So… a tiny explanation. The original title I had picked for T was The IDOLM@STER.KR (2017), but in reviewing the premise of the drama – I had no interest in it. Around the same time Tokyo Love Story (2020) was airing, and I was still far enough away from T that I swapped my original pick with this new one. Just in case anyone cared.
But man oh man, Tokyo Love Story (2020). There’s a lot that this drama had to live up to since the original Tokyo Love Story (1991) is a classic and a staple drama. It’s also a rare title that got re-aired in 2004, and 2018 respectively in Japan. There was a lot on the line for making this remake.
Sadly, I did not have time to watch the 1991 for a comparison. I don’t think I needed to
although I want to, since the 2020 version stands firmly on it’s own as a character driven story that’s just as dramatic as it is reflective of the real world. That being said, let’s talk premise before diving into the nitty gritty.
Nagao Kanji (Ito Kentaro) is a relatively normal office worker transferred from his hometown in Ehime to Tokyo. At the Tokyo office, he is entrusted to his senior colleague Akana Rika (Ishibashi Shizuka), whose the human embodiment of Tokyo – chaotic and fun, but serious and isolated at the same time. Kanji meets up with his former high school classmates Mikami Kenichi (Kiyohara Sho), and Sekiguchi Satomi (Ishii Anna) where some old relationships are revived and new ones explored. Rika ends up joining them throwing Kanji, whose she’s now dubbed Kanchi, for a loop and sealed it with a kiss. Kanji has a bit more then just adjusting to life in the big city to reckon with.
I sincerely savored watching Tokyo Love Story (TLS) that I’m finding it hard to find the words to express it all. Every single element of this story is carefully crafted, from the story, characters, locations, symbolism, music, I could keep going. It’s a production where you can tell that the leadership from directors, the unification in the scriptwriting was highly respected and double checked to make sure it flowed together. Every single cast and crew member was focused and gave it their all, and it shows in the fruit of their labor.
I can’t help but shiver when I look back and realize how many points are set up, repeated, and in real time we see how these things change. For one, Rika makes a rather innocuous guess that Kanji is the type of guy to watch his instant rice being microwaved. It’s a goofy one liner that at face value doesn’t mean much, and almost feels insulting. It’s that same statement that becomes a staple of the series; showing subtly the changes that Kanji under goes as a character throughout the eleven episode run via the repeated motif. It’s such an underrated piece of the story that is used so effectively that you don’t notice until it’s over.
This is replicated similarly with how the opening and ending themes are used within the drama. The emotional impact the first time the song is played in a scene, in comparison to the final is astounding. It’s a real-time display of how a song that’s so familiar that you associate with one particular moment, changes as time and feelings progress. Something that happens in real life, being reflected and re-examined in a fictional context. And again, an element that works so well and you really don’t notice until it’s over.
Don’t get me started on how the view of Tokyo Tower (the only Tokyo skyline hallmark I acknowledge) is shown in the same manner. It’s so familiar, and unchanging to the naked eye. But like the music and character habits of before, changes as time progresses.
Because at the heart of TLS, that’s the story. That things you take for granted, be it a song, a landmark, a person eventually do change, as do you. It just takes one moment to suddenly realize that things are not the way they started, and it’s impossible for them to go back to the way they use to be. It’s as much of a heart breaking realization as it can be liberating. And that’s what makes the story so powerful.
The characters are not immune to this. TLS is truly a love letter to the notion that the things you initially fell in love with in a person, are the same things that cause you to break up with them. All of this is coated with the notion that, with the exception of Mikami, none of the characters are wrong. This is not a story where you look at a character b, point the finger and go ‘what they did was wrong and character c is right’ and the story follows that line of thought.
TLS’s plot and direction isn’t that simple. Each character is developed enough where you know their line of thinking, and can follow it. It’s up to you to agree or disagree with the character’s conclusions. Then character b will come in with their perspective and how they came to that action, which has resulted in this situation. It’s in that moment where it’s a misunderstanding, that’s born from conflicting points of view, but neither character is inherently right or wrong. That both characters are 100% valid in their opinions and feelings, and now it’s up to them to figure out how to make it work or break it off.
