Monday, June 10, 2013
Progress Report: Itazura Na Kiss ~ Love in Tokyo Episodes 1 - 10
I never thought I would see the day that I'd be excited to write about this series, but dramas have proven me wrong time and again in the past and this is no different. This particular remake of the manga of the same name has turned out to be a fresher and more likeable take on the classic story than either of the other versions I've seen.
You can watch Itazura Na Kiss ~ Love in Tokyo on DramaFever!
The story so far...
Aihara Kotoko, by way of a wayward asteroid, moves into the house of her father's college buddy, Irie, who happens to be the father of Kotoko's crush Naoki. This is the same Naoki by whom she'd been rejected when she tried to confess her feelings at school.
In addition to this abnormal housing situation, Kotoko must deal with Ikezawa Kinnosuke, her best friend, who is as ardently in love with her as she is with Irie Naoki.
There's not much of a story arc overall--more of just the laundry list of foibles that the kids go through as they transition from the last year of high school into their first year of college. All of this happens while Kotoko and Naoki are living under one roof, and inevitably (whether Naoki wants it or not) sparks being to fly between them.
Kotoko starts to prove she's not as incompetent as Naoki seems to think, and Naoki realizes that he can't always shut people out.
What's good about it?
For many reasons, this incarnation of the Itazura na Kiss (ItaKiss) franchise has easily become my favorite and continues to surprise me with its ability to pull off subtleties and spin a well-worn story into something sweet and refreshing. It's not executed with a heavy hand like so many of the others, and it's not overbearing in its attempt to be innocent, either. I'm as surprised as anyone else at the way the production team and cast have been able to breathe new life into this (oftentimes irritating) aimless, fluffy love story.
So, why do I like it so much?
Well, most importantly, the characters aren't irritating. Naoki's not infallible, Kotoko isn't a mindless Irie groupie, and Kinnosuke is sensible and sweet in a bleeding heart kind of a way. They're all differently endearing, whether it's Kotoko's countless attempts at giving up Naoki, or it's Kin-chan trying to knock sense into Kotoko.
The biggest problem I've always had with the ItaKiss series is that the characters, as written, are two-dimensional. As much as Irie is meant to be conflicted and unsure of his path in life, that plot thread has always felt forced and the romantic chemistry never quite worked for me. Ironically, it's the pairing of 16-year-old Miki Honoka and 25-year-old Furukawa Yuki that finally did it for me.
Let's be honest here... the character of Naoki has never required much acting, but Furukawa's been able to bring in a little subtlety to the character which I completely appreciate. Kotoko's character is a little harder to pull off, because, as Sato Aiko proved in the 1996 version of the series, there is a very fine line between endearing and annoying. Somehow, though, Miki's been doing a decent job. She's really green, still, and tends to over-act most of the time, but maybe it's the writing that's kept her from being obnoxious.
I always thought that the character of Aihara Kotoko got short-changed because she's meant to be such an idiot. But as she's written here, and with Miki Honoka in charge of playing her, she's a lot closer to the Oh Ha-ni/Jung So-min version of the character than the Sato Aiko one. Jung So-min was so likeable as Ha-ni because she wasn't shrill and idiotic like Sato. My God, all the screeching in the 1996 version made my ears bleed. Even good writing wouldn't have helped in her case.
ItaKiss: Love in Tokyo has something that very few Jdoramas have: pull. It's the writing and it's the acting, but it's mostly execution. Japan is lauded for beautiful cinematography and directing, and for a drama series targeted at reaching a younger audience, this show does a damn good job of pulling off pretty scenes. Whether it's quiet moments like Irie and Kotoko staring out their adjacent windows at the snow falling outside or drinking coffee together in an empty house, or it's harsher scenes like Kotoko and Naoki yelling at each other over the dining table, every piece of dialogue and every second is deliberately filmed.
So, any problems?
ItaKiss has always had its limitations, as I mentioned before. If you can't summarize a drama in a couple of paragraphs, I find that to be an issue. Writing the "The story so far..." section up there took me serious effort. To condense what's happened in ItaKiss for the last ten episodes without going into summaries of each episode is nearly impossible. Why? Because there's no overall arc for the plot other than, "Persistent Kotoko tries to make Irie-kun fall in love with her." And there's no conflict, which has always been the underlying problem for ItaKiss in any incarnation of the show until now.
Don't get me wrong--there's slice of life dramas that are a dime-a-dozen, but this doesn't quite fit into that category, and it's not a traditional romantic comedy either, because it's quite episodic in nature. So that leaves you feeling like you can't really place the show or form an educated opinion about it.
That said, this lack-of-plot problem is built into the story of Itazura na Kiss and anyone going into the show should know that before they criticize it. You can't expect something that isn't in the source material itself. But that's a beast of a problem, if I do say so.
Watch it. If you're like me and you've never really liked ItaKiss, this will probably change your mind a little. It'll make you appreciate the characters a bit, if nothing else. There are no screaming Kotokos or man-kissing Kinnosukes, and there hasn't been a single streaking pervert to be found yet.
This is much closer to the Korean version of the story than the 1996 Japanese version (thank God), and while Furukawa is no Kashiwabara Takashi, he holds his own as the cold and brooding Naoki and exhibits a charm all his own that has nothing to do with the way his face looks. Damn, though, Kassie did make for a fine Irie Naoki back in the day.