Spring is the season for love, and sometimes a drama responds to that theme beautifully.
Mashiba Kurumi (Kawaguchi Haruna) is a social media influencer who works as a publicist at el Arco Iris, an interior design company. After she forgets to renew the lease on her apartment, Kurumi ends up moving into a shared house with three other strangers and learns to live with people whose values and perspectives aren’t always similar to hers – in particular, minimalist chef Fujino Shun (Yokohama Ryusei), whose nature seems diametrically opposed to hers…
The 2021 spring drama season has been a bumper harvest for fans of Japanese dramas, with any number of decent dramas and some of my favourite actors in the line-up, and kind subbers taking up more projects than most of us have time for watching. It’s been a while since I’ve seen so many dramas being taken up for subbing in a single season, and that makes me a very happy camper.
It’s been a while since Japan did a nice, understated rom-com, and Kikazaru Koi ni wa Riyuu ga Atte was spring-like, fun and heartwarming. It was a good sign that by the end of the first episode, I was beginning to relate to both leads, and by episode 2, I was firmly in the #teamchef camp. The drama made me smile and laugh every episode, and I enjoyed all the story arcs. While I felt the last episode had a couple of rushed points and could probably have used an extra thirty minutes or even a full episode, I was satisfied that it managed to wrap up most of the storylines pretty well.
It’s always interesting to explore themes of communal living, especially in cities where the general perception is that people connections are less closely knit than in the countryside. At first glance, housemates falling in love with each might just be a rehash of a tired common trope. However, the drama manages to avoid this nicely. There are no big gestures of love, no hot and passionate romance between the leads, but instead, a lot of small life lessons offer insight into interpersonal relationships that go beyond romance. Growth does not have to come at the expense of sacrificing one’s own aspirations, and our characters can still work towards their dreams while finding the balance that is right for them.
Characterisation was nicely done. Kurumi is pretty easy to relate to and has almost none of the terrible traits that are often inflicted on capable female leads in Japanese dramas. She is great at her job and people rely on her to get things done, but she’s not desperate for love and does not have a horrible personality. I love how Shun constantly challenges Kurumi to look at the world beyond her social media activities, to take a step back and relax and figure herself out, and how in turn through her own actions, she teaches Shun to come to terms with his own demons and cherish the things he needs to.
Shun is one of the more refreshing male leads that I’ve seen in a while. He is bright, talkative, full of wisecracks and unrestrained by rules – but he is also so “my pace” that you wonder at the extent of the hurt and setbacks he must have experienced to have become so minimalist and let go of things so easily. I love how the ending scene of each episode is from Shun’s perspective, and we see the vulnerability underlying his seemingly indifferent remarks – he is more sensitive and affected than he lets on, but he is also so guarded that he doesn’t want to let down his defences until he gets past his own issues. Shun’s growth came late in the game, but when he did shape up, it was particularly rewarding. Many of Shun’s lines also resonated with me, and I enjoyed his take on dealing with life’s lemons, even if some of it was rooted in escapism.
Shun and Kurumi’s relationship was delightful to watch and I really enjoyed their progress. I like that theirs was a relationship that didn’t require any big gestures, but the little things that they remembered about the other and repaid at the right times. I also love how forthright Kurumi can be once she figures out what makes Shun tick and tells him straight out how she feels about him or gets him to talk, since he can be so tight-lipped and pretend things are fine. Their little knocks on the wall saying goodnight and all are so adorable, as is Shun’s handsome apology after missing out on their date (the reappearance of his phone is well played!). I also love how they figured out how to make both their relationship and their careers work for them. It’s great when I kept being able to laugh at their bantering, and also to feel strongly about their scenes together – there was never a moment where I thought Kurumi would be better off with someone else, it was always how she was growing personally and professionally, by herself and with Shun.
I liked the other characters too, though they didn’t get as much development. I thought more could have been done for Hase Ayaka (Nakamura An), one of the housemates who is an aspiring contemporary artist. In one episode, she was afraid she would have to give up her artist dreams if she became pregnant, and I thought that was a nice touch because so many dramas completely ignore the fact that not every woman wants children. The relief that Hase-san feels when she realises she isn’t pregnant and wouldn’t have to give up anything was beautiful to watch, with all her housemates being happy for her as well. It would have been nice, however, if the drama also showed a little more of Hase-san beyond her artist self, for a less stereotypical, more well-rounded character.
I can’t say I cared much about making Kurumi’s boss, Hayama Shogo (Mukai Osamu), a rival to Shun for Kurumi’s affections – I would have preferred Hayama remain as Kurumi’s mentor professionally, so that he could coach her on how to be a successful buyer (more scenes on that would have been nice), because Shun has enough issues to deal with without the appearance of a rival forcing him to shape up. I do appreciate that the supposed love triangle was handled without histrionics and except for a couple of direct face-offs, both men were mature about their feelings for Kurumi. That said, I never felt Hayama was suitable as a lover for Kurumi – he was never there when she needed him, and had to be prompted into realising he cared for her that way. Whereas Shun worked hard to improve himself for Kurumi, Hayama never at any stage seemed he would be willing to put in this amount of effort and commitment.
Acting was better than I expected. Kawaguchi Haruna was fine overall and made Kurumi likeable and easy to root for, even if her acting needed more finesse in certain emotional beats. She had nice chemistry with Yokohama Ryusei – they sold the romance and their respective characters pretty well, and I rooted for them together and individually. Yokohama was a delight to watch, and I love his portrayal of Shun. Compared to his character in Watashitachi wa Douka Shiteiru, I thought Shun gave Yokohama much more room to flex his acting, and he responded well to the challenge, especially since the character required a finer balance of the various emotional facets that made Shun a little more complex than your average rom-com male lead. I looked forward to his scenes individually and his interactions with the other actors. Natsukawa Yui was always wonderful as the warm and big-hearted Kouko-san, the owner of the shared house, and Mukai Osamu turned in a charming performance as Hayama. I’d not seen Maruyama Ryuhei before but he was likeable as Haru-chan, Shun’s cousin. Nakamura An, whom I adored in Suits as the sassy secretary, was lovely as the crabby but plain-speaking Hase-san.
It’s been a while since I’ve enjoyed a rom-com in the last few years, and it is all the more unexpected because I had kept my hopes low. I like that the drama had a nice slice of life feel to it and managed to keep things light and fun. The social media aspects were nicely done and the music used complemented the story well. The theme song, Fushigi, is by Hoshino Gen and grew on me after a few listens. My favourite instrumental, though, is the piece titled Your Story, which goes really well with the mellower moments of the drama. Have a listen:
Overall, recommended if you’re looking for something fun and sweet. Bonus: there’s an adorable dog!