Sunday, April 12, 2015

Review of "Kyouwa Kaisha Yasumimasu" (Autumn 2014)

To be perfectly honest, I wasn't keen on this drama at all from the start. Firstly, there is a lack of novelty in seeing a single woman finding love for the first time and what's more with a younger man (again!). As such, the first reaction I had when I heard about this drama was, "is this a repeat of "Last Cinderella"? Even though I like Shinohara Ryoko, I detested her character in that drama and just couldn't bring myself to write a review for it in the end because I found that I had no kind words for it at all. Secondly, the "younger guy" in this equation i.e. Fukushi Sota isn't really my cup of tea (well, most of the younger actors are also in this category, save for a few like Matsuyama Kenichi) so there was really not much excitement about the idea of seeing him romancing Ayase Haruka. Last but not least, feedback about the first episode wasn't exactly favourable especially from fans of the original manga so it had affected my willingness to get started with this even though I had not read the manga before.

However, as it turned out unexpectedly, I was suddenly in the mood for something light which didn't require much thinking and decided to watch this to pass time. True enough, the first episode was a huge disappointment. There were many developments which reminded me of other dramas and the chemistry between Ayase and Fukushi was seriously lacking. To give them some credit, it was just the first episode so it was a bit too early to pass judgement. It was obvious that Ayase was trying to lead her younger co-star but the results were like seeing a lopsided table tennis match with one side clearly being outmatched. On the other hand, there was a hint that something more exciting was brewing between Ayase's and Tamaki Hiroshi's characters but there wasn't a lot of airtime showcasing that in the pilot episode so I carried on watching the drama in the hope for better things to come from this pair.

Before I share my views, here's a summary of the storyline. Aoishi Hanae (Ayase Haruka) is a 29-year-old woman who works at a foodstuff company. She is a conscientious worker who is trusted by her colleagues and superior. However, Hanae is clueless about love and wonders if she will ever get married especially after seeing her buddy Ichika (Hiraiwa Kami) being married with two kids and getting anxious about hitting the Big Three soon.

On Hanae's 30th birthday, nobody in the office knows about it and she seems destined to spend it in the same way as per previous years i.e. with her parents at home. However, during a company dinner, Tanokura Yuto (Fukushi Sota) happens to hear about Hanae's birthday and celebrates it for her. Out of impulse, Hanae asks Tanokura to spend the rest of the night with her and they eventually end up sleeping together in a hotel. However, when morning comes, Hanae is at a loss as to how she should react and leaves the hotel without telling Tanokura. Unable to face him in the office, Hanae even takes a day off from work for the first time by pretending to be sick as she tries to come to terms with what she had done.

Despite Hanae's efforts in trying to pretend that nothing has changed between her and Tanokura, things do not go as expected. When Tanokura presses Hanae to stop running away from him and be his girlfriend, she gets the shock of her life and delays giving him a definite answer. On the other hand, Hanae meets Asao Yu (Tamaki Hiroshi), the CEO of an Italian foodstuff company, who watches with interest what's happening between Hanae and Tanokura. However, he advises Hanae to take a reality check and not get too carried away about Tanokura. Although Hanae tries to convince herself that Tanokura is not serious about her, she finds herself being increasingly drawn to him and they eventually start dating. Things are not rosy all the time as Hanae lacks confidence in herself and the age gap between them causes various issues. At the same time, Hanae has to deal with unwanted attention from Asao who keeps trying to convince her that he is a better match for her and Tanokura is not the ideal partner she is seeking.

From this point onwards, there will be spoilers so if you do not wish to know about the storyline and ending, you may wish to skip this review.

Right from the start, I got riled up over Hanae's way of handling the situation after the one-night-stand with Tanokura. She knew exactly what she was getting herself into when she asked Tanokura to spend the night with her. Although there were scenes of them playing games at the amusement centre or going for a ferry ride prior to the "main event", I'm sure both parties knew what was going to happen at the end when she made the request for him to stay with her. As such, her behaviour in the morning-after seems a bit too exaggerated especially when you compare it to what Shinohara Ryoko's character in "Last Cinderella" who was in a drunken state and did not knowingly ask to sleep with the younger stranger. On the other hand, Hanae knew for sure who she was going to spend her night with. As such, that kind of response seems to be overly exaggerated as if to emphasize how clueless Hanae is about relationships or dealings with the opposite sex. However, being inexperienced doesn't mean that she will be stupid or has no mind of her own. As such, her knee-jerk behaviour just seems not too realistic.

