I would like to give credit where credit is due. Videos are from YouTube and other sources such as NicoNico while Oricon rankings and other information are translated from the Japanese Wikipedia unless noted.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

John Lennon "LOVE" - Theme song to 『世紀末の詩』/"Seiki Matsu No Uta" (1998)

Nojima Shinji's 『世紀末の詩』/"Seiki Matsu No Uta" (1998), alternately called "The Last Song" (or perhaps could even be translated as "Doom's Day Song") is certainly one of Nojima's most quirky and campy series he has written (which is saying a lot).  With its wild assortment of oddball characters, anthology-style story structure and bizarre visuals, it is unlike any of Nojima's previous scripted drama series. 

An unlikely trio - Prof. Momose (Yamazaki Tsutomu), Noa (Takenouchi Yutaka) and Mia (Sakai Maki)
The main plot is pretty compelling - Two distraught and emotionally damanged men by bizarre happenstance, attempt suicide on the same day in the same general location -- One man is the overly sensitive, idealistic, milkquetoast 亘/Noa Wataru (tall and handsome 竹野内豊/Takenouchi Yutaka) who was supposed to marry his true love on this day but had their wedding interrupted when his wife-to-be ran off with another man right in the midst of exchanging wedding vows, leaving him humiliated and utterly heartbroken at the alter.  The other is tenured University Professor 百瀬夏夫/Momose Natsuo (the wonderful character actor 山崎努/Yamazaki Tsutomu) who had recently lost a hard fought bid to become University Chancellor by just one vote. Once a Nobel Award candidate, the brilliant Momose was in a loveless arranged marriage and was recently diagnosed with a terminal illness which gave him only months to live. 

As both men prepare to jump to their deaths, they are confronted by the childlike, freespirit ミア/Mia (singer and actress 坂井真紀/Sakai Maki) who distracts them with her haunting laughter.  It distracts them long enough so that both men reconsider their drastic actions.  Finding each other to be kindred spirits, the two men (along with Mia) soon decide to move in together in Prof. Momose's remote workshop/barn where. There Prof. Momose begins working on a pet project - the building of a "Yellow Submarine" which Prof. Momose had dreamed of building since he was a child. 

The two men (who are complete opposities in everyway) clash frequently as they have ideological debates about the notions of true love and whether it really exisits. As they build their "Yellow Submarine", the two men encounter various situations and inviduals on their quest to find "the true meaning of love", which call them to question their preconceived notions and personal beliefs.

In interviews Nojima noted that "Seiki Matsu No Uta" offered him the unique opportunity to question his own personal ideas about love and this anthology format allowed Nojima the freedom to explore love using different story genres and methods of storytelling. The results were a bit mixed but each story has its own unique flair and I was surprised at how effective each story was on its own level.

While Nao seemed to represent the idealistic, youthful and naive notions of blooming love many of us still long for, Prof. Momose represented the jaded, distrustful and pessimistic bias of those who have been through breakups and marital problems. This presented a pretty interesting dynamic.

Mia has to be one of the most outlandish and bizarre characters ever. She reminds me a bit of the Anime character of Edward Wong Hau Pepelu Tivruski IV/Françoise Appledelhi AKA "Ed" from カウボーイビバップ』/"Cowboy Beboy" (1998). Although she was characterized as an enigmatic, immature, childlike and almost autistic girl, as the series progressed it became more and more apparent that she wasn't who she appeared to be.  It was later confirmed that Mia was indeed not really human at all but rather "the spirit of death/Grim Reaper" (死神) who had taken human form and appeared to Prof. Momose and Noa as they were fated to die at the end of the series.

Prof. Momose's (Yamazaki) unceremonious last moments
Former model turned actor, Takenouchi previously starred in two other hit series  「ロングバケーション」/"Long Vacation" (1996) and ビーチボーイズ/"Beach Boys" (1997) before he starred in "Seiki Matsu No Uta".  He would later appear in such diverse series as BOSS」(2009) and 流れ星」 (2010).

The gravel-voiced Yamazaki is probably most familiar to audiences from his various movie appearances from such films as 『タンポポ』(1985), 『マルサの女』(1987) and 『GO』(2001) but he is also well known as being 念仏の鉄/Nenbutsu No Tetsu, one of the assassins in the second season of the long running 必殺仕置人』 (1973) series.

