Why is Naoki Hanzawa Such a Big Hit?
There are many shows with high ratings and favorable reviews among the TV dramas in this period (July-September 2013). One of these, Naoki Hanzawa (TBS), has achieved high ratings and been covered by many media outlets. I myself have made comments about the show in interviews with media outlets like The Nikkei (Aug. 12 evening edition) and TBS’s Sunday Morning (aired on Aug. 25). In this article, I would like to delve a little deeper into the comments I made in those interviews.
I have attached significance to Naoki Hanzawa as a “salaryman period drama.” The story makes a clear distinction between good and evil, exposing the corruption of the villain (a manager who betrays the bank and pins the blame on his subordinates), with the protagonist punishing him at the very end. You could say that it literally translates a “period drama” into today’s salaryman society.
The world of dramas, however, is not so straightforward; you can’t expect to get good ratings simply through “a clear depiction of good and evil.” In addition to this, Naoki Hanzawa succeeds at eliciting two different emotions from viewers at the same time: empathy and admiration.
While there may not be many people who have faced something as severe as being blamed for a crime by a superior like the protagonist in Naoki Hanzawa, people working in organizations experience conditions in which they are stuck with a difficult boss or imposed unreasonable tasks, to one degree or another. In that sense, many viewers have been able to “empathize” with Hanzawa’s situation, as though it were happening to them. On the other hand, there is no way your average salaryman can openly defy a boss or expose his or her corruption in a dramatic reversal like Hanzawa. Hanzawa’s ability to pull off what the rest of us can’t do makes many viewers admire him and feel a sense of satisfaction.
Studying Television Drama
I have been researching contemporary literature, including works by Haruki Murakami, in the context of the history of Japanese novels. At the same time, I have also been focusing on “television drama studies” and published the book Academic Study of TV Drama Shows [Terebi Dorama o Gakumon suru] (Chuo University Press) last year. I also teach a course on “Television Drama Theory” at Chuo University.
People say university students don’t watch that many TV dramas these days, but once I started offering the course, it attracted more students than expected. Most of them, however, do not watch TV dramas regularly. Rather, when they take the course, the majority of the students react with comments like, “I’d never thought of researching TV dramas before, but it’s interesting when you look at them that way.”
In the “Television Drama Theory” course, I stressed the individuality of screenwriters during the last school year, while this year I am emphasizing the relationship between dramas and their historical background. Last year, I lectured on working out theories about TV drama screenwriters just like theories about authors in literary studies by continually looking at the dramas of representative contemporary screenwriters like Shinji Nojima and Yoshikazu Okada. This year, I have been lecturing on the theme of “The Postwar History of Television Dramas,” considering how TV dramas reflect the time period in which they are made. Various ways of broadening research on television dramas can be conceived in this manner.
In terms of the latter point of view, a primary factor in the high ratings for Naoki Hanzawa can be found in its close ties with current issues. I think that the state of TV dramas today has fairly strong commonalities with that of dramas from the latter half of the 1990s, and I have responded to that effect in newspaper and magazine interviews.
Is Naoki Hanzawa a Reincarnation of GTO’s Eikichi Onizuka?
The late 1990s was a period when the Japanese tried to gradually overcome the difficult circumstances they faced after experiencing an economic bubble in the late 1980s followed by the collapse of the bubble in the early 1990s. Trendy dramas like Dakishimetai! (I Wanna Hold Your Hand, 1988, Fuji Television) and Aishiatteru Kai! (Are You in Love? 1989, Fuji Television) came into vogue during the unprecedented economic bubble, while dramas depicting poverty and unhappiness like Ie Naki Ko (Child Without a Home, 1994-5, Nippon Television) and Kono Yo no Hate (The End of the World, 1994, Fuji Television) were popular during the period when the bubble collapsed. Then TV dramas like Kanojotachi no Jidai (Their Days, 1999, Fuji Television) with realistic stories of young women on journeys of “self-discovery” who had lost their ability to dream and GTO (1998, Fuji Television), which depicts an unconventional high school teacher, were produced during the late 1990s.
The message communicated in Naoki Hanzawa is a fairly simple one. The protagonist, who yells, “When someone screws you over, pay them back. Pay them back double!” in the midst of difficult circumstances, seems to be giving viewers a pep talk with lines like “Stand your ground until the end, even when you are thrown into outrageous circumstances” and “Don’t let organizations push you around. If you work hard, a path will open up before you.”
It has been five years since the Lehman Shock and two years since the Great East Japan Earthquake. You could say Naoki Hanzawa reflects the desires of viewers to see concrete hope for getting out of the recession and the difficult conditions they face. There are areas of overlap between his character and Eikichi Onizuka from GTO. Onizuka preached about the importance of dreams and friendship in a fairly coarse way to young people in the late 1990s who had experienced the economic bubble and its collapse and had lost a firm sense of values. This simple dynamism is a trait he and Hanzawa share.
Considering Summer Dramas from 2013 from the Perspective of the Postwar Television Drama History
When we look at this postwar history of TV drama, we find that there is a strong tendency for dramas depicting protagonists who confront difficulties to appear during periods when people are trying to overcome recessions and other difficulties. While there is a difference between the ones that portray this in a realistic way and those that portray it in a simple, straightforward way, we can distinguish the mood of these dramas from the boundless cheerfulness seen in times of prosperity and the rock-bottom bleakness seen in times of recession.
In that case, shows like Woman (Nippon Television), which attempts to realistically portray a character facing adversity, can be positioned as works having the same role as Kanojotachi no Jidai did in the late 1990s, and Naoki Hanzawa, which communicates a simple, straightforward message, can lend meaning to our time as a work that corresponds with GTO.
TV dramas have been consumed by more people than novels, plays or films. For this reason, they have also been labeled as “nothing more than popular entertainment.” But the fact that TV dramas faithfully reflect the mindset and desires of so many people is exactly why this medium needs to be studied more than it has been to date. What lies at the base of works that capture people’s hearts and minds? Casting light on such questions is an important task that should be addressed in future research in the fields of television drama studies and fiction studies.
Professor of Modern Literature, Faculty of Letters, Chuo University
Area of Specialization: Modern Japanese Literature
Professor Usami was born in Tokyo in 1958 and graduated with an undergraduate degree in Education from Tokyo Gakugei University. After completing credits in the Doctoral Program at the Graduate School in the Division of Humanities at the University of Tokyo in 1990, Professor Usami earned a PhD in Literature from Chuo University. Professor Usami served in various posts including Lecturer and Assistant Professor in the Department of Literature at Chuo University before assuming his current position in 1998.Professor Usami have examined modern literature, beginning with Haruki Murakami, from an historical perspective and located it in the history of novels after the Meiji Period. In addition, recently he is proposing comprehensive fiction studies which include not only literature but also plays, TV drama shows, etc., with particular emphasis on TV drama shows.
Professor Usami’s primary works include Modernity as Fictional Expression [Shosetsu Hyogen toshite no Kindai] (Ohfu), his collaborations as coeditor of Haruki Murakami and the Eighties [Haruki Murakami to 1980 Nendai] and Haruki Murakami and the Nineties [Haruki Murakami to 1990 Nendai] (both published by Ohfu), and Academic Study of TV Drama Shows [Terebi Dorama wo Gakumon suru] (Chuo University Press), among others.