de Ebisuno92 prevenant, Julho 15, 2021

To think nowadays financial independence denotes women’s liberation by default. ~ Anna Holubová

After being hit by a drama/movie slump last month, I resorted to watching TV after tough days of working on my dissertation. During one evening, I accidentally caught on one of the channels a TV show peculiarly called Žena za pultem and my mom, who was in the room, immediately lit up! She told me to stay on the channel and started explaining how this series was one of her favourites while growing up in the grey times of Communism. I was sceptical at first because the show indeed looked quite dated, and the original title seemed ridiculous in my native language (Czech words often sound like informal Polish xD). However, the more I listened to my mom, the more I got interested, so eventually, we decided to check it out together, and I do not regret this decision.

So, The Woman Behind the Counter is a Czechoslovakian production from 1977 written by a popular Czech playwright Jaroslav Dietl. Over the course of 12 episodes, we follow a year in the life of Mrs Anna Holubová (played by Jiřina Švorcová), who is a divorcee. After the breakup of her marriage, Anna takes up a position of a clerk in an exclusive supermarket in Prague. Due to her experience and uncompromising attitude, she makes a positive impact on her fellow co-workers; unfortunately, Anna has problems finding a thread of communication with her children, who constantly idolise their father. After engaging in a relationship with sensible Mr Karel Broz (Petr Haničinec), it appears that Anna has opened a new chapter in life. However, problems arise when a toxic ex-hubby (Josef Langmiller) wants to come back and employs every psychological trick in the book to get his own way. Anna now has to choose between the happiness of her children and that of her own…

Honestly, this series indeed has the spirit of an Asian drama. Sure, it is dated and made in Eastern Europe, but it is a passionate slice-of-life story about ordinary people dealing with real problems. It is not about ideology (though the setting is undeniably Communist Prague) or lofty preaching about the family unit. The Woman Behind The Counter presents a progression of a shop assistant from a person who does not have any conflict into an independent and self-sufficient individual.

As the title of the article suggests, I believe that the show is the perfect material for a J-Drama reimagining. All the right ingredients are already there: interesting heroine, the love subplot, quirky but colourful co-workers, conflict with children, and the villainous ex-husband. These aspects are still relevant today, even more so in the Japanese context where abused housewives often resort to employing the services of special moving companies so as to escape from their brutal husbands in a matter of hours (source).

Personally, I would love to see the story set in Osaka or Kyoto. I think we have enough dramas already where the action takes place in Tokyo. In addition, the Japanese setting provides an opportunity to explore the ins and outs of the supermarket business. So far, only Juzo Itami focused in-depth on this obscure topic in his 1996 comedy Supermarket Woman with Nobuko Miyamoto and Masahiko Tsugawa in the leading roles.

Before moving on to casting, I would like to stress that I did not try to match the actors and actresses in terms of physical appearance. Rather than that, I was aiming for age consistency and the performers’ ability to accurately reflect original characters.


Nanako Matsushima as Anna Holubová

Finding the perfect female lead who could match the powerful yet subtle performance of Jiřina Švorcová was a tough challenge, especially in view of the fact that there are so many talented J-actresses in their 40s and 50s. My initial choice was Yuki Amami, but upon further consideration, I realised she would play a strong female character from beginning to the end, whereas the character of Anna is all about facing and overcoming personal obstacles (mobbing at work, pressure from children, terror from ex-husband). Consequently, my ultimate pick is Nanako Matsushima. I am confident she would nail the part due to her onscreen sensitivity and charm. On top of that, it has been quite a while since the last time we have seen her in the leading role.

Masato Sakai as Jiří Holub

The husband, that is, the villain himself. Mr Holub does not give a single gram of damn about Anna and the children. All that matters is himself and his love conquests. When he gets bored, he wants to come back to the family household, much to the appraisal of children who look up to him. Anna, on the other hand, feels tormented by his presence. In order to keep up appearances of a happy family, she can’t continue to be in a relationship with Karel. As much as I love Masato Sakai in good guy roles, I believe he would be truly menacing as the toxic ex-hubby. Additionally, he is exactly the same age as Nanako Matsushima.

Masaharu Fukuyama as Karel Broz (the love interest)

This is another tricky character for me. Karel is a shy and indecisive customer at Anna’s supermarket. Innocent encounter soon transforms into a passionate relationship, and you can’t help but cheer for the couple. Karel is the knight in shining armour who rescues Anna from certain depression. Initially, I thought that Koji Yakusho would be great for the role, but he is nearly 20 years older than Nanako, so I opted for Masaharu Fukuyama instead. To date, I remember his mesmerising look and lovely, sonorous voice from Galileo (2007).

