Thursday, March 12, 2020

“Misaeng: Incomplete Life” synopsis, Eps. 1-20 (no spoilers)


(Click the image above to view or download a bigger copy.)


Jump to synopsis of Ep./Eps. 1-4; 5; 6; 7; 8; 9; 10; 11-13; 14-15; 16-17; 18-19; 20 (Finale); How I wrote these episode summaries with no spoilers; Historical backgrounders and other information; Lessons in photography from “Misaeng”

From Wikipedia: “Misaeng: Incomplete Life” is a 2014 South Korean television series based on the webtoon series of the same title by Yoon Tae-ho. It aired on tvN from October 17 to December 20, 2014 for 20 episodes. The title translates to Go terminology meaning “an incomplete life.”

It was the first Korean drama to film on location in Jordan, where actors Im Si-wan and Lee Sung-min shot the series’s prologue in Amman, Petra, and Wadi Rum.

The series became a cultural phenomenon and recorded high viewership ratings for a cable network program in Korea. tvN is known for its record breaking dramas.

The drama won various awards such as Grand Prize (Daesang), 9th Cable TV Broadcasting Awards; Best Miniseries, 10th Seoul International Drama Awards; Best Drama, 8th Korea Drama Awards; and Best Content Award, Drama, tvn10 Awards.

How I wrote these episode summaries with no spoilers


1. I assumed that you will be reading these summaries and watching the videos chronologically.

2. I narrated the main actions in each episode or series of episodes without revealing the plot’s twists and turns.

3. I followed this structure all throughout, except for Ep. 20 (Finale) where I included spoilers. Reason - most people want to know if the drama has a good ending or a sad ending before they invest the time in watching it.

I used this same structure in my synopses of “Empress Ki,” “Queen In-Hyun's Man,” “The Joseon Gunman,” “Gokusen” (2002, Japanese classroom drama-comedy), “IRIS,” and “Goblin.”

Episodes 1-4


Geu-rae is a 26-year old guy who’s frustrated with his life because of his failure to become a professional “baduk” (“go”) player. To provide for his sickly mother, he becomes an intern in the conglomerate One International, despite having only a high school graduation equivalency examination (GED).

The other interns who Geu-rae works with are the highly efficient Young-yi who can speak several languages; Baek-ki, the natural leader; and the bumbling, young father. The rest of the interns bully him because he became an intern despite his lack of academic qualifications and work experience.

Geu-rae is assigned to Sales Team 3, headed by the gruff Oh Sang-sik, who resents having him on the team. His immediate superior is Kim Dong-sik, who tries to mentor him.

Oh Sang-Sik is constantly harassed by the problems in his team and its relationships with the other teams and the different departments in One International. His conflict with the Executive Director becomes worse when Geu-rae fails to shred a sensitive document.

The interns are required to give presentations by pairs to show One International why they should be hired as employees. Despite his nerves, Geu-rae asks Young-yi to become his partner. But he also meets Han Seok-yul (a mechanical engineer) who, surprisingly, wants to partner with him. When the other interns learn about it, they laugh because they know that Seok-yul is a goofball who likes ogling women and drinking wine with his buddies.


Episode 5


Geu-rae, Young-yi, Seok-yul, and Baek-ki become two-year contract employees in One International. They’re assigned to various teams, and later on, they meet Deputy Director Sun Ji-young (a working mother) for the first of several training sessions.

Conflict arises between Sales Team 3 and Resource Team over a contract that lacks an important document. Oh Sang-sik says that he submitted the required document two months ago, but Resource Team claims that it never got the document.

The conflict becomes personal when both Oh Sang-Sik and Manager Ma bring up past events of sexual harassment and the suicide of a former employee.

While the conflict turns into a shouting and shoving match, Young-yi decides to take a sneak look into the Resource Team safe to check if the missing document is there.


Episode 6


The various sales teams eagerly await the result of Sales Team 3’s negotiation with Wilmart Ramen Company because the deal could benefit all of them. When the email from Wilmart comes in, to their surprise and joy, Oh Sang-Sik exclaims that the Wilmart executive is his old friend from school.

As Oh Sang-Sik and Gue-rae later leave for their meeting with the Wilmart executive, they pass by Young-yi, who continues to be relegated to menial duties in the Resource Team.

Park Young-gu, the IT sales department assistant manager, gets into trouble with his boss when their supplier again misses the deadline for delivery. The next day, he goes to the supplier’s office, with Geu-rae and Baek-ki tagging along as part of their training. As they’re about to go into the office, they hear the manager telling his staff that Park Young-gu is such a pushover that they can give more attention to their other clients instead of One International.



