Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Review of Shitsuren Chocolatier 失恋ショコラティエ- Winter 2014

To be perfectly honest, I wasn't too keen on watching this in the first place. Much as I really do like Arashi as a whole (but favour some members over the rest), I've not been so impressed or captivated by Matsumoto Jun's acting. My impression of him was that he could do OK for exaggerated and "out-of-the-ordinary" roles such as Domyouji Tsukasa in "Hana Yori Dango" but when he has to play an "ordinary" guy, his appearance, dressing and mannerisms seem to work otherwise for some reason. Maybe it's the strong image of a fashionista he has which I sometimes fail to identify with but after watching "Hidamari no Kanojo", I thought that I should give this a shot even though I knew jolly well that I would be really fed up with this story about a guy hankering after a woman that he has no choice of snagging at all. It's like those typical dramas where a woman goes all out to win over a guy who snubs her, just that this time, the gender roles are switched.

To begin with, let me explain the story and relationships between the main characters. The protagonist Koyurugi Souta (Matsumoto) fell in love at first sight with Saeko (Ishihara Satomi), his senior by one year when he just entered high school. However, Saeko was so popular with guys and kept dating different people that Souta never really got a chance to confess his feelings to her. Just before Christmas, Souta and Saeko shared a kiss which led him to misunderstand that Saeko liked him and had accepted him as her boyfriend. However, in actual fact, Saeko merely saw Souta as a stand-in for her boyfriend who she was having problems with at that time.

The following year on Valentine Day's eve, Souta who had been attending confectionery school after high school graduation, prepared some chocolates for Saeko. This led Saeko to realise that Souta had misunderstood the nature of their relationship and she blatantly told him that as long as they did not sleep together, she didn't see them as an item. The blow from this revelation led Souta to head to France for the sake of learning the art of making chocolates in a bid to win Saeko back.

Six years later, Souta returns to Japan to open his own chocolate specialty shop "choc la vie" which was remodelled from his father Makoto's (Takenaka Naoto) cake shop. Helping him out are Inoue Kaoruko (Mizukawa Asami) who had been working at Makoto's cake shop since Souta was a student, Souta's younger sister Matsuri (Arimura Kasumi) who is an university student and Souta's friend Olivier (Mizobata Junpei) who is the son of a famous and rich patissier in France and has a Japanese mother. However, much as Souta thinks that he's finally in a position to attract Saeko with his career and newfound celebrity chocolatier status, he is aghast to find that she is going to marry Yoshioka, a magazine editor who is older than her. On top of that, Saeko even asks Souta to make her wedding cake which he agrees to readily. Kaoruko cannot understand why Saeko would do that to a man who used to love her but finds it even harder to comprehend Souta's thinking as to why he agreed to make the wedding cake. Souta goes to the extent of forgoing sleep just to make the perfect wedding cake for Saeko and deems it as a closure to his longtime pining for Saeko. However, with Saeko's appearance at "choc la vie" on a regular basis to buy his chocolates, Souta finds it difficult to bid farewell to his one-sided love for Saeko as she continues to send him mixed signals despite her status as a newly-married woman.

As Souta grapples with guessing how Saeko really feels about him, he comes to befriend Kato Erena (Mizuhara Kiko), a beautiful model at a party hosted by celebrity chocolatier Rikudo Seinosuke (Sato Ryuta) who is impressed with Souta's talent. By a strange stroke of fate, Souta and Erena come to realise that they are both lonely souls being trapped in a one-sided love and become close friends very quickly. Erena suddenly suggests that they become sex friends (friends who sleep together for the sake of sexual satisfaction but with no emotional attachment) which Souta is not keen on at first but later accepts because he wants to show Saeko that he won't be emotionally manipulated by her anymore. However, as the two start to develop feelings for each other and when Souta finally resolves to let go of Saeko once and for all, he gets distracted by Saeko again which causes Erena to be hurt by his indecisiveness.

