Osozaki no Himawari ~ Boku no Jinsei, Renewal ~: A Review of An Understated & Introspective Gem.

Osozaki no Himawari ~ Boku no Jinsei, Renewal ~ (2012)
Osozaki no Himawari ~ Boku no Jinsei, Renewal ~ (2012)
picture credits to: http://wiki.d-addicts.com/File:Osozakinohimawari.jpg

Osozaki no Himawari ~ Boku no Jinsei, Renewal ~ or it’s English-translated title, Late Blooming Sunflower ~ My Life, Renewed ~ is a surprise hit. A few months ago, I came across the show and decided to download it. However, the show sat in my laptop unnoticed until 60 hours ago.

Once more completely on a whim, I decided to pick it up and watch it. What ensued was an unputdownable watch for two straight nights as I gulped down six episodes without missing a beat the first night and the remaining four the following night. It’s a show that has easily trumped the recent ones I’ve watched and more significantly, propelled me to quietly and briefly return here to write this.

I’ve contemplated this so many times in my frantic 48-hour marathon of the show; is it a(n unexpected) Keeper, or could I elevate it as (an even more surprising) Forever Golden? Since wrapping up the show at 230 AM last night – despite a persistent headache – I think the answer is surprisingly simple. As Jotaro and Kohari puts it,

“You told me there was nothing to find here, but then you went and found what you needed to do.”

“I didn’t find it. Its always been there.”

I think it’s because this show easily fits in between my two ultimate favorites, Orange Days and Tentai Kansoku (Searchin’ For My Polestar). Where the former delved into youthful innocence of five individuals who formed a lifelong friendship amid a campus setting and the latter scrutinized the aftermath of a group of seven college friends’ dashed dreams, hopes and defeats by reality, Osozaki no Himawari effortlessly wedges itself in-between, exploring the tales of seven individuals at standstills in their respective lives – trying to make sense of the present, fearing for the future.

Where to go from here?

It’s a question we’re constantly asking ourselves too I think, but one that is asked most frequently (and frantically) in our twenties as we try to make sense of our external environments and inner desires. Neither quite here nor there, yet the question persists: where do we go from here?

1) The Story

Osozaki no Himawari is different than the two in the sense that the main characters aren’t lifelong or college friends – they’re merely seven individuals who are connected to each other in different ways through professional attachments or personal encounters, much like Real Life. At the heart of the show is Ikuta Toma‘s Kodaira Jotaro, a 28 year-old who’d moved to Tokyo from his original hometown but has in reality, been surviving through temporary jobs for the past seven years. Within minutes of the show’s opening, Jotaro’s been dumped by his 7-year girlfriend, lost his most recent temp job, returned home only to realize the shifting dynamics that his younger brother’s now the responsible, promising breadwinner of the family and spurred by these recent turn-of-events, accepted a position to be part of a local revitalization team for the city of Shimanto located in Kochi prefecture.

In a parallel, not-yet-interwoven life, Maki Yoko‘s Nikaido Kahori, an aspiring medical researcher focused on cancer treatment is coldly informed of her relocation to the local hospital in Shimanto to be one of only two internal medicine doctors there where she’ll aghast, be a clinician – something she’s never really been – because Shimanto, curses or not, happens to be her hometown and one that she hasn’t returned to in the past ten years. Plus okay, she has a dick for an advisor/professor who basically told her that she’s no talent and is thus, chucked away.

Tucked in a corner of vast Japan in this small-town feel and vibe of a city with declining and aging population, their (our) story begins.

2) The Seven Individuals

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Being the only two on the long journey to Shimanto, a misinterpreted conversation was the propeller in chugging the friendship train along between these two. Greeted by the big-spirited country bumpkin, Fujii Junichi (Kiritani Kenta) upon arrival, a friendship circle quickly develops between Jotaro, Junichi and Junichi’s friend, the overly protected only daughter of the city council, Imai Haruna (Kimura Fumino).

Meanwhile, Kahori’s picked up by her married-with-two-kids older sister who used to be the town’s It Girl, Shimada Sayori (very beautiful Kuninaka Ryoko) with whom she’s rather emotionally distant with. At work, Kahori is assisted by the coolly reserved Morishita Ayaka (Kashii Yu), a nurse and discovered that the boy she dated in high school, Matsumoto Hiroki (Emoto Tasuku) is now a rehab assistant in the hospital.

3) The Trifecta – Acting, Writing & Directing

In terms of acting, Ikuta Toma is impressive as always as he effortlessly immerses himself in his role of a man-child trying to find his self-worth (something he’s done plenty times by now, I admit) but it’s really (unsurprisingly at this point for me because I’m always tuning in for the guy but stays for the girl) Maki Yoko‘s portrayal of straight-as-a-bullet, cool and sassy Kahori. She depicts Kahori with such maturity, ease and confidence that it’s engaging to watch her – both as a character and as a real person.

