Watashitachi wa Douka Shiteiru

It’s been a while since I watched a drama that could be termed as “crack”, even though it wasn’t the best there is to offer. I wasn’t going to watch it, but the plot sounded interesting and featured wagashi, so I gave it a shot.

Hanaoka Nao (Hamabe Minami) is a wagashi maker in Kanazawa known for her skills despite her youth. At a contest involving wagashi, Nao is reunited with her childhood friend Takatsuki Tsubaki (Yokohama Ryusei) – the young master of Kougetsu-an, a famous wagashi store in Kanazawa. Fifteen years ago, Tsubaki accused Nao’s mother Yuriko (Nakamura Yuri) of murdering his father, and Nao now accepts Tsubaki’s surprise offer of marriage to get herself into the Takatsuki household in order to prove her mother’s innocence…

The drama was adapted from the manga by Ando Natsumi and looked to be a pretty close adaptation – for example, most scenes in the drama followed the manga almost by the panel, and the actors resembled their manga counterparts. The story itself, set in Kanazawa which has a lot of lovely scenery, was rather straightforward and most plot points were not difficult to guess (some of them just hit you on the head with the repetition of it all, and Nao’s revenge plans were laughable), but the fact that Watashitachi wa Douka Shiteiru had no qualms about sticking in every melodramatic trope there was and did so efficiently in eight tight episodes was something I liked. I have no patience for pretentious dramas, and fortunately this wasn’t it. While the plot wasn’t the strongest, there was that odd, addictive quality that made me just want to keep watching, which was a good sign. The final episode was a two-hour special that wrapped up the story fairly decently. As the manga is still ongoing, NTV took care to consult the mangaka on how to end the drama, which I thought was the right thing to do.

The highlight of the drama was the exquisite wagashi featured, and the meanings and various concepts behind each creation. Both Nao and Tsubaki were shown to be skilled wagashi artisans and their creations were always a delight to see. That said, I profess to being more inclined towards the wagashi Tsubaki made (his “空明” is my favourite of the lot, though I did like Nao’s “亥の子餅” which is very cute), because they were more aesthetically pleasing to me and I rather liked their concept better. So it was a bit puzzling that while Tsubaki was acknowledged for his skills, his creations always came up short against Nao’s, probably because she could replicate the taste of her mother’s works – Yuriko herself was a very skilled artisan, and back then made the wagashi that Kougetsu-an was famous for. Wagashi aside, the drama also featured some really beautiful kimono – Kougetsu-an was a store with a long history and tradition, and what better to showcase that than the denizens clad in kimono observing rituals and ceremonies signifying how the past still has a stranglehold on the present and possibly the future? It almost felt as if time stood still in Kougetsu-an, which would be laughable in some respects (no Internet or mobile phones? telephone booth? fake pregnancy? Nao’s irrational fear of the colour red?) and pathetic in others (old-fashioned expectations and power struggles, etc).

The relationships were sketched in broad, fairly predictable, and rather melodramatic strokes. Nao and Tsubaki’s romance resembled that of star-crossed lovers – she was out for revenge and the truth of her mother’s death while hiding her identity, and he struggled with the weight of expectations as the young master of Kougetsu-an and need for approval from his forbidding grandfather. The romance was credible and built up quite well, and the drama gave viewers pretty much everything – kisses, kabedon, back hugs and lovemaking. Nao even got pregnant but lost her baby in part due to a fire that razed part of Kougetsu-an. That said, it was funny how they kept emphasising they wouldn’t be able to see each other again after the final wagashi showdown to determine the true heir of Kougetsu-an – the wagashi world is a small one, and there is really nothing that would prevent Tsubaki and Nao from continuing their relationship, unless they couldn’t get over themselves. Tsubaki’s family was dysfunctional (a euphemism) and it was sad to see Tsubaki being repeatedly rebuffed by his grandfather, when he only wanted the old man to eat the wagashi he made. I was rather ambivalent about Takigawa Kaoru (Yamazaki Ikusaburo), for half the time he came across as a bit of a creepy ojisan (hopefully he is better developed in the manga), but the drama made fairly good use of his character in the end.

I think I was invested in the romance mostly because I liked Tsubaki as a character. He was not jealous of Nao’s talent and collaborated with her on many things involving wagashi and Kougetsu-an, and Nao herself acknowledged and appreciated Tsubaki’s devotion to wagashi and the store. Tsubaki was also willing to put aside his misgivings about Nao’s real identity and trust her because he loved her, and I liked how expressive he was about his feelings once he realised he cared for her. In the scene where Nao returned after visiting her “mother”, Tsubaki expressed surprise and said he thought she’d stay the night instead. Nao said she came back because she wanted to see him, and Tsubaki’s response 「雪でも降るんじゃないのか」encapsulated his character. In the end, he gave up everything for her and because of her, without a fight – in the space of that last episode, Tsubaki lost his home of 24 years, his mother and grandfather, his half-brother, his work and nearly his vision (I confess I was a total sucker for the trope of Tsubaki losing his eyesight because of the fire). More than anything, Tsubaki was the true victim of the older generation’s feud and made to shoulder expectations that should never have been his to carry in the first place. I think I would have liked it better had Nao had invited Tsubaki to start afresh with a new wagashi store of their own instead of continuing to run Kougetsu-an together. With their skills, they could forge a path for themselves without the weight of the past and unforgiving tradition shackling them down.

I’d seen Yokohama Ryusei earlier this year in Shiro demo Kuro demo nai Sekai de, Panda wa Warau and thought he did quite well alongside Seino Nana, but that was a rather weird drama and probably flew under the radar of most people. As expected, a tsundere role like Tsubaki would be more likely to put him properly in the limelight. Yokohama had pretty good chemistry with Hamabe Minami, and they made an appealing and compatible onscreen couple. I first saw Hamabe as Sato Takeru’s younger sister in Ajin, and thought she did well here (she looked really beautiful in the kimono she wore throughout the drama), though there were moments where she still felt a little green on the subtler emotional beats. Mizuki Arisa hammed up well as Tsubaki’s mother Kyoko, complete with creepy ditties about butterflies and close-up shots of her menacing expressions. Kyoko’s story was tragic and in the end she sacrificed herself for Tsubaki, but one wonders whether a single selfless act excused her from all the unscrupulous things she did. I did like Kishii Yukino as Shiori, Tsubaki’s fiancée whom he ditched in favour of Nao. Shiori made some questionable decisions later in the drama, but redeemed herself with a show of courage that even won her a loveline with Jojima (Takasugi Mahiro), who also got a nice redemption arc.

Overall, a decent watch with good-looking leads, mouthwatering wagashi, and a little bit of everything else. The theme song by Tokyo Jihen, Aka no Doumei, is worth a listen:

junny@8.22pm

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