Saturday, June 24, 2017

Gurame (J-Drama 2016)

Completely forgettable, Gurame: The Prime Minister's Chef  is formulaic stuff that is not without its charms yet is lacking in anything of real substance.

You know as well I do that judging a book by it's cover is never a good idea. Kurumi Ichiki (Ayame Gouriki) is a perfect example of that old adage. On the service, she's just an ordinary waitress, albeit a young, pretty one with a sharp sense of wit about her. She also happens to be working at a traditional Japanese style restaurant with a customer base that includes high-ranking government officials. Unbeknownst to her fellow staff, Kurumi has more skills up her sleeve than just taking orders. A chance encounter with one of the aforementioned government figures, Seiji Koga (Kenichi Takito), turns Kurumi's world upside down and she suddenly finds herself cooking at the Prime Minister's official residence and being appointed personal chef for Prime Minister Ato (Fumiyo Kohinata). With Kurumi's superior cooking skill-set now out in the open, she finds herself butting heads with Haruki Kiyosawa (Issei Takahashi), the head of the PM's cooking team, who feels his territory is being tread upon. Luckily she has help in her sous chef, Tomokazu Tamura (Hiroki Miyake), to help her keep a cool head but can she manage to perform under pressure in order to maintain the rep of both herself and Prime Minister Ato?

By and large, Gurame is a rags to riches story but without our protagonist being all that destitute. She is, however, an ordinary person with a hidden superior skill-set and suddenly finds herself in a very surreal situation; cooking for the most high ranking official in the nation. Yes, like most dramas, you're asked to suspend disbelief. The main element of this show that occurs in each episode, of which there are 8, is that a threatening situation befalls the Prime Minister and his office and Kurumi is called upon to create a dish that conveys a message from the PM in order to make a point to the guest (PM's from other nations, Food company CEO's, rival candidates, etc.). Sure, the premise is silly, but it's all in good old fashioned light-hearted fun and on occasion, there is a semi-profound message to be had for the viewer. Gurame, I assume, is a show meant to showcase various high-class dishes in an attempt to ride the wave of newfound food appreciation in today's culture while injected a bit of food history in along the way. My biggest issue with this drama is that there is no over-arching story underneath the repetition of conflict that the PM faces in each episode with Kurumi and Tomokazu having to create a dish. Haruki is a suitable enough rival for Kurumi, in that he feels his position being encroached upon by someone who he deems unsatisfactory. We get it, he has a chip on his shoulder and he maintains that grudge for the entire series. However, there's really no background to him, so instead of coming across as a hardened individual that may be misunderstood, I'm left feeling like he's really just a jerk. There's also no struggle for Kurumi to overcome behind the scenes. It's simply just the challenging cook she faces in each episode. Somewhat interesting elements, such as the PM and his relationship with his mysterious daughter Riko (Risa Naito) for example, aren't really explored and heck, maybe they're not meant to. I should say, they're clearly not meant to because 8 episodes does not afford the writers a lot of time to flesh certain plot points out. Therein lies the problem. Most Japanese dramas are around 10 episodes, which isn't a lot, but they manage to feel more substantial than this. Giving the benefit of the doubt, I'll just accept that the writers didn't want anything deeper than what we got but I personally like a little more meat on the bone.

Unless you have an Ayame Gouriki bias, which I admittedly have, then there's really no reason for me to recommend Gurame. You hardcore foodies might have an okay time with it but I honestly wouldn't expect much. Confection! (Lee)

Grade: C+

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