Episode 7


Oh Sang-Sik persists in trying to get his Sales Manager to approve his high-risk Iranian oil deal. But the Sales Manager prefers the low-risk China rare earth elements deal.

Meanwhile, after being bullied again, Young-yi is challenged by the Resource Team to work on the carbon-emissions proposal. Despite Baek-ki’s warning and because of Geu-rae and Seok-Yul’s assurance, she decides to directly talk to the Finance Manager and get the proposal approved. But the Finance Manager kicks her out of the office for being insubordinate to her Resource Team officers.

Oh Sang-Sik begins working on the China rare earth elements deal. But the Sales Manager finds out about the slipping business conditions in China, and so, he tells Oh Sang-Sik to remove his name from the proposal and to make it appear that it is completely Sales 3 Team’s deal.

Episode 8


The Sales Manager orders Oh Sang-Sik and Sales Team 3 to work on the Mecca Phone deal; he even gives Oh Sang-Sik his credit card to use for anything that can get the CEO of Mecca Phone to sign the contract. Gue-rae later finds out that Oh Sang-Sik’s moral principles run contrary to the CEO’s practice of asking for sexual favors to complete a deal.

When Seok-Yul finds out about Oh Sang-Sik’s dilemma, he offers his expertise and devises a plan to get the CEO to sign the contract while he’s drinking and partying.

The head of the Resource Team assigns Young-yi to work on the carbon-emissions proposal, but the assistant team manager orders her to find any excuse not to work on the proposal. Meanwhile, Baek-ki gets totally fed up with being ignored and treated poorly in the Steel Team.

Episode 9


Despite Oh Sang-Sik’s protest, Park Jong-Sik becomes part of Sales Team 3 because of his expertise with Middle East deals.

Park Jong-Sik immediately tries to intimidate Geu-rae by questioning his lack of qualifications and asking him to do menial things. Meanwhile, Seok-yul is suddenly loaded with work assigned by his assistant team manager, who then goes on a business trip.

Young-yi continues to do menial things for the Resource Team, including throwing out the trash. Baek-ki, meanwhile, schedules an appointment with the head hunter, but his assistant team manager asks him to deal with an urgent contract.

When Kim Dong-sik questions him why he doesn’t stand up to Park Jong-sik’s outrageous demands, Geu-rae invites him to his house.

Baek-Ki finds renewed confidence in working on the contract, but later on, the contract is rejected by the Finance Manager.

Episode 10


Oh Sang-Sik confronts Park Jong-Sik about his verbal abuse towards Geu-rae (who’s still working on the “halal” project) and his sexual harassment of the female employees. Later on, he finds Park Jong-Sik’s used-car project in Jordan to be suspicious, despite its approval by the legal and finance departments. He reports it to the Sales Manager, who says if his suspicion is correct, higher officials of One International could be implicated.

Young-yi is ordered to go to the chemical factory to check on the expected deliveries; Seok-yul tags along with her to escape from his own boss. But at the factory, she finds out that the employees have gone on strike. A Resource Team officer orders her to come back to the office, saying that a woman cannot possibly deal with this urgent situation.

Oh Sang-Sik orders Kim Dong-sik and Geu-rae to inform the subcontractor for the Jordan used-car project about the impending audit. But when they arrive in the office, Park Jong-Sik is already there, enjoying himself with the subcontractor’s manager. Later on, the audit team finds nothing wrong with the project.

Episodes 11-13


Because of the corruption involved in the Jordan used-car project, some senior officials in One International are forced to resign, while others are demoted or reassigned.

The CEO of One International promotes Oh Sang-Sik and commends Kim Dong-sik and Geu-Rae. But Sales Team 3 soon becomes the target of gossip, suspicion, and intrigues among their co-employees.

Sales Team 3 gets a new team member, Chun Kwan-Woong, as replacement for Park Jong-Sik. He has worked with the team before, and so he’s gladly welcomed into the team by Oh Sang-Sik and Kim Dong-sik.

Young-yi finally gets to show what she’s capable of by being assigned to work on a Russian deal. On the other hand, Seok-yul continues to be tormented by his assistant team manager, while Baek-Ki is ordered to study making his written communications more concise.

During the planning sessions for the next year, Geu-rae stuns everyone in Sales Team 3 by saying that they should begin working again on the Jordan used-car project.

Despite the advice of his fellow officers and his own team, Oh Sang-Sik disregards office politics and decides to revive the Jordan project. But the Resource Team becomes outraged, and its chief charges into the Sales Team 3 office. Chun Kwan-Woong, meanwhile, secretly reports to the Executive Director about Oh Sang-Sik’s plan for the Jordan project.

The Resource Team and the Steel Team arrange a meeting with the Samjung Corporation to discuss mining rights in Mexico. But Young-yi flinches when she sees that the Sanjung team will be led by someone from her past.

