The Dorama Encyclopedia

picture: The Dorama Encyclopedia
15 April 2004


Japanese TV drama series (or dorama, in its proper romanised form) are the next frontier of pop culture fandom. At least, that's what the publication of Jonathan Clements' and Motoko Tamamuro's The Dorama Encyclopedia would suggest. Clements is of course no stranger to penning exhaustive guidebooks on Japanese pop cultural phenomena, as he previously co-wrote the eye-popping Anime Encyclopedia with Helen McCarthy.

This time he has taken on the equally Herculean task of providing us with the definitive directory to Japanese TV series (of the, mostly, live action variety), from their post-war inception to the present day. Not quite as phone directory sized as his previous work but still pretty damn huge by any writer's standards at 444 pages, The Dorama Encyclopedia gives us more than a thousand descriptions of individual TV series, ranging from two paragraphs to several pages in length and with a large amount of facts and figures for each title, as well as a welcome introduction that provides some solid socio-historical background to the subject.

Clements' witty writing style, familiar to anyone who's read any of his books, his blog, or his magazine work, is very much in evidence in both the series' descriptions and the various sidebars and appendices that are liberally dotted throughout the book ("If Shakespeare Wrote Japanese Drama..."), which makes for enjoyable browsing.

There are no doubts about The Dorama Encyclopedia's merits as a reference work. The amount of information, data and trivia provided for each series is awe-inspiring and the research is exemplary. Purely on a level of data, the book for example provides info on the TV work of numerous film directors, including Kinji Fukasaku, Takashi Miike, and Ryuhei Kitamura, thus broadening its appeal beyond that of the dorama fanbase (though a notable omission is the Haunted School / Gakko no Kaidan horror anthology series, on which all the luminaries of the later J-horror boom, including Kiyoshi Kurosawa and Hideo Nakata, cut their teeth). In the short time since its publication, The Dorama Encyclopedia has already proven its value as a research tool for this particular writer.

The humorous approach of the book does, however, occasionally come across as an attempt to view the entirety of Japanese TV production through a rather unnecessary filter of campiness. It's at moments like this that I'm reminded of how good Pete Tombs's Mondo Macabro truly was: it was no less enthusiastic and subjective than The Dorama Encyclopedia, but at the same time it was also serious and willing to judge each film it covered on its own merits and in its proper cultural context, no matter how outrageous the contents. Perhaps this would have been a better format for a book on Japanese TV drama than an encyclopedia. Having said that, a solid read of the actual writing quickly dispels the notion that the authors were operating with any kind of attitude of cultural supremacy (Tamamuro is Japanese after all).

With the amount of information it offers on what was previously an almost entirely obscure subject, The Dorama Encyclopedia, like its anime-related sibling, will no doubt prove to be of lasting merit. It's obviously a dream come true for existing dorama fans and it's the X that marks the spot for those looking for the next craze in Japanese pop culture fandom. That it additionally also holds up to heavy-duty research use only underlines the accomplishment.