It’s been a hot minute and a half, since I last watched a Japanese drama, not because I dislike them or anything, but because my drama plate’s been overflowing, just with Korean and Chinese dramas alone. When my dear friend Timescout mentioned this one to me, though, my interest was immediately piqued – enough to entice me to check it out quite quickly even, which is a Rather Big Deal, since my watch list is neverending, and my good intentions towards dramas often remain just that.
The topic of a mature woman restarting her life and finding her lost mojo is one that is near and dear to me, and I have a big ol’ soft spot for dramas that shine the spotlight on this particular female experience. I loved both C-drama The First Half Of My Life and kdrama Romance Is A Bonus Book, and I was immediately intrigued to acquaint myself with a Japanese take on a similar story.
In short, the J-treatment is unique in its own way, and.. I rather liked it.
WHAT IT’S ABOUT
Chinami (Kusakari Tamiyo) is a 46-year-old housewife who suddenly finds her life in disarray when her husband Hiroshi (Haba Yuichi) asks for a divorce because he’s reconnected with his first love Haruko (Moriguchi Yoko) and wants to start his life over, with her. In the process of rebuilding her life, Chinami finds work at a hotel as a housekeeper, and befriends the hotel’s young General Manager Yusuke (Seto Koji).
STUFF I LIKED
Show’s slightly quirky, yet very everyday sort of tone
I’m not used to Japan’s less shiny packaging when it comes to dramas, but I have to admit that it’s refreshing to see people on my screen who look like regular people. Nobody in this drama world looks like they stepped out of a fashion magazine, not even our rich hotel heir Yusuke, and that makes our characters all the more relatable.
On a similar note, Chinami’s situation is also very believable. She seems like a nice, pleasant lady and even her husband admits that she didn’t do anything wrong. He’d just reconnected with his first love, and fallen in love all over again. That’s no fault of Chinami’s, who’s held up her end of the marriage arrangement with giving birth to their son, taking care of the cooking and cleaning, and fussing over her family in general, and yet, here she is, her life as she knew it crumbling around her, and suddenly in need of a job at age 46, when she hasn’t worked since age 28. It’s harsh and a real bummer, and also, very conceivable. People do have their lives upended like this, all the time, and this makes Chinami’s story easy to connect with.
At the same time, Show has a touch of quirk about it, which is just enough to lift it from the mundane to the slightly surreal. I feel like this is a very Japanese sort of thing, and I personally thought it added to Show’s entertainment factor.
Characters tend towards honest conversation
In principle, I do really like that our characters have a tendency to be honest and engage in candid conversation, since that’s something that is a relative rarity in Dramaland, but I have to confess that I did struggle to wrap my brain around how these people behave, to a degree.
What I mean is, they don’t behave in a way I expect people to, and are polite, honest and introspective even when I don’t expect them to be. I wonder whether this is because this show is written a bit quirky and ironic-tongue-in-cheek, or if it’s because this is how Japanese people actually behave, or some combination of the two.
The extreme politeness I get; that is quintessentially Japanese. [HIGH LEVEL SPOILER] But, would that still enable a husband’s girlfriend and estranged wife to sit down and exchange civil, honest conversation? [END SPOILER] I don’t know. What I do know, is that it’s all very novel to me, and makes me wonder if I, too, could function at such an elevated level, if I were in these characters’ shoes.
In this drama world, our characters tend towards honesty, even when it’s uncomfortable and potentially embarrassing, and that makes for some very meaningful, if slightly surreal conversations. I liked it, and count it as one of Show’s biggest draws.
E2. The scene where Chinami and her estranged husband sit down to talk, and she realizes that they’ve had different views of the future all this time, is quite poignant too. He’s been wrestling with the idea that his life is being frittered away on climbing the corporate ladder, and wants to have a fresh and exciting future, while she had been looking forward to a cozy retirement together. I guess that’s when it really hit her, that the two of them had been on different paths for a long time.
E6. Ha. It was quite surreal how Haruko, Kyoko (Isono Kiriko) and Chinami ended up talking together in Chinami’s living room. It’s bizarre, yet it’s quite nice to see how there’s honest conversation instead of catfighting and hair-pulling. And even more bizarre, is how Hiroshi calls Kyoko to test the waters about Chinami liking someone else, and gets told off by Kyoko, who tells him that she hopes his girlfriend will leave him and he’ll die lonely – right in front of said girlfriend. Wowza.