It’s such a hard idea to explain, so sincerely since I’m not done yet, I really encourage you guys to watch this one.
Because the characters? Oh man that core cast of four is so love or hate them, and yet I couldn’t get enough of them.
Let’s start with Mikami, played by Kiyohara Sho. He’s easily the least likable character at face value, and one that I never fully went back to liking after episode six. Mikami crosses a line that most women will consider unforgivable and honestly, his plot line after that was the least interesting. He as a character did not deserve the ending he got. Then again, there are plenty of Mikami’s in the real world that do the same and get the same results unfortunately. This was a performance from Kiyohara Sho was outstanding. It really made me miss him as an actor since he’s so talented. I really hope he’s recovering from his cerebral hemorrhage. Hopefully at some point he’ll be recovered to the point where he can resume work. Until then I’ll bask in his performance here.
There’s then Satomi, played by Ishii Anna. Satomi is a character that I feel a lot of Japanese women would identify closely with. Mostly since Satomi is the embodiment of a rural girl in the big city, a relic of departed era. From her rather traditional looks, to her modest mannerisms and seemingly contentment in being a caregiver and maternal figure – it was so hard for me to get into her character. More then once I wanted to take her by the shoulders and shake her yelling “you deserve better!!!”. Luckily, she does realize painfully so that she does deserve more and takes the steps to find that. Once I really understood the function of Satomi I really appreciated her a lot more. Not to mention just how good Ishii Anna’s portrayal, on a physical and emotional level was.
There’s then Mr. Unremarkable, Kanji played by Ito Kentaro. How to really explain Kanji – his whole selling point is that he’s relatable for the Japanese men. Similar to Satomi, but with significantly more charm to him then he let’s on. He’s trying so hard to be average, unremarkable and ordinary that he almost refuses to change – until he moves to Tokyo, and meets everyone. His change is so subtle, much like how you don’t notice how you’ve changed, until someone else points it out. It’s really smart writing. While I didn’t always agree with Kanji’s perspectives on things, some of them were dated as hell, I did understand why he felt the way he did. This was my first time seeing Ito Kentaro in a major role and honestly, I get his appeal. He brought so much realism, but also fictional elements to his character that was engaging as it was frustrating to watch. He had a bit of an incident in real life, but seems to be recovering career-wise. Fingers crossed he keeps it up.
Now for the crowning jewel of TLS – Ms. Akana Rika played by Ishibashi Shizuka. Where to even start? I thought for sure at the beginning of the first episode that I would hate her, and everything she stood for. I really did. Within that first 50-ish minute episode, my opinion completely 180’d and I never went back. Rika is that girl. Rika is the modern Tokyo girl; independent, free spirited, smart, but also sensitive and insecure in these same breaths. When Kanji describes her as the embodiment of Tokyo – he’s right on the money. She feels like she’d be a Mary-Sue but she’s better rounded then that. She’s flawed, and imperfect like everyone else in this story. By far though, she is the character I rooted for the most. She deserved the world, and went out to grab it herself. Ishibashi Shizuka gave the best performance of the cast by far. She’s truly talented, and I sincerely hope she gets more main roles in the near future. She deserves them.
I could keep going, but you guys get the point. Tokyo Love Story (2020) is one of the best character driven dramas I’ve ever seen, and I can’t recommend it enough. It’s visually stunning, and structured in a way that will keep you hooked. If you watch no other drama from this challenge, make the time to see this one.
I wanted to watch this because of Anna Ishii but some of the comment reviews in MDL were kind of discouraging
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MDL is always hit or miss. I think seeing the first episode would be enough for you to tell if you’re sort of drama.
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haven’t watched this but the review is so beautifully written! would love to check this out some time
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Thank you so much!! I hope you’re able to watch it someday!!
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i watched the 1991 version, 4 times… and will give this version a try someday.. many from my generations that have watched the 2020 version said that the 1991 is better
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Wow, that’s impressive that you’ve seen the original 4 times! That really shows the longevity of the original.
I’ve been seeing more mixed opinions of 2020 verses 1991. One day I’ll have to take a look at 1991 myself and draw my own conclusions.
Thanks for taking the time to comment!
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