Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Tokujo Kabachi!

An assistant administrative scrivener fights for justice and learns about the harsh reality of what it takes to survive in the legal profession, in this episodic and farcical shigoto drama which comes equipped with legal trivia, sentimental babble and comic strip special effects, served in a law-made-easy format for viewers of all ages.

I'm afraid this is one of those dramas which can only be thoroughly enjoyed by fans of Sakurai Sho and Horikita Maki or else, best viewed when you have the time and energy to sit through a shigoto drama that doles out bite size pieces of the law as if it were a children's television  program. Basically, if you're an avid fan of the stars of this drama or someone who even has the slightest interest in learning about administrative scriveners in Japan and their standing in the legal profession, then watching this drama shouldn't hurt a bit. Who knows? You might even find it somewhat informative.

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Tokujo Kabachi! follows the story of a young man named Tamura Katsuhiro (Sakurai Sho) as he undergoes training and learns more about his chosen profession through his work at a scrivener's office. A native of Hiroshima, Tamura is in Tokyo to fulfill his dream of becoming a gyōsei shoshi, an administrative scrivener, or in common parlance, a solicitor, in hopes of being able to better serve the public. He's currently preparing for the upcoming licensure exams and is receiving instruction from the associates of the Ohno Administrative Solicitor['s] Office, where he's constantly being criticized for accepting jobs that essentially don't pay money. Tamura is a greenhorn, an idealistic one at that, he's the type who believes that the law exists to protect the weak and that legal professionals should always act in view of administering justice. As such, Tamura doesn't think twice about dispensing legal advice or lending a hand to anyone in need, foremost of which are his landlords, who would turn out to consult him about the darnedest things.

Acceding to another one of his landlord's requests, Tamura willingly handles a case which involves the collection of a sum of money. His client, a fruit vendor (Yoshida Eisaku), claims that his creditor (Taguchi Hiromasa) is suddenly asking for the immediate payment of the debt  in contravention of their verbal agreement to give him a grace period until the end of the year. The creditor, on the other hand, insists that he lent the money to his friend in good faith and didn't foresee the circumstances that would lead him to collect the money earlier than expected.

A meeting is held between the two parties and Tamura gets introduced to administrative scrivener, Sumiyoshi Misuzu (Horikita Maki), who came especially to  assist the other party. With the law on his side, Tamura comes off the said meeting victorious based on the creditor's admission that he verbally agreed to extend the terms of the loan.

Unable to admit defeat and knowing that her client really needed the money, Sumiyoshi devises a plan to countermand Tamura's position, taking the offensive by examining the accounts collectible by the fruit vendor and invoking her client's right to subrogation.

They then try to outwit, outplay and outlast each other, utilizing their knowledge of the law to their advantage because it's really a winner-take-all situation. Taking everything in consideration, Tamura has to muster all his strength and resolve to do whatever it takes to win his client's case and come up with a favorable solution. Calling to mind the showdown between legendary swordsmen Miyamoto Musashi and Sasaki Kojirō on the island of Ganryujima, Tamura and Sumiyoshi face off in another round of negotiations hoping to settle the case without going into litigation. Wielding their respective legal options like a weapon; Sumiyoshi comes on strong with a demand to pay the sum of money within two weeks while Tamura parries with a counter proposal to pay by installment. Trying to gauge each other's expressions, the two exchange scenarios as to how the whole thing will play out, until finally, Tamura delivers a decisive blow which leads Sumiyoshi to lose the case completely.

Of course, Tamura, being the softie that he is, isn't content with just winning the case for his client. He goes out of his way to make things right between the two parties who also happen to be the best of friends. Seeing this extra effort on the part of Tamura leaves Sumiyoshi rather intrigued with the workings of the Ohno Administrative Solicitor['s] Office. She decides to transfer offices to work alongside Tamura, where she's treated as his superior, having passed the licensure exams ahead of him.

So Tamura and Sumiyoshi form a tentative working relationship which later evolves into a genuine partnership based on mutual respect for each other's views and abilities. They don't always see eye to eye when it comes to handling their cases but the differences in their attitude towards work and temperament allow them to, more often than not, balance each other out-- he's impulsive and excitable, she's cool and analytical. He's down to earth and approachable, she's sassy and a bit unsociable.

