Amachan / あまちゃん (2013)
[156 episodes, approx. 15 mins each]
Directors: Tsuyoshi Inoue, Teruyuki Yoshida, Toki Kajiwara
Writer: Kankuro Kudo
Cast: Rena Nonen, Kyoko Koizumi, Nobuko Miyamoto, Ai Hashimoto
This is an asadora (aka morning drama). I’m not familiar with these and this is the first one I’ve watched. Although there are a lot of episodes, each episode is only 15 minutes and airs 6 days a week. The six episodes in a week all have the same title so they kinda form a larger 1.5 hour episode. In terms of total running time, you’re essentially looking at the equivalent of about 2 seasons of American TV of 20 episodes each, more or less.
Amachan stars Rena Nonen. It was apparently her breakout role although I first saw her in one of her later works, a live action film adaptation of Princess Jellyfish in 2014. It was her last movie before she mysteriously disappeared from the entertainment world. Very little info can be found about it but it seems likely that leaving her agency resulted in her being blacklisted from TV and film. She only recently returned in the last few years under a new stage name “Non”. She released some music and there is an “I am Non” youtube series about her making a film. In early 2020, she starred in a new movie, Stardust Over the Town. Her long absence was so disappointing but she’s still young and hopefully she’ll continue to get more movie and TV work.
I thought Nouen was great in Princess Jellyfish and seeing her in Amachan only reinforces my appreciation of her. She’s great as the plucky heroine and portrays a wide range of emotions. She exudes so much nervous charm and also has a very sly laugh. Overall, she is irresistibly cute.
This asadora is roughly split into two parts. The first part which is close to half the episodes is spent in the small seaside town of Sodegahama, which is known for its female divers who fish for sea urchin. Nonen plays Aki who moves with her mom to this small town from Tokyo. She is initially shy and closed off, having not enjoyed her upbringing in Tokyo but she gradually opens up when she meets her grandmother for the first time. Her grandmother is a diver who collects sea urchins to sell. Soon Aki falls in love with diving and is taught by her grandmother and fellow divers. Aki also makes a best friend in town, Yui, who dreams of going to Tokyo and becoming an idol.
The first part, which consists of 72 episodes was extremely enjoyable. It’s quite funny at times and there are some emotional moments as well. Kyoko Koizumi (Tokyo Sonata) as Aki’s mom, Haruko, is great as her strict mother who is dealing with her own issues with her mom. The grandmother, Natsu-babba, portrayed by Nobuko Miyamoto (Tampopo), can be absolutely hysterical. There’s also great interaction between Aki and her best friend Yui, portrayed by Ai Hashimoto.
Ryuhei Matsuda and Sota Fukushi are also in this. The rest of the cast is also good. Some of the acting is a bit exaggerated but it’s all done in good spirit. It will also likely get tiresome hearing “jejeje” so frequently. It is said by the locals to express surprise and Amachan uses it a lot too.
The series also has a very good soundtrack by Yoshihide Otomo. I wasn’t familiar with him at all but he’s a well known composer and musician. My favorite track is kikyuu (希求), which means longing and is often played during scenes where characters are sad or regretful. Of course, there’s the unforgettable and nostalgic song Shiosai No Memori (潮騒のメモリ) sung by Kyoko Koizumi (first video in this post). It’s great but I think I prefer the version sung by Hiroko Yakushimaru.
There were a couple of changes to the lyrics near the end.
三途の川の was changed to: 三代前から
友達少ない was changed to: 親譲りの
The second part of the series shifts to Tokyo and although I still enjoyed it, I feel like it ends up glorifying Aki a bit too much as someone who can essentially do anything and succeed. In the idol group she’s placed in she somehow becomes admired by everyone in the group without any development. As a side note, I was surprised to find out Mayu Matsuoka (Shoplifters) was the actress who played one of the members. It’s a pretty small role so nothing that hints at some of the great work she would do later on but it’s interesting to note. Then there’s the older actress named Hiromi Suzuka, played by Hiroko Yakushimaru, who takes a liking to Aki again somewhat randomly (but again fortuitous for Aki) and hires her as her assistant. Arguably the best thing about this second part is that it reveals Aki’s mother’s past.
In the end, I’m not sure what overall message the series is trying to send, especially with the decision to shift to the idol stuff. My initial takeaway is that the only way to attract tourists to a remote region is to have a pretty and perky idol to promote it because apparently nobody will visit any tourist attraction if there are no beautiful women / girls there.
The first part is definitely a recommended watch.