The irony is, Haruko really is thinking of leaving him, if only to make herself feel better. What a twist, that she even informs Chinami of her intentions, as if to invite Chinami to take Hiroshi back. It’s the most odd yet weirdly appealing treatment I’ve seen, of a wife and the other woman. Kyoko is a fiercely loyal friend though. I like her. And any woman should feel assured to have Kyoko in their corner.
E7. I find the conversations between Chinami and Haruko unconventional and rather refreshing. They are honest with each other, and I’m impressed that Chinami even extends grace to Haruko and tells her that her feelings for Hiroshi are dead, so Haruko doesn’t have to hate herself if she continues to see him. It’s highly unusual, but given the massive amount of introspection that Chinami’s been doing, I can still believe that she’d be capable of such a reaction. At the same time, I appreciate that she has no qualms about drawing the line. When Haruko muses that she’s not sure if she can trust Hiroshi’s feelings for her, Chinami immediately replies that that’s not her problem and so she won’t hear it. Kinda fierce, which I like, and yet polite, since she adds, “Sorry,” right after. It’s so peculiar and so very Japanese. Likey.
E8. Chinami doesn’t take long to confess to Yusuke that she will not forget about the letters, even though she’d said that she would, and she even goes so far as to admit that she’d felt embarrassed about it. Is this telling it as it is, for a typical Japanese, or is this aspirational writing, where one hopes that the content will spur viewers to act as our characters do, choosing honesty even when it’s uncomfortable, for the greater good? I don’t know, but I rather like that about Chinami.
Our protagonist Chinami
Aside from the slightly distracting fact that I find Chinami looks a lot like the piano teacher who taught me as a child (down to the hairstyle, I kid you not!), I found Chinami easy to like and root for. She’s not perfect, certainly, and I appreciate that we see her struggle with processing everything that’s happening in her life, and wrestle with herself, in terms of what decisions she should make, and why. At the same time, though, she’s earnest, thoughtful, introspective and.. grateful, even, despite the fact that her life’s clearly not easy, and she’s in a situation where she’s grappling with a lot of things.
My memory bank tells me that this is a character trait that tends to be portrayed as positive and aspirational in Japanese dramas, like in the classic Oshin, but since I really haven’t watched that many Japanese dramas, I guess you shouldn’t quote me on that, heh. I did find that appreciative streak in Chinami appealing, and it helped to endear her to me, as a character.
Here are just a few of my personal Chinami highlights.
E3. I do like that Chinami isn’t a vindictive sort of person. Even though this situation is hard on her and difficult for her to adapt to, she earnestly works at getting used to her new life, and resolves to keep her chin up. I appreciate the scene where Chinami asks her estranged husband Hiroshi about what he’s said before, and enquired why he couldn’t see his new future with her. It doesn’t sound like a vengeful, self-pitying sort of question; rather, it seems to me that Chinami really wants to know why he chose someone else over her, and is trying to understand. That’s a very positive trait, to my eyes.
E3. Chinami realizes the truth about Yusuke, and how he’s not as pleasant as he’s made himself out to be. I do like her reaction, though. She doesn’t cower from it, and instead questions him about his behavior, and then proceeds to keep a distance from him and ignore him. That’s her way of making her stand known, and I rather like it. She’s being strong without being in-yo-face, and I like it.
E4. Chinami struggling with whether or not to confront Haruko, and then choosing not to, speaks to her strength of character. She’d rather not blame someone else for the failure in her life, and chooses to focus on herself instead.
Chinami’s friendship with Kyoko
I really enjoyed Chinami’s friendship with bestie Kyoko. Even though the two women have had very different life experiences, they continue to call each other, and hang out together, and confide in each other so regularly, that it’s clear to see that their friendship is a daily, everyday sort of thing. I love that.
It’s common for friends to meet up less frequently as they grow older, particularly if said friends have very different circumstances, and yet, here are Chinami and Kyoko, who’ve continued to be practically glued at the hip, even though Chinami quit her job long ago to be a full-time mom, while Kyoko’s chosen to focus on her career instead.
I just found it very comforting for Chinami, that she would have a best friend to talk to, during this particularly difficult season in her life.