Oh Sang-Sik and Sales Team 3 are ordered to present the details of the Jordan project before the Executive Director and the whole executive team of One International. But at the start of the presentation, with the CEO watching, Oh Sang-Sik outrages the executive team by recounting the previous incidents of corruption in One International.


Episodes 14-15


New Year, 2013 ...

Baek-Ki is given more duties in the Steel Team, but his resentment grows because of the praise that Geu-rae gets from all the team managers.

Young-yi starts working on a Norwegian minerals project for the Resource Team. But she loses her focus when Manager Ma continues to harass her and when her parents begin pestering her for money.

Seok-yul reaches his boiling point over his team’s assistant manager, and despite being warned, he posts a flame message on the company’s online forum.

In Sales Team 3, Geu-rae becomes depressed to learn that he might not become a regular employee because of the company’s strict hiring policies with regards educational qualifications.Remembering what happened to the female employee who took her own life, Oh Sang-Sik refuses to give Geu-rae any false hope.

Oh Sang-Sik gives Geu-rae a test that he has given to others before — buy anything with 100,000 won and sell it to anyone (who’s not a family member) before 7 PM. When the Steel Team’s assistant manager learns about the test, he orders Baek-ki to join Geu-rae.

Geu-rae uses the 100,000 won to buy socks and underpants. After some failed attempts to sell the items, he tells Baek-Ki to wait for him; he then goes to the building used by his baduk coach and teammates.

Episodes 16-17


October 2013 ...

Geu-rae’s project is approved by the executives, but a manager orders Oh Sang-Sik to transfer the project to another team member since Geu-rae only has a few more months left in the company.

Young-yi’s project is also approved, but Manager Ma orders her to tell the executives that she can’t continue working on the project.

Seok-yul’s fears come true — the textile factory fails to complete the production order. But his team’s assistant manager refuses to accept the blame. He’s thus ordered by the Textile Team Manager to talk to the factory workers who are threatening to go on strike.

The Executive Director orders Sales Team 3 to work on several contracts in China that could bring in US $ 500 million in revenues. But Oh Sang-Sik tells his team about his reservations — the ethical problems of using connections and reciprocal favors (“guanxi”) to get the deals approved in China and the interlocking deals. He also tells his team that the Executive Director, who’s aiming to be promoted to Vice-president, could use them as a scapegoat if the deals fail.

Deputy Director Sun collapses after a business trip and has to be hospitalized. Oh Sang-Sik tells her team that he will help them in the meanwhile with their Pakistan blanket project. But the team members beg him to persuade Deputy Director Sun to abandon the project.

Episodes 18-19


When his assistant team manager insists on continuing to use the unreliable supplier, Seok-yul begins thinking that he is accepting bribes from the supplier. Later on, he takes a camera with a long lens and records the manager’s meeting with the supplier.

Oh Sang-Sik finds out that the Chinese company is asking for a high commission, making him and Sales Team 3 think that the Executive Director is getting kickbacks from the deals. He orders his team members to start recording all telephone conversations with officers of the Chinese company.

The Executive Director assures Oh Sang-Sik that he will take the responsibility for the Chinese deals by signing the contracts himself. But later on, the Chinese company backs out of the deals; as word spreads out, One International faces a major crisis when other Chinese companies it does business with also back out of their transactions.

Episode 20, Finale (with spoilers)



Oh Sang-sik establishes his own company and reunites with Kim Dong-sik and Geu-rae. On their first assignment together, he and Geu-rae travel to Jordan to track down the middleman who stole their company’s mobile-phone case prototype.

Historical backgrounders and other information


1. ‘Sexual Harassment,’ An Abuse of Power in Korean Society: A Misaeng Investigation (Michelle Nicole Whiteley, University of British Columbia)

Though Misaeng is a work of fiction, often its plot paid tribute to real events or issues faced in Korea at the time. Most notably, in episode 14 of Misaeng, two conversations between Ahn Young-yi and Department Head Ma Bok-ryul seem to be alluding to an actual case of sexual harassment that occurred in South Korea. The case in question took place on Thursday, September 11, 2014 between seventy-six year old National Assembly Speaker, Park Hee-tae and a twenty three year old female caddie, while playing a round of golf.

2. Misaeng- Episode 14, 15: The Struggles of Balancing Work and Personal Issues (University of  British Columbia)

In South Korea, unless you experience tragedy such as a death in the family, it is believed that you should not let your personal life affect your performance in the workplace. When you show weakness by letting your work slack, it can be seen as affecting the efficiency of work and affect your coworker’s performance as well.

