Monday, November 03, 2008

OL Nippon eps 1-3

OL Nippon is about many things. Firstly its a show about outsourcing in the world economy today where many companies find it more cost effective to outsource part of their operations to a cheaper country. We encounter it all the time, especially with call centres outsourced to countries like India or the Philippines because of the cheaper labour. It is a story about Japanese-China relations, their differences in culture and China displacing Japan as Asia's preeminant power. Its a dorama about restructuring in a country where life long employment is a thing of the past. Its a show that examines the role of the OL which originated during the boom times and its (ir)relevance in today's tough economic world.

All the above themes are issues that must be faced by Kanzaki Shimako, a 31 year old OL, played masterfully Mizuki Arisa (Saito-san). When I first read about this show, I knew I had to watch it regardless whether it was subbed or not. Saito-san worked because of Mizuki Arisa and I was eager to see what else she could do. With the lack of wooden acting Johnnys, the chances of it being subbed were low but luckily haruspex once again came to our rescue. He did mention he might just write synopsis for a few episodes only because of irresponsible people putting subbed jdoramas on streaming sites without permission but I hope he will sub everything cause its not going to stop those who profit from free fansubs anyway.

The basic plot of the show is that the general department of Kanzaki's firm was being outsourced to China and two chinese girls, Chan-san and Yan-san were sent for training in Japan and to create a manual for the workers in China. Straight away, one could easily empathise with Kanzaki and the Japanese. Management telling them to train someone who was taking away their job? I've seen this happen in my workplace, in that the person who was acting in a job for a long time and did it well lost it to an outsider and its an insult to current employee to train the outsider. I was worried how they could pull off the show when the two chinese girls were instantly the villains.

What OL Nippon did was show that the not only were the Chinese better but the Japanese had become too complacent in their jobs. In some ways, its a critique for the Japanese that the hardworking spirit from the post war era had been taken for granted for too long. I'm surprised to see a jdorama showing the Chinese in a good light but I think it would be wrong to simplify this show as just a Japan v China show. Its a show about how people of different cultures and background think, work and behave. How people with hardships view life versus people who are content. In other words, human behaviour and expectations are just a by-product of our environment.

OL Nippon has another element I love, and that is gray area morality. Sure, in a 'free' economy whoever is more efficient wins but then again, we are talking about people's jobs and livelihood here. There is no right or wrong just parties with competing interests and priorities. It is through Kanzaki's eyes that the viewer is invited to make up their own mind. While Kanzaki views Chan-san and Yan-san as enemies, she cannot help but be impressed by their hardwork and never ending drive to better themselves. She is lost as to what the right thing to do is and so am I. As someone who is a contract worker, I know job security is a fickle and stressful thing. Yet there is a need to acknowledge and even praise those who work harder and are better, even though they be enemies.

Abe Sadao (Arase from Iryu) is the man in charge of bringing the girls in and is Kanzaki's antagonist. He torments her and seems to slightly take joy in watching her wallow in her moral dilemma despite his feelings for her. Perhaps he had the same experiences as her in the past and has come to possess a cold outlook on outsourcing work out of Japan. Abe Sadao and Mizuki Arisa surprisingly work very well together. The scenes where he gives voice to her thoughts are a hoot to watch and so are his use of reverse psychology to manipulate her. Not to mention his mandarin pronunciation is not too shabby.

Its just so freaking weird hearing so much mandarin in a jdorama and seeing actual chinese actors. Sure there was that very forgettable Faye Wong jdorama years ago but the less said about that the better. Kudos to the girl playing Chan-san as the chinese girl you cannot help but root for. She's like the tragic heroine from one of Zhang Yimou's older movies. She even out-hatarakis Hatarakiman! I'd be very interested in hearing about the opinions of Japanese who've seen this show on whether they would emphatise with the Chinese girls or their reaction to Abe Sadao's character saying that the outsourcing is Japan's fault.

Probably the best thing I can say about OL Nippon is that besides being a very entertaining show, it really encourages the audience to think about issues. It doesn't provide definite answers but rather highlight certain points for the audience to ponder. I have no idea how this show is going to end as it almost a certainty that the whole general department will be outsourced unless there is a comprising ending which would sort of be a cop out. People losing jobs is not an easy thing to accept, especially to people overseas. I'm not going to concern myself too much and am going to trust in the writer. Highly recommended.


Joe1991 said...

cheers for the review, was thinking of picking this one up.

Jung said...

Good write up as usual. I didn't know Japanaese companies were outsourcing a lot of their backoffice functions to China. And most likely, the trend will continue for awhile. And since the timezone between Japan and China isn't too far, and the backoffice functions don't require much collaborations, the communication cost of outsourcing is much lower than farming out programming work. Hopefully Japanese economy and the labormarket will be fluid enough to absorb all the displaced workers.

oops... I neglected to talk about the show... I've seen episode 1 and it seems decent. A lot of balancing act (or dancing) between negative and positive portrayal of Chinese. I wish they narrow the span between neg/pos, but oh well, it's a dorama.

Akiramike said...

Keep watching. I'm surprised that the show doesn't portray Chinese in a negative light but instead uses the Chinese to question Japanese attitudes and practices.

hamanosilence said...

Another suprising dorama this season. I'd expected some stereotypical bashing the chinese dorama but it turned out to be a very intruging story. You cannot help to root for poor Chan-san but you also try to hate the reconstructor guy :P
Although he just does his job :P