"Seiki Matsu No Uta" featured a number of actors who had previously starred in Nojima's scripted TV Dramas as well as a other familiar faces from J-Dorama/movies.  Among the notable guests included 広末涼子/Hirosue Ryoko (「リップスティック」; 「聖者の行進」),遠山景織子/Toyama Kyoko (「ベストフレンド」), 斉藤洋介/Saito Yosuke (「人間・失格 」), 小田エリカ/Oda Erika (「キューティーハニー THE LIVE」, 谷啓/Tani Kei ( 「釣りバカ日誌シリーズ」), 真柄佳奈子/Magara Kanako (「リップスティック」), 三上博史/Mikami Hiroshi (「リップスティック」, 「この世の果て」), 純名里沙/Jyuna Risa (「ラブジェネレーション」), 南果歩/Minami Kahou (「シングルハート」), 手塚理美/Tezuka Satomi (「ごくせん」), 池脇千鶴/Ikewaki Chizuru (「リップスティック」), 大江千里/Oe Senri, 田中健/Tanaka Ken (「必殺剣劇人」), 大沢たかお/Osawa Takao (「美しい人」), 永島暎子/Nagashima Eiko (「ジャングル」), ジョイ・ウォン/Joey Wong ("A Chinese Ghost Story"), and 伊藤歩/Ito Mayumi (「リップスティック」).

The "Madonnas" - Hirosue Ryoko (Ep. 1), Toyama Kyoko (Ep. 2), Oda Erika (Ep. 3), Magara Kanako (Ep. 4), Jyuna Risa (Ep. 5), MInami Kahou & Tezuka Satomi (Ep. 6), Ikewaki Chizuru (Ep. 7), Ito Mayumi (Ep. 11) and Joey Wong (Ep. 11).
"Seiki Matsu No Uta" featured a bevy of beautiful actresses in a number of secondary roles. Nao's love interest 里見/Satomi was portrayed by the alluring London-born actress and singer 木村乃/Kimura Yoshino. Prof. Momose's fun loving and adventurous daughter 祐香/Yuka was portrayed by the cute model turned actress 松本莉緒/Matsumoto Rio. The loveable but shy 千秋/Chiaki who has a schooolgirl crush on Nao but would continually trick him into giving her popsicle treats and roasted chestnuts to feed her younger siblings, was played by another young model turned actress 吉川ひなの/Yoshikawa Hinano. 

Yoshikawa Hinano, Kimura Yoshino and Matsumoto Rio

The anthology was filled with great visuals and memoral moments. There are a lot of obvious "Beatles" references in the series (Noa's somewhat John Lennon-like appearance; the inclusion of the "Yellow Submarine"; Noa's bus having a look similar to the bus in 'Magical Mystery Tour"). The individual sublime stories were surpisingly very effective and compelling with some episodes really delivering an emotional punch. In particular episodes #3, #4, #6 really brought tears to my eyes with their heartbreaking endings.  Each episode ended with a flashback, recounting the pivitol moments in which the characters lives changed (for better or worse).

The individual stories are broken down to the following:

Episode 1 - Nao falls in love with a mysterious girl すみれ/Sumire (広末涼子/Hirosue Ryoko) who waits at the side of a bridge hoping for her boyfriend to come back for her. It later turns out that Sumire is actually a wandering spirit/ghost (Sumire had died in a motorcycle accident years earlier) and that her boyfriend has already moved on and married someone else.

Episode 2 - 鏡子/Kyoko (遠山景織子/Toyama Kyoko) has been blind from birth and has used her imagination to envision the world around her.  She is set to marry the kindly middle-aged fireworks maker 興梠/Korogi (斉藤洋介/Saito Yusuke). Korogi makes arrangements to restore Kyoko's sight (Korogi had accumulated enough money through his street-performances as a clown to pay for the operation) so that she can finally enjoy his fireworks display.  Yet when Kyoko's sight is returned her growing vanity coupled with her regained sight distance her from Korogi. She ultimately falls in love with the handsome, young doctor who had restored her sight.

Episode 3 - The beautiful 愛美/Ayumi (小田エリカ/Oda Erika) suffers from a rare genetic disorder in which she is unable to bear extended exposure to sunlight. She falls in love with Noa but Noa is unwilling to let himself fall in love with another woman after being betrayed by his former girlfriend. Heartbroken, Ayumi later decides to show Noa how much she really loves him by going to the beach and exposing herself to the sun knowing that doing so will kill her instantly.

