When you’ve seen an adaptation several times, the significance and steam spurts out pretty quickly. The initial fervor and meaning, from its conceptual medium gets squashed and it’s forever remembered as the horrible drama or film, that makes you wish there was a Rumpelstiltskin potion you could acquire that makes you “unsee” things. Therefore, no one can help but be a little jaded and skeptical when yet another adaptation of Kaoru Tada‘s mega popular manga, “Itazura na Kiss” was announced.
Personally, there’s no love lost between myself and this story, for, though I found it cute, I never made the time to actually read it and the adaptation I sat through (Japan’s first outing) made me want to slap a few people. There have been two other remakes, the Taiwanese version, It Started with a Kiss, (which had two separate series) and the Korean version, Playful Kiss, that ran a couple years ago. ISWAK shot Joe Cheng and Ariel Lin to the most adored couple of millions and is perhaps the most watched, preferred and popular version around. Unfortunately, for me, though I’ve grown to truly appreciate Ariel as an actress, her portrayal gave me hives within the first few seconds and I’ve never turned back nor regretted never seeing that drama. The latter PK, did what Korea does best to manga remakes— tamper and destroy. The only performance that was at all memorable was Lee Tae-sung‘s (Rooftop Prince, Time Between Dog and Wolf) Bong Joon-gu. His vulnerable portrayal of high school unrequited heartbreak, created pools in my eyes during the recaps I skimmed.
Now there’s the latest addition, Itazura na Kiss: Love in Tokyo. I didn’t debate as to whether I was going to catch this one, nor did I throw out the option as quickly as the monstrous mistake of HanaKimi 2011. Rather, I decided to give it a try, for the simple fact that I was cautiously hopeful, this time someone would get it right (for me).
And let me tell you, I was right!!! Yes, finally there’s an Itazura na Kiss adaptation that I can claim, without shame, I am enjoying and appreciate.
*Official Synopsis:At a high school entrance ceremony, high school student Kotoko Aihara , who isn’t that smart, notices pretty boy Naoki Irie. She falls in love with him immediately. Kotoko initially doesn’t express her feelings to him, but finally has a chance to tell him how she feels. Unfortunately, Naoki turns Kotoko down, saying “I don’t like dumb women.”
One day, Kotoko Aihara’s house is severely damaged by an earthquake. Until the house is rebuilt, Kotoko Aihara and her father decide to live with her father’s friend. When Kotoko Aihara moves to her new temporary house, she is surprised to learn that Naoki Irie lives there as well.
Cast: Miki Honoka, Furukawa Yuki, Yamada Yuki
This casting works wonders for me. Honoka is the physical love child of Sato Aiko and Ariel Lin, which furthers my notion that the other versions were on the right track concerning the look of the character. Also she’s very young, the youngest portrayer of the character coming in at only 16 years old. And to be fairly honest, I believe this bumps her favor up just that much more. Everything about Miki screams innocent, harmless, lovesick teenager and for a character like Kotoko, there’s no other way to be. I won’t pretend that she’s a seasoned actress but she brings a freshness to this character that I’m digging. Furukawa on the other hand, is like a younger, cuter, sadistic Joe Cheng and that also brings a little shine to Irie. There’s a significant age difference between the leads, therefore, hopes of seeing the married years should remain in pipe dreamland. Though it’s not impossible, it might a tad squicky. The age difference also highlights the shortcomings in range between the actors that at times is an eyesore, for I find that Furakawa remains the straight man to Miki’s OTT, which hints toward a layered effect in Irie’s portrayal but can stunt and hollow Aihara. Overall, this pairing mashes up everything I applauded about the previous series, without the asinine uncouth antics.
Recommendation: The hardest thing about watching this series with so much exposure is that there’s no way around comparison. Like or loathe it, there have been 4 remakes of this manga and though I didn’t see half, I’ve seen enough and heard or read more. For me, the comparison creates an interesting dichotomy, for I spend each episode, in apprehensive appreciation, waiting for the other shoe to drop. Honestly, I partly expect this drama to tank in the later episodes, making this raving post obsolete. So if you are anything like myself, take this drama on an episode by episode basis. Don’t invest too much time and for those Taiwanese fans, certainly don’t believe it will live up to your ISWAK dreams. But for the newbie to this series, this is the adaption to watch. Forget the classics, forget the cult followings and view the brand spanking new, cause surprisingly, sometimes bright and shiny, lives up to the packaging.
Thoughts: The major drawback to this story has always been the characterization of Aihara Kotoko. Therefore, I am greatly enjoying this venture, for the simple fact the Kotoko actually seems like a living breathing, sane human being (with appropriate home training). The story has a substance that I felt was hinted toward in the original version but I’ve never seen (or heard) appear in the others. At the core, this is a story about a girl that loves a boy, enough to wait until he loves her. However, she doesn’t sit idly by but rather sprinkles his life with joy and laughter, to the point that he realizes his life is fuller with her in it. LiT gives this story the life and sincerity that was invariably waiting to be tapped, and for now, hits that cute maturation vibe, I’ve always believed Aihara Kotoko deserved. This interpretation of the manga keeps the inherent truth of Kaoru’s story alive but streams in substance that makes the characters modern and story relatable. When episode three came to a close, I knew this is what was missing in the other versions; a love story. Never before was I convinced these characters sincerely loved one another but somehow, with a few minor changes, the outcome is monumental.
Knowing the history of the manga, places this version as the closest to reality, in my book, for it creates characters that are manga-like, retelling real life events. Aihara isn’t supposed to wear Irie down in a negative sense but remain in loving cheerful pursuit. This drama embodies that to the degree that Kotoko doesn’t comes across as desperate or stupid, just determined and jejune. InK has always stood on the shoulders of it’s heroine for me and finally I’ve met a Kotoko I can root for, not because her focus isn’t love but because there’s more to her than her obsession. This is what makes she and Irie’s love story believable and that, I can watch unfold for many episodes to come.
[images courtesy FujiTV]