It has been a while since I have watched a Japanese drama (in fact Japan has had seriously short shrift from me this year, with no obvious reason), having of course concentrated on a handful of Korean classics. I really should address this failing, as I actually enjoy Japanese drama an awful lot, especially as the 11 episode nature makes it an easier process to watch than the 16 episodes (or more) of Korean Dramas. And this one – well it is fabulous.
The elevator pitch for “Jin” is as follows – Take the concept of the British Dramas “Life on Mars” and “Ashes to Ashes“, but make the hero a Doctor, and instead of playing with 1970’s and 80’s television police shows, zap him back to late Edo-era Japan.
This appeals to me in a couple of ways. Firstly, I do so love the concept of people adrift in time. Of any sci-fi concept, I think that is my favourite. Secondly, it deals with the History of Medicine, which is something I actually studied a long long time ago.
Minakata Jin (Osawa Takao) is a skilled Japanese neurosurgeon who is basically on a downward spiral. A couple of years ago he operated on his girlfriend (and student) Miki (Nakatani Miki) was suffering from a deadly brain disease, but it went wrong, leaving her in a coma. Since then, he has spent his career avoiding neurosurgery, instead just concentrating on the small tasks at the hospital, working very hard, but never taking the risks he was once associated with. Then one day a strange patient is bought to his attention, suffering a brain tumour that has a remarkable similarity to a rather well-formed foetus. The patient awakes, and attempts to escape with some medical supplied and the formaldehyde filled jar containing the tumour. Jin chases the man down, but then falls, only to find himself in late Edo-Japan. Events lead him to settling in this world, bringing his 21st century knowledge of medicine to this era – something which may be changing events in the future.
He is helped in his new life by a varied cast including: the Sister of the Samurai he saves in his first adventure, Saki (the beautiful Ayase Haruka), who is both fascinated by the medical world and Jin himself; Nokaze (Nakatani Miki), a senior Geisha who bears an uncanny resemblance to his comatose girlfriend; and the real-life historical figure of Sakamoto Ryoma (Uchino Masaaki).
I’ll be honest – I very nearly gave up on this. I found the first 20 minutes of the opening episode very hard to get into. I found the real world setting utterly un-engaging, and it took me a couple of attempts to struggle through (which seems to be a common issue for me!). However, once Jin has been transported back in the past I was hooked.
So why did I like it? Apart from the fact it was well acted, I think the story was multi-faceted. It happily examined interesting historical events (the issues with Japan at the time, the battle between Eastern and Western medicine, the status of the Geisha community), along with some quite tense medical scenes (which were actually on occasion rather graphic). The dual love story was well done, carefully avoiding the usual mawkishness. There are scenes of high tension and drama, along with some honestly hilarious moments.
But most of all, what I loved is that although Jin knew he was altering the future, the show did not go the route of those British Dramas – he rarely considered his experiences as a method of getting back to the present day. He was able to (although not without inner conflict) live up to his training and calling as a Doctor, despite his knowledge of what he might be doing.
Production values are actually top-notch, although you will notice actually only very few sets are used. But then the show is about the people, not the nit-picky details. Credit has to be given to Osawa Takao – his portrayal is not only likeable, but also utterly believable – which is vital for a show of this nature. If you don’t believe in your modern day anchor, then the show is doomed. Ayase Haruka plays to her strengths – stunningly beautiful yet completely reserved. The real star is Uchino Masaaki – its hard to believe this is the same man who was the uptight, driven coach from “Aim For The Ace”. This is a performance which is charismatic, humorous, inspiring, and down-right enjoyable. Now I am not totally aware of the characters historical significance (but my old friend Wikipedia helps), but I suspect the lack of reverence for the character is a little on the unusual side – but for this outsider, it was perfect.
Interestingly, this J-Drama is going to get a 2nd series this summer. Usually J-Drama’s are followed up with a movie or a special extended episode or two. It looks like this will really be the end of the show, so I am guessing we are going to get a conclusion to the story, rather than a revisit. Whatever happens, I am utterly looking forward to it – Highly recommended.