In the roster of Japanese drama’s I’ve watched since the start of our sembreak last end of October, “Tiger and Dragon” is probably the best I’ve watched so far.
Tiger and Dragon has a catchy premise; the stories are episodic, but it has a good climax and ending; and it’s about rakugo, a traditional Japanese humorous verbal entertainment. The storyteller is seated in the middle of a stage with only a fan and a small piece of cloth as props and honed skills in voice-changing and narration for a show. Despite the concoction of roles the storyteller needs to portray, there are no big movements.
In any form, my criteria of a good story composes of character development, story development, and the ending which I think “Tiger and Dragon” was able to tick, bold and well.
Tora, also called “Kotatsu” (his rakugo stage name given by his “shishou” or master), is a yakuza who strongly desires to tell a funny story, thus his apprenticeship with his debtor-slash-rakugo master. He is scary, has a short-temper, doesn’t like jokes, and has a grim past. In all aspects, rakugo seems the most ironic pursuit compared to collecting money as a yakuza and hitting it off with women left and right. Nonetheless, Tora finds a new life living in his master’s house along with a a group of strangers that takes him in as family.
Toraji Yamazaki is the “Tiger” half of the show. Well, to be honest, I think the drama was mostly about him. To be fair, it was his character whom was the most involved in rokugo. Without his intense desire to learn the craft from scratch, the drama wouldn’t be as interesting as it was informative of this tradition. As someone who has only heard and read about rakugo minimally, my interest now in this form of storytelling has increased. Viewers can identify with Tora as he develops his skills and knowledge gradually by the episodes.
Initially, I watched “Tiger and Dragon” because I read that it was a good drama, it has the same writer as “Unubore Deka” which I watched first, and of course, it’s in line with my goal to watch Tomoya Nagase shows (hi, labs!).
Nagase as a yakuza isn’t new for me. I was first exposed to him as a yakuza in “My Boss My Hero”, and his overall demeanor as a person screams manly and fierce. His face says it all. In comparison to his yakuza character to “My Boss My Hero”, he is a scarier yakuza in “Tiger and Dragon”.
He established this don’t-fuck-with-me face and manners, which makes his character seem so adorable when he tries to bend this image for rakugo. As a storyteller, he needs to be a woman, an idiot, a married man, a courtesan, a tattletale neighbor, and other characters which he is entirely not in real life: scary face, aggressive, low voice, and a 6 foot 1 height. Nonetheless, he accepts the challenges and tries his best to understand the need to personify these characters. In order to tell a story which the audience would still be able to relate and of course, funny, no matter how many times it is watched, he needs to face up to the challenge.
Tora’s character shows a lot of dept and is probably the most well-rounded in the show. Actually, it’s more that certain events had to happen in order to expose his genuine good side.
Dramatic irony, I swear! The ending! OMG~~~~*sniff*
Ryuji, also called “Kotatsu” (a stage name given by his master-slash-father), is an aspiring fashion designer who also happens to be a genius Rokugo storyteller. He owns a boutique called “Dragon Soda” in Harajuku. Easy-going most of the time, but has a short fuse when it comes to people criticizing his preferences and choices. His decision to put up a boutique was the reason his father had a 4 million debt to the yakuza, and the sole reason why Tora got involved in Rakugo.
Being the other half of the show, “Dragon”, Ryuji’s character seemed quite weak against the tiger, Tora. Well, at least this is how I felt for most of the 11 episodes of the drama, which changed when I watched the SP. Actually, I only read about the SP being shown first before the actual series, so I watched it after the entire series. I was actually quite mind-boggled with this as prequels are supposed to be shown after a point of reference, in this case, the drama. However, being shown two months ahead of the series, the SP served as basis for the drama’s stories. Ryuji accidental or not, established Kotora’s storytelling style.
Anyway, I thought that Ryuji’s (no offense!) character pales in comparison to Tora’s. Not to say that he doesn’t have a strong personality, in fact, despite his lack of height (also in comparison to the 6 foot Tora), his bullheadedness says a lot about his mental and emotional strength. On the other hand, what makes Ryuji’s character interesting is I kept guessing whether he would pursue rakugo eventually since he shows interest and he’s very good at it, or if he would continue being a designer despite his lame designs and falling business. Anyhow, in the end, Ryuji found what he really wanted, and that was satisfactory.
He’s the “lost” character in coming to terms with his dreams and passion in contrast to Tora who is decided on what he wants. Tora is “lost” with the complicated roles of being a storyteller and a yakuza at the same time; two worlds he cannot exist at the same time. He was a relatable character, although a bit predictable.
Mr. Yanaka, or ” Hayashiatei Donbei ” to many of the audience of the rakugo world, is a loving family man and father and a rakugo master. Owing four million yen to the yakuza and unable to pay, he agrees to the offer of Tora, his debt collector, to earn 100,000 yen monthly as his rakugo master until he clears his debt using the payment he receives from Tora.
I think shishou’s (master) character is very important in the story since of course he’s the rakugo master, and he is the glue that holds all of the characters together. He is the father-figure of everyone, starting from his family, to his apprentices, as well as to Tora.
Despite his constant fear of Tora’s temper, we gradually see how shishou becomes affectionate like a father to Tora. Perhaps it’s their love for rakugo, or his nature to nurture a lost child like Tora who doesn’t have a family, or that his own son was estranged to him. Although I would have appreciated it more if he was more affectionate to Ryu despite his son’s own short-comings. And I do wonder what would have happened if Tora did inherit his name.
Anyhow, he’s a very likeable character with flaws and kindness. Very human, very real.
What impressed me the most with “Tiger and Dragon”, perhaps, is its introduction to rakugo to me. I have heard and read about rakugo in the past, but not in detail. I knew it was some sort of comedy entertainment like the “manzai” (originated from Osaka, acomedy skit consisting of two people) which has a traditional touch. However, in terms of stories, I never heard one until I watched the drama. Of course, my experience in rakugo is limited to the drama, but now I’m interested in reading up on the stories, and putting “to watch a rakugo performance” in my bucketlist. Since rakugo is a very new topic, a very new topic for me, this drama was very refreshing.
I also loved how the classical rakugo stories, which were mostly set in the Edo period, were magnificently paralleled to the characters in the modern period. The characters were shown juxtaposed from their original character to that of the rakugo story being told in the episode, so we get a glimpse of costumes, looks, and manner of speaking from the Edo period. Moreover, I love the fact that this show reinstated the importance of classics as timeless masterpiece stories that show universal fault and greatness of people, as well as humor!
With “Tiger and Dragon” having the same writer, I was afraid that the drama would close unsatisfactory. In “Unubore Deka”, I was disappointed with the ending, and I didn’t see any character development at all, especially with the main character. In fact, he was back to square one with the ending. In comparison, “Tiger and Dragon” had an episodic format because each was patterned to a classical rakugo story. Nonetheless, the drama had a very good climax which opened the character development of most important characters. The conclusion was cheerful and tear-jerking at the same time. How’s that?!
Moreover, the actors were great with their roles as the punch lines were delivered sharp, the dialogue is witty, smart, and informative, and even with the “comedy” genre screaming from the sidelines to the front (with Rakugo as the main act), it is touching and it made me cry, and clap in awe and amazement. It’s that good.
Well, with this reflection written down, I feel like I can finally move on from “Tiger and Dragon”. I haven’t watched a drama this good in a while, I feel like I can stop my J-drama cycle here. But then I’m in love with Tomoya Nagase, so I guess the drama-watching continues with either “Ikebukuro West Gate Park” or “Nakuna Hara-chan”.
I seriously recommend this drama, do watch it!