Secondly, Tanokura's feelings for Hanae didn't seem that convincing to me after all. I know that the night they spent together was the catalyst in bringing them together but still, we had little information about how they interacted prior to that and it was not that obvious if he had thought of Hanae in the romantic sense. It seemed from the story that they were just colleagues and nothing more between them had transpired. As such, it felt a bit forced and rushed that all of a sudden, he had the hots for Hanae to the extent of pressing her to date him which resulted in that "kabe-don" that made Fukushi Souta so popular last autumn. Throughout the course of their relationship development, it was obvious how much Hanae loved Tanokura but I can't see it the other way. It could also be that Fukushi's acting is not quite up to that level yet to show the subtle side of Tanokura's affection for Hanae so everything just felt too superficial as if Fukushi was just going through the motions with no feelings. Or it could be that the script didn't give us enough insight into Tanokura's feelings and showed a very lopsided view of Hanae's side of the story so Tanokura's character felt flat and not so engaging.

Although it was obvious from Day 1 that Hanae and Asao were not going to end up together no matter how the scriptwriter tried to trick you to believe otherwise, I thought their relationship was one of the better things about this drama. Although Hanae thinks of Asao as someone who's always at loggerheads with her, the unmistakable thing about them is that they are a good match in terms of characters. As such, it was fun to see them engaging in the "arguments" where Asao kept poking fun of Hanae or delivering his sharp observations about Hanae's relationship with Tanokura which wasn't music to her ears in a matter of fact manner. On the other hand, it was obvious how they could be at ease with each other especially when you consider how hard Hanae tried to behave in a certain way so that she could be "liked" by Tanokura.

This brings us to the question of whether you would prefer to be with someone who gives you that fluffy-type of being in love i.e. "doki-doki" and keeps you on your toes all the time or someone who allows you to be yourself and the relationship is comparatively less eventful than the former. It seems like the drama is trying to portray Hanae and Tanokura as the former category while Hanae and Asao are in the latter so as to show both sides of the spectrum. Of course, there are no right and wrong answers to this because it really depends on the individual and the person they love. However, I do prefer the interaction between Hanae and Asao because I don't necessarily think that being with a comfortable soulmate is less ideal than with a passionate lover. Maybe it has to do with age, if I was in my teens or early twenties, the doki-doki feeling might have been more important. As you grow older, finding that someone who you can communicate with is probably much harder than finding someone you can fall in love with. And I certainly don't fancy having to engage in so much guesswork just to project a perfect image in front of my partner!

The ending of the drama also left much to be desired because it took such a drastic turn for the worst. Just as it seemed like Hanae was going to live her life independently and move on to other things rather than harp on Tanokura who was going away for further studies, I just didn't understand why Hanae had to be encouraged to look for Tanokura and pledge that she will wait for him. Duh! I mean, if it had been that there was no firm promise between them and yet they still ended up together, it would have been more palatable. However, in this time and age, such a promise rings hollow even in dramaland. I would have wanted them to both venture out and do the things they wanted and come together again rather than the "forced" expectation that they would be together at the end. Sometimes, things are better left unsaid so it feels a bit like the scriptwriter expected you to accept this ending which felt literally like it was shoved into your face.

On the acting side of things, Fukushi got a lot of attention for his role as Tanokura especially due to that kabe-don scene. However, I must also highlight that due to his lack of experience, he was also the weakest link in the cast. Of course, all actors start off as being greenhorns and need time to sharpen their skills. Besides, to his credit, Tanokura is a rather one-dimensional character because we hardly saw any airtime devoted to how he truly felt about Hanae so there was no way he could show the viewers if he could manage scenes which required subtle displays of emotions. We saw his actions but there was a missing link between what he did and why he did them. As such, I couldn't really understand why certain things happened and I was never convinced about how he felt about Hanae. Working with Ayase was also somewhat a double-edged sword for him because she was clearly more experienced than him and it was obvious on screen that she was trying to lead him which did help him to get better towards the end but the difference in their tempo and a lack of chemistry showed Fukushi's weakness as a newbie actor. To make things worse, when Ayase and Tamaki displayed such impeccable teamwork between them after working together several times, the lack of it between her and Fukushi was even harder to ignore.

