I had not expected to watch another Yamazaki Kento drama so soon after Todome no Kiss, but who can say no to Fujiki Naohito and Ueno Juri in the cast? Certainly not me.
Shindo Minato (Yamazaki Kento) is autistic with savant syndrome. When he was seven years old, his brother died in an accident while Minato was saved by the kindly Dr Shiga Akira (Emoto Akira). Minato grew up determined to be a paediatric surgeon so he could help other children become adults. Despite all odds, he passes the national examination for medical practitioners. At the invitation of Dr Shiga, Minato enters Togo Memorial Hospital to begin his journey as a paediatrician…
Good Doctor is a remake of the original Korean drama of the same name, and has already spawned an American version that seemed to be quite well-received. I have zero interest in the original because I loathe the lead actor, and was not keen on the Japanese remake until I saw Ueno Juri and Fujiki Naohito in the cast list. I’d thought to drop it if I didn’t like the first episode, but it was a heartwarming and surprisingly easy watch through to the end.
The drama’s title brings to mind a similar discussion in Beautiful Mind, where the protagonist also had a condition that stood him apart from others. Beautiful Mind made a stronger push with respect to examining what it means to be a good doctor despite being “different”, with that question dominating the drama pretty much from start to finish and its lead character front and centre of issues. Good Doctor was more of “let’s take one for the team and grow together”; its approach was softer and the cases more episodic and less focused on Minato as the driving force. There were almost no bad people who were doctors and most of the doctors were already decent people who just needed a nudge in the right direction. The only meanie was the vice-president of the hospital, and there was very little hospital politics among the doctors, for which I was grateful. By about the halfway mark, Minato’s autism issues had taken a backseat and the drama had turned into how he could help once he found the acceptance he needed. Minato developed into the catalyst for change and reflection, but not in major “eureka, genius!” moments where he ended up taking over the surgery and saving the day in the surgery theatre. Instead, his impact was made in smaller but arguably more meaningful ways, helping not just one doctor or patient, but the entire paediatrics team and eventually himself.
I am not familiar with autism, but did read comments that said Yamazaki Kento’s body language – for example, the way he fidgets or his gestures – was spot on for someone on the autism spectrum, and in that I commend his effort. He was much better and more palatable here than in Todome no Kiss, and I rather liked his Minato and found it easy to root for him. The sad backstory was contained in certain flashbacks and one key episode, and in that sense I thought it was more effective than having the whole drama about Minato’s struggles with autism. That is not to devalue all the odds he’d had to overcome to get to this stage, but now that he has made it as a doctor, I much prefer his presentation as a skilled and knowledgeable medical practitioner ready to contribute to society, which is a more positive interpretation. Yamazaki had decent chemistry with Ueno Juri, who played Dr Seto Natsumi, his senpai who had been assigned to guide him. Natsumi was also a likeable character and Ueno did well (even if her hairstyle still occasionally reminded me of Nodame!). I liked that Natsumi acknowledged early on, without jealousy, that Minato’s medical knowledge surpassed hers, and she was willing to learn from him as he was from her. Their shared meals were cute and filled with learning and bonding moments, which was neat. There was thankfully no romance between Minato and Natsumi, as that would have just been an unnecessary distraction.
Fujiki Naohito finally had good hair after a string of dramas with horrible hair. I really enjoyed his Dr Takayama Seiji and was glad that he remained a good and responsible doctor throughout. His skills were not in question and he was also seen as a leader in the paediatrics department. It did take him a while to accept Minato, but Dr Takayama was not selfish where medical expertise was concerned and the times when he approved of Minato’s suggestions or asked Minato what he thought of a procedure had me beaming. It would have been nice to have more scenes of Dr Takayama guiding Minato, though I can’t quite see Minato approaching him the way Natsumi goes to Dr Takayama for advice. Besides, Minato already goes to Dr Shiga for advice, which is only natural since Dr Shiga watched him grow up. Fujiki did really well as Dr Takayama and I love how he was so cool in and out of the surgery theatre. I also liked his chemistry with Nakamura Yuri, who played his girlfriend Togo Michi and the president of the hospital who had to make some tough choices. A pity that Michi was almost always too weak to do the right thing – I’d have liked to see her stand up for herself sometimes. She did have some really nice dresses to make up for it, though.
The child actors were all very decent, and there was even a scene where the little ones gathered to sing 365 Nichi no Kamihikouki by AKB48, which is actually the theme song for Asa ga Kita. Most of the episodes had some teary moments that would tug at your heartstrings, for example the teenager who had a preemie fighting for its life, or when Minato mends a child’s torn blouse to return to the grieving parents.
Overall, recommended if you’re a fan of any of the leading actors.