Ever since I got a membership to Netflix as part a promotional deal, I’ve been watching little bits of anime and life-action series on there. For the most part, even if I find something that is good in the beginning, it’s never compelling enough for me to make it through the end (and this includes the handful of English shows I’ve glimpsed as well). Earlier this year, I came across a pretty good anime series, for which you can find the review here. And then, a few weeks ago, I stumbled on a pretty entertaining drama, “Million Yen Women” (100万円の女たち), which I actually managed to finish, so I thought it deserved a proper review on STJ.
This drama starts off with a curious premise: five women are secretly given invitations to live at the house of Shin Michima, a thirty-something struggling novelist. In exchange, they have to pay one million yen (roughly $10,000 USD) each month to cover living expenses, though this should be far more than is actually required for his apartment. The women have been instructed that they must not answer any questions about themselves, keeping Shin in the dark about what is going on.
The drama has an eye-catching beginning; not only are all the women attractive (each in their own way way), but one of them even refuses to wear clothes whenever she is at home. The director adeptly manages to avoid showing too much through the use of creative camera angles and obstacles, although there are several scenes that show a good amount of skin. This show also has a few sexually-suggestive parts (plus a bit of explicit violence), so I would not recommend children watching this.
Fortunately––well, at least for those of you who are watching for more than eye-candy––the showy elements gradually lessen, and more deep themes begin to surface. For example, there is the matter of why novelist write novels, and also the thoughtful topic of to what degree the crimes of a close relative should affect family members. Not to mention there is the mystery of who invited the girls, and why, which plays out nicely as the story progresses.
“Million Yen Women” has some strong cinematography (like a memorable scene where light is shown projecting beautifully through a window) and some impactful music. The quality here is not consistent, and by the end it all starts to feel a little formulaic (with similar elements in each episode), but overall the visuals and sound are nice.
I’m not sure if I can give an accurate critique of acting, but the acting in this series seemed to be pretty high quality, with some of the characters making dramatic changes at certain key plot points. The male lead is played by Yojiro Noda (野田 洋次郎), lead singer of the (actual) popular rock band Radwimps. His character, more of the quiet brooding type, doesn’t involve a lot of range of expression, but Yojiro nevertheless does a good job at the role.
With relatively simple Japanese, lack of dialects and special terms, and reasonable rate of speech, this show is good for Japanese listening practice. Japanese subtitles are available, which are a great way to get extra reading practice and pick up words you would otherwise miss by ear. But if you want to get the best effect, I suggest watching each episode once with just Japanese audio, and then add Japanese subtitles for a rewatch.
This drama turns out to be based on a manga series by Shunju Aono (青野 春秋), and you can see more information about it here. I haven’t read much manga lately due to the relatively high price per issue, but I still might check out the first issue someday to see what it’s like compared to the Netflix series. In particular, I felt like the pacing of the live-action drama was a bit awkward (some parts took too much time, and others not enough), and this issue isn’t likely to be present in the manga.
How quickly will you be able to guess the person or people behind the mysterious living agreement of these five girls? I think there is enough clues to make a good guess before things are directly revealed, though I’ll admit some of my guesses were downright wrong. I will say that it was a very satisfying ending, likely to bring a tear or two (for those who are sensitive to that type of thing).