Tokyo Sentimental

Life has been stressful lately, so I wanted to watch something light and short. Fortunately, there’s no shortage of J-dramas with shorter episodes, and one with a relaxing, charming vibe is always welcome.

Kururi Takuzo (Yoshita Kotaro) is a wagashi-maker who runs a small shop in the shitamachi area of Tokyo, with the help of a sassy part-time assistant, Sudo Akane (Takahata Mitsuki). Takuzo is thrice divorced and is always looking for love. He enjoys walking around the various areas of Tokyo and taking photographs. And Tokyo proves to be just the place for encounters of any kind, no matter one’s age…

I had first come across the Tokyo Sentimental franchise in the form of a later SP, which is the Ochanomizu no Koi SP that takes place after the drama. Originally, it all began with the Tokyo Sentimental SP in 2014, which expanded to the drama in 2016, and two more SPs followed. It is entirely possible to watch the drama without the other SPs, and the drama is, I think, arguably the better format for stories like this. Each episode is 30 minutes and packs in quite a punch, without overdoing the emotions. The words “東京センチメンタル” were written by Yoshida Kotaro himself, which is a nice touch.

Each episode follows Takuzo’s adventures with a woman he meets – she could be a former love, an old friend, or a new person he meets via a chance encounter or through a friend – and they go on a date whereby he shows her around a specific area of Tokyo. He would introduce some of the sights and provide historical tidbits, and usually they would end up at a nice restaurant or cafe to sample the local specialties. Takuzo has an overactive imagination and tends to overthink things, for which he’d get roundly teased by Akane, which accounts for some of the humour in the drama. Most of the episodes are light-hearted and charming, though a little bittersweet for Takuzo as these encounters never work out to something more. One wonders, though, whether things would actually work out even if both parties were willing – there is probably a bit of a block with Takuzo that even he might not be aware of.

That said, my favourite part of the drama is not about Takuzo’s encounters, but the mini guided tour around the various areas of Tokyo, most of which would escape the attentions of the average tourist (the drama helpfully provides the names of the sights visited, and the Japanese wiki page of the drama has a list of locations). Some of these areas have retained their old-school charm of yesteryear (Shibamata, for example), and a trip there feels as though you’re stepping into another world. One can easily spend days exploring these off-the-beaten-track areas in Tokyo and still feel there is much more to see and experience – I’d love to, for example, spend an entire day (or days) browsing the used bookstores in the Jinbōchō area. The glimpse into another side of Tokyo leaves you wanting for more, and you can’t help but proceed to the next episode so you can keep exploring. The locations chosen are quite fitting for the stories as well – Ryogoku, for example, is a district in Sumida and used as the setting for the story between Reiko (Otsuka Nene), one of Takuzo’s ex-wives, and her husband Keisuke (Toyohara Kosuke). Reiko has been separated for her husband for a while, and the kanji for Ryogoku (両国) aptly describes the relationship between them.

Most of the episodes are about Takuzo’s adventures and the realisations he comes to regarding life and relationships, but Akane gets one for herself too. She finally meets the guy she has admired for so long, only to realise he’s stuck in a rut and has no idea of what he can do to get out of it. It is a sobering reminder that life is not easy regardless of age, and dreams can be so elusive and fickle. It is sad to hear Akane say she doesn’t really have dreams she can aspire to, or some of the women in the stories relate that their lives have turned out so differently (and not always for the best) from their previous hopes and dreams. Yet, sometimes there is closure, no matter the form, and people learn to make peace and move on to the next stage of their lives even if there isn’t one to their liking. In that way, the drama offers hope that your next encounter might be the turning point you never knew you needed, and you just need to keep the faith that things will get better.

Acting was generally very good. After having seen Yoshida Kotaro in various things, including a number of bad-guy roles, his image as a fluffy ojisan is now stuck in my mind (after Ossan’s Love and now this). Yoshida was on point in portraying Takuzo’s indecision, hesitation, fluttering hopes and blustering embarrassment, and you can’t help but laugh at and root for this old man who is still waiting for the next “spring” of his life. I also love Takahata Mitsuki as Akane, whose eye-roll game is strong, and who seems wise beyond her years but also really young and carefree at times. Oguri Shun had a supporting role as sobaya owner Araki, to whom Takuzo goes for love advice. Even though Araki is always in his soba shop, in the same outfit every scene, Oguri made the most of his role and I looked forward to his scenes where he would act as the occasional voice of reason to Takuzo and temper the latter’s wild imagination. The guest stars were a mix of younger and veteran actresses and I also really liked Otsuka Nene as Reiko, who was sassy and flirty, and never let up on a chance to tease her ex-husband.

Overall, recommended if you are looking for something light, sweet and charming.

junny@12pm

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