“Have you loved anyone deeply before? Is there someone you want to see right now? Destiny is like the Big Dipper, it always points in one direction. Meeting someone may mark the start of a breakup and a breakup is the beginning of another meeting. Within that short span of time, let us have hopes and advance together. Just a little bit more… A little bit more… I want to walk towards the ocean with you. Do you – is there someone you want to see right now?”
This revisit will be long; sit back, get comfortable and join me as I reel you in on the awesomeness that is the 2002 Jdrama Tentai Kansoku, or its alter-name Searchin’ For My Polestar. Suffice to say, it is now a close tie-in for the Forever Golden status with that other best, friendship-themed Jdrama, Orange Days.
picture credits to: http://wiki.d-addicts.com/File:SFMP.jpg
1) The Premise
Inspired by the music of BUMP OF CHICKEN of the same title, Tentai Kansoku (lit. Stargazing) opened with two guys running towards the ocean, huge grins on their faces while a third looked on, beer in hand and a smirk at the antics of the two.
It was summer, 1999.
“Who knows which is the Polaris?”
“To locate the Polaris, search for the Big Dipper. Extend the line and there you are… the Polaris!”
“Seamen in the olden days used that to determine their location.”
“We’ll be fine too, then. There’s seven of us, too.”
That day was the one and only time they went stargazing; ironic, considering they’re supposedly the Astronomy Club. Seven friends, comprising of 4 males and 3 females, were soon-to-be college graduates. This night was closure of some sort and it was filled with laughter, happiness and lots of hope as anyone at that stage would be: doe-eyed, hopeful, naive and mostly, idealistic.
We reconvene in summer, 2002.
Three years have since passed and the friendship circle, what of it? The show greeted us with a marriage ceremony and an awkward get-together at the reception; everyone’s lives are now in full-motion, succumbed to reality. They’re kind to each other, treading familiar grounds as old friends but it’s also obvious that distance, time and experience have shaped them to be different than they were three years ago. One has returned home after a year or so of being away and ever the idealist, he tried to bring the friendship circle back together, starting off with a gathering at the nostalgic bar Jupiter, a place they had frequent as undergraduates. It went south obviously, and here’s where our story really kicks in to motion;
“From the palms outstretched towards the sky, a few stars fall. From the stargazing session three years ago, we’ve lost our directions. Like a boat floating in the dark oceans.”
What then follows is the story of eight individuals trying to make sense of not only their own lives but also that of each other. Bounded together by a friendship circle that’s tested, questioned, challenged many times over in the course of a summer, questions constantly rise, begging for answers: how much do they really know each other to be there for one another? How much do they even know of themselves, really? Could they really claim to be there for each other when they can barely be there for themselves? So what if from a friend to another, one doesn’t have the answers to the other’s predicaments? Above all – what does it mean, being a friend and staying as friends?
“Why do people keep missing each other? Why can’t we be more understanding? People face each other everyday, and we can really love someone, and time is that short. In our lives that cannot be replayed, why is time wasted on separation, misunderstandings and mistakes? Everyone knows it’s happiness to be with someone you love.”
2) The Characters
“I want to reconstruct Japan’s economy!”
Sayama Koichi (Ito Hideaki)
Perhaps the pillar of the friendship, Koichi is realistic, extremely principled and very, very kind. He’s also known for his obvious dislike at lying, trying so hard to live honestly and expecting others to do the same. Raised by a single mother, his idealism and principles are challenged through questionable work outcomes and inevitably, a life-changing truth.
As a normal salary-man in a consulting firm, Koichi is perhaps the only one among them who has accepted and succumbed to reality – not necessarily bitterly, but he’s definitely a realist whereby he realizes that things and people are not the same as three years ago. Despite what he knows, what I love and respect so much about him is the fact that he always tries to be there for the other person. When entrusted with truth that is not his to reveal, despite the inner turmoil he clearly faced, he never did spill the secret or judge the other for it. His dependency is I believe, his greatest asset that when reality comes crashing to him squarely, that brokenness evident through his expression as the walls of ideals versus reality crashed … ugh, gutted. He broke down in sobs and across the screen, I wept for his lost innocence.
