Monday, June 24, 2013

Itazura na Kiss - Love in Tokyo: Episode 1 Recap


I'm kind of a masochist, I think. I got a job last week (yay!), but now I'm picking up a show to recap. One that's nearly done airing. Why? I dunno. I couldn't tell you. Probably because I hate having me time. -__-

Watch this episode at DramaFever!

Episode 1 Recap
We open with our main character AIHARA KOTOKO (Miki Honoka) writing a letter to someone in the dead of night as she listens to a radio program called Kiss in Tokyo. She stays up late trying to finish off the letter, and then remembers there's to be a meteor shower that night, and so opens her window to make a wish--that her feelings will be accepted her crush, Irie-kun.


It's D-Day the next morning and Kotoko arrives at school with determination. She waits by the bike racks for Irie-kun to arrive, and then prepares to approach him when he finally does.

Inevitably, her thoughts travel back to the Entrance Ceremony on the first day of high school, when she'd seen Naoki for the first time. He'd been the one to make the opening speech, and she'd fallen in love with him at first sight. She'd kept an eye on him since then, but she wasn't sure whether he even knew she existed, let alone that she had feelings for him.


It's the moment of truth by now, and Kotoko approaches Naoki at the school gates to give him her letter. She stars up at him, at little starry-eyed, holding out her letter and he doesn't even bother to make eye contact with her as he tells her, "I don't want it," and walks away.


Kotoko's left standing alone, arms still outstretched, as people file into school, all staring at her lonely form. The only thing that can make her move is the wind, which blows her letter out of her hands and right under Naoki's feet. He steps on it without batting an eyelash.

Unfortunately for Kotoko, the gossip mill reigns supreme at their school, and the news about her harsh rejection has already made the rounds by the time she steps foot into the courtyard. But her best friends are there to have her back (kind of) and try to make her feel better.


They're not very good at their job, pointing out to Kotoko that she should've expected rejection from a guy like Naoki--everyone and their mom knows he's virtually untouchable. Plus, the disparity between their classes (both socially and intellectually) is almost too huge to bridge. Naoki's ranked number 1 in the school and is handsome and tall, while Kotoko spends her days in Class F, at the bottom of their year.


Kotoko argues, though, that she's persistent and tries hard, both qualities that Irie-kun should appreciate. She has faith that her feelings will eventually reach him. But Jinko and Satomi put the breaks on this train of thought quickly--doesn't Kotoko know? Naoki's a woman-hater. He's swarmed by fangirls on a daily basis but has never even spared a single one of them a second glance.


By the time they reach their classroom, Kotoko's dream of marrying Naoki has been sufficiently grounded and her expression is morose as she takes a seat. It's not long before the real hurricane hits, and it's in the form of BFF IKEZAWA KINNOSUKE (Yamada Yuki),or Kin-chan, as Kotoko calls him, who's madly in love with Kotoko and can't stand the thought of anyone rejecting his princess.

He's incensed by the idea that even a smart guy like Naoki could turn down Kotoko, and wonders why she doesn't just switch gears and like him instead. This is apparently a daily thing for them, because Kotoko shuts him down noncommittally, but then readily accepts the food he's brought for her (he doesn't know it yet, but eventually Kin-chan is going to want to be a chef).


Kinnosuke considers Irie-kun's rejection as a form of a challenge for him to step up to the plate and win Kotoko's heart. Why else would he turn her away like that? This is the last nail in the coffin for Kotoko, and she finally admits that it was probably dumb of her to think she and Naoki could work out. She'll stop trying and get over him.

Just as she finishes this declaration, a yawn overtakes her. Jinko and Satomi can't believe her timing, but she admits that she stayed up the entire night writing Naoki's letter. She was so nervous about getting all the spelling right, she even checked up on the kanji characters of her own name just to be sure.


It's the weekend before they know it and moving day for Kotoko and her father, who just bought a house. Everyone arrives to help and the party's in high spirits as they unload the moving van. Dad revels at finally being able to provide for his daughter the way he's always wanted, and even tears up.

In the end, it's Kotoko who stops them from going back into the house for lunch, citing a strange noise as the reason. Sure enough, when she looks around, she notices a shining light in the sky--a shooting star. It's a small thing, about the size of a softball, but it knocks a hole into the roof of the house as it hurtles down, and the entire house collapses from the impact.


This is, of course, a strange enough story that it lands Dad on the evening news. Poor Dad. He can't seem to wrap his brain around the fact that an asteroid, of all things, was the cause of the house's demise. It couldn't be something normal, like an accident or a fire, could it?

