Japanese Drama Review: “義母と娘のブルース” (Stepmother and Daughter Blues)

By | June 12, 2019

In my early years studying Japanese I watched a huge number of Japanese dramas, and while this really helped improved my listening and vocabulary skills, it also made me accustomed––or should I say overly sensitive––to the common tropes of this form of media. That, plus the fact I generally try to spend more time in the literary world (reading/translating), means that I don’t spend much time these days watching dramas.

So just saying that I managed to watch the TBS drama “義母と娘のブルース” (literally translated as “Stepmother and Daughter Blues”) all the way through to the end means a lot.

This series is about a family where the mother passes away due to illness, and the father, played by longtime actor Yutaka Tankenouchi (竹野内 豊), develops a relationship with a new woman (the character referred to as the “stepmother” in the title) who eventually helps to raise his daughter. The relationship between the father and this new woman is a little unusual, but I won’t give away details since they are gradually revealed throughout the story.

The personality of the stepmother herself, played by Haruka Ayase (綾瀬 はるか), is also quite unusual: supposedly something like the ultimate business woman, she ends up seeming more like a robot.

The story was enjoyable enough for me to maintain interest, but there was certainly a few cheezy/predictable parts, and the acting was only so-so overall––although the two lead actors I mentioned did a reasonably good job.

What really made this drama fun (and educational) was the speech of the stepmother: extremely polite and awkwardly formal. This is doubly interesting because Japanese has a very well-developed system of formal and polite language, and the stepmother puts it to good use, sometimes spouting off long, ornate phrases that practically leave the other characters clueless.

It requires a pretty high level of Japanese to fully understand her speech so I wouldn’t recommend this drama for beginning students, but for those wanting to get more experience listening for a variety of polite/formal language this is a pretty valuable drama.

A second linguistically interesting thing about this drama is a character who makes mistakes in Japanese, including written and spoken language. While it only happens a few times, it’s fun to catch and figure out what he is trying to express (one near the end of the series is “さいきんちゅうい”)

While I won’t claim this to be a great drama, the combination of the unusual setting, character personalities, and formal/polite Japanese make it worth watching at least an episode or two. If you end up liking the story, you can also see the short manga series it was based upon (the first book is here), which I heard has some key story differences.

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