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Remaking foreign TV shows into State-side conversions is something of a common practice recently. With Being Human renewed for a second season, The Office currently in its eighth, and American Idol (based on the British Pop Idol) about to enter season eleven, it would seem that the British have long been open to their American cousins borrowing concepts for shows. Recently, America has been going even further afield for show ideas. The Killing, which aired this year on AMC, was based on a Danish show of the same name. Homeland, which is currently receiving very positive reviews from critics, is based on Hatufim, a show which originally aired in Israel.
But for this article we travel to the far east, and Japan. As an avid lover of eastern television shows, I can tell you that their TV show concepts are full of imagination and exciting characters, so looking towards Japan for much-needed inspiration could be the way to go for TV executives and writers. Although “J-dramas” (as Japanese shows are known) tend to avoid science-fiction premises in favor of more grounded subject matter based on their culture and history, their core plot concepts do not often feel commonplace, as seen in the following examples of shows which I feel would be well-suited to American remakes.
Of all the Japanese shows talked about in this feature, Kurosagi would probably make the best east-to-west conversion. It has twists, action, revenge, romance, and characters that are relatable to an American audience, with an ideal mixture of episodic plotting and serialized overarching storytelling.
Kurosagi (AKA The Black Swindler) tells the story of Kurosaki (played by Yamashita Tomohisa), who becomes a sort of Robin Hood character. His mission in life is to find con-artists and work out a way to swindle them, after which he returns all the money to the people who the con-artist has swindled. But the interesting thing is Kurosaki's motive, which is born out of a need to exact vengeance for the ruination and subsequent death of his family at the hands of a con-artist. Kurosaki's life as a sort of superhero swindler of con-artists begins to change when he meets a young law student, who attempts to persuade him that his quest for vengeance is misguided.
Kurosagi plays out quite a lot like an episode of Leverage in that the plots to exact justice are often quite in-depth and clever. But it also has more of a serialized story to it, as each episode brings the protagonist closer to finding the person who was directly responsible for the death of his family, and the relationship between Kurosaki and Yoshikawa deepens, while the police gradually draw closer to finding him.
Ask almost any J-drama fan to list their favorite Japanese shows and they will more than likely include Gokusen. The plot synopsis doesn't read like anything massively original; Yamaguchi Kumiko (Nakama Yukie) is a new high school teacher who is given the absolute worst class of delinquents Japan has to offer. But the idealistic, bright-eyed, seemingly innocent looking Yamaguchi has a secret. She's the daughter of a powerful mafia boss, and is trained to perfection in hand-to-hand combat. If anyone found out who she was, she would no doubt be fired. But as she gets to know her class of rebellious youths, she begins to see their qualities and her desire to stand up for them is quickened. Cue a rather strange series of episodes where the gangster-turned teacher beats the living snot out of anyone who tries to harm her students.
Gokusen's charm is that it doesn't take itself too seriously. It has action, and it has a whole bucket of emotion, but at its heart it's a comedy. Add in some butt-kicking martial arts scenes and you have the recipe for a great westernized show which feels a lot like a mixture of Scrubs and Martial Law, starring a female Clark Kent (if he was born into the mafia instead of well-mannered farmers).
Now, most guys aren't usually into romantic dramas. But add in time-travel and suddenly it seems slightly more appealing, right?
Proposal Daisakusen tells the story of a man at the wedding of his childhood friend, who he has been in love with for many years. Only, he's not the groom. As he watches the slides of her life, the memories come back, and he's overwhelmed with regret. Suddenly a fairy appears! Yes, seriously, a fairy. I suspect it got lost in translation somewhere, and was supposed to be whatever the Japanese equivalent of an angel is. Regardless, the fairy offers Iwase Ken (Yamashita Tomohisa, again) a chance to go back and fix the moments of his life where he made mistakes with childhood friend. As Ken fails to change the past shown in each of the slides, he's given another chance to go back again, to the time of the next slide. As the final slide draws closer, and Ken's attempts to win the heart of the woman fail time and again, it looks like changing the past isn't as easy as he had hoped.
The draw of Proposal isn't just the romance (which to be fair, is one of the most romantic things you will ever see). Proposal begins to examine wasted youth, missed opportunities, and putting others before yourself. It mixes the solemn subject of mistakes and wasted time with heart-warming comedy moments and great characters who you truly believe could be a real group of friends. There's nothing exactly like it on western television, even though the premise seems – on paper – to be very similar to a few Hollywood movies. Despite that, it could be a major draw for a certain, fairly wide audience, if it was re-made in America.
Tokkyu Tanaka San Go
With a name like that, how could it not be Japanese? Tanaka is as strange a comedy show as you might expect from such a name. The premis goes a little something like this: Tanaka, a constantly hyper, woman-obsessed university student meets a girl who he mistakenly believes to be a train spotter. In order to impress her, he finds the nerdiest train spotters he can, and attempts to befriend them. His attempts to fake nerdiness, and his relationship with the other nerds is quite frequently hilarious and bewildering. The scariest thing? By the end of it you'll probably start thinking trains are pretty cool.
Tanaka's theme is reminiscent of Big Bang Theory, and that's precisely why it would be popular if it was converted into a western show. The addition of a fairly un-nerdy protagonist who is attempting to get into train spotting makes it different enough for the show to be a comedy success. There are also less cultural references than the average nerd comedy, and the tone feels a lot like the early seasons of The Office, where you feel genuinely embarrassed for the characters during those awkward silences.
I could name a few more, such as Nobuta, Tokyo Dogs, Densha Otako, My Boss: My Hero, Buzzer Beat and Rescue. None of them feel so far removed from western themes that they would alienate audiences, unlike many typically Japanese comics and games. There's a lot of untapped creativity coming from the television scene in Japan. Although none of the shows are by any means perfect, as the acting and scripts could be better, a US re-make of some of these shows could fix those types of problems, and perhaps even improve on the original concept, so long as they keep the original feel and heart of the shows alive.