Nothing pleases me more than to see an underrated actor get the recognition he deserves, and finally, it is the turn of Tanaka Kei.
Haruta Soichi (Tanaka Kei) is a bachelor who works in the sales department of a real estate company. He is good-hearted and wants to get married, but is rather hapless and unpopular with women. Haruta takes in a roommate, Maki Ryota (Hayashi Kento), a new colleague who is good at household chores. One day, Haruta’s boss Kurosawa Musashi (Yoshida Kotaro) suddenly confesses his feelings for him. Haruta is further caught off guard when Maki says he has feelings for him too…
Ossan’s Love was the bona fide sleeper hit of 2018, and what makes its success more unexpected is the gay love theme making the right kind of waves. Perhaps what is most remarkable about the drama is that it presented the love story in not only a comical (almost loony) and endearing fashion, but as a nuanced relationship that people can relate to and root for. It just so happens that the key players all bat for the same team, but these people go through the usual ups and downs that come with any relationship – ups and downs that most, if not all, of us can identify with at some stage in our lives. While the drama universe was a tad idealistic (despite this day and age, unfortunately), it showed that a supportive environment was possible and people could root for the one(s) in love, or show sympathy for those who have suffered rejection in one way or another, regardless of sexual orientation. Of course, there was the usual opposition, but it was acknowledged, in a nod to realistic concerns, and never allowed to derail the storyline. At a tight seven episodes, the drama told the story it needed to, with lots of colour, humour and empathy, and an understanding that its audience was not stupid and did not want a token LGBT caricature.
As I watched Ossan’s Love, I had thought the drama would, at some point, go into some sort of exposition on homosexuality or make the characters agonise over their sexual orientation. The drama did none of these things, instead dealing with Haruta’s growing realisation of his feelings in a deft, generally respectful way that allowed both the character and the audience to understand that what he was experiencing was a natural consequence of liking someone he hadn’t expected to like in that way – it wasn’t gross or deviant just because the other person was of the same gender. While Haruta did spend a lot of time coming to terms with it, which is only natural since it was all very sudden for him, I also saw it as a result of his not being able to be honest with himself and put his foot down at the necessary times. Still, had he rejected Kurosawa firmly that first time, or properly had a chat with Maki, we’d probably have been watching a different drama. The painful bits were heart-wrenching, but the humour offset what could have been a heavy, navel-gazing show, giving the drama a nice balance between the lighter and more sombre moments.
The performances were really enjoyable, if a tad over the top. It was a touch difficult to believe someone like Haruta, whose probably only virtue is his kind heart, has two men who would literally come to blows over him, but Tanaka Kei really made his character work. I’ve liked Tanaka’s acting for quite a while now and have always lamented that he never got the girl because most of his roles were either exes or losers, so it was a wonderful surprise to witness the success of Ossan’s Love and the resultant fame and recognition for Tanaka (and the rest of the cast – also, Tanaka sweeping the awards is so, so satisfying). Tanaka perfectly captured Haruta’s doormat behaviour, kindness, confusion, growing awareness, vulnerability, indecision etc, and it is difficult to imagine another actor who could make this role his own. Tanaka had lovely chemistry with both Hayashi Kento and Yoshida Kotaro, both of whom also gave it their all, surprise kisses and hugs included. Hayashi has always been mostly serviceable to me, but I thought he brought out Maki’s insecurity and vulnerability well and rooted for him with Haruta. Yoshida, the titular ossan, was always excellent, especially when he was being kawaii and showering the confused Haruta with lots of affection – see the hilarious segment where he surprised Haruta with some cosy time in an apartment (for customer viewing).
The ladies were not there just for the token female representation, as they had their own arcs. I really enjoyed how the drama handled the characterisation of Kurosawa’s wife Choko (Otsuke Nene in a graceful, dignified portrayal). It must have been such a shock for Choko to find out that, after 30 years of marriage, her husband has fallen for a man and wants a divorce. While her anger is understandable, it is how Choko reacts after the initial shock has passed that is admirable, and Otsuka carried that off beautifully. Uchida Rio as Chizu, Haruta’s childhood friend, was also lovely and her character was such that I wanted her to find happiness outside of Haruta because he wasn’t able to appreciate her properly. If there was one nitpick, it was that I did not like the power dynamics in the office affecting the various relationships. Kurosawa was Haruta’s boss, and that in part made it difficult for Haruta to refuse him whenever Kurosawa asked to meet. Another more senior colleague, Takekawa (Mashima Hidekazu), gave Haruta and even Maki a hard time because of his previous relationship with Maki. The last episode was a bit rushed, but I expect that will be remedied with a film that is coming out this summer.
Overall, a very satisfying, almost laugh-a-minute watch that is very endearing and sweet at its core. Recommended, if nothing else, to see Takana Kei get the guy for once!