J-drama Review: Itazura na Kiss - Love in Tokyo

Saturday, July 27, 2013

It has been a while since I've finished a drama, and it has been even longer since I've finished a Japanese drama. So it's a bit surprising that the drama I'm reviewing today is Itazura na Kiss: Love in Tokyo. I have to admit, I've had a bit of a slow period with Japanese dramas. But when the newest drama adaptation of the uber popular Japanese manga Itazura na Kiss came out, I knew it was inevitable that I was going to watch it. Although I have seen, more or less, all of the previous versions and know the story all too well, somehow it just never gets old for me. 

 Plot summary: 

Kotoko Aihara (Honoka Miki) is a cheerful and optimistic girl, though not very bright. She has been in love with Naoki Irie (Yuku Furukawa), the smartest and most handsome guy in her school, ever since she saw him giving a speech at the opening ceremony on her first day of high school. When she finally confesses her feelings to him, he rejects her coldly, saying that he doesn't like stupid girls.
Then a mysterious earthquake destroys Kotoko's home and she has to move with her father to his old friend's house. To her surprise, however, her father's friend is actually Naoki's dad and the house Naoki's home. Kotoko is happy to be close to Naoki and she realizes that perhaps this is her chance to warm his heart. But her quest to win over Naoki is not that easy and is constantly interfered by a series of mishaps, other contenders to Naoki's heart, and also by Kotoko's biggest admirer Kinnosuke Ikezawa (Yuki Yamada).


 What I liked: 

Honoka Miki as Kotoko. I might just like Honoka Miki's Kotoko the best out of all the other versions. 
Ariel Lin's Xiang Qin in It Started with a Kiss was very naive, if not plain stupid at times (though I liked her in more emotional scenes). And Jung So Min's Ha Ni in Playful Kiss was perhaps too aegyo that her performance started to feel too sweet for me to digest. And don't even get me started on Sato Aiko's Kotoko in Itazura na Kiss 1996 who, I swear, made me want to strangle her just to get a few seconds of peace and quiet. 
While Honoka Miki may be young and inexperienced in acting, she did fairly well in Love in Tokyo. She put a little less emphasis on Kotoko being super bubbly and cute, which I'm thankful for, and portrayed Kotoko as emotionally more mature. Yes, she does make some weird faces when she's doing comedic parts, but I'd rather blame the Japanese comedy style for that. I also liked that Kotoko didn't become too clingy or overbearing with her feelings towards Naoki. She was still the same stalkerish head-over-heels Kotoko as in the other versions, but much more toned down and likable. 

Yuki Yamada as Kin-chan. Appearance-wise, I wouldn't have cast neither of the Yukis (Yuki Yamada and Yuki Furukawa) in their respective roles. But both of them managed to win me over very quickly, Yamada perhaps more than Furukawa. Maybe it is because it was so much easier to root for Kin-chan whose feelings were always clear. 
I am aware that Jiro Wang's Yuan Feng in Taiwanese version is a fan-favourite, but I think Yuki Yamada's portrayal was also surprisingly endearing. My heart really ached for him at the end because he was so sweet and patient with Kotoko and, for a split second there, I was thinking (hoping) that maybe this time Kin-chan gets his girl. I knew it wasn't going to happen, but...he did love her a lot. And you know, this is a show with the message that if you try hard enough and never give up then you will achieve your dreams. So if Kotoko managed to win over the cold and heartless Naoki, then why couldn't Kin-chan get the girl he had so much in common with? But I guess the rules of dramaland go against it.