There is no doubt that Koichi is perhaps my most favorite character because he’s so… real and oh so kind.
“I must pass the selection and become an elementary school teacher!”
Sawamura Mifuyu (Koyuki)
In their university years, Mifuyu and Koichi dated. Not long after graduation, work commitment made it increasingly harder to maintain the relationship and they eventually broke up, but there is obviously residual sentiments and unfinished business between these two.
What I think is great about Mifuyu is the fact she’s dependable upon – that one, true friend who will be there for you without fail for as long as she’s able. Even if her own life course is directionless, throughout the series, I noticed that Mifuyu has never not stepped in or out of her way to be there for everyone in the circle. She’s perhaps the stabilizer or the anchor in the friendship circle, constantly checking in on the rest while sometimes hiding her own feelings in attempts to be understanding. When a particular truth from years ago is made known, Mifuyu’s conflicted, but I respect that she’s immediately honest about it to the other party.
What I also love about her story line is the fact that she has all these baggage because she’s so afraid to step out into the Real World and go after what she wants; hence, courage is an aspect that her character mulled over and is challenged by, the latter in the form of a kid. It isn’t so much the destination in her case, rather and truly, the journey. For this reason, I love her character development because her internal conflicts are so easily relatable that when she finally stepped up and work towards realizing her dream once more, I rooted for her with a full heart.
“I want to be the world’s number one!”
Kawamura Tomoya (Sakaguchi Kenji)
Perhaps the most idealistic of them all, when I first watched Tentai Kansoku more than ten years ago, I was immediately annoyed at his brash, loud personality and his highly idealistic attitude in wanting, hoping and thinking that everyone’s still the same from years ago. Back then, it irked me so much that he just Didn’t Get It that people have moved on, Real Life has taken place and what he knew of them may not necessarily hold true anymore.
However, in this revisit, it hit me that although all the above are true, if not for him, the friendship circle would probably have dissolved because no one is as aggressive and adamant about having them all together again. It’s true he never really got it but looking back, it’s probably a good thing that he’s not swallowed by reality like the rest. Similar to Koichi’s crash to reality, when it occurs to Tomoya nearer to the end, it was heartbreaking to watch – if the most optimistic of us now begins to express bitterness, what does it say about the rest of us?
Within the friendship circle, what I appreciate about Tomoya is that he’s constantly putting others ahead of himself. He genuinely tries to be there for everyone, especially Mifuyu who he clearly harbors an one-sided love for, and Koichi, his closest guy buddy. I especially love that even when others push him away during their troubled times, he remains aloof and undeterred, finding ways to be there for them anyway.
I like how the ending played out for him – round two, in short.
“I must become a wealthy man!”
Kizaki Takeshi (Odagiri Joe)
Takeshi is perhaps the character with the least screen time as a group, but made the most impact whether individually or together. Forced to grow up and face reality ahead of the rest and before he himself is truly ready, he’s since been hardened by his lack of lot in life. There’s a phoenix waiting to emerge somewhere in him, to seek out for help, to come clean and start over – but reality and ego are tough shells to break.
Despite his continual absence, his presence is always felt and yes, made the most impact. His million-dollar question at the end of episode one provided the much-needed jolt, “You, you and you. All you know is preach. Does everyone even has a clear conscience?”
His road to redemption in the second half of the show is uplifting, hopeful and… heartbreaking. Above all however, his presence – larger than life – and the irony that despite everyone’s open willingness to get-together and the like, it’s Takeshi’s quiet resilience and love for the friendship circle that’s perhaps most honest compared to any open expressions of affections and sentiments from the others.
This show introduced me to Odagiri Joe and suffice to say, he pulled me in effortlessly and I’ve been a fan since.
“I must find a better man and bask in true happiness!”
Ida Yuri (Konishi Manami)
The yin to Takeshi’s yang, Yuri’s story is so closely interwoven to Takeshi, providing me with perhaps one of the most realistic and heartbreaking love story I’ve watched come alive on my screen. Constantly challenged by reality, here’s two people who simply can’t quit one another; it’s like being in love at all the wrong moments in life. Yuri’s perhaps the one that puts on the most facade, insisting “I’m fine” when she clearly isn’t and so I’m glad that the rest constantly tries to be there for her, overlooking her front.
