Shinji is as compelling as watching paint dry.

Part of the problem here is obviously the lack of credible screen time for anyone other than the leads and the potboiler narrative that basically repeats scenes and instances in nearly every episode. Once the love triangles are set the series settles into an almost humdrum pace with no surprises thus those characters not involved in the main romance are sorely one-dimensional, reduced to tortured glances or mournful looks which does nothing but grate as the episodes roll by.

The series also includes an oddball character that seemingly is written in to provide authoritative romantic advice in the form of a mature office woman whom nearly everyone save the manager calls to ask for help. I suppose that somewhere in the world such a character might exist but here it’s poorly implemented and the laughs it is supposed to generate truly fall like ten ton weights. Watching her lover or one time fling come up to her and beg her to be with him in truly busted English is not at all a moment of high wit nor is it dramatic in the least making scenes such as these feel nothing more than filler. Surely, everyone in the office can’t be so moronic or lack so much self-confidence that they need to phone her up only to be given an exceedingly trite piece of advice that sounds like it could have come from a fortune cookie.

It also doesn’t help matters when the supposed love triangle between Amemiya Hotaru, her manager and Teshima Makoto fools no one especially since any viewer over the age of five can correctly guess that our heroine is in the throes of a giant crush rather than deep love. Kato Kazuki as Teshima is also unfortunately the definition of vanilla bland and comes off as incredibly stiff and nonchalant instead of really being emotionally engaged with Amemiya. Teshima as a character has only one singular character trait that comes to the fore – he just looks good with his shaggy do. Other than that he’s extremely underwritten totally torpedoing any real chance the filmmakers have at making him a true competitor against Manager Takano Seiichi. As written Teshima is nothing more than wishy-washy and it takes him forever to attempt to ratchet up the heat between himself and Amemiya making him seem like he’s waffling instead of having a great passionate love for her.

Hotaru no Hikari might not be the most original concept yet and perhaps the “himono onna” aspect is rooted in Japanese culture but for myself I found it served as an altogether awkward plot device in order to ram our two leads together. Is sitting around in a ripped sports jersey while scratching your ass and downing swigs of beer really taboo in Japan? Since I’m not Japanese I can’t answer that but here in the West I have an inkling many men wouldn’t care less or even find that as a positive trait. Still, for all of Amemiya’s supposed warts, it’s not like she’s a bimbo or some sort of mentally unstable character as she just so happens to not be prim and proper at all times of the day. It’s mildly puzzling but perhaps it’s best to chalk this point up to cultural differences.

In the end the series still provides more than enough moments of levity and kindhearted romance and indeed Ayase Haruka and Fujiki Naohito make a charming couple. It might not be the best show of its kind but whatever issues it has are swept under the rug whenever the leads are on screen and that’s going to be just enough to keep most viewers entertained.

**1/2 out of ****

2007, Japan, approx 500 Minutes, NTV
Directors: Yoshino Hiroshi (ep1), Nagumo Seiichi, Shigeyama
Original writing: Hiura Satoru
Screenwriter: Mizuhashi Fumie
Producers: Hazeyama Yuko, Mikami Eriko, Uchiyama Masahiro Yoshinori
Music: Kanno Yugo

Amemiya Hotaru: Ayase Haruka
Takano Seiichi: Fujiki Naohito
Saegusa Yuuka: Kuninaka Ryoko
Teshima Makoto: Kato Kazuki
Jinguuji Kaname: Takeda Shinji
Yamada Sachiko: Itaya Yuka
Futatsugi Shouji: Yasuda Ken
Sono Minako: Asami Reina
Sawaki Shun: Watabe Gota
Tadokoro Junpei: Shibue Joji
Murota Suzuko: Matsumoto Marika
Kasumi Hatsuko: Matsushita Sara
Goutokuji Ken: Maruyama Tomomi
Yamaguchi Takatoshi: Matsunaga Hiroshi
Miyuki: Kurotani Tomoka

© 2009 The Galactic Pillow

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