It appears that the quality of Japanese TV dramas has gone downhill over the recent years. The plot or production values aren’t necessarily at fault here, but rather the level of acting. These shows have always been kind of peculiar; if you were compare them to Western television, or even Korean series. But the weirdness usually was carried by strong performances from great actors – Kimura Takuya, Nagase Tomoya, Okada Junichi, Nishida Toshiyuki, Nakama Yukie, Ueno Juri, Kuninaka Ryoko, Haruna Ayase and the list goes on. Some of those guys perform in music groups as well, but to be honest they’re better off acting. In a leading role, any of the names mentioned usually guarantees a good drama. However, Abe Hiroshi is the one person who makes any drama he dabs in excellent.
With his towering silhouette (189 cm) and a modeling past (abs), a spectrum of characteristic gestures and a smoky, attention-getting voice, Hiroshi is an actor who quite literally stands out among his fellow performers. His distinct appearance sometimes even gets lampshaded in dramas, by making him bump his head into door frames or present his chiseled body for the sake of a joke.
I’d assume his true breakthrough came in 2000 with Trick, a comedic mystery drama, where he starred as a gullible university professor Ueda Jiro. Together with Yamada Naoko (Nakama Yukie), a street magician, they solve what appear to be supernatural riddles, which usually end up being very elaborate man-conceived schemes to con others.
The series ran over few seasons and a couple of movies, introduced several recurring characters, bunch of hilarious running gags, and was a fantastic show.
Hiroshi further proved himself as a reliable supporting character, in hit dramas like Kimura Takuya’s Hero, Hirosue Yoko’s Dekichatta Kekkon (Shotgun Wedding), Aya Ueto’s My Little Chef or Wedding Planner. He’s a great choice for quirky parts – silly lines or actions contrast so well with his serious looks.
Then some of his finest roles in dramas arrived. At Home Dad with Shinohara Ryoko and Ando Sakura, Dragon Zakura with stars of younger generation: Yamashita Tomohisa, Nagasawa Masami, and Aragaki Yui, and finally Kekkon Dekinai Otoko (The Man Who Can’t Get Married). The latter is constantly recommended to anyone starting his or her adventure with Japanese dramas.
Abe Hiroshi’s portrayal of a grumpy, arrogant architect who insists he does not need other people in his life is Oscar-worthy. Kekkon Dekinai Otoko teaches a lesson or two about L.I.V.I.N.G. without turning into a lecture. I still come back to this drama every now and then, as the plot, humor and acting are strong in this one.
The actor also went on to star in more serious TV series. Thrillers like Tengoku to Jigoku or Shinzanomono, political CHANGE or the family drama Shiroi Haru. ‘White Spring’ was a true tearjerker, which made me realize Hiroshi’s outstanding versatility. I’d easily put him among top Hollywood actors.
In 2012 he starred as Lucius in Thermae Romae, a manga-based movie about the love Japanese and Romans shared for spa and bathing etiquette. Getting a bunch of Japanese to play white ancient Europeans, huh, now that’s uproar. The movie was obviously a success commercially, because fuck logic.
Last year Hiroshi appeared in two dramas: the Second-World-War-related special Ichiban Densha ga Hashitta, which I haven’t gotten around to watch yet and Shitamachi Rocket.
As I was saying in the beginning, a drama with this guy is bound to succeed, and so Shitamachi Rocket ratings were very good. The show depicted a story of a medium-sized manufacturing company which, although does its job competently, continuously has to face financial troubles resulting from going against bigger corporations and the evil banks. Apparently that’s the sort of issues the subsidiaries have to deal with and many people in Japan identified with the drama’s plot. The Japanese TV series tend to get bloody preachy and didactical and by the end I have had sat through several moralizing speeches. I didn’t exactly need these teachings on work ethics, but eventually Shitamachi Rocket still ended on the high note.
I haven’t watched all of his works yet, but I doubt I’ll be able to find anything average, or even less likely, straight-out bad. He’s just so memorable – even after a drama ends, some of his hijinks remain at the back of your mind for a while.
What an actor he is. Abe Hiroshi.