The responsibility of honouring one’s parents weighs heavy on many Korean’s hearts and minds. Filial Piety is a deep-rooted Confucian tradition that carries on in Korea that three quarters of Koreans still agree with and follow. All grown children in Korea are expected to have the responsibility and obligation for their aged parents’ well-being because of the reciprocal dependence of successive generations (Lee 2015).

3. Misaeng episodes 16 and 17: “Overworking Korea” (Michelle Nicole Whiteley, University of British Columbia)

Women in Korea are traditionally in charge of housework and childcare. Even today women are expected to perform these duties, even if they have a job of their own. This causes great stress for working mothers. Which when added with the long working hours from their job can make women vulnerable to health risks like ‘kwarosa’ and suicide.

4. Misaeng – Episode 18 and 19: Finding Job Security in Korea (University of British Columbia)

Analyzing the relationship between Manager Oh and Jang Geu-rae in both episode 18 and 19 proves to show an example of job security, especially for temporary workers and permanent workers as well. The OECD shows that the trend report for temporary employment is 20. 6% in Korea for 2017, which is ranked fairly high compared to other countries.

5. Korean business culture and etiquette - Asialink Business

Respect for age and status are very important in Korean culture, with hierarchy affecting all aspects of social interactions. Everyone has a role in society as a result of hierarchy - therefore it is vital to respect it. Koreans are most comfortable interacting with someone they consider their equal. Status is largely determined by someone’s role in an organisation, which organisation they work for, which university they went to and their marital status.

Although gender equality is increasing, men still dominate the Korean workplace. It is expected businesswomen act in a manner that is considered refined and ‘feminine’.

The exchange of business cards is an essential part of initial meetings. It allows Koreans to quickly determine their counterpart’s all-important position, title and rank. While still standing, you should politely hand
 a business card over with two hands, and receive one in return.





[K-Terminology] Koreans
being overworked to death in
'kwarosa'
(The Korea Times)

‘Gwarosa’: why Koreans are
working themselves to death

(The Week UK)
6. South Korea’s Rigid Work Culture Trickles Down to Young Startups (2017)

South Korea’s work culture is notorious for its rigid hierarchy, demand for obedience and loyalty, and work hours which sometimes lead employees to gwarosa — death by overworking.

Many firms in the country’s thriving startup sector promise a more open, horizontal culture with a better work-life balance. But there is evidence that old habits die hard, and the harsh, old ways of organizing workplaces are prevalent at startups too.

7. Corporate culture in South Korea: Loosening their ties (The Economist, 2015)

Meetings to last no more than 30 minutes; junior staff allowed to speak freely with superiors; a cut in bonuses for bosses whose teams do not take enough holidays. Since 2012 “Pride”, a handbook, has set a new tone for the internal culture of Hyundai Capital. Departments whose staff work latest into the evening are listed on the firm’s intranet: not to hold them up as models of hard work, but to tell them off for not working efficiently enough.

8. Corporate culture is still a drag (Korean JoongAng Daily, 2018)

According to the 2016 survey, 43 percent of respondents worked late at least three days a week, while 39 percent said their meeting hours were inefficient. Nearly one-third of those surveyed said the process of reporting to seniors was too formal and excessive.

Only 53 percent of respondents in the recent survey said they saw fundamental improvements to their companies’ cultures in the last two years. The rest of the 47 percent felt the situation either didn’t change or worsened.

Between the two surveys, major conglomerates introduced several policies to promote better work-life balance for their employees.

Samsung and SK introduced changes that simplified their corporate hierarchy. Lotte introduced forced measures, like shutting down company computers after working hours and requiring male workers to go on paternal leave if they have a child. Companies also adopted corporate campaigns to liberalize their dress codes and shorten company meetings.

9. Reforms of Korean corporate culture prove only superficial (2018)

“When they had the mandatory ‘lights out’ at the office [at the end of working hours], I worked under a desk light, and a ‘one-page’ report drafting campaign ended up with 30 to 40 pages of attached documents. The reforms are just cosmetic – nothing has changed.” (Deputy general manager at an affiliate with a chaebol boasting over 5 trillion won [US$4.7 billion] in assets)

“They allowed casual dress to ‘promote communication’ and abolished the use of titles to address people, but they don’t actually listen to opinions. It’s the same overbearing old men; they’re just wearing blue jeans.” (Assistant manager at a mid-sized company)

Lessons in photography from “Misaeng”


Background blur, juxtaposition
Shallow depth of field
Converging lines, balance and symmetry
Diagonal lines
Line of direction, conveying depth through overlapping forms
Bokeh (aesthetic quality of blurred areas of a photograph)
Lines of direction, conveying depth through overlapping forms
Foreground and background blur
Out of focus foreground element as partial frame, background blur
Low angle shot, shooting against the light