The next day at school, Kotoko is once again the butt of all the rumors going around, as somehow, everyone has found out about her house. The reason becomes evident as she approaches the school gates where, along with his two lackeys, Kin-chan is collecting donations for the Aihara House Reparation Fund.


Naturally, Kotoko's not too thrilled about this and yells at Kinnosuke to stop. Kin-chan doesn't understand why she's upset, and when Naoki approaches them, he begins to berate him for making Kotoko feel like crap the other day. All this bad stuff that's happened to her in the last few days is as a result of the chain reaction started by Naoki rejecting her. It's all Naoki's fault.

Naoki and Kotoko both have a little more common sense than Kin-chan and argue that it can't be Irie-kun's fault that a meteorite decide to make its home in the Aihara house. Even so, Naoki's seems to tire of arguing about this any longer, and pulls out a couple of notes from his wallet. He holds them up in Kotoko's face, asking, "If I give you this money, will you stop talking to me?"


Kotoko, angered by his sheer moxy, slaps his hand out of her face and reams him out in front of the whole school. She wonders how she could have liked a person like him for two entire years, and asks him whether he even has any friends, considering his attitude issues. She's got plenty--ones who are there for her when she needs them most. With friends like that, who needs help from Naoki?

Ever unflappable, Naoki chuckles sardonically and walks away, leaving Kotoko fuming in his wake. Jinko, Satomi, and Kinnosuke are all flabbergasted by her sudden burst of energy.


By chance, Dad's college friend, Iri-chan, sees the interview he did on TV and they get a call from Iri-chan one night, insisting Dad and Kotoko come to stay at his house until they can find a better place to live. Dad's grateful for the offer, and the next thing they know, they're moving into their temporary home.

As they pull up outside, Kotoko notices a sign with the name "Irie" on it, but figures it's a common enough name that it couldn't possibly have anything to do with the Irie that she knows. They're led inside by Dad's friends, and meet little brother Yuki in the foyer.

He's about as friendly as Naoki, and brushes off Kotoko for being the dummy that she looks like. It's not until they've all settled down for snacks that Yuki's older brother finally gets home. Mom refers to her eldest son as "onii-chan," so it's naturally a shock for Kotoko when Irie Naoki himself appears before her to make his greetings to her and her father.


She's shell-shocked as they sit there, unable to believe her luck that she should be moving into Naoki's home. Naoki refuses to acknowledge her existence, even as Kotoko stares at him unflinchingly.

On the other hand, Mom is totally stoked to find out that Kotoko and Naoki attend the same school. She wonders out loud whether they're in the same class, and Naoki answers cheekily, "Our classes aren't very close to each other, but recently, we met under some interesting circumstances, isn't that right, Kotoko-san?"

Kotoko doesn't really know how to reply but to say, "Well... uh, uh-huh."

Eventually, Mom drags her upstairs to go see her new room, which is decked out in pink and stuffed animals galore. She'd always wanted a daughter to dress up in pretty clothes and decorate her room with, and now with Kotoko living with them, she's finally got that chance. Kotoko finds a kindred spirit in Mom, considering her own mother died when she was little, and the pair of them commiserate together.


But, as will become practice, Naoki crashes the party to be his usual killjoy self and notes out loud that what is now Kotoko's room used to be Yuki's. He doesn't say it outright, but it's clearly a finger pointed in the Aiharas' direction, which makes Kotoko consider that she might have inconvenienced the Iries by moving in like this. It also explains Yuki's apparent dislike of her.

Mom is quick to assure Kotoko not to feel uncomfortable about onii-chan's rude words--their home is her home and she should treat it that way She leaves Kotoko and Naoki along after this, telling Naoki to help Kotoko organize her stuff as she leaves.

Naoki moves into the room to do just that, but that's the last straw for Kotoko and she rushes forward to grab her bags out of his hands. But in her haste, one of the bags falls to the ground, its contents spilling out over the carpet. Among the contents, the confession letter that Kotoko had written to Naoki.


Perceptive as always, Naoki spots it and decides to turn the knife a little bit: "Oh yeah. That's right. There's no reason for me to have to help you. I don't care whether you live here or not... just stay out of my business."

He leaves her with these words, and Kotoko wonders to herself, "If the probability of getting hit by a shooting star is one in ten billion... I wonder one in how many billion the probability is that a girl ends up living with the boy who rejected her? Is it the beginning of something special? Or..."