E2. The moment that struck me the most, was when Chinami cried with her friend Kyoko, who’s been single all this time. The common fear of being alone is so deep, that the two women are overcome with emotion and solidarity. I kind of think they should just move in together, to keep each other company. Who says that you have to live alone, if you don’t have a husband?
E3. Shout-out to Kyoko, who’s such a fiercely loyal friend that she gives Hiroshi a hard time at work, and even sends a petty fake message from his mobile phone to Haruko. Yes it’s kind of childish, but I just like seeing how firmly she’s on Chinami’s side.
STUFF I LIKED LESS
Hiroshi the estranged husband
In the general drama scheme of things, Hiroshi isn’t the worst husband out there. He’s not violent or abusive or vindictive; he’s a sheepish regular Joe who makes some bad decisions, to the detriment of his family. While his husband-next-door vibe added to this show’s it-could-happen-to-you quality, I personally still found him objectionable, for a good portion of our story.
To my eyes, he was a bit of an idiot, albeit a fairly harmless, sheepish one.
E1. Hiroshi is a coward, sneaking around and asking Chinami for child custody and then running off when she gets upset. This did not endear him to me, and I’ve decided that she’s probably better off without him.
E7. By this point of the story, Hiroshi is more or less just set dressing. He’s more a catalyst for Chinami and Haruko to figure themselves out, than a man whose companionship and affection they actually truly desire. It also seems like Hiroshi is starting to become cognizant of the fact that he’s not very important after all, in both women’s lives, and it’s unsettling him, which is pretty great. He’s not a bad person, but I think he’s starting to see that he has to lie in the bed that he made for himself, and I think it’s a good lesson for him.
E8. In the end, Hiroshi ends up serving Chinami the divorce papers, but losing Haruko anyway. I get where Haruko is coming from, because she now is cognizant of how wrong it was for her to take Hiroshi away from his wife, and how she feels guilty towards Kakeru (Matsuoka Kodai), and that’s why she’s ending it now. That sure doesn’t leave Hiroshi in a better place, does it? I guess that’s the price he has to pay for entertaining temptation. And, I kinda think it serves him right, honestly.
E8. How typical of Hiroshi, to try to meddle in Chinami’s affairs, even though he’s the one asking to divorce her. The gall of him, to seek out Yusuke, to ask him not to mislead Chinami because she’s a naive woman who tends to trust people. I like that Yusuke points out to him, with a definite edge to his voice, that this is decidedly strange, coming from Hiroshi, who is the very one who threw the innocent Chinami out, to survive on her own.
Yusuke the GM with the tortured soul
I think Yusuke’s character development was possibly Show’s weakest link, for me. Yusuke is written to be layered and complicated, which is hard enough to tease out, in such a short show with just 4.5 hours of total screen time. But on top of that, Yusuke is written to actually chart some significant growth over the course of our story. I guess, overall, I just didn’t find it very convincing, which then pushed my perception of this story more into the realm of convenient, aspirational (very) short story, than a believable reflection of possible real life.
[SPOILER ALERT] To properly explore the trichotomy of his characterization – agreeable Prince, layered on top of harsh, snooty jerk who has no feelings, layered on top of issues like abandonment and rejection – I think we would have needed at least 50% more screen time, if not more. And yet, Yusuke needs to show marked character growth by the finale, which Show nudges him towards, with alacrity.
Altogether, this just made for an evolution that felt rushed, and because I found Yusuke’s rich jerk persona quite unlikable to begin with, I also felt like my evolution of feelings towards him was rushed. Not my favorite thing, overall. [END SPOILER]
Show feels a touch like a highlight reel
Show is only 9 episodes, with each episode clocking in at only about half an hour. That’s just 4.5 hours of total screen time, which is a lot less screen time than I’m used to, with kdramas and C-dramas. On the upside, the pacing feels tight, efficient and purposeful, and there is practically no filler at all, because who has time for filler, when you barely have enough time to tell your story?
On a slight downside, I found that Show also possesses a slight highlight reel sort of feel, because in episode 1 alone, we go through important milestones and a plethora of emotions – from oblivion to shock to determination to despair – all within the space of half an hour.
To Show’s credit, it isn’t quite the rollercoaster in viewing experience as it sounds on paper, and it all does pop quite well, given Show’s limited screen time.
Sometimes the quirk leans unbelievable
Even with a viewing lens adjusted for Show’s quirky lashings, there were occasions when I felt the events on my screen were quite.. strange. For the record, here they are.
