Intro to Japanese Drama: Buzzer Beat
August 24, 2009
A TV station in Los Angeles showed J-Dramas (or maybe K-Dramas, the Korean equivalent, I couldn’t read the subtitles) about once a week, usually on Friday. Being a shut-in who also happened to get bored of the other programming super quickly, I frequently ended up watching said shows because they were something different. Plus, I totally matched up “Mogwai Fear Satan” to one drama and it worked (OMG both the music and actions on-screen are getting slightly more intense!). And yes, I didn’t do drugs, just happened to be a big loser.
Big-old loser me did pick-up on one important lesson though – J-Dramas absolutely sucked. They are basically the Asian soap opera, except instead of going back in time and having affairs with Abraham Lincoln they all just sat around shaming their families. Boring. I eventually stopped watching because even I have my limits.
Unsurprisingly, now that I’m in Japan, I can’t escape J-Dramas. One such program seems to be TV every minute of the day. If you somehow don’t notice that your favorite samurai love drama is on, commercials pop up plenty to remind you. The situation is so bad J-Drama actors appear in other TV shows…well, mostly talk shows , game shows and those strange variety shows where celebs watch various videos and react to them in a tiny box in the corners of the screen (uhhhhh, YouTube it). The public here can’t get enough of these shows…or, more accurately, the people on them. The audiences for these interview shows with J-Drama stars (mostly men) tend to be almost entirely female.
Since they don’t show cartoons 24-hours-a-day, I sometimes find myself watching J-Drama. Not much has changed since the LA station days. There are two dominant genres of J-Drama: the ones that happened 500 years ago, and the ones set in modern times. The prior capitalizes on Japan’s fondness for their own history, setting the show back in the Tokugawa Period when everyone wore robes and toupees. These programs are always terribly boring. The other dominant type of drama, set in the now, replaces the exchange of scrolls for SMS, but retains all the boringness. Both genres deal mostly with romantic plots, which follow your usual American soap opera trajectory. So, bland and terribly unrealistic.
(Some dramas dabble in something else – insane action. One show on every Sunday here follows the adventures of a businessman who doesn’t just see action in the office…he also gets in street fights, high speed chases and karate showdowns. One episode saw his entire house explode. I think this show is supposed to do to businessmen what that recent Russell Crowe movie did for journalists – make the job look high-octane and constantly interesting when, in fact, 95 percent of the time it’s boredom. Important, but boring.)
Basically, I think all J-Dramas suck and try my best to avoid them…save for one, which I now watch on a regular basis and actually wait all Monday to come on. It’s not good, oh lord no, but there is something very perverse about it. It’s like watching someone you love being bitten by a mosquito, and as they lose blood they slowly lose every attribute you appreciated in them until they are but a shell of their former self.
Say hello to Buzzer Beat!
Buzzer Beat merges the world of J-Drama with professional basketball, to hypnotically turgid results. I first heard about the show in America, actually, after my favorite basketball blog Free Darko posted the opening theme on their Twitter, noting how over-the-top said theme (featured above) was. And boy, are they dead on. Once you get past the eye-destroying uniforms and ball colors, try to catch every sports cliché jammed into this thing.
When I spotted those goofy pink unis again, this time on my TV set here in Nabari, I knew I had to watch. And I did…and haven’t turned back since. I can’t pinpoint the exact reason I watch this on a weekly basis…it isn’t because I understand what’s going on, or because of any good storylines. Speaking of, let me try to share the plot with you…I’m basing this off of DramaWiki dot com (no Wikipedia page exists for this show eep) so bear with me:
The protagonist , Kamiya Naoki, plays for a pro team clearly cursed with color blindness. He “is unable to show his true skills on the court” because he isn’t the biggest baller and he “cracks under pressure.” I wonder if these problems will manifest themselves in his personal life as well??? He also wears a pink shirt that says “Anaheim” on it. Elsewhere, we have Shirakawa Riko, a recent music school graduate. She one day stumbles upon Naoki’s lost cell phone, and the two become friends and eventually love interests. But wait! Naoki’s already got a GF (a cheerleader! You aren’t supposed to do that! Didn’t they teach you anything at the player’s union???) and he was thinking of marrying her. Man, having to choose between two beautiful women all while being a professional basketball player…what a relatable character. Also, there are a bunch of other people with problems.
This plot, coupled with title episode gems like “The Power of Love Makes People Stronger! A Heron on the Brink of Activation! First Quarter Special Program,” couldn’t do more to push me away. But I’m not the target audience for this show…Buzzer Beat is geared towards the young girl out there who wishes she could find some pro athletes phone on the bus. This Riko lady is a stand-in for every common girl who will never fall in love with a celebrity but knows if they just had a chance to share who they are with them, they could be happy together forever. It’s one of the oldest tricks in the TV book, and it’s obviously not aimed at me.
The reason I watch this show is closer to the reason I watch Greek, another semi-embarrassing program back in the States. Greek started up while I was just about to begin my junior year of college. College was my life, and here was a show depicting everything I knew! How could I not watch, compare and contrast? Buzzer Beat holds the same allure, but with basketball. I really like basketball – I love watching it and it’s one of the few sports I’m actually not horrid at when I play it. Plus, the chance to see how a very non-ballin’ country like Japan handles the sport intrigues me.
Unfortunately, Buzzer Beat barely focuses on the topic of basketball. It barely even features any basketball at all. They played one game (the one featured in the opening sequence, so they fit everything interesting that can happen in a basketball game save a riot into one ten-minute sequence) and went to what appears to be a training facility in the mountains. But they mostly just dribble a ball before staring sadly into a cell phone to see what twist their relationships have taken next. I thought Kobe Bryant walked in at one point, but it turned out to be a taller, bulkier guy who just dunks the ball a lot. Naoki owns a Reggie Miller poster, the only NBA reference I’ve seen outside of Air Jordan shoes and what appears to be 2002 All-Star game jersey, but that seems like the first thing the set crew could find at the recycle shop.
I’m writing this while watching this week’s new episode. There has literally been two-minutes total of basketball action. A pick-up game. You can see a banner that says “Born to Ball” hanging above the players but it seems like they were really meant to look pretty and emote. Otherwise, the only other sorta sports reference came with a close-up of a Nike shoe, right before the main character hurt his toe.
I’m going to keep watching Buzzer Beat, because 1.) there is nothing else on and 2.) I’m guessing by the whole “training camp” thing they got going there might be an actual season of basketball eventually. But this show’s on thinner ice than Greek was ever on. That show eventually hooked me because of surprisingly interesting storylines and likeable characters. I’m just hoping someone does a pick-and-roll at some point in this show. If they do, I’m sure to write about it.
On the plus side. I still got the sound tracking thing down. During a very intense Buzzer Beat scene where do characters were having problems with their relationship, The-Dream song where he goes “Instead of loving you, I was making it rain!” came on and matched up perfectly.
(Japan Fun Fact #8: T-Shirt spotting of the day – some 13-year-old sporting “A Tribe Called Quest” tee. That kid is either all kinds of cool or dumb.)