The next morning, Kotoko readies herself for school and then heads downstairs for breakfast with the family, giddy at the fact that she's sitting across from Naoki eating at his dining table with him. She stares at him curiously as he reads the paper and drinks his morning coffee, reveling at her own good fortune.

Eventually, Naoki heads out, and Mom suggests Kotoko go with him, since she doesn't know the way to their school from the Iries' house yet.


Like a good schoolgirl, Kotoko follows him out and starts to walk beside him, just happy at the chance. Killjoy as usual, though, Naoki asks her not to walk so close, and to maintain at least a 2m distance at all times.

Kotoko scooches back appropriately to give him his space, but Naoki isn't quite done making his intentions clear. He wants to put her in her place once and for all, and his truly assy side starts to come out.


This going to school together thing is only so long as Kotoko needs in order to remember her way, he says. And obviously, she should tell NO ONE that they live together--he'd rather avoid all the gossip if people at school were to find out. He makes it clear once and for all that he absolutely hates stupid girls.

He leaves Kotoko fuming to hersefl, and she vows that she'll make him pay for the things he's said.


So, here we are. At the end of our first hour and our hero's already rejected our heroine twice. I like that, in this version, Kotoko seems to have a fairly sensible head on her shoulders. Sure, she's crushing on Naoki like mad, but there's something to be said about the fact that she repeatedly curses herself for having this infatuation. At least she knows that Irie-kun is a jerk and doesn't just like him blindly.

It happens to the best of us--liking someone who's an asshole and wondering to yourself why you do. It just proves Kotoko's human fallibility a little bit. She's dense academically, but she's a reasonable character who is self-aware, and that's something to appreciate.


I mentioned this in my progress report, but this incarnation of ItaKiss is a win in my book, and I'm attributing that more and more to the writing and directing. This story has such a potential to be executed with a heavy hand (and it has been in the past), but this team does a fantastic job of turning the dial down a bit and smoothing over the rough parts of the story to make it sensible and real, which I thought was impossible.

They take all the loud and incongruous moments from the 1996 version and pair them with the deftness of the Korean drama to create something entirely fresh and, most importantly, subtle. We'll see it more in later episodes, but I rewatched the old J-dorama a couple of weeks ago (God knows why...), and realized how much work it must have taken to slow this show down and concentrate on the best parts of this story.


Mainly it's the relationship between Kotoko and Naoki I like, because that always seems mishandled. The acting is done appropriately here which helps immensely, but the way the characters are written together is what makes the real difference. In the old J-dorama, Kotoko cannot exist in and of herself, and the same with Oh Ha-ni from the Korean version. Their worlds revolve around the Naoki character so much that they don't have anything for themselves at all.

The difference here is that while Kotoko exists for Naoki in a large sense, if we were to take him out of her life, she would still exist, and she'd do pretty well for herself. She's got the spunk and street sense to get by in the world, which neither 1996 edition Kotoko nor Oh Ha-ni had much of.


Now I will say that when I watched the Korean incarnation of this show, I liked Oh Ha-ni a lot. I still like her, but not because of her character so much as the way Jung So-min portrayed her. She was lovable because Jung So-min made her so. That's why this version is also different. Here, it's not because of Miki Honoka's brilliant performance so much as it's the way she's written that makes me like her.

Okay, enough with the babbling. I could express my affection for this show for days on end, and that has largely to do with my bias against the other versions of this story, for which I also apologize. I doubt I will ever be able to judge this solely on its own merit, without comparing it to previous adaptations. Even so, I can probably say with a lot of confidence that this show, even as a standalone, is pretty damn good.




  1. Reliving the fun that was episode 1. :) :) :)

    Not sure I will ever bring myself to watch the 96 version, so the only thing I can compare it to is Playful Kiss - which I liked despite thinking I wouldn't. Mostly because, as you say, Jung So Min played her part so lovable that who can help liking her?

    1. Save yourself the trouble of watching the 96 version, unless you're a huge fan of Kashiwabara Takashi. Sato Aiko will LITERALLY make your ears bleed. I kid you not. Also, the whole drama makes no sense, so there's that. You could spend the 8-9 hours watching it and then still feel like nothing happened the whole time.

  2. I've only watched the Chinese version, which was really fun to watch. Didn't bother watching the Korean one since people were saying it was bad. Although I'm still on the 6th episode, I'm liking this better. They did away with unnecessary scenes and I think the characters, especially Kotoko and Naoki, had more depth than their Chinese counterparts.