At the same time, Olivier finds himself being increasingly attracted to Matsuri who is stuck in a love triangle with her friend and her friend's boyfriend. Although she feels guilty about dating her friend's boyfriend, she can't seem to break it off. When they subsequently break up, Olivier confesses to Matsuri about how he feels and tries to build up confidence in her to start a new relationship. Meanwhile, Kaoruko becomes acquaintances with Sekiya (Kato Shigeaki) where she easily pours out her dissatisfaction with Souta's indecisiveness, Saeko's manipulative ways and Erena being a loose woman (because she slept with Souta despite not being in a relationship with him). Sekiya points out point blank that Kaoruko is so upset because she likes Souta but she stresses that she doesn't want to date him or anything but just finds it annoying to see what's going on. Although Kaoruko tries to think of Sekiya as a romantic interest, she realises that things aren't going to work out and gives up the idea in the end.

First of all, I have to admit that I was really frustrated while watching this drama. It's not just Souta or Saeko who gets to me althought these two are the worst of the lot. That's not to say that the others are flawless but comparatively, they are easier to relate to. Rikudo, Makoto and Sekiya don't have a lot of airtime so it's kind hard to put a finger on what kind of people they actually are.

Much as I get why Souta is besotted with Saeko (first loves have a special space in men's hearts), what I don't understand and cannot accept is his stubborn thinking that Saeko can still be his if he works hard enough at creating chocolates that she likes. The biggest issue is, she's already a married woman. Is he trying to be the third party or wants to make her get a divorce just to be with him? In addition, his wishy-washy attitude towards whether to give up or continue his pining for her is simply irritating. At one point, he decides that enough is enough and he should forget about Saeko. The next moment, he decides to be a "bad guy" in order to gain the upperhand because Saeko is usually the one who leads him on. And that's precisely what prompted him to start his sexual relationship with Erena because he thinks that he shouldn't remain chaste for someone who's leading him on. As a result of his flip-flops, what used to be an issue affecting himself along ends up affecting those around him. Kaoruko cannot accept that Souta's efforts in making new products are primarily motivated by his intention to impress Saeko, not because he had the interests of his shop in mind. That in turn makes his staff Kaoruko and Olivier look like they are working for the sake of his romantic pursuits even Kaoruko clearly enjoys her work and takes pride in it. Likewise, Souta also gave Erena false hope by asking her to be ready to date him after he settles things with Saeko (so whether Erena becomes his girlfriend hinges on the outcome of something else which she has no control over). I think that's very selfish of him so that's why I didn't sympathise with Souta at all when he finally knew that Saeko doesn't love him and was just using him as a refuge from her shaky marriage. Actually, he should have known it when Saeko did not answer him every time when he said he loves her. She never said "suki da" or "aishiteiru" once. Truth be said, I think he had it coming that he ended with nobody. It got me even more irritated to see how he just dumped his work aside because Saeko went home to her husband and was moping around like it's the end of the world. Being unable to make chocolates just because the woman you wanted to impress most isn't around to taste it anymore? That makes it even more unlikely to view a character like Souta favourably.

On the other hand, Saeko appears at first glance to be a dimwit who's oblivious to others' feelings and simply does what she likes. Her antics in leading Souta on were indeed not acceptable for a married woman and you really wonder if she just enjoys the attention Souta showers on her or she felt something for him. I tend to believe the former because when Saeko's husband questioned her why she still cared so much about how she looks and if she still wants to attract men despite being married, Saeko was stumped for a moment. No doubt her husband was a bit too much in saying that (people still can look great even if they are married), I believe it hit the jackpot too because Saeko has enjoyed the attention from the opposite sex all along and being married probably wasn't going to change how she felt about this issue. Nonetheless, it took the last few episodes for the viewers to finally see how Saeko is. No doubt she may appear like a thoughtless person most of the time, the insights she gave Matsuri and Kaoruko about love and dating were indeed spot-on. She's not as stupid as she seems but underneath that ditzy appearance, she does use her brain, just that it's not apparent to those around her. That's why her husband took for granted that she will be OK with staying at home as a housewife and he doesn't need to pay too much attention to her now that they are married. And that's also why Saeko's mother seemed to think that her daughter has no future and cannot survive on her own if she leaves her husband. I still think Saeko was being really cruel to Souta for leading him on all this while but then again, you feel a little sorry for her because she's accepting reality because of her circumstances, not because she wants to return to her husband out of her own will.

