yokaiYokai Ningen BemAkira EmotoKazuki Kitamura
Youkai Ningen Bem (2011)
Medium: TV, series
Year: 2011
Writer: Masafumi Nishida, Akira Adachi
Keywords: Yokai Ningen Bem, yokai
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Actor: Kazuya Kamenashi, Anne Watanabe, Fuku Suzuki, Morio Agata, Akira Emoto, Chiemi Hori, Anna Ishibashi, Kazuki Kitamura, Makoto Ito, Yoshio Miyaki, Yayoi Sano, Kanji Furutachi, Tetsushi Tanaka, Jersey Maki Itosu, Norikatsu Kodama
Format: Ten episodes, all 45 minutes except for the first and last (which are an hour each)
Website category: Japanese
Review date: 9 June 2022
It's very good. I was astonished. I'd been expecting a disaster, with a pretty boy singer as Bem and of course a child actor as Belo. Nonetheless this is a high quality show, if you can grit your teeth and get past the title sequence.
Premise: Bem (Kazuya Kamenashi), Bela (Anne Watanabe) and Belo (Fuku Suzuki) are monsters pretending to be human. Every week, they... well, actually, they don't fight other youkai. This is a non-supernatural show, with even our heroes' existence being presented in pseudo-scientific terms. (There's an ongoing baddie, but he's like them.) The supporting cast are ordinary people. There's a nice cop (Kazuki Kitamura) who lost his son in an explosion five years ago and now uses laughter and jokes as a defence mechanism. We meet his family.
The writing and acting are all solid, with the three regulars (including Suzuki!) all winning acting awards for their work here. There's none of the annoying overacting I expect from Japanese TV drama. Meanwhile, the scripts are uplifting and believe in human nature, but they're also willing to go dark and show flawed characters making bad decisions. The most shocking of them is ep.7, with a son who'd like to murder his father. Our heroes' situation is taken seriously, with the biggest emotional turning points (ep.5, ep.10) having real power.
To appreciate it, though, you'll have to suppress your anime memories. The title sequence will make your eyes and ears bleed, despite recreating the 1968 original. The casting annoys me too, because of...
Kazuya Kamenashi's performance is fine, albeit not taxing, but he's not Bem. He's a singer, actor, host, producer and magazine model who sings in a boy band. Why must the Japanese entertainment industry make everyone young and beautiful, even for roles like this? (But they've given him a grey wig.)
Fuku Suzuki, on the other hand, is remarkably good. He's not Bem, obviously, but that's because the role's unplayable. As with Kodocha's Sana-chan, the child actor hasn't been born who could pull that off. (It would be challenging for an experienced adult.) It's a question of range. The role's too big and too far beyond anything that a real child could portray. Suzuki's good at being himself, though, even if credibility is being stretched slightly. (Would he really still have a child's mindset despite being older than any mortal?) Ep.4 in particular is a big Belo episode and Suzuki pulls it off, including some fairly intense emotional scenes.
They've reduced his importance, mind you. Bem's the hero here, not Belo.
As for Anne Watanabe, she's worth watching. They're really playing up Bela's crankiness and knee-jerk hostility, but Watanabe's capable of being funny with it. She can do a lot in a moment and she made me laugh with, for instance, her faces on "a lady" in ep.6. (In that episode, she briefly gets a bloke. You'd think it would be impossible to write a love story for this Bela, but they succeed remarkably well.)
Watanabe's the daughter of Hollywood actor Ken Watanabe, incidentally.
I also want to mention Kazuki Kitamura, who startled me in how loose he is and how willing to be goofy. That's the role, yes, but even so there's quite a lot of courage in some of the light-hearted moments he drops in. It's a serious role. The guy's still not got over the death of his child. Kitamura's an award-winning actor, incidentally, with a huge CV.
It's a strong show. It did well enough to get a spin-off movie the following year. It's also trying hard to be faithful, in its way, with gobsmackingly perfect monster suits. You'd never think Bem and Belo's youkai forms could look that good. Only one of its three main characters noticeably resembles what's in the source material, but I got absorbed by it anyway. I'm looking forward to their movie.