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

“Gokusen” aka “Gangster Teacher” Japanese classroom drama-comedy, synopsis, Season 1, Eps. 1-13 (no spoilers)







You can watch or download videos of “Gokusen” Season 1 in Dramacool (Eps. 1-12) or in KissAsian (Eps. 1-13).
Jump to synopsis of Episode 1; 2; 3; 4; 5; 6; 7; 8; 9; 10; 11; 12; 13; Websites where you can watch “Gokusen”; How I wrote these episode summaries with no spoilers; Historical backgrounders and other information; Lessons in photography from “Gokusen”; “Gokusen na!” (reaction, first published on June 16, 2006)

From Wikipedia: “Gokusen” is a manga series by Kozueko Morimoto. The story follows Kumiko Yamaguchi, the granddaughter of a Yakuza boss and teacher at an all-male private high school. In 2008, an SP manga was published, featuring some of Yankumi's (Kumiko) old students who are by now working adults.

In 2002, the manga was adapted into a television drama with Yukie Nakama in the title role. In the 33rd Television Drama Academy Awards, Yukie Nakama won the Best Actress award, while Matsumoto Jun won Best Supporting Actor award.

A second series was produced in 2005. The third season of the (live action) series was aired as Nippon Television’s 55th Anniversary Program in 2008.

A movie as part of the drama series was released in Japanese theaters on July 11, 2009. It grossed ¥490 million in opening weekend. According to the Motion Picture Producers Association of Japan, the film grossed ¥3.48 billion as of December 2009. The movie was exhibited during the 29th Hawaii International Film Festival.

Websites where you can watch “Gokusen”


You can watch Season 1 of “Gokusen” in the following websites: KissAsian (Eps. 1-13) and Dramacool (Eps.1 -12 only; this website’s URL constantly changes). With both websites, you have to be patient with the pop-up ads or use an ad blocker. Seasons 2 and 3 of “Gokusen” are also available in these websites.

How I wrote these episode summaries with no spoilers


1. I assumed that you will be reading these recaps and watching the videos chronologically.

2. I narrated the main actions in each episode without revealing the plot’s twists and turns.

3. I followed this structure all throughout except for Ep. 13 (Special Episode) where I included some spoilers. Reason - some people want to know if the drama has a good ending or a sad ending before they invest the time in watching it.

I used this same structure in my synopses of “Queen In-Hyun’s Man” (2012, hit Korean rom-com, action drama) and “IRIS” (2009, blockbuster Korean espionage-action drama).

Ep. 1: “3-D Class of Shirokin High School”


Yamaguchi Kumiko is the granddaughter of the 3rd-generation leader of the Oedo Yakuza family. But, instead of someday assuming her grandfather’s position, her greatest desire is to be a schoolteacher just like her late father.

Kumiko is accepted into her first teaching job in Shirokin High School; despite her lack of experience, the Head Teacher assigns her as the homeroom adviser of 3-D, the most notorious class. Leading 3-D’s rowdy bunch of misfits is Sawada Shin, who was expelled from his previous school for punching a teacher.

The Principal has told Kumiko that her Yakuza connections must never be revealed, but things become complicated when she meets Shinohara, a handsome police officer.

As Kumiko tries to get through her students’ distrust of teachers and adults, one of her students, Kumai (“Kuma”), is accused by the Head Teacher of stealing the school’s money that was placed inside a yellow bag. Believing Kuma’s words that he didn’t steal the money and that he threw his own yellow bag into a river, she searches the river day and night.



Ep. 2: “Yankumi”


To her delight, Kumiko again meets Shinohara, the police officer; as she arrives in school, she also sees her student Minami being sweet with a girl. Her sunny mood is swept away, however, when she sees the posters on the school’s bulletin board.

The 3-D students give Kumiko the nickname “Yankumi” which combines her surname “YAMaguchi” (with “m” changed to “n”) and first name
“KUMIko.”

Yankumi, another female teacher, and the school nurse go out on a date with Shinohara and his fellow officer. But the date is disrupted when they see a student being beaten up by a group of students from Ara High School. The student turns out to be Yankumi’s student, Minami.

Sawada recognizes the girl, but when he warns Minami to stop dating her, they get into a fight. A teacher breaks up the fight, and when the Head Teacher sees Minami’s beaten-up face, he orders Sawada to write a letter of apology or else be expelled.

Ep. 3: “Operation Blondie”


Three months after Yankumi started teaching ...

When several people are victimized by a masked snatcher, Shinohara goes to Shirokin High School to investigate. Despite Yankumi’s protests, the Head Teacher and the other teachers suspect that the snatcher could be one of the 3-D students. In contrast, the Head Teacher highly praises a student from another class who has won an essay-writing contest.

