I don't really know where to begin with this, honestly. I'm at a loss for words, but I want to properly set my emotions straight by writing, as I usually do when I was a teen and actively used my LiveJournal and Tumblr. I also want to use this space as a proper tribute. A way to remember her by, and giving her a proper send off by giving her work the attention she deserves. (not that my writing has much influence anyway haha)
If you don't know what I'm talking about, Japanese actress Takeuchi Yuko (40) had passed away this past Sunday (9/27).
She is one of my favourite Japanese actresses. She's been one of my favourite actresses for a long time.
But truth be told, it hadn't always been this way.
My first encounter with Takeuchi Yuko's acting was PRIDE. I was going down the rabbit hole of all things Kimura Takuya jdramas at the time, and she had happened to be in one of his dramas. Truthfully, I hadn't seen much in her at the time. The drama was good. She was fine. Many people raved about her charm, and I simply didn't see it at the time. Dare I say it, she looked rather plain.
It was years later before I took to another jdrama she was lead in. Lunch no Joo. At the time, I had run out of jdramas to watch and I thought I would at least give her one more chance. Besides, Tsumabuki Satoshi was in it. What could possible go wrong?
Other than Dead-Fish-Eye "Yamapi" (Yamashita Tomohisa; yes his acting is a piece of sh*t - fight me!) being the only thing that was clearly wrong, there was nothing. I started seeing Takeuchi Yuko in a different light. I wanted to see more.
So I went on one of my infamous jdrama rabbit holes with Yuko:
Mukodono (t'was ok).
Shiro Kage (there's Nakai in it).
Fukigen no Gene (don't remember much of it).
Gakkou no Sensei (I know I watched this, but ???).
Bara no Nai Hanaya (I love SMAP's Shingo, but good god this was shit...).
Egao no Hosoku (also ??? but eh...).
Natsu no Koi wa Nijiiro ni Kagayaku (so many Arashi fans raved about this one and it was ok, but meh).
Yes, I wasn't impressed with the story of the dramas I had all watched, but there was no doubt that she had a way with her audiences. She was charming, and with all the dramas she was in, once she had your attention - she had a way of grabbing hold of you.
Just like she did with the next one.
And did she ever catch me... off guard.
As I was finishing my binge, I knew a new drama of her was just about finishing in Japan. I hadn't watched it yet. I was just about finishing off University and working full time, so time was limited. But I knew I needed to watch it.
It was called...."Strawberry Night".
I hadn't known it at the time, but spoiler alert: it became one of my all time favourite Japanese dramas. Think of the rest of this post as a plug if you will, but I mostly want to explain why I feel this drama is so important in this day and age - and also as a way to appreciate one of many Yuko's work, to remember her by.
(there may be spoilers ahead, but I will try not to spoil the story)
What is Strawberry Night?
Strawberry Night is best known by its Japanese drama, followed by a movie (and a 2nd season of the drama, though we don't need to talk about it because it's pretty bad). But its origins is from a novel written by Honda Tetsuya, a detective/crime novelist. It also has a short manga, and a TV drama special episode - which led to the full drama itself.
The story follows a young female detective - Himekawa Reiko (played by Takeuchi Yuko), and her team, solving rather simple but sometimes bizarre cases in central Tokyo.
What's there to talk about?
I had watched Strawberry Night the first time before coming to Japan. I started reading the translated novel in Chinese just as I was moving here. For me then, this story was important because it wasn't only just another drama about crime. It was about a young woman, trying to fight her past - and her inner demons. And I thought it was such a strong, powerful piece that displays this constant fighting. Not just with herself, but also with her family who is clearly trying not letting her get over her past under the guise of "protecting her".
As an only child raised in an Asian household, this was a narrative I understood. Not completely, but I understood too well the struggle of being suffocated by overprotective parents. Not being taken seriously because mental health is seen as something of a "weakness" and "problematic" by Asian people in my parents' generation.
However, after rewatching it a 2nd and 3rd time, I realized there was a theme that runs much deeper. A theme that runs into the depth of Japanese society, and one you might have caught, but not understand completely.
Japan's patriarchal society.
Not only was the main character fighting her own demons, she was fighting a society where women don't often hold positions of power. Especially in a job where it's "male-centric", a female detective in power is almost unheard of. Left, right and center throughout the drama, Himekawa's position is ridiculed and challenged by her male colleagues. When not challenged, there are clearly lots of deep-seeded ideas on what a woman's role in Japanese society should be.
Like in this scene in episode 4, for example. Himekawa's new subordinate, Hayama, expressing and trying to work out why he hasn't opened up to his new teammates. I think it sums up very well what other (male) characters are thinking, but not saying.
And I think this is particularly what makes this drama so powerful in this day and age. Not only is the story trying to highlight personal challenges, but also societal challenges that people don't often talk about. Especially when many Japanese people don't have a habit of talking about these issues openly, a drama is sometimes one of the few ways that allows for these kinds of conversations to happen.
I suspect these issues will probably be glossed over but Japanese, since as I said, most people don't tend to talk or discuss these kinds of things openly (let alone think about them). But as foreign audiences, I think dramas like Strawberry Night is a window into Japanese society and how it's like. It's sexist, absolutely. But I think this drama outlines this in probably the least offensive ways possible.
And that's probably why I think you should watch it. If you haven't already.
I don't often get analytical over things I watch, mostly because I think there are some things in life that aren't meant to be enjoyed that way. But I do think Strawberry Night has somewhat of a dual purpose - for understanding, and for enjoyment. Thus why I approached this post more analytically than I usually do.
The enjoyment of it is purely for the story, and the cases. I actually really enjoyed the cases in the story. They are rather well thought out, well-explained and plain - but in a good way. Some of the cases make it pretty obvious who the perp ends up being, but the logical explanation getting there is the most enjoyable for me.
What else? Hm....
The music. This drama doesn't have a theme song, but it has an OST. I love it. Sure, it gets repetitive by the end, but I honestly can't say I get tired of hearing it. The music invokes so many emotions just by hearing it along with the drama scenes. I think that's what makes it so enjoyable and memorable for me.
Then of course, like with lots of Japanese dramas about "teams" - the cohesion and relationship between Himekawa and her subordinates. Particularly the relationship between Kikuta (played by Nishijima Hidetoshi) and Himekawa. Don't read this following link until you've watched the drama, but let's just say this ship is quite popular amongst fans - and this blog post mirrors my exact thoughts on them.
Lastly, the entire reason I wrote out this blog post in the first place.
Strawberry Night definitely allowed Takeuchi Yuko to perform at her best. This drama required the person who acts as Himekawa to show raw emotions through expressions and actions. I thought she not only did that exceptionally, but she made it look so easy and natural. You can tell that there was a lot of thought put into portraying this character, and well... she is Himekawa Reiko. That's how powerful her performance is.
Despite how I midway through this blog said that I really don't remember much of her other dramas, there's always a few things I remember:
Her smile. Her elegance in her roles. Her expressive eyes.
There are times where I do think she is forced to overact for comedic purposes, which is something I don't enjoy much in Japanese drama, but that's not something the audience should fault her for. I only hope that she will continue to be remembered for all the good she's contributed to in Japanese drama, Japanese movies and other Japanese media she might have been involved in.
Rest in Peace, Yuko. I hope you've found the peace you were looking for.
I miss you already.