We’ve all heard it said no man’s an island, two are better than one, and nobody wants to be lonely, but many live as though these sentiments are false or steeped in fantasy, rather than reality. For, in bustling cities singleness and solitary living is common and in most cases necessary and being and doing things solely or alone is the norm and expected. But on the other hand, there is also the misconception that being alone, leads to incessant or inevitable loneliness.
However Kazoku no Katachi examines the idea that being alone doesn’t have to be true for modern singles aren’t doomed to be alone forever, whether that life includes the desire or trappings marriage or kids and loneliness has nothing to do with solitude.
***A BIG CONGRATULATIONS TO UENO JURI ON HER MARRIAGE TO ROCKER WADA SHO!***
Cast: Katogi Shingo, Ueno Juno, Mizuhara Kiko, Arakawa Yoshiyoshi, Nishida Toshiyuki, Fubuki Jun, Tanaka Kei, Chiba Yadai, Mizuno Miki, Nagao Mariya
Overview: At the ripe age of 39, Nagasato Daisuke has finally moved into his dream castle ( a one room condo with a view and a loft) and plans to live out his days happily alone until his father shows up at his door with a smile and his brand new little brother. Just a floor above, Kumagi Hanako mysteriously divorced for over a year, has no intentions of remarrying, settles in to the steady comfortable pace of single life and sole focus on her job, until her mother arrives on her doorstep telling her she needs some space from her retired countryside life.
Performance: I have always appreciated Ueno Juri’s performances, regardless of her projects, because she’s usually quite natural in whatever she takes on and her portrayal as Hanako has that same vibe. She gives Hanako the type of rounded quality needed to make her less crabby and more of a relative misunderstood quality. I also appreciated that she wasn’t approached as a one noted, jaded, working divorcee but rather as a woman who worked hard, had preferences and problems, whom had also happened to have been previously married. She wasn’t a woman scorned, sad and secluded but someone who had accepted her past experiences and applied them as rationally as possible to her present.
For me, this has to be my favorite overall performance from Katori Shingo, after Bara no nai Hanaya. I find that Katori brings something special to all his characters but when he truly connects with the story and the personality of the narrative, he soars. Daisuke is a emotionally bottled, distant, perfectionist, who was quite comfortable in his own life and skin, though perhaps a tad delusional. But instead of being the misunderstood, obstinate, jerk neighbor, he is pliable and objective. His history unfolds on the screen and his views on alone-ness scope through re-evaluation, yet they do not entirely change, neither does his core personality.
The delight in this drama was of course Tanaka Kei who is always the perfect boy-next-door, sweetheart. He gave Kazuya the warmest aura, with a twinge of awkward hesitation and vulnerability that endeared him almost from his first appearance onscreen.
The rest of the cast is made up of newbies and seasoned actors, whether comedic or dramatic, with the standout being Nishida Toahiyuki as Daisuke’s silent fisherman father, turned gregarious remarried widower.
Thoughts: Japanese rom-coms and I always get along just a little better than any other, because I generally view love, marriage and at times, family, similarly to the cultural perspective they portray. But with that said, in the last several years their romances have left me very dissatisfied and disappointed. However, Kazoku no Katachi was by far, quite different from the wanting, stale feeling I was used to seeing, with narratives trying too hard to force a couple together or justify their attraction and created two characters that were whole and complete all on their own.
Daisuke and Hanako were individuals first and foremost and even with their past and personal baggage, didn’t need, nor was looking for, a relationship or companionship to define their lives. They were content and happy with what they had and any addition to their lives would be a bonus and delight to their already peaceful lives. Of course, both had misconceptions about community versus individuality and I would even venture to say Hanako’s views on marriage were a staunch reflection her own perceived shortcomings but overall, neither were lonely individuals. They were just alone. And aloneness isn’t inherently bad.
What I enjoyed most about the approach to romance in this narrative is that it was based on two people who have common ideas, thoughts and behaviors, building a bond surrounding that. A real bond that, didn’t demand romance, but also didn’t deny or deflect it. Therefore, it wasn’t narratively imperative for this couple to transition to romance for their “ending” to be happy, because their was never any true lack of happiness from the beginning. KnK sought more to expand each characters’ definition of happiness to include other things and other people.
Human interest and attraction isn’t always based on the physical. Therefore, it isn’t always instantaneous but can grew from interaction to interaction, conversation to conversation and develop into a desire to know more, understand more and seek more. It’s a gradual development that felt authentic and genuine and worth the time.
A great example of this is, throughout the series Daisuke’s curiosity deepens about Hanako, which culminates into one of my favorite moments with this pair. In episode 5, when the mystery of the cause of the dissolution of her marriage hits its peak, she asks him pointedly if he’d really like to know the details, and while he admits that he would, he believes more so that type of sensitive information should be shared with someone she felt comfortable with or wanted to know. What I noted, however, is how Hanako interprets his response later in the episode [see below] and how both scenes reveal their thoughts and attachment to one another.
Daisuke: Why are you telling me something this important?
Hanako: You’re the one who said to talk about it when I was ready.
Takeaway: Jodoramas can be rather preachy and I admit, in the first couple episodes, I considered this one may fall into that category as well. However, as the show entered the second half, I appreciated the development of the characters, their closeness and the community and familial bonds they had created. They weren’t superficial or drummed up but thought and plotted out in a way that worked, even with the regular drama machinations that generally pull everyone into one spot. There were several observations I could make and tons of anecdotes Daisuke or Yo-chan shared but the one the show ends with is one I believe drives home the point of the show— People can be fine, successful, content and happy, alone, but if you have the blessing (or even miracle) of meeting people you’d love to live life with, there’s also nothing wrong with giving togetherness a try.
Recommendation: If you normally appreciate Japanese rom-coms, this is certainly something you should try. But if you are new to the Jodorama take on romance, prepare yourself for slow, slow build up with a rather realistic but satisfying pay off.