From Yomiuri Daily:
Yuji Oda's summer school drama likely to flunk completely this summer
Watching Japanese TV, it should be understood before one tunes in, is allowing oneself to be hurtled, like Alice in Wonderland, down a rabbit hole.
Toss out all logic and suspend disbelief and you may even enjoy an adventure in this topsy-turvy world where News is an idol group from Johnny's Jimusho entertainment agency, Cream Stew is a comedy act and teachers are often cast as either complete incompetents or super heroes in the style of GTO and Gokusen.
Still, anyone who was planning to attend summer school at Taiyo to Umi no Kyoshitsu (Homeroom on the Beachside, Fuji TV, Mondays, 9 p.m.) may want to drop the course and quickly scramble back out of the rabbit hole.
The first class, on July 21, was a dismal experience, almost painful to watch although it brought in Video Research Co. ratings of 20.5 percent. That is probably the EO (eternal optimists) factor at work. Lots of series start off well thanks to those of us who keep hoping for a drama renaissance. By week two, disillusionment sets in and most series plummet to 13 percent or the depths below.
Yuji Oda is trying very hard, but there is only so much that even an actor of his calibre can do with a half-baked character like Sakutaro Sakurai and this infuriating, flawed Yuji Sakamoto script.
Sakurai-sensei has been hired by the principal to counter the evils of the private school's deviant director who believes hensachi (standard deviation scores) are the measure of a person's worth. Yet we need look no further than Sakurai's assistant teacher Wakaba Enokido (Keiko Kitagawa), a Tokyo University graduate and former Miss Todai who still had to get her job through family connections, as ample proof of the fallacy of hensachi supremacy as the path to success.
Episode one seemed like a 21st century attempt to recreate the magic of the 1998 dramanga classic GTO with its rebellious but loveable Great Teacher Onizuka, the character Takashi Sorimachi so memorably brought to life. But Sakurai is no GTO. He turns the school's generally accepted logic upside down but his own logic is equally hard to fathom. Teens tuning into this one will find more confusion than guidance.
In episode one, the debt-ridden father of the school's top swimmer Hiroki (Masaki Okada) watches as a bigger company takes over and puts their own sign above his door. Hiroki's demoralized father loses all self-respect and the new owner's son humiliates and bullies him and threatens dad with further humiliation if Hiroki does not lose his swimming race on purpose so his own school can win.
Sakurai convinces Hiroki to compete and promises to deal with the bullies. Now in Gokusen or GTO, the next scene would show the teacher dispatching the bullies with a few karate chops or judo throws but not Sakurai. Hiroki tells the bully he will do whatever he wants and we see him racing about the scenic Shonan seaside landscape, cycling furiously along the Enoden tracks and jogging up temple stairs to please his tormenter. What a bad example he sets. Of course, placated bullies always demand more.
In the next scene, they want the swimmer's girlfriend Riku (Kii Kitano) to take off her school uniform and pose for cell phone photos. Hiroki's father makes no effort to intervene. It all makes you want to scream at the TV set: give us adults, basic values, role models, sanity, even a commercial will do.
Just then Sakurai, looking truly demented, appears with a chain saw. He heads straight for the cowering bully but no...wait. Sakurai is really headed up to the roof to saw off the bully's company banner. Beneath it, the indebted man's rusty old sign emerges and his pride is miraculously restored. Oh blimey, it's a miracle and a takeoff on the old "noren" plot stereotype where the cloth curtain representing the family's pride and product wields almost mystical power.
There's a guy named Takahiro Yamamoto who has made a comedy career out of imitating Oda. He's probably the only one who will benefit from this unhappy day at the beach. Perhaps, Sakurai really deserves another chance to redeem himself but I just can't bear watching any longer as Oda, one my favorite Japanese actors, suffers through this torturous script. One star, no stars.