Existential crisis solved (for now…) — I’m going in!
I watched Playful Kiss (the k-drama version; and one of the first five K-dramas I ever watched ever) a long time ago. And I liked it in a mild, not one I’d highly recommend to others, kind of way. It introduced me to Jung So-min, who played the love-lorn, adorable, not incredibly bright, female lead. It was a thankless role in many ways. The lovable dimwit is not my favorite flavor of female character — to put it mildly. But Jung So-min was so likable and she managed to dig some depth into what seemed a fairly shallow character. She’s the reason I kept watching.
Unfortunately, Kim Hyun-joong, playing the male lead, wasn’t skilled enough to bring much depth to his character. Doubly unfortunate because his character was cold and emotionless on the surface, but per the way the story unfolded, should have had more going on underneath. However, as a viewer I had to more tell myself it was there (because I like her! and she likes him! so there must be a reason!) then finding it through his portrayal.
Finally, the directing itself was heavier handed than I think it needed to be. Comic hijinks were played at a pretty high level of wacky (to cartoon levels, at times) which fought against the quieter moments that were the drama’s high points. At least for me.
That’s why Mischievous Kiss: Love in Tokyo (the J-drama version, currently airing) pulled me in. There’s no wacky-hijinks. The comedy is definitely there, but it’s not broad. Which means the female lead, Aihara Kotoko, (played by Miki Honoka) doesn’t come across quite as… well… stupid. She’s not studious and she often charges ahead without quite thinking things through, but she’s not dumb.
And then there’s Irie Naoki, the male lead (played by Furukawa Yuki). He is so, so, so much better than the K-drama version. I can actually read him — his thoughts and reactions — and they make sense given the situation and his personality. It helps (a lot!) that the actor is good at his job, showing enough emotion to allow viewers to see he’s confused or surprised (or even pleased!) while the character himself is hiding his feelings.
But it’s also down to the directing. Because the scenes are played straight, rather than unrealistically wacky, character interactions are given more space to unfold. Which means simple reactions have weight. For example, after interacting with Kotoko and being careful to show only annoyance and dismissal, Naoki watches her be happy with her friends. And, for the first time ever, he agrees to go to a cafe with fellow classmates after school. That’s it. It’s not mentioned again and we don’t follow them to the cafe so nothing momentous happens. But Naoki actually sees reason to socialize. And it’s because of Kotoko, though she has no clue and he’d probably scoff at the idea that he was influenced by her.
I’m only 5 episodes in, and I’m planning to wait for more episodes to come out so I can enjoy another mini-marathon. But thus far, I’m really enjoying the J-drama version. It’s a quiet little love story being told, and Love in Tokyo is handling it with care.