When she finds out that Uchiyama has not paid his tuition fees, Yankumi goes to the eatery where Uchiyama’s mother works. Meanwhile, as Uchiyama plays at a video arcade, Sawada watches him from afar.

After another woman is victimized by the snatcher, the police put up posters with the drawing and description of the suspect. The description matches Uchiyama and his long, blonde hair.

Sawada, Kuma, Noda, and Minami decide to help clear Uchiyama’s name by patrolling the neighborhood to catch the snatcher. But Yankumi overhears their plan and decides to join them.

Ep. 4: “Love story”


3-D student Noda has fallen in love with English teacher Fujiyama Shizuka. But unknown to everyone in Shirokin High School, Shizuka works part-time as a hostess in a night club.

Shizuka’s secret eventually becomes known to all the teachers and students, and the Head Teacher threatens to fire her. When Yankumi intercedes on her behalf, the Head Teacher says that he won’t fire Shizuka if everyone in 3-D gets a score of at least 30 out of 100 in the English midterm exam. But the 3-D students say that it’s an impossible condition — most of them have never scored above 30 in their previous English exams.

With Shizuka suspended for a week, Yankumi volunteers to tutor the 3-D students for the English exam. But on the first day of the tutorials, she finds an empty classroom. Later, she’s mocked by the Head Teacher who says that he will prepare the most difficult questions for the English exam.

Ep. 5: “A real fight; Kuma to the rescue!”


Sawada finds Yankumi’s phone and answers the call from one of her Yakuza men.

A group of guys who wield iron pipes has been terrorizing people on the streets at night. To protect Shirokin High School’s reputation, the Head Teacher organizes the teachers and personnel into several “delinquency patrol groups” to keep their students off the streets and entertainment centers at night. Included in the Head Teacher’s group is Yankumi.

Kuma falls in love with a high school girl, but the problem is, the girl already has a boyfriend. One day, several boys from another school scare away the boyfriend, who leaves the girl alone. Despite being outnumbered, Kuma charges in to rescue the girl.

Ep. 6: “Operation 3-D First Place Winner!”


Shirokin High School schedules its annual sports competition, but the 3-D students don’t want to play because being sweaty isn’t cool. But because of the Head Teacher’s insults, Yankumi finally convinces them to join the competitions in soccer, table tennis, softball, and basketball.

Yankumi becomes even more competitive when the other classes begin practicing and Shizuka gets Shinohara as her students’ basketball coach.

The rules state that a student can join only one competition, and Yankumi lacks one player for the basketball team. To her dismay, she finds out that she has another student in 3-D who has not been attending classes since the start of the schoolyear. She also finds out that the boy was bullied by Minami, Kuma, and two students from another class.

After Yankumi remembers how she was bullied as a little girl, she persists in trying to convince the missing student into coming back to school.

Ep. 7: “Parents-Teachers Conference”


After the first day of the parents-teachers conference, Yankumi and her students meet Sawada Shin’s younger sister Natsumi; later, at the bowling alley, Yankumi finds out that Sawada is living all by himself.

Sawada’s sister Natsumi skips her classes for several days and then later decides to run away from home. Yankumi and the 3-D students scour the streets that night looking for Sawada and Natsumi. Sawada finally finds Natsumi and her friends inside an illegal gambling den. As he gets into a fight with some guys harassing Natsumi, the police raid the den.

Ep. 8: “Yuta”


Kawashima Kikuno, the school nurse, gets a surprise visit from Yuta, the 7-year old son of her late husband. Yuta wants to spend the night with her, but the Head Teacher refuses to allow her to skip the medical conference. Yuta ends up spending the night in Yankumi’s house.

The next day, while waiting for Kikuno to come back from the conference, Yuta spends time with the 3-D students. But Yuta’s grandparents show up in Shirokin High School, saying that he left their home without permission.

When Yuta asks when he can see her again, Kikuno says he must first learn twirling on the playground bars. After Yuta and his grandparents leave, the 3-D students confront Kikuno on why Yuta isn’t living with her. Kikuno defends herself, saying that Yuta doesn’t know that she is not his biological mother.

On the way home with his grandparents and after seeing some children learning how to twirl on the playground, Yuta runs away to go back to Kikuno.

Ep. 9: “Sailor Moon and the cheerleaders”


For the first time in its history, Shirokin High School’s volleyball team qualifies for a national competition. But Kurosaki, a former student and player, vows to do everything to ruin the team.