As for Ayase, I think what's outstanding about her performance this time is how she blended herself into the role and made it look like she was Hanae and not Ayase Haruka. I liked some of the episodes when Hanae was troubled over her relationship progression with Tanokura and how she struggled to find answers within herself on the next course of action. No doubt a lot of these scenes were monologues only, her expressions and body language fitted the content and it felt like she was totally immersed in the role as Hanae without trying too hard. This made it even more enjoyable to watch her as a character rather than an actress trying to play a character. In addition, she did show a new level of maturity this time by taking the lead and trying to get Fukushi up to speed as the drama progressed. Most, if not all of Ayase's works in the past tend to feature her with co-stars who are older or about the same age as her. As such, given that Fukushi lacks experience, I thought she did pretty well in leading her younger co-star so that he did not appear totally outmatched by her throughout the entire drama. No doubt it took some time for Fukushi to ease into the situation, I thought Ayase's mentoring did help him to a certain extent and showed that she has enough experience now to be able to help her juniors.

The co-stars were also great in their own ways. Tamaki's role as Asao may not have a lot of airtime but he made an impact (by that, I don't mean his suave image as a CEO in this story) by his words which sound a lot like sarcasm but is actually the truth which is jarring to the ears. He served as a good wake-up call for Hanae to pull her back into reality and keep her grounded when she was getting too hung up or ditzy over her whirlwind romance with Tanokura. Sounds like a good friend who may speak harshly but has nothing but the truth for your ears? On the other hand, the banter between the two of them provided such timely humour in this sometimes overly sweet romance story. I cringed a lot when I saw Tanokura and Hanae being lovey-dovey on screen but I was enjoying the "quarelling" between Hanae and Asao and wished it would last longer. Likewise in Tamaki's case, he seemed to be having a good time as Asao rather than making an obvious effort to play Asao so the seamless integration of him into the role also made it more enjoyable to watch him in this drama.

Naka Riisa shows a new sense of maturity after she returns to work as a wife and mother. In the past, her roles tend to be either of the weirdo-type or people with very unique character traits Surprisingly, she fits very well into this seemingly-ordinary OL character of Hitomi who's looking for a rich guy with good terms to marry. On one hand, her quirkiness and chirpy nature shows in her portrayal of Hitomi's slightly extreme demands for a marriage partner and how aggressive she gets in trying to snag Asao but there is a tinge of steadiness seen in her acting now that makes her more believable as an OL. As such, I think that in Naka's case, marriage and motherhood probably brought about some new perspectives in her life thus changing her way of acting in a good way. It will be fun to see how she progresses in future as she takes more a wider variety of roles.

In Chiba Yudai's case, this is the first time I'm seeing him in a drama and I liked how he nailed the role of Kagami. In the beginning, viewers only saw how Kagami behaved like he was entitled to anything and didn't seem to put in any effort at work but demanded a lot. It felt like he was a real jerk in the workplace who only wanted to do the bare minimum. However, as the story progressed, the true nature of Kagami was shown and his steadfast affection for Hitomi was done in such a cute manner that I'm sure that many people would have changed their impressions of him by then. Nonetheless, given his babyface looks, Chiba has an uphill task if he wants to take on more serious and mature roles. As for Taguchi Junnosuke, I've only remembered watching him in "Ganbatte Ikimasshoi" (when he took over mid-season from Uchi Hiroki) and Legal High but frankly speaking, they weren't especially memorable performances. This time round, he plays a very comical Oshiro who is so noisy and gossipy that it got on people's nerves at times but left an impression on me. It might have been better though if the twist in the ending didn't happen (hinting that he held a torch for Hanae all this while) because I thought that left a bad aftertaste.