They argue incessantly on how to go about things but stand united when confronted with a legal dilemma that they need to resolve, much more when faced with a common enemy. Sumiyoshi is shrewd and feisty but not above using her feminine wiles if need be. In some ways, she's more level-headed than her partner because she reacts to events in a subdued and practical manner unlike Tamura who's easy to anger. On the other hand, what Tamura brings to the relationship is his unbending sense of justice, his never-say-die resolve to assist people in need and his knack for spotting weak provisions in a contract, which makes exploiting loopholes in the law all the more easy. Together, they fight for truth, justice and the right to give common folks legal advice in conjunction to pushing the boundaries of what they're allowed to do under the legal system to the chagrin of  bar associations in Japan.

Tokujo Kabachi!  is basically your typical shigoto drama that features a doe-eyed upstart who's dealt a series of challenges in his line of work. It's not much different from other shows about the legal profession, except this time the spotlight is shined on administrative scriveners instead of lawyers, with the former being an area of expertise or a branch of the legal profession in Japan that's virtually unknown to people outside of the said country. From an academic point of view, what this drama does is indirectly raise questions as to what administrative scriveners are really permitted to do and what exactly is the scope of their functions. Furthermore, it  in part enforces the notion of the so-called glut that's expected to hit those engaged in the legal profession under the new law school  system.

As a drama, it's prone to show a limited depiction of the work done by scriveners, but what it does, to an equally limited extent, is to highlight an aspect of Japan's unique legal system. The fact that bengoshis don't have a monopoly over rendering legal services and that administrative scriveners merely constitute a small section of badge-wearing professionals that operate in specialized fields show how the "practice of law" is divided between lawyers and non-lawyers.  What makes it all interesting, when viewed in context, is that it's a system that's currently under evaluation as "legal specialists" like the gyōsei shoshi and shihō shoshi lobby for more rights to engage in activities that were once only reserved to the bengoshi. So with the ever increasing demand for legal services and the bengoshi commonly considered to be highly inaccessible and unaffordable, it's not surprising that these "specialists" eventually perform a much larger role in dispute settlement as they fill the gaps in the system, so to speak. So even though the material in this drama is based on a manga, it seems more likely that some specialists do go above and beyond what they're authorized by law to do, but then again, who's to say that there's not a lot of gray areas in the performance of their duties?

Exactly how much of Tokujo Kabachi! is fact and how much is fiction is hard to discern; everything about it has to be taken with a grain of salt and a certain level of circumspection. For one, it's hard to believe that these scriveners only charge clients for their documentation work and chalk everything else up pro bono. Two, without actual knowledge of the law, it's hard to determine the limits of their jurisdiction; there's really no way to tell the precise moment or manner in which the characters in the drama have overstepped their bounds. That the drama gained criticism from the Osaka Bar Association for having characters that  violated the Bengoshi Hō and the Hiben Katsudo hints at how much non-attorneys might have already infringed on activities that should have been handled by practicing attorneys. There apparently is cause for concern if a bar association resorts to calling out a drama of this sort, at best, it's symptomatic of the many problems that are present in their legal institution(s).

In terms of entertainment value, this television adaptation of the manga by Tajima Takashi defies categorization. It's a shigoto drama that contains all the fist-banging, idealistic fervor, righteous speech and heroic fanfare that can easily be found in any show about the legal profession, however, the execution thereof unevenly shuttles between the serious and the comedic; adapting a format that's stricken by a bipolar disorder for the purpose of appealing to a wide-range demographic.

Well aware of this drama's potential to put people to sleep, writer Nishiogi Yumie (Double Kitchen, Yan Papa) and directors Kato Arata (Orthros no Inu, Brother Beat, Stand Up!), Imai Natsuki and Kan Satoshi placed a concerted effort to keep the storyline for each episode fresh and amusing, incorporating cartoon-inspired special effects to make up for the sheer volume of legal terms and quibbling present in the series. To make sure that its audience paid attention, a contest was held every week wherein the stars of the drama promptly called a contestant on air to congratulate him/her for winning Tokujo Kabachi! giveaways and goodies. Erstwhile, useful snippets of the law applicable to humdrum events were given off as a pop quiz of sorts for those who cared enough to take notice.