As for Olivier and Matsuri, I found their relationship's development a bit bland and uneventful (it was almost a given that they would be paired up together) except for the part when he confronted her about her intention to visit her ex's place to collect her belongings. Olivier was right about it when he said that Matsuri was opening herself to potentially retracting her steps to that painful relationship if she met the ex alone at his apartment. No matter how hard she tried to convince him, I'm glad Olivier put his foot down and threatened to break up if she went ahead without him tagging along. Matsuri knew jolly well what might happen and yet still tried to convince herself that it won't head that way but thankfully, Olivier knocked some sense into her. This development was a bit different from the norm when usually the new boyfriend would get jittery over his girlfriend meeting the ex and yet does not do anything to stop it.

Erena probably didn't expect that she would fall for Souta when she raised the suggestion of them developing a sexual relationship just to satisfy each other's needs. No doubt Souta's concern and gentleness in helping her get over her heartbreak was a factor in making Erena fall for him, I think his devotion towards Saeko was also what swayed her heart. In a way, Erena is somewhat like Saeko in the sense that she may appear to be bold, open and a bit loose when dealing with men but deep down, she's a frank girl who thinks the best of others. Actually. Souta was at fault for giving his friends that impression because he had talked about Erena as a mere sex partner. He could have positioned Erena as a close friend which would have prompted his friends to view her with more respect. Kaoruko met Erena on the same night as Souta and was disgusted at how they could have slept together on that very night without knowing much about each other. Souta didn't help things by lying to Kaoruko that he did nothing with Erena. Of course, this would have made Kaoruko misunderstand that Erena is a loose woman who sleeps around. At the same time, Olivier heard a lot about Erena from Souta but he had always been led to believe that Souta thinks of her as someone no more than a sex partner. In such circumstances, what kind of impression do you think he would have about her if he never knew her personally? And because of this type of mentality, Souta didn't think that he owed Erena an explanation when Saeko turned up at his doorstep and he had to stand Erena up. He just dragged things on until Erena decided to show up and find out what was going on but was dealt with the truth in a harsh manner through Kaoruko. Then again, she would be better off without a guy like Souta because he clearly doesn't deserve her. Not having the courage to face Erena is not an excuse for this type of behaviour.

As for Kaoruko, I really felt sorry for her when Souta had the cheek to scold her for speaking ill of Erena. Of course, her view of Erena was flawed but who was the one who had contributed to that impression? If Souta had treated Erena seriously and respectfully like a friend, I'm sure Kaoruko wouldn't view Erena with so much ill will even though she is in love with Souta. No doubt Erena is her rival in love, what irks Kaoruko is probably the fact that Erena and Souta's relationship is a warped one (according to her values) and she cannot understand why they would still sleep together even though Erena knows jolly well that Souta loves Saeko. That was why she didn't see the logic in Souta skipping such an important function to celebrate their business taking off and going to Erena who had just fallen out of love. To her, Erena should be nothing more than a sex friend so why would he care for her feelings? However, to Souta, Erena had become more than a sex partner and was his close friend. The gap in their perceptions led to Souta saying such harsh words to Kaoruko which I thought was really uncalled for. You can be unhappy about how she talks about your friend but you don't have to be so nasty about it. At the same time, Kaoruko is a character which people can relate to easily. Other than the part where she said that she loves Souta but doesn't want to be in a relationship with him, I think that's something which is a bit hard to understand. Maybe she wants to be with him but knows that chances are so slim that it's better to be beside him as a working partner. As for her interaction with Sekiya, I thought it offered some comic relief and the advice given by Saeko e.g. making yourself available in the dating market and taking the effort to promote yourself was really hilarious but also spot-on. In the end, Kaoruko may not have ended up with any guy but at least she got a new friend i.e. Saeko and managed to learn to come to terms with her weak points when it comes to romance.

