J-drama Review: Memorandum of Kyoko Okitegami

Monday, October 03, 2016

DON'T YOU FORGET ABOUT ME


This charming manga adaptation is a quirky mix of 50 First Dates and Sherlock, telling the story of a forgetful detective and her unlucky admirer as she goes about solving one-day cases and he tries to win her over each day. Despite its far-fetched premise and fairly simplistic plot, the drama is full of pleasant surprises and manages to be consistently enjoyable all-throughout. You won't find intricate mysteries here, but you finish each episode with a smile on your face. 

I GOT YOU ON MY THIGH

The heart of this show is obviously the growing bond between Yakusuke Kakushidate (Masaki Okada) and Kyoko Okitegami (Yui Aragaki). Since the show presents us with an uncommon obstacle for romance - Kyoko's memory reset - even the tiniest improvement in their relationship feels like a huge victory. But their dynamic is not only focused on romantic development, it's also centered around trust and friendship.


The pairing starts out with sweet but fairly platonic interactions that necessarily don't give us much hope for romance, especially since each day Yakusuke has to introduce himself to her all over again. Initially it seems like his attempts at getting her to warm up to him are pointless since Kyoko's condition nullifies all progress at the end of the day. Yet Yakusuke is persistent enough that he somehow manages to become a natural part of Kyoko's life, without her even realizing it. 

It's also nice to see Kyoko and Yakusuke working so well together as partners. Kyoko obviously is ten steps ahead in each case, but she does seem to be able to solve mysteries better with her loyal Watson beside her. At first, Yakusuke has a hard time keeping up with Kyoko, but over the course of the series he learns a lot from her and even starts putting the pieces together by himself, with Kyoko proudly observing his improvement. And with each case, Kyoko seems to get more used to Yakusuke being around and subconsciously begins to treat him as a companion.


It's rather interesting because Kyoko doesn't heal from her ailment and suddenly start remembering Yakusuke, but rather her mind begins to recognize the familiar pattern, even if she's not really aware of it. Kinda like muscle memory. Another good explanation is that as Yakusuke learns more about Kyoko and how to approach her, it simply makes it easier for him to earn her trust after each memory reset. So by sensing his comfortable and warm attitude towards her, she spontaneously responds to it. It's wonderfully subtle, and yet so satisfying. 

A huge breakthrough moment is when Kyoko decides to mark Yakusuke's name on her thigh to remember to trust him the next day. It's not just meaningful in the sense that she thinks he's her friend, but it's also a sign that Kyoko actually sees future in that relationship. Earlier on she had rejected Yakusuke's confession without a second thought, which almost made me think she was afraid of letting anyone that close, knowing that her condition would make a romantic relationship impossible and it was better to nip it in the bud. So, aside from hinting at a possible romantic future together, the decision to make room for him on her thigh was also a real turning point for the character.


Meanwhile Yakusuke has the idea to start writing down Kyoko's story, but not for him, for her. Until then, Yakusuke had been following Kyoko around simply to spend time with the girl he liked, but writing down "K's Memorandum" is a decision to truly do something for her. He realizes how many beautiful memories she has lost and to make sure she wouldn't have to miss any more, he writes them down. What's even better is that the memorandum ultimately helps Kyoko to find herself again, with her meaningfully telling Yakusuke: "I choose to be the me you wrote". 

The pairing shares their most intimate moments in the warehouse in the last episode, where Kyoko finally admits that she does not want to forget Yakusuke. He promises to remember for the both of them, they kiss and she tells him to win her over the next time they meet. So while they don't end up together, we get to send them off on a hopeful note as newly-motivated Yakusuke continues to pursue her, albeit with mixed results. 

It's a nice open conclusion to their arc, with Kyoko putting trust in him to make her fall for him again and Yakusuke doing his best to fulfill that promise. The show ends with the scene of them holding hands, giving us a glimpse of a day when he succeeds at it.


IMPROVED IMPRESSIONS

I feel a lot of the charm this drama had was thanks to the adorable chemistry between Masaki Okada and Yui Aragaki as well as their individual performances. These are not breakthrough roles for either actor, but there's certainly a reason why I never found them boring on my screen. 

Masaki Okada had been entirely unfamiliar to me until I realized he'd played a minor, forgettable role in the 2007 version of Hana Kimi, while Yui Aragaki was known to me from the movie Koizora, where she'd unfortunately left a very uninspiring impression. So I was extremely glad to see both of them coming alive in this series, despite me having had less than favourable opinions of their earlier work. 


Masaki's portrayal of Yakusuke is one of my favourite things about the drama, as he had me in a laughing fit in one moment and totally swooning in the next. I'm happy he was able to play a character who was humanly silly and awkward, despite him being very handsome in appearance. Admittedly, I felt like Yakusuke was a lot like me at times, with his pessimistic outlook on life and general clumsiness. Yet it was satisfying to see him find his place alongside Kyoko and thus adopt a more mature and balanced attitude, with Masaki doing a great job at showing this subtle transition of the character. 

But most of all, I loved how he portrayed Yakusuke's feelings for Kyoko. Every time he looked at her with those sad lovelorn eyes, I was entirely convinced by his devotion to her and kept thinking how could she forget all about him when he stared her that way. 


Meanwhile, I found Yui so utterly delightful and adorable as the smart but slightly oddball detective Kyoko. Despite sporting a platinum blonde wig and looking very nonthreatening in appearance, she never came across too naive for her job, instead looking very smart and capable at it. Yet off-work, she was understandably unaccustomed to life and had the cutest little moments, where she would talk to robot vacuums and fangirl about her favourite author. I found Yui's portrayal to be very quirky and endearing, which was the opposite of how I remember her being in Koizora, making me happy that she has improved over time.