E5. I’m confused. Did Haruko always know that Chinami was Hiroshi’s wife? It hadn’t seemed like it, at their meeting in the hotel room. But this episode, suddenly she knows. When did that happen?
More importantly, I found it unrealistic that Mr. Hajime the butler guy (Yamamoto Kei) spilled Yusuke’s entire life story to Chinami, just because she’d brought passed out drunk Yusuke in. That felt weird and like an overstepping of boundaries. I mean, it’s not his story to tell, and Show’s obviously conveniently overlooking that detail, in order to quickly bring Chinami up to speed on Yusuke’s backstory. I didn’t like this very much.
E6. I’m completely thrown by the hug between Yusuke and Chinami in the lift. I know that she’s admitted to herself that she’s attracted to the man who’s been writing to her, but she doesn’t know that it’s Yusuke. And, I know that Yusuke is in a vulnerable state and understands Chinami to be a kind person, but that hug still feels like an uncomfortable bolt out of the blue.
The lighting leans too dark
This is a minor point, but I just wanted to say that the lighting in this show leans very dark. It’s very strange to me; it feels as if the production didn’t bring in additional lighting at all. Personally, I found multiple scenes too dark, especially the scenes that take place in Yusuke’s office (see screenshot above). I don’t know if Show did this on purpose for the sake of realism, but the overall effect felt quite drab, unfortunately.
THEMES / IDEAS
For a short little drama like this, Show manages to touch on a number of meaningful themes and ideas, which I appreciated. Here are the 3 that resonated with me the most.
1. Friends can be found in unlikely places
We see friendships grow between unlikely candidates throughout this show, and I like the idea that there are more friends out there than we think, if only we would be open to them.
2. We’re more alike than we realize
Our characters all have different backgrounds and personalities, but they do share certain commonalities. In the end, we tend to have more in common than we realize; we’re afraid to be alone, we want to be happy, and we want to be accepted.
3. The idea of living with purpose
Show explores the question of whether you can truly start over regardless of where you are in life; of whether you’ve lived well, even if things don’t go the way you’d hoped. Very pertinent questions indeed.
THOUGHTS ON THE ENDING [SPOILERS]
I’m honestly a little shocked, at how satisfying I find this finale, even though I had no idea how Show was going to wrap everything up in a narratively sound and emotionally fulfilling way, given where our characters were, at the penultimate episode.
Hiroshi remains broken up from Haruko, and Kakeru decides to live with Dad, so as not to be a burden to Mom, and Chinami cries, saddened and lost at having lost everything. But when Chinami and Haruko talk about their regrets in life after an evening of drinking at Chinami’s apartment, Kyoko steps in with the words of wisdom that they all need to hear; that it’s not too late for them; that Chinami doesn’t need to feel sorry for falling in love. Chinami, encouraged, declares that no matter what everyone else says, that they should find happiness, to which Haruko and Kyoko nod in agreement.
And that, essentially, is the emphasis of this finale.
Yusuke breaks off his engagement with Asami (Asakura Aki) and decides that it’s time to work not for his father’s approval, but for his own enjoyment; Chinami writes one more letter to Yusuke, thanking him for teaching her to trust again, and even admits that she’d fallen for him through the letters; Yusuke writes back, that she had allowed him to put down his armor as well, that her letters had saved him too, and he invites her to keep writing, promising that he’ll write back as well.
In voiceover, as we see our various characters carrying on with life, we hear Chinami say that it won’t matter even if love takes a long time to come, or if that love lasts only a week; what’s important is to live life to the fullest, and awaken on our own, and grab hold of happiness.
Aw. That’s a heartening note on which to end, and I like that Show doesn’t try too hard to define the bond between Chinami and Yusuke. All we need to know is that they realize and appreciate that they saved each other, and appreciate each other enough, to want to nurture that connection, without worrying about what to call it, or where it will lead. Instead, the emphasis is on our characters’ individual journeys, and how each of them is taking ownership of their lives and actively looking ahead, with a focus on being happy and true to themselves. A very apt and positive message for us all, I’d say.
THE FINAL VERDICT:
Simple, yet surprisingly charming and uplifting.
FINAL GRADE: B+
NOTE: I’m sorry, guys, I couldn’t for the life of me find a teaser, trailer or MV for this show, most likely due to the show’s age.