Greetings again! I apologise for the radio silence, real life came calling and my laptop decided to kaboom on me, so it’s the office computer until I can get a new machine. This also means my drama backlog keeps increasing so I only managed to finish A LIFE, which is Kimura Takuya’s first acting outing since the break-up of SMAP. The premise was nothing new, but it had a strong cast, and the eternal mystery of why Asano Tadanobu played second fiddle to Kimura is something my mind can’t compute at all so I had to watch to find out.
Rookie doctor Okita Kazuaki (Kimura Takuya) was sent overseas thanks to the machinations of his best friend Suzuki Masao (Asano Tadanobu). Leaving his girlfriend Danjo Mifuyu (Takeuchi Yuko) behind, he went to Seattle, where he became an excellent cardiothoracic surgeon. Ten years later, he returns to Danjo Hospital at the request of Mifuyu’s father, who is the hospital director, and is handed a difficult task by Masao, who has since married Mifuyu…
When I first saw the cast list, I just couldn’t understand it. After I finished A LIFE, I still couldn’t understand how it was possible to have just about the bulk of the leading cast outshine the main actor in terms of acting talent. Or maybe I am just in denial that star power still drives the ratings game rather than acting talent, because it’s a fact that Asano Tadanobu can act rings around Kimura Takuya and still look like he’s only in first gear. This is no shade on Kimura, who is generally decent, but if a drama production has managed to snag a successful film actor like Asano, the least it could do was to give him a strong character to flex his acting chops. Alas, it stuck him in second-lead territory with a 2D role. Oh the injustice.
The plot was nothing to write home about, as Kimura’s Kazuaki always managed to save the day and earn a few converts along the way. There was very little character growth for Kazuaki overall, as his big battle was how to save Mifuyu despite being a fish out of water – she had a brain tumour while he was a cardiothoracic surgeon (more on this below). I did like seeing him bond with the junior doctor Igawa Sota (Matsuyama Kenichi), who was mostly comic relief, and the capable nurse Shibata Yuki (Kimura Fumino), who was sometimes the voice of reason. Their coming together as a team both during work and outside of it was a nice touch. Kazuaki’s relationship with his father also became warmer despite the gruffness, and I did like the unusual comparison of a sushi chef and a surgeon as being both craftsmen in their respective fields of expertise. Kimura was decent as Kazuaki, but it was a typical nice-guy role that would never see him out of his comfort zone.
Asano managed to give 2D Masao layers where there were none, and in the process tried to make sense of the poorly-written character. I do think he had a lot of fun with it, even in first gear, and his performance made me want to root for Masao to find proper redemption (and not the half-baked one the drama served up). Masao’s love for Mifuyu was stunted and warped, tied to his twisted sense of self and his desire to be recognised for his efforts – this could have been great characterisation, but the drama didn’t even bother with the basics. Masao just seemed pathetic for wanting a woman who didn’t seem to care much for him, to the extent of engineering Kazuaki’s move to Seattle to get rid of the competition, but Mifuyu suddenly realising she did love her husband was supposed to have cured him of all his issues overnight. This was shoddy writing at its best, and a clear sign the drama thought its audience was stupid.
As for the build-up to Mifuyu’s operation, I thought it was credible to show Kazuaki struggling to find a procedure that would cover most, if not all, bases since he was no specialist in neurosurgery. However, it was just stupid he didn’t ask for help until episode 7 when he emailed his Seattle colleagues, or that he didn’t even bother persuading Masao to work together to think of a solution. Masao was a neurosurgeon after all, and he only fobbed this off to Kazuaki because he couldn’t bring himself to operate on a loved one (a valid concern), but there was nothing stopping Kazuaki from asking Masao and other doctors for help if this was such a big and difficult operation. Instead, he was left floundering alone for more than half the drama. The slap in the face was that ultimately, Kazuaki and Masao teamed up together to save Mifuyu in the operating theatre because they needed Masao’s expertise as a neurosurgeon. I suppose if this had happened earlier, the drama would have run out of story by episode 3. Also, bad idea to keep Mifuyu’s illness from her because it meant she put her patients at risk, especially when she was still doing operations while being sick. I’m all for dramatic tension but it has to be logical in the scheme of things.
The other characters were pretty stock, although Igawa was surprisingly the one who showed the most growth throughout the drama. After he learnt the error of his ways through Kazuaki, he turned out to be the comic relief of the drama and Matsuyama Kenichi was pretty good at making Igawa likeable without being too annoying. I was glad though that the drama didn’t stick in a romance between Igawa and Shibata – he had the hots for her, but she was always too level-headed for him and never quite saw him as a potential mate. Kimura Fumino was lovely as Shibata and I do like her story arc, but also wanted her to follow Kazuaki back to Seattle. They had great rapport in the operating theatre and it would have been nice to see Shibata be given the opportunity to expand her wings abroad. Takeuchi Yuko did the best she could with Mifuyu, who was a mehh character that never aroused much sympathy despite her supposedly life-threatening illness. There were times when Mifuyu showed she had a spine and stood her ground (that face-off with Sakakibara, for example), but I never quite understood her motivations behind her actions or just why Kazuaki and Masao were still so into her – she never questioned Kazuaki about his sudden flight to Seattle, and she and Masao led seemingly separate lives despite being married with a daughter. I’m not one of those viewers hung up on the Kimura-Takeuchi pairing in Pride, so it never bothered me that their characters’ loveline never worked out in A LIFE. And it was just as well Kazuaki returned to Seattle – Mifuyu is wasted on him.
For a drama with such a solid cast, you’d have thought the writing would be better, but it just never managed to connect the dots in all the right places for the right characters. Watchable despite the clichés, but not a drama to think too deeply about because it might give you an aneurysm after.