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Best Japanese Dramas of 2015

Written by YumCha! Editorial Team Tell a Friend

We wrap up our television year-end lists with our picks for the ten best Japanese dramas of 2015!

Dakara Koya
On her 46th birthday, long-suffering housewife Tomomi (Suzuki Kyoka) finally reaches her wit's end with her unappreciative husband and sons' demeaning treatment. She walks out of her birthday dinner and drives off with no intentions of returning. Thus begins her journey into life's unknown "wasteland" in which she'll encounter both saviors and swindlers who open her eyes to the world and herself. Through the acquaintance of an elderly storyteller (Shinagawa Toru) who has dedicated his remaining days to sharing his painful memories of the Nagasaki bombing, she forges a new beginning for herself as well as her hikikomori son. Based on Natsuo Kirino's novel, this subtle and perceptive drama not only tells an affecting and relatable story about a woman's awakening, it also demonstrates the importance of telling stories and carrying forth historical memories to the next generation.

From Five to Nine
There's something undeniably commendable in a genuinely hilarious and entertaining romantic comedy, especially one that's created after the world collectively hit peak romcom in the mid-2000s. Fuji TV hit upon this increasingly rare triumph in its fall getsuku drama 5→9 -Watashi ni Koishita Obosan-. Based on a popular josei manga series that's been likened to a Japanese version of Sex and the City, the drama plays down the raunchier parts of its source material and ramps up the cuteness and laughs. Ishihara Satomi delivers a tour-de-force performance as the drama's heroine, creating a well-rounded, beautifully human protagonist who may not always be right, but who you can't help but cheer for. Playing her love interest is a fantastic Yamashita Tomohisa, who delivers some of the series' biggest laughs as a stoic, lovelorn monk.

I'm Home
Though the eerie sight of Ueto Aya and son with CGI masks sets the visual tone for an unsettling psychodrama mystery, I'm Home turns out to very much be a human drama about a man's journey back to himself. The man in question is Kimura Takuya as Ieji Hisashi, who wakes up from an accident with no memories of the last five years – during which time he remarried, had a child and became a cold, career-driven executive who alienated his family and acquaintances. Congenial present-day Hisashi, however, doesn't understand how that could be, or why his wife and son's faces are covered in masks in his eyes. Narratively framed around ten keys in his pocket, each of which leads him to a past person or memory, Hisashi gradually repieces his missing memories and comes to terms with who he is as a son, friend, husband and father. The scattering of suspense elements and corporate drama spices up an ultimately simple and engaging story about how a momentarily lost man reconnects with his family and himself. Those CGI masks never stop being creepy, though.

Okashi no Ie
You have to hand it to TBS. It's hard to come up with a more threadbare premise than this: Odagiri Joe runs his grandmother's struggling old-fashioned sweets shop located in a dusty alley, and sits around every day shooting the breeze with his equally stagnant friends. What's more, Ishii Yuya writes and directs in characteristically dry fashion. This brilliantly mundane slice-of-life late-night series punctuated with bouts of ridiculousness manages to be unassumingly heartwarming and hilarious in its depiction of a group of earnest non-go-getters who take it slow and quietly treasure the things that matter while unceremoniously carrying on a small neighborhood way of life that is fast being displaced. Sharing small yet meaningful stories in each episode, the series often feels a bit like Midnight Diner, only set during the daytime without food.

Okitegami Kyoko no Biboroku
NTV's detective comedy stars Aragaki Yui in the adorable title role of Okitagami Kyoko, a private detective whose memory resets every time she falls asleep. Okada Masaki is Yakusuke, a young man plagued by bad luck who often requires the services of Kyoko to clear his name. The mysteries are a mix bag of both typical and unusual cases that must be solved in one day, but the most intriguing puzzle is the heroine herself. What makes Okitegami so charming are the protagonists and how their conditions are not played simply for gimmick, but also as a springboard for discussing the value of living for today. Kyoko wholeheartedly devotes herself to each day, exactly because she won't remember any of it, while Yakusuke happily pines after a girl whom he has to constantly meet for the first time. Combined with the cheeky visual presentation, the series is bright, perky and full of laughs, and yet maintains an appropriately melancholic and suspenseful undertone.