Yankumi finds out that two 3-D students are part of the volleyball team. She decides to help uplift the school spirit by asking the other 3-D students to help form a cheerleading team composed of students from all classes, but they refuse. Finally, she bribes the 3-D students into volunteering themselves and recruiting other Shirokin students. But when the Head Teacher finds out about the team, he rushes to the gym to confront Yankumi.

True to his vow of ruining the team, Kurosaki targets the volleyball coach and then beats up two of the volleyball players.



Ep. 10: “A God-given job”


Yankumi becomes brokenhearted over Shinohara, but the Head Teacher’s wife (an avid matchmaker) sets her up with a blind date with a Tokyo University graduate who’s currently teaching at the elite Eisho High School.

Contrary to the expectations of the Head Teacher and her fellow teachers, Yankumi’s blind date wants to see her again. Although most of the 3-D students rejoice over Yankumi’s romantic success, Kuma becomes afraid that if Yankumi gets married, she might resign as their teacher.

That night, as Yankumi and her date meet for dinner, her date tells her that there’s a vacant position for a math teacher in Eisho High School. Meanwhile, as Kuma, Sawada, and their 3-D friends wander around the streets, a video store owner accuses Uchiyama of shoplifting. In anger, Uchiyama punches the store owner.

Ep. 11: “Passionate people”


Kuma and his 3-D friends become celebrities when they capture a notorious serial murderer-robber. But Yankumi gets carried away emotionally, and, during the press conference, she monopolizes the time and attention of the newspaper and tekevision reporters.

Proud of what Kuma has done, his father goes to Shirokin and gives away free food to all the teachers. But Kuma becomes embarrassed by his father and gets into a fight with him in the faculty room.

Because of the publicity, a weekly magazine asks Yankumi for a 24-hour look at her life. The magazine’s reporter and a photographer record all her activities in school. Later on, however, Yankumi realizes that her Yakuza connections could be exposed, and so, she runs away from the writer and the photographer.

Kuma’s father dies suddenly. Overcome by guilt because of the harsh words that he spoke to his father, Kuma skips classes and walks around the streets in a daze, picking fights with strangers.

Ep. 12 “Goodbye, Yankumi!”


The weekly magazine publishes an exposé of Yankumi’s Yakuza connections. As Shirokin High School is besieged by dozens of reporters and photographers, the school’s Director arrives and orders Yankumi to resign.

Yankumi refuses to resign, but when the 3-D students beat up the magazine reporter who wrote the exposé, the Director gives her an ultimatum — resign or else, all the 3-D students will be expelled.

Ep. 13: “Goodbye, 3-D!” (with some spoilers)


As Yankumi promised at the beginning of the school year, everyone in 3-D qualifies for graduation.

Sawada Shin becomes the class valedictorian and is accepted by Waseda University and Keio University, two of Japan’s most prestigious, private universities. Noda wants to enroll in a fashion design school; Kuma plans to go to Chef Academy and turn his father’s ramen shop into a Chinese restaurant; and Uchiyama wants to work as a carpenter for a construction company and later become an architect. Minami, meanwhile, says that he got accepted into a small Australian college.

When some of the 3-D students break one of the school’s windows while playing baseball on a corridor, the Head Teacher warns them that they could still be expelled before graduation day and Yankumi could also be fired.

To celebrate their coming graduation, the 3-D students go on a road trip to a resort town with hot springs. Unknown to them however, Yankumi, English teacher Shizuka, and nurse Kikuno are also on their way to the hot springs.

The truth about Minami’s acceptance into an Australian college becomes known. Meanwhile, Noda and several other 3-D students become “ronins” when they fail to pass their college admission exams. When Noda and the other ronins decide not to attend their graduation, a fight breaks out between him and Sawada.

Historical backgrounders and other information


1. “Gokusen” is an abbrevation of “Gokudo no Sensei” which means “Gangster Teacher.”

2. I used my own titles for the various episodes. The original titles are; Ep. 1: A zealous teacher goes on a rampage; Ep. 2: Don’t abandon your friend; Ep. 3: Don’t judge only by appearance; Ep. 4: If you fail, start over; Ep. 5: To fight is different from violence; Ep. 6: Don’t let bullying get to you: Ep. 7: Believe in your own child; Ep. 8: Aren’t you his mother; Ep, 9: Don’t blame others for your own mistakes; Ep. 10: I’ll believe my own students; Ep. 11: No one is alone; Ep. 12: Goodbye, Yankumi; and Ep. 13: Goodbye Class 3D ~ Yankumi’s Tearful Graduation

Lessons in photography from “Gokusen”


High angle shot, background blur
Out of focus foreground element as a partial frame
Foreground and background blur
Establishing shot, high angle shot
Line of direction, lead room

“Gokusen na!”(first published June 16, 2006)


For the past several days, I have watched snatches of “Gokusen,” a popular telenovela shown on GMA 7. Minutes before 6 PM, my nephews (Darwin and Gino) and niece (Chloe) would come running home from playing “patintero” or “tumbang-lata” in the streets and shout to each other “Gokusen na!” (in English, It’s Gokusen time!). They would then plop themselves before the television set to watch Miss Yamaguchi’s bittersweet experiences with her students.