The end result is a frivolous jdorama about the legal profession that alternately impresses and disappoints, with some episodes being stronger than others. It tries hard to maintain a light comedic tone on an ordinarily serious subject matter, which is why at times the use of animated special effects to emphasize the legal aspects of the story can try one's patience. The thoughts of the main characters are spelled out  for everyone to see; a scam artist gets struck by a thousand bolts of lightning; a cheating husband gets hit by a possible lawsuit as if it were a ton of bricks; a manager charged with retrenching people is Death collecting his victims; and a sneaky real estate agent gets frozen in a block of ice after hearing he has no right to evict a tenant without just cause and due notice-- these are but a few examples of the live action+animated sequences used in this series, which some might initially find overwhelming and later on decide to be annoying. What's great about it though is that when it works, it works beautifully. More importantly, the writer and directors have the good sense not to utilize this device on cases or issues that are particularly serious and sensitive.

To its credit, the people behind Tokujo Kabachi! did endeavor to capture the spirit of the law and the complexities that come with being engaged in the legal profession by once in a while giving Tamura a reality check, throwing in brief lessons on the nature of the adversarial system and a legal professional's duty to serve the interest of his client to the best of his abilities, before proceeding to paint a world where justice prevails and Tamura heads home with content smile on his face. They likewise highlighted the fact that Japan followed a civil law system in which the maxim  dura lex sed lex gets a friendlier spin as the audience is constantly reminded that  in life, there is no wrong or right answer; but under the law, there is a right answer.

The cases are very easy to follow, every term or legal proceeding mentioned in it is accompanied by a simple and concise explanation. The chances of stifling a yawn far outweighs the possibility of getting lost in translation-- it's carefully designed to lead the viewer by the hand to appreciate the legal solution. There's no danger of having a layman drown in legalese... dying of boredom is more like it. Since this drama is all about administrative scriveners and the nature of their work, the focus really is on the cases that they handle. They're not the sensational kind that one often sees in a courtroom drama but more the type of cases that a regular person would encounter on a day-to-day basis. For this purpose, Tokujo Kabachi! offers a good selection of civil, labor, real-estate and family law cases that are in part an offshoot of the ongoing recession; some,  even take a [shallow] stab at ongoing issues like the serious need  to enforce sexual harassment laws in the work place or the benefits of the proposed amendment to lower the age of majority from 20 to 18 and  why the same should coincide with the minimum age for marriage. There's probably much more to this drama that's best left to the inquisitive, but all things considered, this really is something that would best be appreciated by a person who's residing in Japan or someone who'll take an "armchair scholar" approach to viewing it.

The cast of this drama, starting from the leads, Sakurai Sho and Horikita Maki, turned in satisfactory performances but don't expect to be moved because almost all of the characters are two-dimensional creatures. Tamura and Sumiyoshi are all work and easy banter, and even though one eventually gets to learn what makes Tamura so dedicated to his work, Sumiyoshi, unfortunately, will forever remain a cipher. Luckily, Sakurai Sho's wholesome appeal and boy-next-door charm readily translates on screen, making Tamura a well-intentioned and likable character despite all those tight shots and sanctimonious dialogue that caps off every episode of the series. And while Horikita Maki's turn as Sumiyoshi appears to be more labored, as she has to sport a perm and a string of pearls to make her  look the part of her character, it's plenty amusing to watch her [try to] play a sassy girl with a glib tongue and a disgusting smoking habit. It's about as real as watching a little girl play dress-up in her mother's clothes but given that Tokujo Kabachi! presents most of its characters as cartoons, without any thought as to professional dignity or credibility,  Maki's less than believable performance surprisingly fits in well with the drama's light and uneven tone. After all,  one only has to look at the supporting characters to know that they're not supposed to be taken seriously-- Sumiyoshi's  mentor (Asano Yuko) has ikemen lackeys, the head of the firm (Nakamura Masatoshi) does baby talk when he's around a hostess, while Tamura's co-workers (Endo Kenichi & Takahashi Katsumi) at the office are dressed like clowns who can't seem to give instructions without barking or sneering like a two-bit gangster.

