Sunday, January 23, 2011

Review: Majo no Jouken 魔女の条件 - First Love Never Dies *Spoilers*

An evil girlfriend recently passed me the DVD set for "Majo no Jouken", one of the hottest and most controversial J-dramas ever to cross our TV screens. A drama that is more than a decade old (it debuted in 1999), it brings back a lot of fond memories for many of us, unless you were an infant or ovum then. In fact, the iconic title song by Hikaru Utada, "First Love" is probably the first thing that comes to mind, and the song still sends shivers down my spine every time it plays on my iPad. (The evil girlfriend and I have been belting  "First Love" in a couple of karaoke sessions in the last few months.)

J-dramas have never been my thing - I'll be the first to confess that Korean dramas with their over-the-top (and often convoluted) story lines and drop dead gorgeous actors are super addictive. On the other hand, J-dramas often have straight-to-the-point plots (normally 10 episodes max), the occasional yummy actors (Matsuharu Fukuyama hear me roar) and of course, my beloved Takuya Kimura (duh!). Not that the Japanese don't have great stories, mind you. Most great shows like "Itazura Na Kiss" and "Boys Over Flowers" are of Japanese origin, but their neighbours - the Koreans and Taiwanese, executed these dramas better.

To be honest, I did not pay much attention when "Majo no Jouken" came out in 1999. I was in the deep throes of my own first love (with the Samurai of course!), so I did not care about watching reel love - and a very depressing one at that. However, I did remember watching snippets of the drama, since Matsushima Nanako was about the hottest thing in Japan at that time (after "The Ring") and I most DEFINITELY remembered Utada's haunting song and positively loving it.

About 2 or 3 years ago, a colleague was raving about it non-stop, claiming it was one of the best dramas he ever watched and asking why I wasn't gaga over Takizawa Hideaki (or "Tackey" for short). By this time, it was a breeze to watch dramas online, and so we did (at the workplace, no less). I think we completed the 11-episode drama in a record two days - I was totally, completely engrossed.

In a nutshell, the story was about the forbidden love between a teacher, Michi (Nanako) and a student, Hikaru (Tackey). Besides being separated by a huge age gap of 9 years, their relationship is a totally taboo thing in our conservative Asian society. Props to the director for not treating the subject with kids gloves - the couple was shown to develop a sexual relationship and Michi even became pregnant as a result! Not surprsingly, society came down very hard on them, with almost disastrous consequences.

I consider myself a very liberal person in my views towards life. But I have got to admit I was perturbed and more than a little uncomfortable watching as their relationship progressed, almost like watching an inevitable train wreck happening. Since the actors themselves were of the same age as their characters, the age difference was clearly visible, hence the audience would not be able to sweep all under the carpet by saying that Hikaru was mature for his age therefore making their relationship more acceptable in their eyes. In addition, Michi was also taller than him! (Which made me question myself: Would I go out with a shorter guy? Answer: If he looked like Tackey.)

Nanako deserved all the applause for daring to play Michi and not making her look like an outright paedophile who was taking advantage of a troubled teenager. It was obvious from the start that Michi was a sexually mature woman (since she was already sleeping with her fiancée in the first episode), and the scene where Michi and Hikaru made love in the library showed more sexual aggression on Michi's part. Despite this, the audience could also feel Michi's pain at her restricted life and her desire to be free, and understand the reason why she was so attracted to Hikaru and eventually believed herself to be totally in love with him. This made it difficult for the audience (and me) to condemn her actions outright.

And thankfully for Michi (and Nanako), the other characters in the drama were equally dysfunctional and detestable. Hikaru's obsessive mother with the "Momzilla" complex was even more frightening than Michi's desire for Hikaru. Michi's controlling dad could also spawn a new class of "Dadzillas", her bitchy and backstabbing "best" friend was so irritating you could slap her, and her estranged fiancée was so lacking in charm you could totally understand why she was willing to throw her reputation and family away to be in the arms of a much younger (and hotter) man.

Obviously for such a depressing drama (there were honestly few light hearted moments), there could be no happy ending since there was no way in hell society could accept the two of them. The main point of contention between my evil girlfriend and I was our interpretation of the ending. Michi, following a dangerous miscarriage, lapsed into a coma. The ending showed her opening her eyes and smiling at Hikaru, but  in my negative point of view, it was likely she died and that was her spirit smiling at him and/or it was only in his imagination that she woke up. Of course, my girlfriend chose to believe in the happy ending.

What would this post be without a paragraph on the delicious Tackey as the brooding Hikaru dealing with all the maniac older women in his life? He was about the most yummy-licious 17 year old then. I was laughing when I read in another blog post that if the writer was in Michi's shoes, she would also totally launch herself at Hikaru, 9 year age gap or not. I CONCUR. With his trembling luscious lips, soulful puppy eyes and young bouncy skin, how could one resist?!?!? Although I must confess that my desire dampened somewhat when he undressed and his body was just skin and bones. You need some meat to caress on, man. Really.

In conclusion, this is one great show for keeps, whether or not you approve of the morals (I believe she should have waited for his graduation before jumping on his bones!). A well told tale, but nothing to laugh about.

A disturbing but compelling love

The million dollar question: Did she wake up or did she die?

Mmmmmm, Come to Mama......

P.S. Samurai T has been watching the series with me - equally addicted and, as an educator, most disturbed by  the developing teacher-student relationship.

Come, let us reminisce the old times once again with our "First Love"........

This is a very good fan-made video. Unfortunately I cannot find one with Utada's song in it!

But how can I end the post without the song? So here is the MV. :D


sava kaladze said...

Hi. Nice to read your review about Majo No Jouken. I first watched this dorama when i was still in the college(that would be around 10 years ago). I watched again sevaral times and still made me shivers. Few nights ago I watched it again and still made me crying.
I myself an educator, and won't have the guts to do the same with her(throwing her life for her student), but watching her did the things that she believed, tried to endure all the pain together with him, that what make me love this dorama. Movie is some kind a things that comes to reality, though perhaps it just in your imagination. So..I hope it's a happy ending(after throwing too many tears...mine hahaha)

once more, it's a must see dorama :)

Anonymous said...

Actually, I just watched the drama, last night (after 14 years) cause it got me intrigue.
I can say that it is a beautiful dorama, I love it. There's a lot of lesson you can learn (not just your simple drama/love story) and most especially... a tear-jerking one, I can't help it while watching. (Oh my gawd, my eyes.) XD

I like the ambiguous ending, but I want to believe myself that it is a happy ending, after the pain and hardship, they deserve it.

So classic.