With regard to the acting, I thought there were some very memorable performances from Matsumoto Jun, Ishihara Satomi, Mizukawa Asami and Mizuhara Kiko. Like what I mentioned before, I have never been convinced that Matsujun can act because I've found his body language a bit exaggerated at times and he tends to exert too much force when conveying certain emotions. However, when he does his monologues for Souta and puts on a more serious face when pondering about his relationships, I think he has showed that he can manage a more subtle style of acting which can grow on people. And his image this time looks quite good because there are times when his hairstyles and clothes worn in dramas are too similar with his usual styles which don't go down well with me. On the other hand, I don't really like the day-dreaming scenes which called for more exaggerated acting.

Ishihara Satomi did well in making Saeko a detestable character right from the start. I don't know how guys actually view a woman like Saeko but from a woman's point of view, someone like Saeko is a common enemy among her peers, just like how Kaoruko views her. Manipulative, act-cute, pretentious, the negative descriptions keep coming out. However, you can't deny too that she looked so cute and appealing as Saeko so it's not difficult to imagine why Souta is besotted with her. I liked her scenes towards the end of the drama where she enjoyed the short-lived and fantasy-like happiness with Souta and yet was fully aware that she had to return to reality one day. In the past, I never paid that much attention to Ishihara but I think she's showing that she can manage a variety of roles and can look plain and pretty at the same time. That is an advantage she is clearly making full use of these days.

Mizukawa Asami was great in showing the insecurities of Kaoruko who wants to be more experienced in dating but is clueless about it. I thought her scenes with Ishihara Satomi were quite interesting but it sure took them a long time to bond. At the same time, it was a pity that things didn't work out with Sekiya which would have been a fun couple where one talks all the time and the other just listens. Of course, I didn't like it when Kaoruko was moping around for Souta but I think she still had one foot in reality to keep her grounded so that aspect didn't get on my nerves as much as Souta chanting "Saeko-san" all the time.

Last but not least, I've seen Mizuhara Kiko in relatively small roles in various movies but she's left quite a deep impression on me with her unique screen presence. This time, it was good that Erena wasn't some haughty model who thought the world of herself and I liked that she was a down-to-earth and frank girl who had emotions just like everyone else. It will be worth anticipating what Mizuhara can come up with next time especially if she gets a meatier role.

And my ratings for this drama...

Story: 6 out of 10 (It took too long for Souta to finally come to terms with the truth but I like the ending in a sense since Kaoruko and Saeko became friends. Brings across the message that you really need to interact with a person rather than let skewed perceptions get the better of you)

Acting: 7.5 out of 10 (Although Matsujun and his leading ladies did fairly well, I think there was severe under-usage of the supporting case. Mizobata Junpei and Arimura Kasumi were pretty forgettable because their characters had a relatively not-so-exciting love story while Takenaka Naoto only popped up once in a while. Sato Ryuta looked charismatic for the first time as Rikudo but there was really nothing much about him in the drama which was a pity.)

Theme song: 7 out of 10 (Arashi's theme song was catchy but didn't really appeal to me. I thought the BGM used was quite good though.)

Visual effects / Scenery: 6.5 out 10 (Pretty nice sets but a lot of the filming was done indoors apparently so it would have been nice for them to venture out of the shop more often)

Teamwork / Chemistry: 7 out of 10 (Considering that Souta was in a one-way relationship with Saeko while he hit it off really well with Erena, it wasn't surprising that Matsujun and Mizuhara Kiko had more chemistry.)

Total: 34 out of 50


アマンダ said...

This is one of the better reviews of the drama I have seen so far! You hit the nail right on the head.

Chiaki said...

Thank you for reading the review, Amanda-san!