Buzzer Beat

October 3, 2009

This summer season has been fairly busy for me. I’ve had a lot of things taking up my time. As a result, my viewing of new Japanese TV goodies was pretty light. One show I did make time for, however, was “Buzzer Beat”.

Initially, I wasn’t sure I was going to watch it. When I pulled up its info on the D-Addicts Wiki, what leapt out at me is that this was a show about a basketball team with neon pink uniforms. Since I have little interest in basketball, especially in such an obnoxious color scheme, I thought I might take a pass on it. On closer inspection though, there were three reasons why I decided I had to see this show, which I will now enumerate:

1. Yamashita Tomohisa
2. Kitagawa Keiko
3. Aibu Saki

Yamashita Tomohisa was one of the first actors I noticed when I began watching JDramas. While he’s unlikely to show up on any lists of the greatest 21st century actors, he has a sort of subtle goofiness about him that makes his characters very entertaining. In 2007’s “Proposal Daisakusen”, he played a character who was completely clueless in how to deal with women. His performance must have been good, as I was simultaneously rooting for him, and falling off the sofa yelling at him for being such a blockhead. He brings a similar sort of aloof cluelessness to “Buzzer Beat” in its lead character Kamiya Naoki.

Kitagawa Keiko dates back with me even farther than Yamashita. Kitagawa had a main role in the very first live action Japanese TV series I ever watched: Pretty Guardian Sailormoon. “PGSM” as it’s commonly called was a 2003 adaptation of the 90’s manga and anime classic “Bishoujo Senshi Sailormoon”, successfully blending elements of the manga, the anime and original material into a pretty compelling story. Unfortunately, it was plagued by some middling to bad acting on the part of the central five actresses — with one exception. Kitagawa Keiko turned in a surprisingly competent performance as Sailor Mars, despite just having been plucked from the ranks of gravure idols (as were the other four). In a surprisingly wise move among idols, Keiko decided to attend college after the completion of the series rather than immediately pursue a celebrity career. Recently, she has returned to acting, doing a few movies before returning to TV with “Mop Girl” for which she won an award. In “Buzzer Beat”, she plays Shirakawa Riko.

Aibu Saki I first encountered in 2006’s “Attention Please” where she played a supporting role as the main character’s friend. Since then, I’ve seen her move up into larger roles and recently landing some leads in shows like “Zettai Kareshi” and “Utahime”. Saki typically plays very pure and innocent characters. However, in “Buzzer Beat”, her role as Nanami Natsuki allows her to play a woman who, while outwardly poised and well liked, secretly is spiteful and even vicious toward those she believes have wronged her. Saki handles the duality well, successfully acting like a good, upstanding person while simultaneously using subtle facial expressions to indicate her character’s true nature to the audience.

The story primarily follows Kamiya Naoki (Yamashita), a player for a Japanese pro basketball team called the JC ARCS. As the series begins, Naoki loses his cell phone on the bus, which is found by a young violinist named Shirakawa Riko (Kitagawa). The ARCS’ head coach, Kawasaki Tomoya (Ito Hideaki) comes to retrieve the phone, and also winds up arranging for a date with Riko. Naoki, meanwhile, asks his girlfriend and the ARCS’ head cheerleader Natsuki (Aibu) to marry him if they win the championship. However, the ARCS are quickly eliminated from the playoffs, where Naoki made a less than stellar performance.

As the off-season begins, Naoki is fully depressed. He heads to a local park to practice, where he finds a girl practicing her violin on the court. As it turns out, this is Riko, whose apartment neighbors the park. Riko is unaware that Naoki is the owner of the cell phone she had found earlier, but they have a pleasant conversation and begin a sort of friendship. Later, when Kawasaki brings Riko to one of the ARCS’ practices, she notices Naoki’s poor performance on the court. Without thinking, she disrupts the practice by yelling out to him, calling him an idiot. The unusual encouragement from Riko seems to rejuvenate Naoki, and he starts to play better. As they continue to encounter each other in the park, Naoki and Riko promise to chase their respective dreams of winning the championship and becoming a professional violinist.

Meanwhile, one of the ARCS’ new players, Yoyogi Ren (Kaneko Nobuaki), has his eye on Natsuki. He begins to appeal to a “bad” side he says he can see in her, and soon they begin an affair. After Naoki discovers them in the locker room, he breaks things off with Natsuki. Natsuki begins to show more and more of her vindictive side as she continues and on again/off again relationship with Yoyogi while also going out of her way to make Naoki more miserable. As Naoki and Riko begin to grow closer, things become more complicated when Natsuki begins to notice their relationship, as does Kawasaki who was quite in love with Riko despite her never feeling much spark for him.

“Buzzer Beat”, thankfully, manages to build its drama on character development with basketball merely as a background. This is good for me because the basketball is the least interesting aspect. What basketball scenes that do show up are well executed and exciting. However, the bulk of the story regards the evolution of the characters’ various relationships, the obstacles in the way of their various romances, and the sacrifices they have to make in order to chase their dreams. This is supported well by strong performances from the cast all around. I can’t really find fault with any of the actors. Some of the plot devices used were a little forced, but I can forgive that, as this is primarily a character driven story.

One thing I found interesting is that the show presents pro basketball in Japan as a very nascent industry, with pretty low attendance. They don’t even get their games broadcast on TV. Finding this odd, I checked, and indeed pro basketball in Japan is a relatively new thing. The unfortunately named BJ-League was formed only in 2005, currently featuring 13 teams, with 3 more to be added next year, and planned expansion to 24 by 2014. None of the teams are named the JC ARCS, however, and the real teams do get their games broadcast, albeit on satellite stations.

“Buzzer Beat” is overall a very good example of JDrama. It features a number of currently significant actors, and serves well to introduce someone to the overall structure and tone of its genre. Specifically, it’s a “renai renzoku” or “romance serial”, a very common format. Don’t let the word romance scare you off though, these shows feature typically strong writing, multiple types of plotlines and a good sense of humor that differentiate “renai renzoku” from the interminable soap operas your mother has been watching for 30 years. Also, Japanese prime time dramas (with a few exceptions) only last for one 13-week TV season, with the final episode count typically around 10-12. That makes the barrier for entry very low, since you never have to jump in halfway through a very long series. If you’re curious about modern JDrama, “Buzzer Beat” would not be a bad place to start.

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One Response to “Buzzer Beat”

  1. MsCadybb said

    Great post! I find myself nodding to many points that you mentioned about Buzzer Beat. Your comments are hilarious too! I have a lot of respect for Keiko’s acting and love Yamapi’s goofiness in his shows.

    When you have the chance, it’d be cool if you could check out my blog! I post a lot about dramas and I love jdramas too 🙂

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