Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Ruri no Shima (NTV Japan 2005)

An interesting display of what people are willing to do for the people they love and the place they call home, Ruri no Shima (Ruri's Island), while occasionally over-dramatic, is a heart warming series that proves everyone deserves a second chance.

The citizens of Hitomjima, a small island south of Okinawa, are in the middle of a crisis. See, the total population of Hitomijima is only 50 people and a majority of these citizens are employed by the one school located there. Unfortunately, the one child attending the school, along with his family, have moved off the island and now the school is being forced to close. Without any children on the island, the people of Hitomijima are faced with the inevitable closing of the school and an uncertain future for life on the island. Mr. Nakama (Ogata Ken) decides to go to Tokyo to see if he can get his grandson to attend school on the island, but his daughter won't allow it. After his initial plan falls through, his desperation leads him to plan B: adopting a child. Here we're introduce to Ruri (Narumi Riko), an 11-year old with no real direction in life, who acts out in ways that are very unbecoming of a child at her age. Her mother Nao (Nishida Naomi), had Ruri at a young age and gave her up because she was selfishly too busy living life for herself. Even through Ruri's tough exterior, Nakama still sees the innocent child in her and knows that she'd be a perfect fit for him, his wife Megumi (Baisho Mitsuko), and the island. After some initial hesitation and an overall argumentative first encounter, Ruri too realizes that Nakama isn't like everyone else in her life and that he seems to genuinely care for her.

On the boat ride to Hitomjima, Ruri and Nakama meet a man by the name of Tatsuya Kawahima (Takenouchi Yutaka), who appears to be in need of a new start in life as well. After they arrive, things get off to a bumpy start as Ruri "tries" to adjust to her new surroundings and the people on the island. Among them are Natsumi (Nishiyama Mayuko), the convenience store owner and her husband Kouji (Katsumura Masanobu), an employee at the primary school where Ruri will attend. Also, Granny Kamado (Yoshida Taeko), school chairman Harue (Hiraizumi Sei) and his wife Yoshie (Ichige Yoshie), the school cafeteria lady; school vice chairman Souhei (Shiomi Sansei); young vagabond couple Shigeru (Kashu Toshiki) and Mitsuki (Igawa Haruka); lonely Shomei (Kohinata Fumiyo) who pines to see his estranged daughter again; school principal Manabu (Kishibe Ittoku) and primary school teacher Sanae (Konishi Minami).

As time passes, Ruri begins to see the charm in each of these characters and how special her new surroundings really are. She finds herself wanting to be a part of their lives as much as they want her to be a part in theirs and finally understands what it feels like to be wanted and loved by another person; something she never had with her real parents. Along the journey, troubles naturally arise as the mystery behind Kawashima comes into light and without enough children to keep the junior high open, what will happen to Ruri and her new family after primary school? The lonely, but gentle-hearted Shomei, wants nothing more than to see his daughter Izumi (Nagai Anzu) again, but his history of alcoholism has estranged him from her. Ruri promises Shomei that he'll see her again and she'll do everything she can to help. A reporter from Tokyou shows up during the island's annual festival and doesn't like what he sees. He things the citizens of the island are only thinking of themselves and not the foster children they're bringing to live there. Various situations like these arise for the characters on Hitomijima island, but the biggest concern shows itself when Ruri's mother returns. What does she want? And will Ruri be able to stay with her new family and the people she's grown so close to?

It's situations like the one's I described above that made me really enjoy Ruri no Shima, because they aren't too "out there" or far-fetched. They're simple, yet realistic issues that are told in a believable way by a wonderful cast. The relationship's that develop amongst the characters are some of the best I've seen in a drama series and are really the strength of the show. I'll be honest, I found myself reaching for a Kleenex during the final episode and there are certainly other moments that are filled with emotion as well. The real stand-outs of the show for me were the characters of Ruri, Tatsuya, Shomei and the relationship the three of them shared. Ruri no Shima does a fine job of showing the warmth and possibility within people, and while you may not get non-stop action in every episode, you'll definitely get a lot of heart. (Lee)

Ruri no Shima MV with clips from the series

Buy the Ruri no Shima DVD Box-Set from YESASIA! (*No English Subtitles)

The Official Ruri no Shima Website *In Japanese

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