Exploring Japanese Netflix Dramas: A Review of 'Million Yen Women'

Picture this:

A drowsy eyed man and five women sit around a dining table for each meal. The women’s ages range from 17 to 30. Each one has a different beverage in front of her. One of them wears a school uniform. One of them is stark naked. They are living together and the man takes one million yen (almost 9,000 USD) from each of them as monthly rent. He is trying to write a book. 

Million Yen Women or  100万円の女たち [Hyaku Man Yen No Onnatachi] is a 2017 Netflix TV series based on a 2015 manga by Shunju Aono, under the romance and mystery genre. With a single season consisting of 12 episodes, it takes the audience through the dysfunctional life of failed writer Shin Michima who has written several heartfelt but poorly-received novels. The ladies’ purpose in staying with him and paying such a high rent is unknown but Shin isn’t allowed to ask them questions. Though initially disturbed by the strange arrangement that’s been set up by an anonymous third party, he’s far from objecting and soon, cooks and cleans for all five beautiful women in his home, using any free time to finish the novel he is working on. He watches them exchange banter and witticisms during their morning and evening meals with a look of stunned disbelief and his editor/agent drops by from time to time for encouragement, bemused by his client’s exhilarating if decidedly non-traditional home life. However, everyone soon settles into normalcy and they become a happy if deviant ‘family’, each member with an ulterior motive (or motives) of their own.

Via Netflix

The premise sounds whimsical but soon takes a dark turn. Shin’s demeanor is calm and non-reactionary but he is recovering after a shocking personal tragedy that the entire world is now witness to. His unconscious fear of being in the public eye affects his writing and threatens to end his career for good, while a rival author and his agent hasten the process by trashing Shin publicly on television. Death threats are routinely sent to his home at unholy hours of the day. Shin is too depressed to care.

The women witness these chain of events and all of them do their own bit to break him out of his stupor and help him write his next best-seller, acting as unofficial muses. Whether it’s shocking him with their strange values, sharing a life story or two, giving him companionship, or even using their other connections to ease his climb up to fame, one gets the feeling that the fate of these women is very much tied to the success of Shin’s book. 

Via Mill Wiki

The show is an ideal balance of entertainment and analysis. It is first of all an extremely searing portrayal of Japan’s publishing and idol industry, claiming that in these worlds, one’s network means more than real talent, so arrogant and market-savvy writers bask in their fame along with their corrupt minions while those with skill and authenticity are ignored or worse...even mocked.

At the same time, it showcases the famous Japanese work ethic: agents, editors, writers, and public celebrities give all of themselves to their livelihood and the audiences who turn up to support them at every turn, displaying the beauty of collectivism and strong-knit professional relationships.  

At its lighter moments, the show tries to philosophize and understand what it is that inspires creativity in artists and writers. Love? Passion? Travel? New experiences? Personal drive? Danger? Trauma? Or all of these things? It seems to suggest that the media enlists the help of society to demonize non-conforming individuals and by extension, keep them in line, but argues that it is the artist’s duty to try and break away from this oppression even if the consequences are horrific. 

Via Netflix

The show definitely has its flaws. The camera work, though hyper-realistic, gets a little clunky at times and the dialogues lean towards awkwardly realistic as opposed to even remotely literary. The show veers away from expensive graphics (sometimes the most sophisticated aid is flashing colored lights) and it one takes some time to get used to the unsettling fictional yet eerily true-to-life filming technique.

Million Yen Women is also a study into the different types of Japanese women. Commonly dismissed as submissive, lacking personality or depth, and relegated to stereotypes by mainstream media, this show instead attempts to teach the audience that women are not interchangeable; that they walk in and out of archetypes to be their own unique person and that underestimating them is a deadly mistake. During the first episode, we have a typical set-up: the insecure student, the reserved housewife, the homely bookworm, the glamorous actress, the formidable dominatrix…and yet they are nothing like their labels once the audience gets to know them better. There are contradictions on top of contradictions and the show isn’t afraid to broach questions and narratives that would make most censor boards wince. The cast of men and women is almost equally balanced in the show, with women definitely having an upper hand with regard to their well-scripted and nuanced, original performances.

Million Yen Women is a highly recommended watch for Netflix Japan viewers searching out an unorthodox story that turns cliches on their head, and isn’t afraid to deal with darkness and drama. 

    

Via Netflix 

You can read more about the show here and start watching here!

Happy viewing...if you're lucky.