Last but not least, Hanae's parents played by Asano Kazuyuki and Takahata Atsuko were such a joy to watch as parents who cared a lot but pretended to be nonchalant so as not to put pressure on their daughter. It was easy to see and understand where they were coming from especially as seen from the scene when the father got rather worked up upon hearing that Tanokura was much younger than Hanae and still in university. It is natural for parents to have certain expectations of their children's partners but even in Hanae's case, the parents who would have been quite happy just to see her dating, were taken aback by the huge disparity between the couple. I certainly didn't feel like the parents were being overly concerned or reacted too violently and I'm glad that the scriptwriter didn't try to make this drama become an unrealistic fairy tale by making Hanae's parents so welcoming of Tanokura without expressing their valid concerns about the relationship.

To sum things up, I think this drama had a lot of flaws especially in its story. It could have been that because the source material is a shoujo manga targeted at a younger audience that it fails to resonate with someone like me who's about the same age as Hanae. Or it could have been due to the fact that the manga is still ongoing so the ending may not have what the author had in mind. Anyway, despite all my grouses about how much I hated Hanae's relationship with Tanokura, the acting from the cast made it more palatable. However, be warned that you need a lot of patience to sit through the fluffy romance especially around the episode 5 mark which seems to be the turning point for most people as to whether to continue watching the rest of the drama. Frankly speaking, if you can't stomach another older-woman-younger-man love story which doesn't offer any new perspective on this issue, it is best to steer clear of this drama. Even if you are a fan of the leads and are in this for the eye candy, it's still best to be prepared in case you get really frustrated with the story.

And my ratings for this drama...

Story: 2 out of 10 (I would have given lower marks if not for the side story of Hanae and Asao. I hated the ending for being too hard-sell on the concept of "happily-ever-after" and the romance is too sweet for me.)

Acting: 7.5 out of 10 (Generally good acting from the cast but Fukushi needs to brush up his skills because the kabe-don effect wouldn't sustain his popularity forever)

Theme song/BGM: 7.5 out of 10 (A pretty light-hearted number from Makihara Noriyuki written especially for the drama and is a good description of Hanae's inner world)

Visual effects / Scenery: 8 out 10 (Yokohama is simply gorgeous and I can attest to that because I've been to most of the places featured in the drama. It's really a beautiful city and I can see why it's said to be a romantic city for lovers. The Minato Mirai area is definitely worth checking out if you are there but if you are going alone like what I did, be prepared to face the hordes of couples surrounding you. ^__^)

Teamwork / Chemistry: 6 out of 10 (This is mainly for Ayase and Tamaki but I had to deduct a few marks because of the lack of it between Ayase and Fukushi)

Total: 31 out of 50


ELLASAM said...

Actually i want to see this drama as i like the manga but when i see fukushi emotionless acting i rEally cant bring myself to watch it.
maybe after watching say i love you movie i really dont like his acting. i dont hate him but his acting skills really need alot of brush up. well if an actor cant act then he wont be to stay in this industry for long.

And if u want light and warm drama i will recommend yube no curry ashita no pan. Even it has my idol in but most importantly it has a nice storyline

junny said...

Yay, you put this up! You were definitely more objective about the drama than I could ever be, I'm still pissed at the incredibly illogical ending and the overall stupidity of the drama.

Fukushi is a horrible actor and terribly bland to look at too. Either he gets some serious acting classes or stick to small nondescript roles to hone his nonexistent skills. He literally sucked the energy from every scene he was in, and the kabedon was epic fail, I didn't even find that remotely interesting. Tamaki's kabedon, however... *fans self*

The supporting cast was very good and I agree especially about the parents, wonderful acting from them! I really liked their relationship with Hanae and whatever they did was out of love for their daughter.

Agree too that Tamaki was effortless as Yu and I loved his chemistry with Ayase. Ultimately though, I was just glad Hanae and Yu didn't end up together because she was too stupid for him. Hitomi became more bearable and Kagami got nicer and more fun in the latter half of the drama.

The writing was terrible and I agree with your rating. The source material didn't seem as bad when I skimmed it, so I'm not sure what happened there.

Anonymous said...

yes i totally agree with u abt Fukushi's horrible acting.... but it seems that his star is shining as bright as ever since landing on plump roles such as amachan etc..i wonder do the Japanese ever take note of lousy acting skills??

yeah i wish there were more episodes devoted to Asao and Hanae, really love their chemistry! and super funny but believable at the same time!

i strongly recommend n no tame ni which was shown last autumn.good acting by the leads esp Kubota Masataka. very touching and good storyline too.