I love this show. If I need to sum it up in a sentence, it’s really just that: I love it.
I’m sure we’re all familiar with the premise by now, having sat through the 2010 Kdrama version, Playful Kiss and/or the 2005-2008 TWdrama version, It Started With A Kiss. Caveat: I watched the former to completion and the latter in parts. I hated the first (primarily because the heroine was such an insipid, spineless groupie) and was indifferent towards the other because try as I might, it simply never resonated.
Mischievous Kiss ~ Love in Tokyo however, hit all the right buttons emotionally and mentally. I not only rooted for the characters, but mulled (and reacted) over their motivations, desires, conflicts and more. In other words, of the three versions, this one’s my top pick.
Yes the story was far from perfect, yes the acting was green and sometimes wooden, yes the premise itself – if you think too hard about it – was undeniably full of WTFery that will either make your blood boil or cause a headache, but everything was executed to a fine balance in all aspects be it acting, writing and especially, directing.
Let’s move on to the good stuff.
The Sunny Upside
What made Mischievous Kiss ~ Love in Tokyo so winsome? Reasons why:
1) Live-action that stayed true to its source
I didn’t read the manga but I always love it when live-action dramas stay true – or as close as possible – to its source. Word on the web claimed that this version did exactly that, as opposed to its regional counterparts. Love this cos it meant the show stayed true to the spirit of the story; we literally watched the manga come to life.
2) Incredibly heartfelt acting
I think and I’m sure many will agree, what defines a good or great drama, is a combination of many factors. What more, these factors are subjective, but acting is definitely a pretty decisive factor. If I’m completely honest: the acting in this show wasn’t great. Some of the actors were really green; they over- and under-delivered and okay, even Miki Honoka as Aihara Kotoko and Furukawa Yuki as Irie Naoki weren’t exempt from this criticism.
However, I forgive them both because what they lack in craft, they make up for in sincerity. Take Miki Honoka for instance, who had her fair share of under- and over-delivery but did not disappoint when it came to raw, guttural emotional delivery such as confusion, heartbreak, giddiness and happiness felt from her interactions (or rather, lack thereof) with Naoki. Maybe it’s cos she’s conveniently closer in age to her character being only 16 in Real Life, but throughout the show I really thought Miki Honoka understood and related very, very well to Kotoko and thus, captured the essence of a teenage girl who held on too long to a dreamy one-sided love, only to have it foil and reappear in a truer form. Loved that the experience allowed her to internally grow, too.
Perhaps in a technical sense, she’s not a good actress but what’s always been my yardstick for this is my emotional resonance towards the character, more so than craft. Not saying the latter isn’t important, but one or the other generally takes priority and in this show’s case it’s that emotional connection that lured me into a fan. Miki Honoka was winsome in her portrayal of Kotoko. For one, she successfully translated a spineless, no-identity girl in love with a boy (and nothing else) into a girl who might have loved a boy and only him, but retained her spunk, self-worth and spirit even when said lover rejected, ridiculed, surprised and hurt her. As Betsy had pointed out in an earlier entry, the thing about Kotoko is she’s not stupid, she’s just more incredibly enthusiastic. That’s not only a great (and uplifting to watch) trait to have, what’s also fantastic is that as an audience, one feels not just for her but with her – her pain was ours to bear too, her hurt and anger were ours too, as we screamed bloody murder at Naoki, or in happier times – suffice to say, she wasn’t the only one who swooned.
As for our leading man Naoki played by the incredibly charming Furukawa Yuki, I’m convinced that he IS Naoki in Real Life, or at least maybe 80% worth? Similar to Honoka Miki, Furukawa Yuki got into character as Naoki so effortlessly, thus speedily and effectively took us on an emotional roller coaster ride for 16 consecutive weeks. I contemplated many times whether he’s a good actor, much less strong because it’s not like Naoki’s character called for lots of emoting or actions but still, overall I think it’s fair to call him decent.
This is my personal opinion and it’s that I don’t think he’s as good as Honoka Miki but he has an ingenuity that sticks, which I suspect is the earnestness he brings as Naoki. It’s why I continued to root for him even during his lowbrow moments and why his facial expressions – of which he’s not the most expressive, but the intangible still penetrated – were so damn heartrending. I think Rosie pointed this out before and I totally agree: it’s his ability to restrain from showing too much, emotionally, that made him all the more convincing (and okay, swoony) as Naoki. He stroke a balance between cold-hearted jerk and emotional-bot such that with enough experience and the right roles, I’m confident he’ll grow into an excellent actor. I’ll keep an eye out for this guy for sure, and his future projects (though please for the love that your fans have for you, pick something actually watchable – ahem Nishikido Ryo, I am looking at you!).