Episode 4 - 徹/Toru (谷啓/Tani Kei) had lived a rough life, however he had finally put his life together after living years as a transient and being homeless. The only happiness in his life now is his adopted son, 羽夢/Hamu (真柄佳奈子/Magara Kanako) who dreams of becoming a politician. Although they are poor Hamu and Toru live a happy and carefree life. Hamu's noble spirit and absolute selflessness however make him the target of much bullying at his school. Prof. Momose intervenes when he witnesses one such incident and is so touched by the boy's saintly outlook, he becomes his protector. Yet despite all his efforts, he is unable to protect Hamu from being fatally stabbed by one student (who had become resentful of Hamu's optimistic outlook). Hamu can be saved with a blood transfusion but his blood type is so rare that only his biological parents can help him. Prof. Momose and Noa soon discover that Hamu's biological father is actually a senator and that Toru had purposely also hidden the fact that Hamu is actually a girl (fearing that he would lose her Toru raised Hamu as a boy so that noone would discover her past). Hamu's biological father asks to take back Hamu and gives Toru over One Million Yen to pay him off. While Toru is torn by the offer, he soon realizes that in order to fulfill Hamu's dream, she would be better off with her biological father. Taking the money, he leaves Hamu (telling her that she is a burden to him). Although Hamu later tries to search for him, Toru has seemingly disappeared (it is later revealed that Toru tore up the check and sold all his possessions, chosing once again to live his life on the streets).
Episode 5 - 星野/Hoshino (三上博史/Mikami Hiroshi) is a former juvenile delinquent who is trying to live a normal and decent life as a streetside sketch artist (he lost his legs as a result of a botched robbery). One fateful and raining day, he meets up with a lonely young woman 留美/Rumi (純名里沙/Jyuna Risa). Rumi has been in a string of bad relationships most of which have ended with her boyfriends cheating her out of large amounts of money. Although Rumi is attracted to Hoshino, she is weary of him. Rumi has a private investigator look into Hoshino's past and discovers his criminal background. Despite this discovery she is willing to give him a chance to prove himself. However when Hoshino naively tries to replace a treasured family heirloom (having discovered that the ring is a fake) with a real jeweled ring, Rumi mistakenly believes that Hoshino is trying to rip her off like all her previous boyfriends. Not willing to be taken advantage of again, Rumi lures Hoshino on a date and then leaves him at a train crossing intersection as a subway train is approaching. Unable to free himself from the tracks, Hoshino resigns himself to fate (he had premonitions of dying while being comforted by the Virgin Mary).  He dies smiling with no regrets. Rumi later finds out that Hoshino had not been lying to her and that he had made plans on marrying her.

Episode 6 - 広田馨/Hirota Kaoru (藤原竜也/Fujiwara Tatsuya) and 真中徹/Manaka Toru (徳山秀典/Tokuyama Hidenori) have been lifelong rivals since children. Both are accomplished and gifted pianists. They couldn't be more different and are almost complete opposities (Kaoru comes from a wealthy and prestigious family while Tatsuya is from a middle class, working family). This rivalry also extends to their mothers 清美/Kiyomi (南果歩/Minami Kahou) and 良美/Kazumi (手塚理美/Tezuka Satomi) who were best friends in high school until Kiyomi and Kazumi had both fallen in love with the same man. It is later revealed that Kiyomi didn't betray her friend and that their rivalry turned out to be just a complete misunderstanding.  Kaoru wins over his rival Toru but it costs him his life as he gives the concert of his life but dies when he literally "plays until his fingers bleed" (in order to play the piece correctly Toru cuts his hands so as to give his fingers more flexibility and reach).

Episode 7 - Yuka is working part-time at a popular bakery with her schoolmate 涼子/Ryoko (池脇千鶴/Ikewaki Chizuru) where Ryoko's father is a talented baker (singer Oe Senri/大江千里) and has created a special dinner roll which is rumored to possess the power to highten and stimulate emotions of love and desire for those who eat it. It is later revealed that Ryoko's father had secretly been keeping his dead wife in the walk-in freezer and that his own "tears of sadness and love" are the secret ingredient which give the dinner rolls their love enhancing properties.

Episode 8 - 影山/Kageyama ( 田中健/Tanaka Ken) seems to have the perfectly nuclear family (a beautiful and doting wife, a sweet and carefree daughter and a noble-spirited and respectful son). Yet appearances are deceiving as Noa and Prof. Momose soon find out when they meet Kageyama's real son 良希/Ryoki (portrayed by twins 島田亮/Shimada Akira and 島田潤/Shimada Jun), a juvenile delinquent who ran away from home after his sister had committed suicide and mother had ranoff with another man. It turns out that Kageyama was a brilliant researcher in the field of DNA cloning research and had secretly grown clones of his wife and two children so that he could try and relive his life with the idealized family he had always longed for.