Overall, it was surprising to me how much I enjoyed Masaki and Yui's performances here. It's easy to overact their respective roles and make them annoying since it's based on a manga, which is an entirely different medium, but fortunately with this pairing portraying Kyoko and Yakusuke, I didn't feel like I needed to read the manga in order to understand their motivations and behavior.


WRAPPED IN A MYSTERY

Okitegami's episodic plot is largely built up on the little mysteries that Kyoko is hired to solve in the duration of a single day. For the most part, these cases are not that serious nor complicated, yet their outcome is not easily guessed either. As I'm generally not fond of dramas follow the problem-of-the-week formula, I was surprised how little it bothered me here. In fact, some cases ended up being quite touching or melancholy in their resolution.

But aside from the little weekly cases, the drama sets up a much larger mystery around Kyoko Okitegami herself. Her entire existence and background is a sort of an enigma that is waiting to be unraveled. The issue here is that the drama fails to give us an answer. Although the final episodes tackle Kyoko's story, it turns out in the end that we have been mislead and that the answer proposed by Sandglass crew - Kyoko being the secret granddaughter of Sandglass' owner - is a red herring. Ultimately, Kaname Jun's character Sawano Shinji is after money and has no real connection to Kyoko, giving us no other leads to go on. And so, the drama leaves us to work out our own theories.


Having expected an open ending (as is often common with Japanese dramas) and also being aware that the original manga series was still ongoing, I can't say I was too bummed out about the mystery remaining a mystery as I already had expected it. That being said, it seems pointless to write a drama adaptation if you have no end in sight. Ultimately, a story needs to be coherent and complete, and without a proper solution to the centric problem, Okitegami admittedly feels a little unfinished. 

To the drama's credit, however, it masks the flaw well by wrapping up Kyoko and Yakusuke's relationship up in a much more satisfying way. Since for me the drama was always more about the characters than the mystery, I gladly accepted the ending which gave me what I wanted most - a believable send-off for the leads. And a kiss or two.


HUMOR ME, MODERATELY

Japanese humor tends to be hit or miss with me. Sometimes it's delightfully random, othertimes embarrassingly slapstick. I'm not fond of over-exaggerated comedic acts in general, so they can sometimes have an off-putting effect on me when they have distanced itself so much from reality that the characters look cartoonish and situations ludicrous.

I did like the lighthearted comedy in Okitegami, though. It's still somewhat outrageous, but it fits the tone of the series and offers some fun moments with the characters to undercut the specific case-oriented scenes. The comedy bits with non-relevant characters could get annoying if they took over too much screentime, but thankfully it's balanced well enough that you have a few good laughs with side-characters and then move with the episode. 

In fact, I quite liked the Sandglass crew with flamboyant Horo (Mitsuhiro Oikawa), enigmatic Nuru (Arioka Daiki) and lively Makuru's (Rio Uchida) distinctly unique personalities coming into play every once in a while, as well as the grumpy police detective, who occasionally showed up to beat Kyoko at a case, so I didn't mind them stealing a few scenes each episode. Overall, I felt the drama did well in the humour aspect, without going too overboard, thus making the transitions from funny scenes to more serious ones easy and painless.


IT'S IN THE DETAILS

This seems like an insignificant little thing to mention, but for me the little intro at the beginning of each episode was a delightful detail to look forward to. 

Foreshadowing the relationship development in each episode, these intros showed Kyoko and Yakusuke becoming more comfortable with each other little by little. Starting with Yakusuke secretly, awkwardly trying to put his arm around her to her adjusting his jacket or falling asleep on his shoulder. And when Yakusuke was alone in the intro without Kyoko in the very last episode, my heart sunk to my stomach, effectively making me nervous about what to expect from the finale.  

So although these clips had no direct connection to the episodes themselves, the fact that they set the tone for what's to come showed just how you can cleverly make use an intro sequence. And a drama that pays attention to little things is something that I can always appreciate.


THE SPECIFICS

PLOT - It's a shame that the mystery of Kyoko's existence never finds it's solution, but it's hardly surprising when the manga that it's based on hasn't gotten its conclusion either. Otherwise, the drama is fairly nicely constructed upon weekly cases, while giving a consistent development between the lead pairing. The ending, while too open-ended in terms of the main mystery, wraps things up fittingly for the lead pairing.

ACTING - Masaki Okada's Yakusuke is sweet, funny and thoughtful. Yui Aragaki is a cutiepie and much more expressive than I remember her being. Add a mix of quirky side characters and you've got a winning cast, despite performances being nothing outstanding on their own. 

ROMANCE - It's a slow but consistent burn between the leads, even though the premise may lead you to think it's a hopeless one step forward, two steps back kind of deal. Yakusuke's never-waning devotion for Kyoko is wonderful to watch as his tiniest wins unexpectedly end up being great triumphs. While the show never gives you a neatly packed romantic conclusion, there's enough confirmation to believe the couple is going to be okay in the end.

SOUNDTRACKCoz baby you’re my number number number number one, and you’re the only only only only one. Nuff said.

EDITING AND CINEMATOGRAPHY - I had no major issues with editing and although the colors are generally rather plain and subdued, as they usually are in Japanese dramas, there were some scenes that stood out to me a bit more in their execution (as seen in the screencaps in this post). Would have appreciated better lighting in indoor scenes, though.

VERDICT

Rating: 8.5; Enjoyment: 9

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