Monday, April 26, 2010

Moso Shimai (2009) – Reading into Love, Literally

As my first offering to those gracing this blog, I’m posting about Moso Shimai (2009), a sultry Japanese midnight TV drama combining a contemporary plot with classical erotic prose and lavish visuals to mesmerizing effects. As is often the case with jdramas, Moso has remained scarce in the way of English web resources despite the devoted fan following it got across various Asian Arts/Entertainment forums. Hopefully, this post can give existing fans some much-needed info, and introduce casual visitors to a show that brings elegance back into the trash-tarnished realm of TV sexploitation.

From left to right: Konno Mahiru as Ichikawa Fujio, Kichise Michiko as Ichikawa Akiko, and Takahashi Mai as Ichikawa Setsuko

Ichikawa Akiko -- Kichise Michiko, model-turned actress best known for her smothering performance as Orihara Maya from Bloody Monday (2008, 2010). Many will also remember her from Boss (2009), Liar Game (2007, 2009), and Nodame Cantabile (2006-2010). She also played the lead role in the Japanese remake of Film Noir classic Elevator to the Gallows, due to come out in late 2010.

Ichikawa Fujio -- Konno Mahiru, prolific supporting-role actress. Excels at playing brooding, unhappy women. Had a pivotal role in the tear-jerker Shiroi Haru (2009).

Ichikawa Setsuko -- Takahashi Mai, dramatic young actress. Had a memorable turn as a emotionally troubled contestant in late night jdrama The Quiz Show: Season One (2008).

Ichikawa Sotaro -- Tanaka Tetsushi, prolific older supporting-role actor who could be seen on Japanese TV almost every show season.


Loosely translated to English as “Fantasizing/Paranoid Sisters”, the Moso Shimai are the three daughters of Ichikawa Sotaro, an acclaimed literary writer who died twenty years ago under mysterious circumstances. Growing up in their father’s mansion and under his shadow, the Ichikawa girls blossom into three vastly different women. First daughter Akiko is a dutiful, self-sacrificing lady who represses her personal yearnings to fill the parental role of the family, taking on the housewife lifestyle to care for her younger siblings and their home despite still being single. Second daughter Fujio is a feisty siren living in hedonistic, emotionally unfulfilling freedom. Third daughter Setsuko is a literature-obsessed recluse who finds little joy in real life. One day, the Ichikawa girls receive mail from their deceased father dating back from twenty years ago: a letter instructing them to uncover the mystery behind his death by reading eleven classical romance drama novels in a specific sequence. Imaginative minds coming up with all sorts of possibilities leading to their being orphaned, the sisters frantically analyze the plot and author backgrounds of the books given. To their surprise, all three of them discover facades of their inner personalities in the dramatic heroines depicted by these writings, and found themselves facing a dreaded revelation threatening to tear their sisterhood apart.

Classical Novels featured in episodes (translations of titles as taken from DramaWiki):
Ep 01 "Unraveled Hair" by Yosano Akiko
Ep 02 "The Poppy" by Natsume Sōseki
Ep 03 "The Wind Has Risen" by Hori Tatsuo
Ep 04 "Operation Room" by Izumi Kyōka
Ep 05 "Chieko's Sky" by Takamura Kōtarō
Ep 06 "The Idiot" by Sakaguchi Ango
Ep 07 "The Appearance of Osei" by Edogawa Rampo
Ep 08 "School Girl" by Dazai Osamu
Ep 09 "Troubled Waters" by Higuchi Ichiyō
Ep 10 "In a Grove" by Akutagawa Ryūnosuke
Ep 11 "Hell in a Bottle" by Yumeno Kyūsaku


Obviously, I love Moso (or I wouldn’t bother reviewing it in the first place). The production value is of such high calibre that the show literally pleasures the senses. The Ichikawa mansion – the show’s main backdrop – is tastefully ornamented with antique fineries and classical structural designs, with the cool, blue-tinted film used on it giving the place a ethereal, languid aura as befitting the sisters’ elegant yet stagnated lives. Even more breathtaking are the luxuriant period settings and costumes presented in the “novel worlds”, all presented via movie quality cinematography and musical score to show just how vivid these stories are to the women. The dialogue in the sisters’ reading/discussion scenes – the ones that would inevitably lead to one of them “getting into” a classical novel and donning the protagonist’s identity – is well-written enough that the classical prose quoted sound elegant instead of contrived. While the “main character reads a book and becomes the character within” thing might sound cliché, when it’s done right it gives ample opportunities for actors to show off their versatility; and Moso’s leading ladies are versatile, albeit to varying degrees. Kichise Michiko is spot on as the complex Ichikawa Akkiko – a romantically, sexually needy women kept prim and conscientious by circumstance. While Konno Mahiru and Takahashi Mai are fitting as the younger siblings, Kichise is the real star of the show. With a chameleon’s ease, she goes from reserved to brazen, from nurturing to malevolent, from contemporary to antiquated, from mundane to fantastical, and still manages to not only stay in character, but also remain captivating throughout. The fact that Kichise looks stunning in the elaborate kimonos and vintage hairdos prerequisite to classical Japanese romance heroines helps, of course. The absolute aesthetic and dramatic highpoint of the entire series appears in Episode Seven (mild spoiler ahead): Akkiko, having “read into” the character of the adulterous Osei, murders the character’s sick husband via some of the most glamorous visuals I’ve ever seen on film (you have to see it to know what I’m talking about). That is, of course, not saying that the remaining four episodes are plain fillers: the series warps itself up with the smoothness of a silk ribbon, and the “mystery” revealed at the end is one that would no doubt sent the sentimental heart tingling in bittersweet warmth. For those fascinated by the subtlety and passion of Japanese literature (as the novels featured are all renowned classics), or maybe simply craves a good story with an exquisite emotional core, Moso Shimai is not to be missed.

How to get it with subtitles:

As with all thing obscure or else, the best way to look for English-translated copies of Moso Shimai is to look for info online. Googling either “Moso Shimai English Sub” or “Mousou Shimai Eng Sub” (yes, the Japanese title got translated differently sometimes) should give one a number of ways to obtain this fantastic series.

Till next time ~

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