It’s often been my lament that Japan doesn’t do rom-coms like it used to, but I’m happy to report that there are still gems to be found once in a while. It’s even more heartening that the rom-com is actually smart, funny and fronted by leads who can act. How rare is that these days?
Yoshino Chiaki (Koizumi Kyoko) is a 45-year-old TV drama producer who decides to move to Kamakura in a bid to take stock of her life as she grows older. As luck would have it, she becomes neighbours with Nagakura Wahei (Nakai Kiichi), a 50-year-old widower who works for the Kamakura city office, and gets entangled with his family’s various antics and escapades…
I don’t even remember the last time I truly enjoyed a Japanese rom-com other than the classics. The intervening years haven’t been as kind to the rom-com genre, or maybe I’m just picky and don’t want to suffer through the kind of idol-fuelled crap that Getsu9 regularly churns out. I’ve been really irritated by the recent trend of rom-com female leads being rather idiotic and five-year-old about dating (looking at you, Kyou wa Kaisha Yasumimasu) because, let’s face it, if you’re an adult you should be able to put those brains to work and not be squeamish about physical contact like the other party had the cooties.
So I’m really gratified that Chiaki turned out to be one intelligent, sassy and capable lady who is *drumroll* also rather experienced in the love department. She is passionate about her job, has good relations with the people she works with and also has two best friends with whom she can hang out and detox after work. She’s feisty and won’t let anyone take advantage of her, but she’s also warm, approachable and reliable in times of need. That’s really one of the best setups for a female rom-com lead if there ever was one, because it shows a woman can still be great and doing her best even if society deems her past her “sell-by date”. I really like how a lot of things that may seem weird or surprising don’t faze Chiaki for long once she’s gotten over her initial shock (she just goes “Funky, isn’t it?”). Perhaps it’s because of her age, that she’s seen many things and is at a different stage in her life where she is thinking more about retirement and after-death matters than cutesy lovey stuff. I appreciate that she is able to mix her maturity with humour and that even as she may be quick to anger, she is also able to grasp the funny side of things. Koizumi Kyoko totally rocked the role and was fabulous and stylish throughout, and I really enjoyed her performance.
One of the highlights of the drama is the rapid-fire banter between Chiaki and Wahei, who almost right off the bat get on the wrong footing with each other. It’s not major bad blood, but just a lot of snarky remarks tossed back and forth almost every time they meet as they can’t resist the urge to give in to their inner child, and it’s hilarious and thoroughly enjoyable to watch. The back and forth is fast and furious, yet so impossibly natural that you can just marvel over and over again at the sizzling chemistry between the characters and their respective actors, who played off each other perfectly. Their mellower moments are lovely as well, and together they just exude the wonderfully warm feeling that this is a couple that is meant to be. It’s the slow-burn kind of romance that J-dramas do so well when they’re on top of their game, and this is the case here. Also, both Chiaki and Wahei love cats! This seals the deal if nothing else does. Nakai Kiichi is always solid, but after having seen him in more serious roles, I think I prefer his comedic timing more, because he was endearing as Wahei and gelled so well with Koizumi. It’s not often you get actors who are so at ease with each other that their interactions come across as realistic and comfortable even if they’re played up for humour – perhaps it’s the experience showing, but the witty writing certainly helped give things an extra zing.
I like that the drama took time to explore the various relationships, romantic or otherwise. There’s Chiaki and her two girlfriends, who are great together and individually. Wahei’s siblings are a riot – the only sane one seems to be nice big puppy Shinpei (Sakaguchi Kenji), who takes a shine to Chiaki and they start this friends-with-benefits kind of relationship that’s refreshing for its lack of melodramatic quotient. There’s also unexpected bonding between Chiaki and Wahei’s married sister Noriko (Iijima Naoko), since the two women are as different as night and day, but I found the development of that pretty hilarious and really sweet in the end. It’s been years since I’ve seen Iijima Naoko in anything and she really surprised me as Noriko. I love how she and the rest of the cast were able to wholeheartedly throw themselves into their roles and were not afraid to look silly if it felt right for their characters. I also liked how the drama handled the arc of Mariko (Uchida Yuki), Shinpei’s twin sister who is the epitome of oddball, and thought Chiaki’s reaction to Mariko’s surprising confession was done really well.
I didn’t realise there was an SP and so gobbled it up as well. It was a fun watch and definitely advanced the characters’ story arcs quite a bit, and I was pleased about the development of Mariko. I haven’t always liked Uchida Yuki as an actress, but I felt she did very well as Mariko and am pleased that the oddball girl came into her own in the SP. There’s still the sequel to come, and I can’t wait to sink my teeth into it. Also, it’s always nice to have dramas that are based outside of Tokyo, and being able to see various parts of Kamakura and its laid-back, historical charm is really lovely. I wish more dramas would be set in smaller towns so that the audience gets to know more about life beyond the big cities – it’d also help with boosting tourism numbers, no? I know I wanted to visit Nara (and did!) after watching Shikaotoko Aoniyoshi, and Kamakura is lovely any time of the year. A good drama is one that is able to use the environment in which these characters operate to enhance the audience’s understanding of their personalities and quirks. You can’t really grasp the essence of Wahei’s character, for example, until you realise how much being a Kamakura resident has shaped him as a person.
It’s not often that the rom-com genre has paid attention to romances beyond the 30s age group, and I’m gratified that this one has turned out so well in all the aspects that matter. Acting is solid across the board and the chemistry between the leads is undeniable. It’s smartly written and has a great deal of cracktastic humour, but there’s also a thoughtful, sensitive vibe that lingers long after the funny has passed, for the drama does offer plenty of food for thought about love and life beyond the heady days of youth. For anyone who enjoys rom-coms, or just wants to see solid acting and fantastic chemistry, this one’s for you, cuz it’s just funky!