Kiritani Kenta is endearing as the happy-go-lucky country bumpkin who’s perfectly happy and proud of his hometown and is perhaps most emotionally and realistically impacted by the slow death of the city, whereas Kashii Yu‘s cool demeanor is expected of her, as usual, but played with such finesse here and with well-justified reasons. Although Hiroki played by Emoto Tasuku is a character who hardly says anything and is basically a hermit, there’s something particularly engaging about the actor and the way he expresses the emotional restrain and unspoken inner conflicts of Hiroki; it’s my favorite way in which nothing’s exchanged out loud, but the silence is so damn palpable and telling. The remaining ladies who round up the cast aren’t the strongest actresses but their portrayals of their respective characters were done with so much sincerity that I’m easily letting them slide.

In term of writing, while it’s nothing stellar in that flashy, trendy way – it’s so damn solid.

I’ll say this right off the bat that this show isn’t and won’t be for everyone because it’s basically a slice-of-life genre where we’re really just looking in on the lives of seven late-twenty-something adults who are forced to face their greatest fears. While I am not at the ages they are (28-30), I am however, asking similar questions and facing, more or less, the same dilemmas. Thus, the writer’s ability to breathe to life seven characters who each feel and seem like real persons is definitely something to applaud – this isn’t just a story that’s well thought-out but it’s a show that provides a great example of a writer who trusts her characters to choose the decisions that feels best to them, as opposed to playing puppet master and wanting them to swivel particular roads due to reasons like fans’ demands and cliches. Seriously legit in doing so, these characters become real people.

My favorite thing about her writing is this: the way she deftly interwove the setting, characters and theme. Everything ties together organically and believably – the fact that there are not one or two but seven central characters and still, she was able to create a rich and dynamic world with coherence… mad respect. In addition, I really love the fact that the details of Shimanto city – stuff that makes up its identity – remain intact and are presented appropriately in each episode complementing the conflicts, emotional turmoils and uncertainties of the characters, plus reflecting the significance of the city to each of them.

As for the directing, there’s a certain assurance that makes this a very beautiful watch. The autumn colors in Shimanto are especially vivid and capture the scenes with so much emotional resonance. On that note, I friggin’ love The Sinking Bridge and any scenes involving it, period.

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In fact, I genuinely appreciate the quiet confidence of the directors (two of them) because scenes are often shot appropriately with splatters of symbolism, metaphorically echoing the emotions of the characters focused upon. It’s also really nice that they depicted their respect for the place through countless scenes, all of which were beautifully shot. The close-up shots of the seven individuals don’t disappoint either, whenever they appear because ah, the acting and directing are simply A+.

4) Tonally – Introspective Musing of Twenty-somethings

Personally, what I love most (okay, one of the things) about Osozaki no Himawari is the tonal feel, namely its introspective musing.

I get it that this show will not be everyone’s cup of tea and some people who’ve tuned in are probably wondering why on earth this show actually made it to my Forever Golden status – I can’t pinpoint specifics either, honestly, except to admit that the musings expressed by Jotaro, Kahori and the rest of the cast emotionally resonate beyond mere audience/show dynamics; they resonate tangibly, realistically, heartrendingly and emotionally achingly.

The complexities of the dilemmas are frankly, nothing to sing home about but that emotional resonance is raw and impacting because those questions and musings are the same ones that go through my mind. It’s refreshing and comforting to know that my twenty-something musing as I like to call it, is something everyone goes through at some point in life. Some are late-bloomers such as our characters while others may be early-bloomers (like me, kinda) but honestly, this doesn’t matter – what matters is what we do from here on out as we attempt to affirm our own worth as a person, the significance of our respective present and living in such a way that we’ll look back at our lives with grace and not regret.

While I agree that tonally the show can come off as patronizing, I personally think the writer had brilliantly balanced this with sincerity. By that I mean, maybe the above is true i.e. the show’s tonally patronizing but even if that’s so, Osozaki no Himawari never comes off as pretentious, like some smart-ass trying to impart wisdom just cos he or she has supposedly experienced more than the common crowd.

5) The Setting and It’s Thematic Tie-ins

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I love the small-town feel and the fact that this show pointedly gets the message across that the other grasses – or rice fields, as Junichi had hilariously put it – aren’t necessarily greener on the other sides and frankly, even if they are – so what? If the location where the grass is greener for you is a small-town, or a hole in the wall Godforsaken place, or a humble abode and not the metropolitan, fast-paced and urban setting of the world’s cities – so what?

