Hana Yori Dango


Reviewed by: Gem Tsoi

June 19, 2006

Rating: five

'Hana Yori Dango', the Japanese live action of the much-beloved anime/manga of the same name, delivers the goods in a surprisingly delightful 9-episode drama that blows its Taiwanese compatriot, 'Meteor Garden', completely out of the water where acting, cinematography, direction, and set are concerned.

Synopsis

Makino Tsukushi, an ordinary girl from a middle-class family, is enrolled in the richest and most exclusive school in all of Japan: the much admired and envied Eitoku High School. However, our unworldly Makino is not in the least enamoured of her wealthy classmates and their diamond watches. Instead, she dislikes the ostentatious show of extravagance around her, and longs for the day when she will be able to leave the school. In the meantime, she vows to keep her head down and avoid attracting attention, especially by the infamous F4.

F4 is made up of four young heirs from the richest families in Japan, and consist of 1) Domyouji Tsukasa, the violent leader, 2) Hanazawa Rui, the quiet and thoughtful one, 3) Mimasaka Akira, notorious for his affairs with older married women, and 4) Nishikado Soujirou, ladykiller. Offend the F4 and you’re dead. The next day you will be red-tagged, and the entire school will unite against you. Domyouji himself will take a hand in beating you up. The F4 is so wealthy that even the school authorities dare not to anything to curb them from practically ruling the place.

However, when Makino’s friend, Sakurako, accidentally bumps into Domyouji and becomes a potential ‘red-tag’ victim, Makino stands up for her friend and instantly becomes the victim herself. Tons of bullying ensue, but with a difference: spunky Makino isn’t succumbing to it. In fact, she even punches Domyouji straight across the face when he takes things a bit too far.

Makino’s aggressiveness towards him reminds Domyouji of his beloved sister, the only other woman who has ever beaten him up. Before long, he develops feelings for Makino that are not in the least reciprocated. But Domyouji perseveres on anyway, regardless of the fact that Makino is attracted to his best friend, Hanazawa Rui, who has rescued her on several bullying occasions.

Enter Domyouji’s mother, a formidable powerhouse woman who dislikes Makino immensely and does all she can to separate them. Makino and Domyouji face overwhelming odds in trying to be together.

Review

‘Hana Yori Dango’ should be held up as an example for all TV serials to take note of. Although very short, not a single moment is wasted. It is a very ‘concentrated’ show, and you’ll be kept on the edge of your seat throughout the entire 9 hours.

The set and costumes have to be some of the best things about the drama. Eitoku High School comes to life in mahogany, glittering glass, and polished corridors. Diamond Piaget watches, long stretch limousines and branded handbags are flashed about by the privileged students. The uniforms are beautiful.

Cinematography and direction are creative and stunning. The colours are rich and vibrant; the camera shots are telling and descriptive. So good is the direction that characters are fleshed out in a very short span of time. The music is used to wonderful effect – it always highlights the situations well. I particularly like the tracks ‘Mysterious Chocolate’, ‘Cloudy Noon’, ‘HYD main theme’, and ‘Tsukushi’.

Now, on to the cast and acting, which is brilliant.

Inoue Mao is a masterstroke as the gutsy Makino Tsukushi. She not only looks the part perfectly, but brings out all the spunkiness and cuteness in Makino’s character. Her ‘arienaittsuno!’ (unbelievable) quickly became the tagline of the drama. She is never so cute that she becomes irritating; and yet she is always so cute! She manages to bring something to the character of Tsukushi that Barbie Hsu, as Shancai, did not manage to.

When I first saw Matsumoto Jun’s pictures, I was horrified; so short and skinny and punkish! Domyouji is a very complex character to act; I didn’t expect this plain-looking guy to play him convincingly at all. But I was given the shock of my life. Jun not only plays Domyouji to the very inch of his character, he practically becomes Domyouji. From head to toe, he is Domyouji Tsukasa: simple-minded, violent, adorably stupid, sadistic, lonely, yet with a great ability to love. I think Jun silenced all critics with his marvelous performance. Definitely he is on a completely different playing field than Jerry Yan (Dao Ming Si). He may not have the height nor the looks (though, as the show progresses, he gets handsomer and handsomer), but the amount of emotion this guy can project is amazing. I remember after watching one scene with my dad, he was like “This is something that Dao Ming Si will never be able to act.” I fully agree that Jerry would never have been able to pull off Domyouji in this HYD.

Oguri Shun has the coolness to carry off Rui, another very difficult character to act. I think Rui does a few weird things in the show, but all in all Shun does a great job. The only thing I don’t like is the earring; I cannot imagine Rui walking into a shop and asking to pierce his ears. It’s so out of character.

Matsuda Shota (Soujirou) and Abe Tsuyoshi (Akira) are both good in supporting roles. Once again, I found them completely unappealing at first, but after multiple rewatches, they’ve grown on me, though on a much lesser scale than Jun. Still, at least HYD manages to differentiate Soujirou from Akira! Ximen and Meizuo just seemed like one character to me in MG.

Matsushima Nanako (Domyouji Tsubaki) and Sada Mayumi (Toudou Shizuka) are both beautiful and absolutely light up the screen whenever they appear.

Kaga Mariko (evil Mum) brings a completely different aura to her personality; she is practically creepy. She never says two words when she can say one. The way she looks at you makes you think you’re going to be transformed into a beetle. She has the knack of raising one eyebrow scornfully. She is one scary mum you do not want to trifle with. In short, she plays her role perfectly.

I can’t say enough good things about the acting in this series. You have to watch it for yourself. The range of emotions and the body language are delightful to see. I don’t think I’ve come across another Asian drama with better all-round acting.

Of course, there’re some bad things too. There’s one bit about an apple…eating grated apples will make you bald. I was laughing my head off. I can’t figure out whether they meant it for a serious scene, or for comedic relief. But since none of the characters did anything to show it was comedic, I have to assume it’s serious.

There is also a lack of romance scenes between Dom and Makino, but this I put down purely to lack of time. If there were more episodes, there would’ve been more memorable moments. As it is, the chemistry between Dom and Makino is remembered for their fantastic acting – not the situation.

Another thing that MG triumphs over HYD is the portrayal of the friendship between F4…which, once more, I put down to lack of time. Japanese F4 is close, but not as close as Taiwanese F4. I think the chemistry between F4 is slightly better, too.

But otherwise, everything else is pretty much perfect. Domyouji’s domination of the school; his love for Makino; the care and concern of Makino’s family; the creepiness of Evil Mum; the wealth of the students; the silence of Hanazawa Rui…the production crew have got it down pat. There’re even laugh-out-loud moments amidst all the seriousness – the proper comedic characters are really funny, and Dom’s baka-ness is hilarious.

I can’t recommend HYD more. A brilliant effort at reproducing an ageless love story onscreen.

Some Interesting Facts

- Inoue Mao was only about 18 at the time of filming.
- Matsumoto Jun is a member of a boyband, Arashi.
- Abe Tsuyoshi can speak Mandarin fluently, and Matsuda Shota can speak English fluently. The two of them used to translate their scripts into the respective languages during their free time.
- There are rumours that a HYD 2 will be filmed in 2007.
- HYD is Japan's most expensive dorama to date.


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