Lastly, those expecting an arresting love story to develop between Tamura and Sumiyoshi are advised not to expect too much of it because the romance in Tokujo Kabachi! takes a backseat to hours of devising a winning stratagem for the cases that they're handling. Regardless of whatever fans may say, this is actually a good thing because there's nothing much in the way of romantic chemistry between Sakurai Sho and Horikita Maki... what they do have, is a passable working relationship.  


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  2. Thanks for the review!

    At first I didn't think that any amount of my Arashi-fandomeness could make me pick up this series but after reading your take on it, it doesn't sound TOO bad. So maybe, when I run out of things to watch (or when I am in the mood of some "I don't want to think too hard" mood) I'll give this one a shot. Sho-kun is wholesomely charming though :))

    It's about as real as watching a little girl play dress-up in her mother's clothes^lol. I kinda liken Maki to the Korean actress Moon Geun Young in this respect- forever young starlets! it doesn't seem to matter how they try to dress older, they'll always maintain girl image (well, so far for now at least. But then, I'm sure botox could help us all out incl them yrs down the track xD) I know we alot of us want to maintain youthful looks forever but unfortunately, in Maki's case (& MGY) it has been kinda working against then when they are trying to play more "grown up" roles.

    Btw::: outwit, outplay and outlast... ::: <<<way to go w/ the Survivor reference! I (sadly) love that show ^_^

  3. Er, sorry, typo; should be:
    (or when I am in the mood FOR some "I don't want to think too hard" TIME)

    lol. Tired day :))

    P.S. Thanks for the link to the post on the Japanese badge phenomenon, too. I really enjoyed that^^

  4. Woah, first semi-spam comment. Lol.

    @ jicks - yep, it's definitely something to watch if you have time to spare. At least the cases are better presented than say, the ones featured in kdramas like Partner or Prosecutor Princess, the only catch is that they're technically not "cases" in that solicitors aren't supposed to go beyond their roles as documentation specialists. No wonder they got such a reaction from the Osaka Bar Association-- which is interesting since in England, solicitors and barristers basically work together and in Canada the terms are interchangeable. Just learned recently that in Japan they follow a different system altogether.

    Have to agree with your observation about HM and MGY-- their "sweetheart status" really makes their transition into adult/mature roles harder. However, I think MGY has an advantage over HM because she's better in the acting department.

    And yes, Sho is really quite the wholesome dude. I kept thinking that not too many actors can pull off those close-up shots and not turn people off but then again the tight shots here are not as in-your-face as the ones in Hero (thank God).

    As for the Survivor reference (love that show, btw) I thought it would be apt since the final showdown took place in an island... sort of. I'm glad you liked the link on the badges, that site does provide good information. ^^

  5. Agreed, Moon Geun Young is a much better actress. In fact, I think Horitika Maki is actually rather overrated, her eyes often lack expression for me. I suppose I'm hating on her because they're too big lol

    Haven't been near Prosecutor Princess (prolly won't ever either ><) but I did watched & really enjoyed Partner. I find in Jdoramas where they focus on a particular profession, they really hone in on that ins & outs of the job the way that it is in real life. And ofpf course, usually c case is all over within obe episode, which I'd imagine would be the case in Tokujo Kabachi, ne?

    Kdramas however, probably romanticise things a bit more, & cases span over more than on ep which allows us to attach ourselves to the characters more. This was one thing that got me in Partner, the cases became close to my heart.

    And!!!!! Lee Dong Wook & Kim Hyun Joo were just gorgeous together xD

  6. I watched the first few episodes of this and just couldn't get into it. Sho is a fairly decent actor and does portray that wholesome, almost childish image well. But HM's acting is stale in comparison. I did like her in Innocent Love and Hana Kimi (best role to date would probably have to be Nobuta), but it seems that her acting ability is really quite limited. And there is only so much goofiness a person can take. The effects really got on my nerves, but I did enjoy guessing at the trivia :P

    I definitely agree with the MGY comments. She is a great actress and Cinderella's Sister really helped show her versatility (though Eun Jo was never as evil as all the hype).

