A drama about divorce doesn’t have to be heavy and melodramatic, as Saikou no Rikon proves. This was touted to be one of the best dramas of 2013, with a stellar cast and solid writing, and eventually I took the plunge to try it out.
Hamasaki Mitsuo (Eita) is a salaryman working for a vending machine company. He is whiny, OCD to the nth degree, and not particularly good with people. Married to Yuka (Ono Machiko) for a couple of years now, Mitsuo is realising that he and his wife don’t really have anything in common. On the spur of the moment (or not?), they end up divorcing but have trouble breaking the news to their respective families and are forced for a good part of the drama to continue sharing their (ex-)matrimonial home as though nothing has happened. One day, Mitsuo runs into his ex-girlfriend Akari (Maki Yoko), and has thoughts of rekindling their relationship, only to find out that she is married to Uehara Ryo (Ayano Go), who is apparently cheating on his wife…
I went into this with a lot of residual love for Eita and Ono Machiko – he impressed in Nodame Cantabile, while she was stellar in Gaiji Keisatsu (in a role completely different from Yuka). It’s a good thing I like Eita’s acting, because his Mitsuo tested my nerves greatly for the bulk of the drama and it is to Eita’s credit that he could actually make such a character remotely likeable by the end of it. Mitsuo is a nightmare of a husband to be live with, along with any number of pet peeves to drive an ordinary person nuts. The coup de grace is the unfeeling text he sent to Yuka in the aftermath of an earthquake – instead of asking whether she was all right, he wanted her to check on his bonsai. It’s a wonder at all how Yuka tolerated him during their marriage, given that she’s pretty much the complete opposite of him.
Ono Machiko is adorable and spunky as Yuka and I enjoyed her performance immensely. Yuka is not without her own faults and idiosyncrasies, but Ono portrayed her with complete ease and lack of reserve – I felt she really let herself go and the result is we got to see a Yuka who came across as a genuine person. I felt like I’d known her all along and could relate to her. I cheered when she finally gave Mitsuo several pieces of her mind, because it was a long time coming. They both played a part in the breakdown of their marriage, but given how the characters were written, it always seemed that Mitsuo was the one who needed to shoulder the bigger share of the blame, and rightly so.
Still, so long as the story centred on Mitsuo, Yuka and his family – grandma owns an eatery which is run by his sister and her husband – I was quite happy to be swept along. Eita and Ono Machiko had wonderful chemistry, whether they were being cute in the early stages of their relationship, or when they were bickering to no end. There were plenty of rapid-fire dialogue and one-liner gems that allowed them to display their chemistry full force, and I really liked that they were so relatable despite the fact they were complete opposites. There was also a fantastic Facebook face-off between the exes while they were out with their respective dates, haha. Even when they were bitching about each other to other parties, it was funny … for the first few times (more and it got a bit stale, like Mitsuo’s whining). The best part about their relationship? They have two cats! The kitties are so, so adorable.
Yuka and Mitsuo’s grandma also have one of the most adorable relationships I’ve seen – they share a love for pro-wrestling and are just too cute for words when they’re together, squealing about the fighters and all. I just didn’t like that grandma asked Yuka to consider getting back with Mitsuo – it’s a natural request, but it felt like treading old ground that other family dramas had covered. Fortunately, there was a nice twist with the parental units on both sides, who were equally hilarious. I wish they’d appeared more because it’d have been lovely to see Yuka interacting more with her mother-in-law – they seemed to have quite the bond.
Onto the other couple – Akari and Ryo are just… crazy. They started off as intriguing, because Akari doesn’t seem to be too bothered by Ryo’s cheating and often speaks like she’s such a worldly-wise woman above little things like cheating; he, meanwhile, is aware he is cheating but doesn’t seem to feel terribly great remorse over that fact. I mean, he even forgot to submit the marriage papers and she didn’t seem too fussed. He has a backstory to explain it all, but I don’t buy it because it just seems so huh?!?. Of course, it turns out that Akari was just putting on a front – she didn’t want to deal with an unfaithful husband the way her mother did and repeat the mistakes of the earlier generation, but ultimately, she breaks down and chases Ryo out of the house. He spends the latter half of the drama trying to win her back. What seals the deal is trite – she ends up pregnant and decides to give the marriage, and the cheating husband, another go, but that’s not because she loves Ryo. As she tells Mitsuo, it’s because she’s just making the best out of a bad situation. Ryo, of course, is delighted he’s going to be a dad. They end up registering their marriage after all.
There are a few reasons why I was never on board the Akari-Ryo relationship. I dislike Maki Yoko as an actress and while her Akari had some endearing moments, ultimately I felt she couldn’t lift her character beyond ordinary. Akari should have been a very interesting character given her circumstances, and perhaps worthy of our sympathy, but Maki’s acting only made Akari much more annoying. Somehow, that dressing down by her sister made Akari even more pathetic than she already is. I didn’t understand what on earth Ryo saw in her – and vice versa, to be honest – and I didn’t see as necessary to plot or character development that she somehow managed even a flicker of re-interest in Mitsuo (or at least the drama teased that possibility) while on a break from Ryo.
In the last few episodes, I felt Ryo got the biggest lobotomy of all. Was he that desperate for some form of connection or happiness that he would grab onto anything? I found incredulous his sudden change into a man who could envision a happy family with Akari the minute he realised she was pregnant. I felt like I had whiplash watching Ryo desperately scrambling to save his not-a-marriage to Akari. They came across as extremely awkward even in each other’s presence, more the hi-bye-we’re-nice-and-polite kind rather than the in-your-face and over-familiarity shown by Mitsuo and Yuka, who behaved more like a real couple no matter their marital status. It also didn’t help that Maki Yoko and Ayano Go lacked the sort of chemistry that would make Ryo’s change of heart believable. I like Ayano generally, but he didn’t seem to have much to do until the last few episodes when Ryo got a lobotomy.
Ultimately, it was easier to buy Mitsuo and Yuka’s progress and their getting back together seemed more natural and logical, and appropriately peppered with some lovely, nuanced beats. In the end, neither Mitsuo nor Yuka changed drastically but there was a certain understanding reached that they were both happy with when deciding to give their marriage another shot. I’d have been fine if they had decided not to get back together, but the drama eventually went the conventional route. I think if it’d dared, it would have left all four characters single, or at least not forced Ryo and Akari back together – that’s just a train wreck lurching to another train wreck. The drama posed plenty of questions about what marriage and divorce mean, but I feel in the end very little was answered and there was nothing particularly new that I did not already know. The drama was meandering along by the halfway mark and copped out with a half-assed scene of Yuka and Ryo sharing a kiss (she was drunk and didn’t know what she was doing). I kept hoping the drama would do something with Yuka and Ryo – friendship or otherwise, she might actually have whipped him into shape – but as it was, it dug itself into a hole with the Ryo-Akari relationship.
The drama did try to develop the friendships between Ryo and Mitsuo, and Akari and Yuka – the former was a bit more successful, since the combination of oddball Ryo and uptight Mitsuo was pretty funny. In the end, it was a likeable enough drama with pretty realistic characters, pity more wasn’t done re plot and characterisation.
The cats were still the best part of it all.