Majo no Jouken


Reviewed by: Gunner

August 10, 2004

Rating: five

Majo no Jouken (1999) – 11 Episodes
Also known as: Forbidden Love, A Witch’s Condition, Temptations of a Witch, The Innocent Witch
Good site for detailed episode guides:
http://www.geocities.com/morikai/majo/MJ0.html

Cast:
Hirose Michi: Matsushima Nanako
Kurosawa Hikaru: Takizawa Hideaki
Theme Song: First Love by Utada Hikaru

Introduction:
How does one go about writing a review for a drama as controversial and complex as ‘Majo no Jouken’? At the premise of the plot is the theme of a teacher falling in love and having a relationship with her student, something that is utterly foreign and taboo to Japanese society and many other Asian societies in general, and this theme is openly explored in the drama without any attempt to sugar-coat it. This drama does not make any pretence to be the usual feel-good story that most Asian dramas tend to be, but rather ventures into some very dark and unknown territory. The result is a drama that is intellectually captivating and really throws up some interesting and deep questions about the society we live it and the norms that have been inculcated in us since young. Does the pressure to conform to society take precedence over love? Is age really that much of a barrier? Are we really living our lives according to how we want to live them or how others want us to live them? As the title suggests, the themes and imagery of tasting the forbidden and of witchery gives the story a very dark and gloomy background, reminiscent of the age of the Inquisition in Europe prior to the Enlightenment. So be warned, this drama is definitely not for those looking for a light-hearted drama to enjoy. There are rarely any bright moments throughout the show.

Synopsis (contains minor spoilers!):
Matsushima Nanako plays Hirose Michi, a young and pretty high school teacher math teacher who has managed to get to where she is despite her young age. She is engaged to a middle-class office worker and lives with her parents; her father being a man of great stature and influence in society and her mother a happy housewife. Takizawa Hideaki is her new student Kurosawa Hikaru, the son of a widowed hospital director with a chequered past who has only recently transferred to Michi’s class after being kicked out from his previous school. Michi, being young and idealistic, tries to be the good teacher (or GTO) and makes it her aim to reform him.

So everything so far seems bright and rosy for Michi? Well, not quite. We soon learn from another of her students, the introverted ice lady Jun, that Michi is actually quite the laughing stock in school, getting her current job only because of her father’s connections and being adored by her students more for her looks than her actual ability to teach. As the story progresses, we find that Michi does not really love her fiancé and is greatly dissatisfied with the uniformity of her life and the fact that everything she has ever done is only what her domineering father wants her to do. In Hikaru she eventually finds a kindred spirit, someone who is equally scornful of the constraints of society and openly rebellious against them. His rebellious nature arouses her innocent curiosity and starts a chain of events that will entirely change her existence. She shoplifts, goes on late night rides on Hikaru’s motorcycle and eventually does the unthinkable by spending a night with Hikaru in the school library. Eventually, her relationship with Hikaru is exposed and this compels her to run away with Hikaru, abandoning all she has ever had, with the law and the couple’s respective families on their tail due to her having an illegal relationship with Hikaru, who is a minor. Things become even more complicated when Michi soon discovers she is carrying Hikaru’s child.

There are very few bright spots during this escape, with Michi’s best friend betraying her trust, her fiancé ruthlessly hunting her down and Hikaru’s over-protective mother pulling strings behind the scenes. However, some bright spots include Jun becoming touched by her teacher’s courage in pursuing her love instead of hiding behind any pretence and Hikaru’s uncle providing a moment of shelter and peace amid the chaos. I won’t spoil the ending for you except to say that it is a very bitter-sweet one.

Plus points:
I have always admired Matsushima Nanako as an actress because she has great screen presence. I must say she was very brave in picking this role, especially since her character breaks almost every major rule of society. Her portrayal as a mature yet lost adult is very convincing and you can see the moral conflict raging inside her as she comes to terms with her love for Hikaru. She gives a very compelling performance and you really feel for her and wish that somehow her relationship with Hikaru will work out.

Takizawa Hideaki is also an excellent choice for his role. Hikaru is arguably the main character of the show, even more vital than Michi’s because despite everything that Michi goes through, it is eventually Hikaru’s life and outlook which are being moulded and changed by the events that are happening. Takizawa Hideaki is very convincing at the start as a rebellious youth who eventually feels the weight of society bearing down on him. As he and Michi become closer and with her carrying his child, the responsibility on his shoulders becomes even larger, with him having to think of a way to eventually provide for her. His rebelliousness is replaced with a certain maturity which Takizawa Hideaki successfully conveys.

The supporting cast all have important roles to play in the drama, with each of them integral to the development of the plot and with some of them even having subplots of their own. For example, we soon learn in the course of the drama that Michi’s mother never married out of love and in fact had to give up a budding piano career for her marriage. All these little things make the characters very real and strong performances from the supporting cast certainly enhanced the entire drama.

The plot has to be the strongest point of the show and personally, I really enjoyed the many intellectual titbits woven into it. There is a lot of strong imagery used, for example the appreciation by Hikaru of Michelangelo’s painting ‘The Creation of Adam’. The act of God’s and Adam’s fingers touching, as depicted in the painting, represents the ideal world that Hikaru envisions, in which there are no barriers and strata in society and he can connect to Michi like God and Adam do in the painting. Another strong imagery used is that of the wearing of marriage rings, which goes back to an old superstition that there is a devil on the left side of a woman and that the man has to put a ring on the woman’s left hand to keep a hold on her. Very early in the show, Michi for various reasons keeps forgetting to wear her engagement ring and eventually wears the ring that Hikaru gets for her. There is more of such imagery scattered throughout the story and I’m sure many people with greater intellectual ability will be able to spot more. The nature of the themes explored also ensures that the plot is definitely much deeper and carries more substance than other dramas, and that makes for a very compelling story. Very well conveyed as well is the vast difference between the ideal world that Hikaru and Michi dream of and yearn for, and the harsh realities of the world in which they live and eventually become trapped.

Oh yes, having a very good theme song, ‘First Love’ by Utada Hikaru also helps.

Drawbacks:
The strongpoint of the show is also probably its greatest drawback. The theme of a teacher having a relationship with her student is certainly something that some may find hard to stomach, and the gloomy and dark atmosphere may not be to everyone’s taste. Just bear in mind that to truly appreciate this drama, one must watch it with an open mind. The drama is really meant to make the viewer think and question, quite like what the great thinkers of the Enlightenment did in challenging the social norms of their day. Remember that our society now is very much different from back then and would likely be as good as heresy to the eyes of the majority of the society of those days. Many of those thinkers whom we now regard as great visionaries were subjected to witch hunts, and the story of Michi and Hikaru is very much a modern witch hunt. However, due to the deep nature of the plot, those who are looking for something more light-hearted might want to give this drama a miss.

Conclusion:
For me, this drama is a classic and more than deserving of the 5-star rating I am giving it. There is no other show daring enough to explore the controversial issues the way it did. Those concerned that the drama might have occult themes of witchcraft, as suggested by the title, need not worry. The imagery of the witch is only used to depict Michi’s ‘deviant’ ideology and her being hunted for it. However, the themes explored certainly are not children material and parents might want to take note. There is really too much stuff for me to include in this short little review and people might want to check the link at the top for the episode guides to have a more in-depth idea of what the drama encompasses. All I can say is, watch this show with an open mind and you will really enjoy it. To finish off, let me just give you some food for thought. In our modern society that preaches freedom, equality and enlightened thinking, are we really that free, equal and open-minded?


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