Ryusei Wagon
Nishijima Hidetoshi and Kagawa Teruyuki have already faced off as competing moles and grudging partners in Double Face and Mozu. They take on an even more contentious relationship in the fantasy drama Ryusei Wagon – father and son. The ever worn-out-looking Nishijima plays a broken man who has lost his job, wife and all sense of hope. At his lowest point, a car pulls up and takes him back in time to different moments of his regretful life for the chance to make things right, but neither people nor fate change so easily. Along for the ride is the pugnacious father he has resented all his life, only now in sprightly, middle-aged form. Adapted from Shigematsu Kiyoshi's novel by Hanzawa Naoki screenwriter Yatsu Hiroyuki, Ryusei Wagon plays like a despondent, suspenseful version of Proposal Daisakusen with higher stakes and high-tension performances from the two leads. Kagawa, in particular, chews scenery like no tomorrow. Award-winning actor Yoshioka Hidetaka adds to the series' pedigree as the magical narrator/driver with his own set of regrets.

Shokuzai no Sonata
Renowned filmmaker Aoyama Shinji makes a rare jump to television to direct WOWOW TV's adaptation of Nakayama Shichiri's 2011 mystery novel Shokuzai no Sonata. On par with Aoyama's films, the four-episode series offers a dark examination of the human condition through the murky circumstances of a sensational murder case involving a woman accused of turning off her comatose husband's respirator. Mikami Hiroshi plays the notorious lawyer who volunteers to defend her, but he has a dark past of his own that comes back to haunt him as he digs further into the case and the role of the defendant's wheelchair-bound son, creepily played by Sometani Shota. Subtle yet unsettling, Shokuzai no Sonata gets under the skin with its presentation of the story through the perspective of a protagonist who is as tortured and reprehensible as the antagonist.

The body-switching comedy is nothing new, but Tamiou strikes gold by casting Endo Kenichi and Suda Masaki as the body-switching pair. Playing, respectively, a sharkish politician with long-buried ideals and his kind-hearted but meek son (and vice versa), Endo and Suda bring tremendous amounts of energy to their performances. Endo, in particular, is astoundingly convincing as an easily overwhelmed university student who must pose as Japan's Prime Minister. The drama gets great comedic mileage from the Endo-as-Suda characterization, as the older actor is well known for playing tough-guy types and yakuza bosses (as he does in Yamegoku). Sweet, touching and above all, hilarious, Tamiou is a great example of the body-switching comedy done right.

Yamegoku: Helpline Cop
Oshima Yuko stakes her claim as a leading lady to be reckoned with in Yamegoku. The former AKB48 member and first-time drama headliner turns in a very impressive performance in the crime-action-comedy drama, playing a poker-faced cop who helps yakuza members leave the criminal world with a combination of intellect and physical prowess. Joining her is the reliably fantastic Kitamura Kazuki, who serves as both comic relief and voice of conscience to Oshima's stoic, ruthless crimefighter. Police drama veteran Sakurai Takeharu's script ably balances suspense, humor and pathos, and gives us one of the most interesting J-Drama protagonists of the year in Oshima's ultra-capable policewoman with a serious anti-hero bend.

Yume wo Ataeru
Following last year's Gu Gu, The Cat, filmmaker Inudo Isshin directs another drama for WOWOW, but this one is decidedly darker. Based on Akutagawa Prize-winning writer Wataya Risa's novel, Yume wo Ataeru chronicles the rise and fall of a child star as she grows up in the public eye through a long-running CM series. Komatsu Nana, who made her debut splash last year in The World of Kanako, takes on another difficult role for her first TV series. As teenaged Yu-chan, she smiles brightly onscreen while struggling offscreen with loneliness, family strife and the pressure to remain popular in a cruelly competitive industry that promptly turns against her when her sex video gets leaked. Kikuchi Rinko is effective if underused as the mom manager whose possessiveness hurts those she loves, and Kaho stands out in a brief but memorable role as a struggling talent whose outward perkiness hides a tired soul.

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Published December 23, 2015

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  • Region & Language: Hong Kong United States - English
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