Eat, Play, Love: Kinou nani Tabeta?, Suki na Hito ga Iru Koto, Perfect World

I have been watching quite a few dramas lately, but just haven’t had the time to devote to writing individual posts for each of them. So here’s an attempt at covering three of them.

I. Kinou nani Tabeta?

If Ossan’s Love was last year’s sleeper hit, then Kinou nani Tabeta is 2019’s surprise find of at least the first half of the year. That said, other than the fact that both dramas feature gay protagonists, they should be appreciated on their own merits and one ideally shouldn’t view Kinou nani Tabeta through the BL lens, for it does the drama a big disservice and misses the key points of the drama.

In the drama, which is adapted from the manga of the same name by Yoshinaga Fumi, Kakei Shirou (Nishijima Hidetoshi) is a straitlaced lawyer who works at a small law firm. He lives with his partner Yabuki Kenji (Uchino Seiyo), a hairdresser. Shirou makes it a point to leave work on time so he can shop for groceries and whip up a delicious dinner for Kenji. The drama examines their relationship and various societal issues through food preparation, and each episode features Shirou preparing a meal or two, complete with proper cooking and ingredient instructions (the dishes look yummy, so don’t watch this on a hungry stomach). While there may be some ups and downs as Shirou and Kenji navigate new waters here and there, there is nothing very angsty about their relationship and watching them do mundane things like cooking and eating ice cream together gives you plenty of heartwarming and sweet feels.

The drama is remarkable for not only its affable protagonists, but also for dismantling and examining in a gentle, non-preachy way, many of the misconceptions that we have about gay relationships, societal pressures (such as the need to take care of one’s elderly parents, and the expectation of continuing the family line) and our interactions with the people around us. Shirou is closeted and uptight, worried that people may view him differently because of his sexual orientation, so it is wonderful and touching to watch him gradually learn to become at ease with who he truly is, and to realise what it is in life that he truly cherishes. The humour in the drama comes mostly from Shirou’s sometimes overactive imagination, and we feel for him and laugh with him as we accompany him on his learning journey. The learning isn’t only limited to Shirou, for we see Kenji, Shirou’s parents and even Shirou and Kenji’s neighbours and colleagues come to realisations of their own in respect of their own views, values and positions in life.

This is a wonderful slice of life drama in a genre that Japan excels in, and the acting is superb throughout. The casting is a stroke of genius – Nishijima and Uchino were both excellent, and I daresay that Uchino surprised a lot of people who weren’t aware of his acting talent and who hadn’t expected him to carry off a character like Kenji. The supporting cast is chock full of established veteran actors like Kaji Meiko and Shiga Kotaro, who were lovely as Shirou’s parents, and Yamamoto Koji, who turned in a really likeable performance as Kohinata Daisaku. The theme song by OAU just warms the cockles of your heart and is a lovely complement to the drama. 100% recommended.


II. Suki na Hito ga Iru Koto

It is a little weird watching Suki na Hito ga Iru Koto now, seeing as Miura Shohei and Kiritani Mirei did not pair off in the drama but ended up getting married in real life. In the drama, Kiritani plays Sakurai Misaki, who is hired to work as a patissier at Sea Sons, the restaurant run by her first love, Shibasaki Chiaki (Miura). She rooms with Chiaki at his house and realises his two younger brothers Kanata (Yamazaki Kento) and Touma (Nomura Shuhei) also live there.

Getsu9 dramas are no longer what they used to be, and this drama belongs in the middling range where it is neither offensive nor outstanding. It is a rather cute, breezy summer watch, and the leads had decent chemistry, although Kiritani really needs to tone down her bug-eyed expressions and self-consciousness. She also needs some acting classes stat. I like Misaki’s passion for her work, but she overreacts to just about everything and this got a bit tiring after a while. Much of the wisecracking came from the carefree Touma, who enjoys teasing Misaki, while Chiaki was too nice for his own good. The entire segment with Chiaki’s ex-girlfriend is a load of rubbish.

I confess to liking the taciturn and perfectionist Kanata a lot more than I expected – I attribute it to his being a talented chef, as men who can cook are pretty attractive. He also seems more tsun tsun than your average tsundere in that he never really becomes warmer or stops calling Misaki baka, despite the occasional grudging smile (Yamazaki Kento seems to be more appealing when he doesn’t smile, ha). That said, I appreciate how Kanata challenges Misaki to better herself, and she in turn inspires him to take his cooking to greater heights. This was something Chiaki could never do, so in that sense the love triangle wasn’t much to shout about. All the food and desserts looked delicious, and I also liked how the drama resolved the issue of Kanata being adopted, all in the space of half an episode, and with minimal histrionics (cf the shoddy way this was handled in Her Private Life).

Of the characters, Touma got the best character growth and Nomura Shuhei did a great job with the role. The bond between the brothers was heartwarming, and I enjoyed seeing Enoshima being featured, which is a nice change from the usual Tokyo-based dramas. There was a segment where Kanata and Misaki harvested local produce for use in a dining event showcasing the flavours of the Shonan region, which I thought was neat. I also like how the brothers’ names – Chiaki (千秋/autumn), Kanata (夏向/summer) and Touma (冬真/winter) – had the characters for the various seasons, while Misaki’s name had all the indications of spring. The theme song by JY is cute and upbeat. Recommended if you need a dose of tsundere in your life.


III. Perfect World

I had seen the film version of Perfect World (starring Sugisaki Hana and Iwata Takanori, and based on the manga by Aruga Rie) and thought it was a sweet romance about a girl who reunites with her high-school crush – now a paraplegic – and begins a relationship with him against all odds. The film did not have the time to go into the mechanics of how one can support a partner with special needs, so the drama took the opportunity to expand on this, with some melodramatic results.

Matsuzaka Tori plays Ayukawa Itsuki, who became paralysed after an accident 10 years ago. He worked hard to fulfil his dream of becoming an architect and tries to be as self-sufficient and independent as possible. He meets his old high-school classmate Kawana Tsugumi (Yamamoto Mizuki) one day and they end up falling in love.

The drama had a slightly different focus from the film, for it went into considerable detail about Itsuki’s condition and the difficulties he has in managing his daily life and needs. In that sense, it had a good message about raising awareness for the disabled in our society, and how we can make changes to be more inclusive and understanding. Itsuki, for example, specialises in designing facilities that take into account both the needs of the disabled and the general public users. However, Itsuki is also self-conscious about his condition and has built walls around himself, which is a source of conflict between him and Tsugumi, who just wants to be with him and support him.

Had this drama been around 5-6 episodes and focused on the message it was trying to send, it would have been pretty solid. Unfortunately, the drama threw in caregiver angst, with Itsuki’s caregiver helper Nagasawa Aoi (Nakamura Yuri) getting jealous that Tsugumi seems to be usurping her position in Itsuki’s life. Tsugumi trying and failing to give her childhood friend Koreeda Hirotaka (Seto Koji) a chance was also unnecessary because it was so obvious she didn’t give a fig about him and he took advantage of her vulnerability to propose first a relationship and then marriage.

This was pretty much the Matsuzaka Tori show, for he was excellent as Itsuki and I really felt for him. It is a shame that Yamamoto Mizuki was bland and couldn’t keep up – her Tsugumi looked weepy and had maybe three expressions max. They had passable chemistry, but she just didn’t seem capable of responding to his acting in a way that showed the depth of Tsugumi’s love for Itsuki. The theme song Machigaisagashi by Suda Masaki is poignant and emotional, and is probably the only other good thing about the drama besides Matsuzaka’s performance.


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