3) The directing, the oh-so-nuanced directing
I’m typically not one to decipher symbolism, nuance and the like from scenes in a show. Though I’ve learned to notice certain things, including picking up cues about metaphors and the like, with this show I captured or at least, responded to so many scenes on an emotional level and looking at the show as a whole picture, found that the lighting, pacing, symbolism and more to really complement the emotional turbulence of our characters. It made the watch not just enjoyable, but insightful. This also compelled me to write about specific episodes and really, credit should go where it’s due: the stellar main (female) director, Nagata Koto.
Through her lenses, Mischievous Kiss ~ Love in Tokyo was beautiful, poignant and incredibly heartfelt.
She eloquently translated the dreamy, swoony feels one experienced from reading the manga to the small screen. I love that she made no judgment towards the story and characters, instead she understood the heart of both aspects. A probable reason this show stuck to us like a giant heart-shaped cotton candy is exactly cos of this; through her lenses, she neither belittled the emotions of a high schooler in love with a boy so out of her league, nor stereotype him as the typical cold, calculated genius jerks of dramaland. Rather, she dug deep into each character and extracted their most humanly traits – similarities that resonated with the audience – and executed this fantastically through her directing. Major props to her!
4) The writing
It’s tricky, or rather difficult to say this because I didn’t actually read the manga, but word has it this show stayed true to its source. Meaning… which writer do I want to pimp, the original or the screenwriter? Personally, while I think both deserves the credit, in Mischievous Kiss ~ Love in Tokyo‘s case, the latter, Miura Uiko, deserved it more. She’d recreated in some ways, a show that not only maintained the majority of the origin’s feel and premise, but delivered for 16 consecutive weeks without losing steam (lost a bit of momentum I agree, but only slightly) in a bubble full of hearts. I think her ability to do justice with someone else’s piece by retaining and maintaining that emotional feel- two thumbs up, very impressive.
5) The budding romance & chemistry
I don’t care anymore seriously, about the 10-year age gap between the actors that kept being pointed out across the web. As far as I am concerned, onscreen they were Kotoko and Naoki and hot damn, they were not only adorable together (individually too, but we already know this) but they felt real in the truest sense: a young couple who had to check and uncheck their emotions, conflicts, dreams, desires and maturity levels time and again, in order to finally meet halfway on equal footings.
Watching them grow not only into their own persons but also as one-half of each other never felt forceful or more specifically, dramaverse-fated. Instead the transitions occurred organically, propelled by emotions that as real persons that we are, we could easily relate to. So it’s why, despite the WTFery premise of a girl centralizing her existence – literally – around this supposed love of her life, I didn’t spit curses and anger to this show, like I did to Playful Kiss: while it’s true she’s in love with him and only him from start to end, this drama tonally shaped it such that their encounter felt like akai ito; between them, it’s simply inevitable.
Plus, the fact that both were affected by each other’s presence in their lives and how those changes subsequently influenced their perceptions, characteristics and decisions – everything about this was realistic, without judgement or exaggeration.
The Slight Downside
Of course all shows are imperfect, we know that. In fact, I think we can even pinpoint this show’s specific downsides: the green acting which was more glaring thanks to the side actors (like the kid brother, oi little guy); over-the-top acting (Irie-Mama anyone?); middling middle episodes; incoherent and narratively poor episodes 11 and 12 (there might be more, but those two struck me most jarringly) and more.
But do we really need to talk about the downside, having already acknowledged the flaws?
So I’m skipping this, because the good outweighed the bad, period.
Mischievous Kiss ~ Love in Tokyo is a mighty fine example of a show that depicted the slice-of-life style incredibly well. It is small-scaled in premise with not much life-changing conflicts like the world’s ending or whatever, but it’s so damn effective in reeling the audience to come back for more. Why? Because it’s infused with so much heart, sincerity, and above all, earnestness in its storytelling of a girl who fell in love with a boy way out of her league, only to succeed in making him love her back. There’s no need for bombs dropping, fireworks to go off or impressive ceremonial events – the emotions elicited onscreen by the central characters, and by us the audience off-screen, are testament that the best kind of storytelling is the one that has resonance.
Here’s my parting words to two characters who successfully braved through my slump:
Dear Naoki and Kotoko, thank you so much for such a wonderful 16-week watch. Thank you for staying true to yourselves as you fell in and out of love with each other (oh, who am I kidding? There was no falling out of love!). Most importantly, thank you for believing that this story was worth telling for a third time. So glad I rode on your bandwagon and will remember you fondly!
Final Verdict: 9/10.