    Ah, PP, I really didn't think it was probably all that accurate in regards to how cases and prosecutors worked. I have a love-hate relationship with that drama. As in hated Hye Ri in the first 5-7 episodes, but liked her more as time went on. Hated the whole drama between her and Seo towards the end and the rushed ending, but find myself liking the series overall. Maybe because of Park Shi Hoo. Love PSH! He is a great actor (KSY isn't bad either, I just really didn't like her character for the most part).

  7. @ jicks - Is Maki overrated? Uh... definitely. Come to think of it, haven't seen her play a part convincingly in ages. It's always about those big, pretty eyes and it doesn't matter if they lack expression since she gets to star in at least one drama every year. x)

    As for Partner, I also stuck around because of the leads. The cases really dragged on and I didn't think the courtroom scenes were well-written, but hey, as long as Lee Dong Wook & Kim Hyun Joo are in it, there's reason to keep watching. Couldn't get to care about the rest of the cast though. LOL ^^ And you're right about how jdoramas tend to be more specific when it comes to shigoto dramas-- even though Tokujo Kabachi has its share of inaccuracies, it did manage to wrap up a case in 1 to 2 episodes tops.

    @ wolforion - I know what you mean about having a hard time getting into this drama. I ended up watching one episode a day of Tokujo Kabachi and managed to finish it in a little over a week. Guess it really helped that I didn't watch it in one-go because it simply isn't the kind of drama that you'd want to marathon. Yep, there's too much animated sfx but there are places here and there in the show that I appreciated them.

    Ahhh... back to HM. Have not been a fan of hers for a while now. Thought she was bland in Hana Kimi. Innocent Love was just too creepy in a everyone's-walking-in-and-out-of-that-house-there's-no-sense-of-privacy kind of way while AtaDan was really all about the boys.

    Ah, PP, I really didn't think it was probably all that accurate in regards to how cases and prosecutors worked. I have a love-hate relationship with that drama. >>> Hahaha, I know. It's Legally Dumb...err, Legally Blonde meets Clueless and the first half of the series was really grating in its attempt to be cute. I actually saw PP after Tokujo Kabachi and Magerarenai Onna and thought about writing about it as well only to later decide against it. To summarize, I would've gone, "Ditzy prosecutor princess in designer shoes teams up with her stalker-ex pat of a lawyer/admirer to shed light on a 15-year old case before the expiration of the statute of limitations."

    I kinda had the idea that PSH's character was planning to promote his pawn into a queen in chess-speak but the way it all played out was freakin ridiculous. Too much drama near the end, the only thing I'm grateful about is that they managed to resolve the case and got everyone a happy ending. Oh, I also liked how there's no evil b*tch in it to form a love triangle, and that PSH's friend remained a friend. But I simply hated the fact that PSH's character went about his plan in a roundabout manner. It's just a waste of time, not to mention totally unbelievable. There's just way too many factors that he could not have accounted for and if he really was pressed for time, then he should have dealt with it in a more practical manner with no romantic complications.

    That being said, I think PSH really owned that show but I wish they could have eased up on the stalker behavior. Don't you just hate it when one of the characters is emoting behind a tree? Or how the actor(s) gets a different hairstyle or hair color just to signify a change in their character's attitude? lmao :)

  8. Yes, PSH really did own the show! I agree with the stalker behavior and his roundabout way of doing things. Even though he came for his father, it actually felt like he really liked Hye Ri to begin with and almost cared more about her than the case that supposedly meant everything for him.

    I have noticed a lot in dramas about the hair. And most of the time I really can't stand the changes. And what is with the emoting behind a tree or light pole? So overdone it just can't seem to bring about the angst (as it is way too stalkerish :P)

    Totally agree that is was Clueless (which was a modern take on Jane Austen's Emma believe it or not) mixed with Legally Blond.

  9. Can't agree with you more. It seems that the guy saw a picture of her, had the hots for her and then everything else became an elaborate excuse just to get to know her. LMAO ^^

    I guess what irked me more than the usual emoting while half-concealed behind a tree/pole/pillar is that they actually made PSH stretch out his hand, as if to touch her... Golly geez, who does that in real life? And as if that wasn't enough, they go and make the girl do the same thing! It didn't even work from a technical perspective because the camera shot didn't look that pretty. But hey, that's just me.

    And yep, Emma was indeed the inspiration for Clueless, if you look closely enough, there's also parts of it that gives tribute to Gigi. :)