Episode 9 - A mysterious man (大沢たかお/Osawa Takao) kidnaps and holds Nao, Prof. Momose, Satomi and Yuka hostage and challenges them to a deadly guessing game.  Unless they can deduce the man's name within three days, the crazed maniac and his butch henchwoman (坂井真紀/Sakai Maki in a dual role) will execute them at dawn. The mysterious individual is revealed to be the spirit of the 16th Century French Prophet and famed seer Michel de Nostredame AKA Nostradamus (altough it could also equally be possible that the individual may have lied and may in fact be Lucifer/Satan in disguise)

Episode 10 -With his condition worsening and his death emminent, Prof. Momose begs Noa to find his true long, Makino Fuyuko/牧野冬子 whom he had met in high school and lived with a while before becoming a professor. Prof. Momose is haunted by guilt at having left her and wanted one last chance to see her.  With the help of Satomi, they find Fuyuko but also discover more about her relationship with Prof. Momose (it turns out that when Prof. Momose had left her, she was pregnant with his child who turns out to be 千秋/Chiaki (吉川ひなの/Yoshikawa Hinano), the pretty and shy girl that has a crush on Noa). 

Episode 11- On the eve of her wedding to a teacher college, Satomi asks Noa to go on their "First/Last" date.  Noa takes to an amusement park for the day.  Prof. Momose and his daughter Yuka accompany them.  While Yuka tries her best to keep Noa away from Satomi, Prof. Momose encounters the stunningly beautiful 三島麗美/Mishima Reimi (Taiwanese actress Joey Wong) who is the victim of a tragic accident that not only killed her true love but had also robbed her of her eyesight, speech and hearing.  Not wanting to continue her life alone in absolute darkness, Reimi instructs her loyal secretary (伊藤歩/Ito Mayumi) to lure prospective suitors into a ferris wheel ride with her.  There Reimi challenges them to deactivate a live bomb strapped to her stomach before the ferris wheel ride completes a full rotation. While the bomb itself turns out to be a dud, the shock of the challenge scares away most of those who accept. Prof. Momose turns out to be the only one who successfuly disarms the fake bomb.  Although he considers a life with Reimi, his rapidly deteriotating condition forces him to abandon this proposal. On the verge of dying Prof. Momose asks Noa to accompany him on a boat to the middle of the ocean where he can die in a romantic fashion. However Prof. Momose doesn't die and after a day out at sea return to the city where Prof. Momose and Noa spend a night drinking and partying at a cabaret bar.  Noa later discovers Prof. Momose dead slumped by a toilet, drenched in vomit and blood clinching a silk bra (taken from one of the hostesses). Noa can only cry as he cradles Prof. Momose who had been denied a romantic and diginified death.  Noa who had vowed to spirit Satomi away from her husband-to-be on her wedding (in an ironic reverse to what had happened to him) decides to abandon his dreams of running away with Satomi and instead takes Prof. Momose's submarine into the ocean.  After "giving birth" to a supernatural blue cat (earlier in the series she fell in love with a cat after eating one of the special dinner rolls), the mysterious Mia leaves Noa revealing to him that she is the "Grim Reaper" and that she no longer needs to stay by his side as he is fated to die soon.

The ending was a bit ambiguous as it really doesn't give any indication of Noa's fate. Did he use the submarine to just travel to another location to restart his life or did he use it to travel to the bottom of the ocean in order to commit suicide? One really can't say, however I tend to go with the later interpretation as it would explain why Noa did not go to Satomi's wedding to take her away with him.

Cover of the 1998 Japanese Single Release - Image courtesy of
John Lennon's sentimental and stirring love song simply titled "LOVE" was selected as one of the theme songs for the drama (the other was John Lennon's 1975 cover of the classic Ben E. King song "Stand By Me").  "Love" was originally released in 1970 as part of John Lennon's "John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band" album.  A single version for the song was released and differs slightly from the original version as the piano intro/outro (played by Phil Spector) was played at the same volume level as the rest of the song as opposed to the original in which the piano parts were considerably softer. 

In the Japanese market, the "John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band" album was released the same year under the title 『ジョンの魂』("John No Tamashi"/John's Spirit). 

With its selection as the theme song for the TV drama, a single of the song was released in 1998. The single 「ラヴ」was released in Japan and the UK only and placed in the Oricon charts for the month of its release where it reached No. 58.

The poignant PV for the song featured achival footage of John Lennon and Yoko Ono during happier times in the early 70s.  

While a somewhat ironic song given the context of the individual stories and how they all seemed to end tragically, it still seemed very much appropriate with its lyrics about finding real love (it also added much emotional impact to the ending flashbacks where the story characters experienced their defining moments). 
As with some of Nojima's other works like 「リップスティック」 and 「この世の果て」, "Seiki Matsu No Uta" is unfortunately currently unavailable having only been released on VHS and has not been officially released to either DVD or Blu-Ray.  I suspect that this is related to a copyrights issue connected to the song "Love" being used in the drama but can't say for sure. In any case this is another huge shame as "Sekimatsu No Uta" is another one of Nojima's best works and deserves to be seen again.

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