Between her and Takeshi, I love her for her unwavering support towards him. Despite being emotionally fragile herself, her love towards him comes across to me as unconditional and it’s like she’s a sixth sense on him, easily sensing something’s amiss.
A particularly memorable scene is this one, when Yuri shouted “I’m only 25!”, frustrated and in tears. Gently, Mifuyu tugged her hand and replied, “Yuri, you’re already 25…” What then followed is an emotional ride where chips fall as they should, a major surprise takes place and consequently, a most beautiful ending. I love how beautifully it played out, evident of the growth and maturity experienced by Yuri.
“I must be the first to get hitched!”
Miyabe Satomi (Tabata Tomoko)
Satomi is perhaps the most endearing character of the lot. I’ve never seen this actress before and until now, I’ve never come across her in another show; thus, in my mind, she’s Satomi and no one else and boy, what perfect casting. I love Satomi not only for her kindness, but also for the fact that she’s a blend of Tomoya and Koichi – optimistic, kind but also realistic. Despite whatever challenges life throws at her, I love that Satomi continues to try by giving her best in everything while still wanting to be there for the rest. Perhaps the rest takes her never-give-up spirit for granted, such that when she experiences a major breakdown – similar to an earlier scene with Takeshi, I love that everyone rallies together to support her, despite not knowing the root of her turmoil. When the person one has come to depend on for her go-getter attitude meets with a halt, it gives one pause and an apt reminder that everyone is truly, only human. More than that, it serves as a reminder that nothing is stronger than the human spirit as they witness Satomi piece herself and her situation back together, in true never-say-die spirit of hers.
Satomi is a character who’s indeed all-heart; so much spirit and endearment all in one!
“I want to…” (the tape hilariously runs out!)
Yamazaki Kenta (Yamazaki Shinegori)
Kenta is another character whose character growth is so brilliantly portrayed that despite my earlier annoyance about him – his ungrateful antics, his easily-give-up attitude and his lack of self-confidence – I don’t dislike him. In fact, I am especially impressed by him in the second half when he finally grew a backbone and work towards becoming a more responsible son, friend and most importantly, person.
He’s weak, but humanely weak – how many of us are like him? – such that his insecurities very easily resonate and for this reason, breathed raw honesty and realism into the story. I really like his transitional growth and could not have been prouder of him – even in this revisit, I brimmed with pride at his leaps and bounds.
Last but not least, an unlikely new addition:
Arisaka Nana (Hasegawa Kyoko)
First an outsider, then a friend and ultimately an observer, Nana provides an interesting juxtaposition of the friendship circle and most crucially, its impact to an outsider who’s taken in – by fate, one could argue or by sheer circumstance – and surrounded by seven friends who love each other dearly.
Battling her own demons and seeking professional help for it, her relapse turned out to be a blessing in disguise and her small leaps of success, whether in the form of reaching out to another, ‘fessing up the truth or most especially, riding the bus – Nana is a character who started off as meek and rather strange, but as the show progresses her conflicts are brought to light believably that I empathize with her. Above all, I love the way the writers dealt with her arc – Koichi plays a central role and I can’t be anymore proud of him and prouder of her too, for consciously and actively voicing out the favor.
Her presence in the friendship circle, a new addition I dare say, surprisingly did not at all skew the balance and dynamics. Just as the rest kindly and gracefully welcomed her to their circle, I did too.
3) The Storytelling
What else can I say that I have not at this point? I love everything about this show – the characters, the plot, the plentiful conflicts which were so realistic and equally believable in their executions and outcomes… everything. My favorite aspect of the storytelling is the fact that despite having eight central characters, none were left by the wayside and each individual conflicts were different, yet resonated and were directly or indirectly interwoven to each other and reflective of the circle as a whole.
It’s hard to really categorize the genre of this show; it’s a love story, yet it’s so much more than that. It’s a friendship story, most definitely, but it’s also not necessarily greater in sum than parts – both aspects were wonderfully executed with pathos, nuance and insights. I’d love to list it under coming-of-age, but it has none of the doe-eyed innocence of say, a teenager in full bloom towards adulthood. Rather, here’s a story of eight adults – fully grown, mature and wholly responsible for their respective lives – trying to make sense of their world, their presence and mostly, their own self-worth while remembering, realizing and learning that oh how blessed they are, to have each other to fall back on.