“Gokusen” (I don’t know what the word means) is immensely popular because Filipinos have learned to love Miss Kumiko Yamaguchi’s sincere, caring ways for the welfare of her Section 3-D students from Shirokin High School. In going out of her way to help her students who never seem to run out of problems, “Yankumi” (the lead character’s nickname) even gets to display her martial arts skills, beating off the bad guys threatening her students. As the story is developing however, it seems that Yankumi has her own deep, dark secret about to be exposed to her students, school, and community.

The actress who plays the role of Miss Yamaguchi is very pretty, with soft features and shoulder-length hair. She is a bit thin, though. (Maybe that’s part of the role.) But I also like the scenes showing the Head Teacher. He’s got a great hairdo that reminds me of the Philippines’ very own “Asiong Aksaya,” the role popularized by the late actor Chiquito. It’s sometimes disorienting, however. to see and hear blonde Japanese speaking in Tagalog.

In the Philippine educational setting, we spend more or less 14 years studying, from grade school to college. We all have known teachers who have inspired and encouraged us and who have marked us positively for the rest of our lives. To a large extent, who we are and who we will be are the result of our teachers’ influence on us. And this perhaps explains why “Gokusen” is so popular.

Some of the most memorable characters in Philippine literature (specifically in the short story in English category) are teachers. These are Miss Noel in “The Visitation of the Gods” by Gilda Cordero-Fernando; Mr. Reteche in “Zita” by Arturo B. Rotor; Miss Samonte in “Dear Miss Samonte” by Bienvenido Santos; the schoolteacher in “Blue Skull and Dark Palms” by NVM Gonzales; and to a lesser extent, Emma Gorrez in “The Sounds of Sunday” by Kerima Polotan.

If you haven’t read any of these stories in your classes, you can find these stories (except “Dear Miss Samonte”) in the anthology of Philippine literature by Croghan, available at National Bookstore.

Stand and Deliver



Dead Poets Society



To Sir With Love



Welcome Back, Kotter!

Some of the popular movies with teachers as the main characters are “Stand and Deliver” (starring Edward James Olmos and Lou Diamond Phillips), and that movie (I can’t remember the title) starring Morgan Freeman as the tough-talking, bullhorn-wielding school principal. There are also "Finding Forrester" starring Sean Connery as the reclusive writer and mentor of a promising young, black basketball star and writer, and the still to be shown in the Philippines "Freedom Writers" based on the real life story of a teacher Erin Gruwell, I think. Of course, there is also “Dead Poets Society” starring Robin Williams. Remember what the character played by Williams said to the students as they faced a wall filled with pictures of generations of students now dead and gone? Carpe diem! Seize the day!

In the 1960’s, there was the movie “To Sir, With Love” starring Sidney Poitier and Lulu, who sang the theme song of the movie. The movie was based on the experiences of a British teacher named E.R. Braithwaite. I remember reading this book in the late 1970s in my alma mater, Philippine Christian University.

Of course, there’s also the sitcom “Welcome Back, Kotter!” starring Gabe Kaplan and John Travolta as Vinnie Barbarino.

I studied in Mandaluyong Elementary School from 1963 up to 1969. I remember, during my Grade 4 days, every day, I would pick sampaguita or champaca flowers from our neighbor’s garden and give them to my teacher (Miss Umali or Miss Mendoza, I don’t remember really). That was probably the reason why she gave me the lead role in a school play … Hey, quid pro quo! Kidding aside, practically nobody saw the greatest performance of my life. When the rain started pouring on the open air auditorium (it was only the stage that was covered by a roof), all the audience scampered for cover. I and the other actors were left to continue the play with no one watching us. Hey, the show must go on!

The teachers from MES that I remember are Miss Mabayad (Grade 1), Mrs. Medel (Grade 2), Miss Comsti (Grade 5), Mrs. Velasco (Grade 6), and of course, Miss Lopez, the librarian. I remember being filled with wonder, mystery, and awe looking at all the things on exhibit in the library, especially the World War 2 relics.

As high school students right now, some of you might not appreciate the things your teachers are doing for you. But I’m sure that years from now, you will look back and remember with fondness the teachers who inspired and encouraged you.

I could probably go on and on talking about teachers and students, about high school being the best years of our lives, but hey, I’ve got to stop writing. It’s already 6 PM. Gokusen na!