Four episodes in and I still have no idea what Tokyohive meant when it reported that Mukai Osamu would be playing a sadistic French chef. I’m assuming this is one of those “lost in translation” moments where the Japanese marketing department and translator had their wires crossed. Either that or someone decided to kill the idea and have the drama revolve around Mukai looking cute.
I wouldn’t be surprised if the latter turned out to be true.
What is this drama about?
The official version: Mukai plays Yamate Eisuke, the prodigal son of a French restaurant owner and a starving artist. When he was younger, he was supposed to follow in his mother’s footsteps and become a chef. However his career plans took an unexpected detour when he discovered the musical genius of Kurt Cobain and decided to be a rock star instead.
And so he trades his chef’s knife for a bass, forms a band and spends the next few years plying the circuit and getting booed a lot. Eventually, he is forced to face up to reality (i.e. breathing is expensive) and take up the knife again when a rival restaurateur takes over his mother’s restaurant.
The unofficial version: As you can see from the drama’s opening credits, Hungry is all about promoting Mukai Osamu as a star.
This wouldn’t be a problem if not for the fact that everything else — the writing, the plot, the rest of the characters — seems to have taken a backseat.
Watching Hungry makes me think of Osen, a drama in which Mukai also had a part. As I’ve said before, the supporting cast in the latter wasn’t particularly memorable but one could overlook this weakness because of Aoi Yuu’s performance, which single-handedly drove the show. This is not the case with Hungry. For starters, not only does this drama have a leaden supporting cast, acting-wise, Mukai is also not in the same league as Aoi.
For someone who’s supposed to play the leader of a rock band, Mukai turns in a rather lifeless and uninspired performance. His idea of a rocker is someone who has dyed hair, scowls a lot and smashes guitars (seriously though, that is so 1994. Who does that anymore?)
Also, I don’t know if his shooting schedule has anything to do with this but for the most part, he has only two expressions — if he doesn’t look exhausted, he looks annoyed. Occasionally, he looks both exhausted and annoyed. I’ve never seen anyone with duller eyes promoting a drama:
On paper, Hungry‘s premise sounds like a cute one — a bunch of rock musicians running a French restaurant, going up against a swankier, more established rival. It’s clear who we should root for, right? Unfortunately, at this point, I don’t care if Eisuke’s restaurant goes bankrupt and folds because I’m not invested in any of the characters. They’re caricatures for the most part — the drummer is a meathead, the guitarist has a marriage clock that’s ticking (Tsukamoto Takashi in a wasted role) and the vocalist is your standard-issue playboy. Having said that, I should add that Miura Shohei, who plays ladies’ man Taku, is the only one who shows any spark of life in the group.
Their relationships with one another feel superficial at best and if I find it hard to believe that they’ve been playing together for years, how am I supposed to believe that they’re capable of running a restaurant together?
This lack of chemistry extends to Eisuke’s relationship with his girlfriend, Maria (Kuninaka Ryoko), making their scenes a drag to watch. Why this drama is dragging out their relationship I have no idea. It’s not bringing anything to the story and frankly, it could have been resolved in the first episode by having her dump him when she found out about his change in career plans.
The only reason I can think of for keeping her on is so that the drama can have its contrived love triangle between her, Chie and Eisuke. It would have been more interesting, not to mention believable, if the younger girl had been a worthier adversary, for example, a kitchen apprentice with excellent knife skills who understands what Eisuke is trying to achieve professionally, as opposed to an infatuated fangirl who’s just there to swoon over everything he makes. There’s no substance to Chie’s attraction to him and I don’t understand why they had to include a romance in this drama — because if there aren’t any women fawning over him, no one will get that Eisuke is hot?
Hungry‘s other main problem is not that it doesn’t know what it wants to be but that it wants to be everything — a slapstick comedy, a slice-of-life-drama about food, a romance. It’s as if some TV exec came up with a checklist of elements culled from all the trendy dramas out there and told the scriptwriter to write a story with all these items thrown in. What you get as a result is a flimsy tale that has no direction.
I would have thought that the main conflict driving this story would be Eisuke’s rivalry with Tokio (Inakagi Goro’s character) and that we’d get to see some Iron Chef-type competition between the two restaurants. However just like Eisuke’s relationship with Maria, this rivalry doesn’t seem to be going anywhere and it doesn’t make much sense. First of all, why bother buying an established restaurant like Le Petit Chou if you’re not going to capitalise on its brand? It’s like someone taking over the French Laundry and then tearing it down and building a completely different restaurant in its place. Why would anyone want to do that?
Secondly, exactly what is the basis of Tokio’s rivalry with Eisuke? Does he view the latter as a threat? Is he jealous of his skills? Does he want to crush him and make sure he never cooks in Tokyo ever again? Your guess is as good as mine and other than confirming the fact that Tokio is just plain weird, I’m not sure what the point of the blue lobster challenge in episode 4 was. Suppose say Eisuke had produced a dish that knocked his socks off — then what? Would Tokio have acknowledged his talent and stopped bothering them?
Hungry has been described in certain circles as a drama about food, which I find misleading because unlike in Osen and Shinya Shokudo where it functions as a narrative device, in this drama it is nothing more than a visual cue for Chie to start swooning. I wish they had employed food as a metaphor for Eisuke’s growth as a chef and a character or weaved it into the plot in such a way that each dish would actually mean something instead of just being a pretty prop. If all I wanted was food porn, I could just read a cookbook instead.
As you might have guessed, I’m checking out of this drama. I don’t dislike Mukai but watching Hungry fills me alternately with frustration and irritation. Frustration because this could have been an entertaining drama if a) the writing had been tighter, b) they had cast a stronger group of supporting actors who actually had chemistry with one another, c) the drama had a stronger focus and d) Mukai wasn’t given the sole responsibility of carrying this show on his own. Irritation because I don’t find Hungry the least bit funny (its brand of slapstick humour is not my cup of tea) and my love for Miura Shohei isn’t strong enough for me to endure all the contrived scenarios in this drama. Sorry Shohei baby, I tried but this one’s getting 86ed.