Fumiyo Kohinata as Karas (the shop’s manager)

Mr Karas is the epitome of a manager who is too cool for school. Always positive, always thoughtful, and always inspirational. In addition, he can handle nearly every crisis at work, but he has trouble when communicating with his rebellious son. There was no competition here. I would love to see Fumiyo Kohinata in the role of the manager/Anna’s best friend. He was so awesome in The Confidence Man JP (2018), Survival Family (2017), and Bull Doctor (2011).

Masami Nagasawa as Oli Škarapesová (shop clerk)

Anna’s colleague from the delicatessen section of the supermarket. Although she has dozens of lovers and likes to pry into other people’s affairs, she is very kind and always serves with a piece of advice to those in need. Without a doubt, I would cast Masami Nagasawa in the role.

Mitsuko Kusabue as Anna’s mother

The loveable grandma who hates Mr Holub’s guts. She is always there for Anna and champions her relationship with Karel. The character’s best moment is, hands down, her personal confrontation with her ex-husband. Mitsuko Kusabue has the necessary commanding presence as well as warmth to play the mother. She was so wonderful in Kekkon Dekinai Otoko (2006) and Mada Kekkon Dekinai Otoko (2019).

Atsuro Watabe as Vilímek (the deputy manager)

A guy who goes all out on making Anna’s shifts miserable just because she rejected his advances. Apart from having a crazy wife, Vilimek himself is one disgusting slimeball. The conflict between him and Anna eventually culminates in the series finale. After seeing Atsuro Watabe playing the super sleazy dad in Let Me Call You Father-in-Law (2016), I select him as my choice to play the deputy manager.

Kenji Sakaguchi as Oskar (the warehouse supervisor)

The super positive, always cheerful dude who happens to fall in love with one of the shop clerks. I immediately thought about Kenji Sakaguchi in view of his performance as a good cop in Honjitsu mo Hare. Ijou Nashi (2009).

Yuriko Yoshitaka as Jiřinka (shop clerk)

The honest, hard-working girl whom Anna takes under her wing. However, she has problems finding a boyfriend because of her stuttering condition. I do not know why, but I immediately associated this role with Yuriko Yoshitaka. I am afraid I have seen too much of Tokyo DOGS (2009) and ROBO-G (2012).

Shigeru Muroi as Gran Kubánková

Maintenance lady with an outspoken attitude, but who is extremely kind at heart. She has her own subplot in one of the episodes where an elderly gentleman proposes to her out of the blue. For this kind of comic relief character, I think Shigeru Muroi would be a perfect fit. I still remember her over-the-top expressions from Doctor X (2012).

Sakura Ando as Zuzana (the apprentice)

An apprentice with delinquent demeanour who believes she can get away with anything, including shoplifting. Obviously, Anna manages to change Zuzana’s ways, but not without a major drama at the shop. Sakura Ando is a national treasure of Japan at this point in her career, so needless to say, I’m confident she would handle this part like a boss.

Nagisa Sekimizu and Kokoro Terada as Anna's children

Casting these roles gave me headaches because I am not that knowledgeable about young actors. In my opinion, Nagisa Sekimizu (whom I saw in The Confidence JP: Princess (2020)) could play Micheala Holubová: Anna’s daughter with a hot temper who in the finale sees through her father’s schemes. As for Petr Holub, a spoiled brat who is literally in the dark about everything, I would go for Kokoro Terada because of his appearance in Tokusatsu Gagaga (2019).

All things considered, this was my take on adapting an old Czechoslovakian series into a J-Drama. I hope I did not bore you too much, so thank you for bearing with me. Please do share your thoughts in the comments. Thank you for reading!

I am not afraid of being lonely because I already am… alone.~ Anna Holubová

If you want to check out the original episodes of The Woman Behind The Counter, you can find them on YouTube, but these are available either in Czech or Polish. Unfortunately, there are no English subtitles. Please refer to the links here (CZ) and here (PL).

Photo sources: Main title * IMDb

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Acknowledgements: Big thanks to @Anushka for allowing me to use the title structure from the Harry Potter article. Je dédie cet article à ma mère. Vous êtes la meilleure! ;)

Edited by: YW (1st editor), devitto (2nd editor)