The advent of the "trendy drama" in the late 1980s was both a blessing and a curse to Japanese TV. It launched the careers of dozens of tarentos, but the downside was that it created a vacuous, fashion-dominated TV culture that has prevailed throughout the 1990s. Some scriptwriters have fought to introduce some serious themes into the programs they work on; one of them is Nojima Shinji.
When the bubble economy was really making its presence felt, Nojima was going quietly out of his head in Aomori, the northernmost prefecture of Honshu. Born in 1965, he dropped out of college before graduating, and the first job he managed to get was at a can manufacturing plant. It was this experience that made him, in desperation, enter a TV scriptwriting contest sponsored by Fuji TV.
"I had to find my way of establishing my own identity," he admitted candidly in a recent interview. "If it hadn' been scriptwriting, it might well be something else."
He moved to Tokyo and got a part-time job in a restaurant, while he worked during the day on a secondhand word processor. The script that won the competition became Kimi ga Uso wo Tsuita (You Lied), and was screened in 1988. This wasn't the end of his problems, however; having no formal training, he had to teach himself how to write, frequently ending up with unworkable scripts.
Nevertheless, Nojima managed to get one serial on the air every year, and scored his first huge hit in 1991 with Hyakuikkaime no Puropozu (101 Proposals), the story of a bumbling salaryman who just wouldn't give up on the girl he loved.
As the bubble deflated and early '90s Japan began to turn sour, Nojima took a risk and injected some social comment into his work. The result, TBS' Kou Kou Kyoushi (High School Teacher) in 1993, aroused a storm of controversy and eerily foreshadowed the problems of teenage violence that concern the Japanese authorities today. Also in 1993, Fuji TV screened his Hitotsu Yane no Shita (Under the Same Roof), a more positive look at modern family life, also including his first part written for a non-Japanese actor. This serial proved his biggest ratings success to date.
Nojima has continued to write stylish, love-centered dramas for Fuji TV while working on more substantial serials for TBS. Earlier this year he tackled the treatment of mentally handicapped patients in Seija no Koushin (When The Saints Go Marching In), a show sadly marred by histrionic over-acting. Recently finished is Seikimatsu no Uta (The Last Song), his debut on NTV, which marked another departure in style. It takes a whimsical approach to the past and future dreams of two bewildered elderly men, and is a sign of the direction Nojima wishes to explore in future stories. "Customs and fashions change," Nojima himself commented, "but the essence of human nature does not."
--- written by John Paul Catton, with modifications by groink
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