The friendship between Kin-chan and Kotoko. Despite that I was kinda heartbroken that Kin-chan didn't get the girl, I loved that the show didn't consider Kin-chan only as a love rival to Naoki. There was also some focus on the friendship that Kin-chan had with Kotoko, apart from his feelings for her. This is one of the things I most liked about this version. 
I'm not sure about the Taiwanese version (because I haven't yet watched it fully), but I think the Korean Playful Kiss didn't have the same emphasis on their friendship, which is kinda sad because this is one of the things that makes Kin-chan's character lovable, that he isn't just a guy who keeps bothering Kotoko with feelings that she clearly doesn't return. In this version, I felt that maybe him and Kotoko should belong together, instead of her and Naoki, because they are always on the same wavelength. He is also someone who knows Kotoko really well, gives great advice to her, and cherishes her friendship at all times. And I think this is kinda the point of Kin-chan's character in the original manga as well, him realizing that while he cannot win Kotoko's heart he still wants to always be there for her as a friend. 

The cameos by Aiko Sato and Takashi Kashiwabara. I may not have loved the 1996 version of Itazura na Kiss that much (mainly because of the super annoying Kotoko), but I always like a good cameo. I especially loved that, in their respective cameos, the old Naoki (Kasiwabara) was a doctor and old Kotoko (Sato) was a nurse. The fans who are familiar with the full story of the original manga, also know that this refers to future occupations of Kotoko and Naoki, she becoming a nurse after Naoki realizes his dream to become a doctor. It's a nice inside joke for the fans of ItaKiss. 

The ending. I was actually pleased with the ending. I know some people said that it was too abrupt and didn't show Kotoko and Naoki on their honeymoon, but I think that those parts are more suitable for a second season or a special episode (if they ever decide to plan either of those). I wouldn't mind a second season like the Taiwanese They Kiss Again, but as it is now, ending the show with the wedding seemed most appropriate to me. Of course, it was also obvious that they didn't have enough airtime to add anything else to the finale anyways. 
The only thing I would've liked to see would've been a scene between Kotoko and Kin-chan after her and Naoki get together, just for some closure. And perhaps a scene of how Naoki personally telling Sahoko that he loves Kotoko and won't be marrying her. I did like, however, how Kin-chan had the man-to-man don't-cha-ever-hurt-Kotoko-again-or-I-will-kill-you talk with Naoki at the wedding, it was nice. 

 What I didn't like: 

Naoki's expressionless face. Every time he looks at Kotoko, I'm so focused on his face, trying to find clues whether he likes her: "Oh, did the corners of his mouth flinch a bit? Is that a smile? Does that mean he cares? Or was that just a muscle spasm?" Seriously, trying to read Naoki's face is like trying to read a stone wall. I guess Furukawa played Naoki's role all too well because I had absolutely no idea what was going on in his head. 

Naoki's mom. The problem I had with Naoki's mom is the problem I've had with all of the adaptations. 
One the one hand, I think she is a funny character and it's nice how she loved Kotoko as her own daughter. But on the other, shouldn't her son's wants come first for her? For her to pressure Naoki to marry Kotoko is something I cannot really approve of, even though I find Naoki's mom otherwise a very amusing character. And if you think about it, Naoki's mom is not all too different from most Asian drama moms who try to control their sons' lives. It just that this time round, the mom is on the side of the heroine. Although I love that for once we have a mother-in-law who doesn't hate our heroine, it was still wrong for her to force Naoki to be with someone she thought was right for him. I like that Naoki, on several occasions, tells his mom that he doesn't want to be pressured by her to marry Kotoko (obviously, he wanted to do that decision himself when the time was right). But I'm also disappointed that the show never makes the mom realize that she is in the wrong, and perhaps she should apologize to her son for being so ignorant of his wishes. 
It's not as much of a complaint to this particular adaptation as it is something that I've always wanted to stay about the franchise.

(Also, something random to think about: Naoki's mom must have some very awesome family photo albums, considering what kind of moments she is able to capture with her camera. I wouldn't be surprised if she were to capture the exact moment when Naoki and Kotoko conceive their first child.)