4) Afterthoughts, Eleven Years Later
My first watch of Tentai Kansoku was many years back – yes eleven, to be exact from the year the show premiered. I’d come across this show completely by accident; one of my brothers had bought the VCD at the local store completely randomly and one fine day, bored, I decided to give it a go. I was only 11 then and could not understand many of the things I do now, with this revisit.
What amazed me the most then, as it does today, is this fact: the show’s inspired by a song of the same name by BUMP OF CHICKEN – the opening theme song, posted above – but mad props to the writers for taking one song and fleshing not only an entire story, but eight memorable characters and their respective individual conflicts. In fact more than that, to interweave each character with a friendship circle that weathered the ebbs of time, change and reality.
I have revisited this show a significant number of times following my first and much like other really good shows, Tentai Kansoku is like fine wine; it gets better with age. As my lenses and life perspectives mature, I’ve now come to understand better the actions, decisions and outcomes of each character; I don’t always agree or like everyone equally, I admit, but I greatly appreciate that nothing’s black and white.
In addition, I thought Tentai Kansoku completely understood adulthood for what it is: that even as adults, we don’t always have all the answers we think we would, nor do we necessarily know the directions we’re headed towards and most crucially, what they mean. The dreams we had had, do they stay the same? The essence of who we were and especially, who we were to each other, could they possibly stay the same? If they don’t, what does it mean, to have changed as a product of our respective experiences, frustrations, jadedness and more?
When I was younger, I understood nothing of this sort; it confused and frustrated me when characters acted first this way, then the other. Now as a 22 year old young adult who’s in a similar period of time, I find myself laughing at my younger innocence. I now realize the things I overlooked, the memories that never stayed on my mind: the small scenes, all of which speak volumes about the characters themselves, including their emotions and sentiments towards one another.
For instance, there’s a scene where Koichi’s day went from bad to worse and finally, hunched on the ground and sobbing, his phone rang; Mifuyu. He tried to hold back the tears and answer, faltering every time, yet he held on. In another scene between himself and Mifuyu, the latter took his hand without saying anything; understanding and quietly supporting him. In yet another scene – perhaps one of the most impactful and memorable for me now – he returned to the office and attempted to continue working, trying to type… except his fingers kept shaking and when the camera panned to his face, tears were forming. Sure enough, soon he was a sobbing wreck. And last but not least, in one of the many pivotal, final scenes, the three – Mifuyu, Koichi and Tomoya – met halfway, smiled at each other before walking in three different directions, forming a tee; symbolic and ironically so full of hope.
Here’s the closing song of the show, Will by Mika Nakashima, which never fails to bring me back:
In terms of the friendship circle, ah my heart – I can’t even begin. They broke my heart, mended it and repeated the cycle a million times over throughout the entire course of the show. I love that so much realism was injected in not only their individual conflicts, but also in terms of the roots of their friendship circle. How much do they really know about each other, as they absentmindedly promise to be there for each other? Preaching this and that to each other, how are they actually living their own lives away from their friends? As they wish each other happiness, are they themselves happy?
While these questions and more were explored, questioned and interrogated, I love that regardless whatever takes place or not – they truly are for and from each other and none more evident than those scenes in the last two episodes. I love that in their search for themselves, they found not only each other, but themselves through each other. I love it even more, that though they walk in and out of each other’s lives and in the many years to come such actions would perhaps repeat, they realize that they can always return to one another.
“Each of us is a small boat, even if we see someone drowning, we can’t help him onto the boat. This is a boat that can only take in one person. But that day, I thought… Even in the midst of storms, even if we lose our way in the ocean… If we gaze upon the same star, if we have companions by our side, perhaps we’ll be motivated by an overwhelming strength. Though it’s a boat that can only take one person, we can always feel one another’s presence. Such miracles may happen around you or me.”
Tentai Kansoku is truly a story with so much heart, realism, love and above all, hope. A clear winner, it is now forever golden in my book.
Final Verdict: 10/10.