 Overall conclusion: 

When you have a story that has been remade so many times then comparisons are inevitable. Taiwanese version had the best kisses, Korean version was the cutest, and Itazura na Kiss 1996 was the one that started the ItaKiss craze in dramaland. There has been something good and something bad in all of the previous drama adaptations, so I don't really know which has been my favourite yet (especially since I still need to pull myself together and watch the Taiwanese version from start to finish, not just judge it based on random episodes I've seen). But I will say this - Love in Tokyo is the version that got me the most addicted during its run. 
Although I didn't immediately love the cast, they made me love the characters that I already know so well once more. The romance may not have been sweeping, but it was sweet and sometimes also a little sad. And to see our stone-faced Naoki finally confess his feelings at the end will make it all worth it. Cause really, it all comes down to the warm fuzzies we get once the couple is united once and for all - and in that, the drama succeeded. 


Acting - For comedic purposes the cast tends to overact a bit, but I guess that's common in Japanese comedies. Otherwise, I was actually really pleased with the leads, and Yuki Yamada won my heart as Kin-chan.

Plot - Nice pace, although the story slowed down quite a bit near the end. Ending is a little rushed indeed, but I think it cuts the story in the right place, especially if there's a second season or a special episode coming in the future. 

Comedy - Pretty funny at times, but not exactly comedy gold. Some of the jokes are rather over-exaggerated and childish, but it is amusing nonetheless. 

Romance - ItaKiss has always been one of my favourite drama romances, but I did root especially hard for the couple in this version. The chemistry between the actors wasn't all too great (probably due to their age difference), but they looked adorable together.

OST - I liked the opening song (Sabao - "Appudeto") and the ending song (Sabao - "Takaramono"). But am I the only one who was reminded of The Sims by one of the instrumental themes in the drama?

Editing and cinematography - Japanese dramas don't usually excel in cinematography, but I liked the warm colour palette of this series and there were some really prettily filmed scenes of the OTP. Editing seemed pretty okay too.

 Final rating: 8       Enjoyment: 8 

 Memorable quotes: 

Naoki: "People change their minds. You may hate someone today, but you may start to like that person tomorrow."
Kotoko: "Even if I get hurt, it's better than doing nothing and regretting it later."
Kotoko: "My father taught me that I should never give up half-way."
Naoki: "I never had something in my life that was a big deal until recently. But ever since you gave me your love letter in the senior year of high school, almost every day, there is a big deal and frustration. I think you're a trial that was given to me."
Kotoko: "A trial?"
Naoki: "Because I panicked at the thought of the first trial in my life, I was desperately trying to run away from it."
Kotoko: "Don't treat me like some kind of disease."
Naoki: "But I realized that my life is more interesting when I am facing a challenge, rather than having no hardships."
Naoki: "Don't ever say you love any man besides me."
Jinko: "A woman is happy when she is loved by a man more than she loves him."
Naoki: "The probability of getting hit by a shooting star is a ten-billionth. Meeting you was more of a miracle than that."
Kin-chan: "Everyone has their own pace. You just have to find something in your own pace."
Naoki: "There are many ways to get to one destination. It may seem like your making a detour, but you may find something important on the way."

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  1. The Sims!! I thought the same thing about that music. LOL.
    I've probably talked too much about this drama, but I loved Honoka Miki, and I still love the friendship between Kotoko and Kin. It was lovely.

    I need to set aside a time with my family to marathon this again. Everybody wants to so much. :)

    1. Oh, I'm glad I wasn't the only one who kept hearing The Sims playing in the background :D :D

  2. Yeah, I liked the portrayal of Kotoko and Kinchan's friendship, it was very sweet. He just cared about her, no matter what. I do like that everyone's opinion of this show is pretty much the same. I haven't read any reviews giving it a low rating, and really, it's rare to find a drama that everyone actually agrees on.

    1. Kotoko and Kin-chan's friendship was perhaps my favourite thing about this show. I really liked how he supported Kotoko at all times.

      Now that you mention it, I haven't heard anyone say that it was a bad drama either. People generally love the Taiwanese version the most, but it seems that everybody agrees that Love in Tokyo was also a good adaptation.


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