Personally, I can relate because although I have traveled the world rather extensively in the past three and a half years, I will admit straightaway that the most impacting trip was the two-months I spent in a small town in East Malaysia. There’s nothing glamorous about the place, similar to Shimanto in this show, but the people, the vibe and the lessons learned – watching Jotaro was like watching myself as I learned what humility and kindness meant, thanks to the small town vibes and practices.

I’m not saying and don’t believe that wisdom for the urbanites and city folks only lie in relocating to a small-town remote of life’s luxuries we’ve come to take for granted, but I think no one can deny that a change of pace, setting and extravagance can really, if you allow and remain open to it, change perspectives. The point isn’t in the relocation from metropolitan to next-to-nothing, rather what you do to live happily wherever you are. It’s about honoring your respective lots in life and realizing that if the situation isn’t going to change – you must then change with it. Osozaki no Himawari fantastically explored and brought the message across not just through its storytelling, but also through its mature, reflective tone.

At the end of the day, you’re responsible for your life and the decisions you make. You’re the only one who knows best your heart’s desires – where does your dreams lie? Where will the roots of your happiness be planted? There is no such thing as total win-win; sacrifices are part and parcel. Can you forgo one at the expense of the other? Will you be able to live through the decisions made? Remember, while other people’s presence in your life will inevitably influence the decisions you make, at the end of the day it’s you and only you who’ll be held accountable for those decisions.

Don’t be afraid – even as adults, don’t be afraid because as Osozaki no Himawari reminds us, even adults are (allowed to be) afraid.

6) The Friendship & (Some) Romance

The seven main characters aren’t a group of friends, compared to their counterparts Orange Days and Tentai Kansoku. They’re simply seven individuals who are one way or another, connected to each other because they’re from and or living in a small-town together. Some were born and raised here, hence history can probe deep while others have migrated and adopted the city as their own. It’s this very real depiction of coincidental meets as opposed to destined, fated meets which make the show and characters seem even more realistic.

Over the duration of the show, relationships make and break, feelings develop and sizzle, truths are kept and uncovered, hearts are broken and mended and regardless whatever takes place or not, time passes and with that, everyone eventually moves forward – at different paces and starting points much like Real Life once more, but acceptance and resilience are two strong traits which each of them share. What I appreciate about this not-quite-a-friendship circle is that while their conflicts and dilemmas differ person to person, there’s a kind of parallelism, a commonality that ensures the thematic message gets across. Broadly, it’s like putting forth the point that though our hardships vary person to person, there is a universality in the emotional stages from falling down to standing back up and as usual, knowing that someone else is also struggling makes the fight more worthwhile.

My favorite of all the friendship is that between Jotaro and Kohari. There’s this uber-friendly, fast-friends vibe between the two – this sense of kinship because they’d relocated at the same time and thus, are asking the same internal questions – where do I go from here? What did living in Tokyo for the past ten years mean? What did leaving Tokyo behind mean? Nearing the big 30 and realizing they are nowhere near the promises they’d made to themselves way back when, the perplexities and worry towards the stagnant present and the unknown future… amid their struggles, these two found companionship of the best kind with each other: the kind of friendship where there are no pretenses – they’re there for each other through good and bad.

Of course, everyone sees it except for them, which makes it doubly wonderful to watch; here’s two people, formerly strangers and living totally different lives with different aspirations and yet able to meet halfway time and again. They’re testament that each person has at least a kindred soul – surely you do, or will find him or her eventually. In short, their solid friendship is wonderfully realistic, just like them.

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Romance isn’t central in this show, so don’t expect it to make an appearance. However, it’s still an important player that ambles quietly in the background; it’s not obvious, but you easily sense that it’s there. When it takes center stage though – boy, does it always pack a punch. I appreciate this so much because the writer keeps her writing grounded to reality, specifically that those we form emotional connections with need not necessarily lead to romantic involvements – dramas love this – and instead stay lifelong friends and confidantes.

I’ll let you in on a secret: when it finally happens – so, so satisfying. Brief but it just makes absolute, perfect sense.

7) Afterthoughts

I think my most favorite aspect about this show is this: Osozaki no Himawari doesn’t attempt to offer any answers to the questions asked and explored. All these life questions about existence, significance, responsibilities, dreams and more are presented openly but no one pretends to know the answers. It’s like in simply admitting their struggles, they acquire strength from each other to keep moving forward. This is exactly why I love the open-ended feel of the show.

From beginning to end, the show never wraps up conflicts completely because well, such is life. I don’t always agree with the decisions they make and sometimes I do find myself surprised at the outcomes – especially the ending yes, yes – yet, it is strangely incredibly satisfying not only because this is so attuned to Real Life, but also because in my mind, these characters live on. Their daily lives will play on and I know they’ll stumble here and there, just as we do, but I’ve seen what they’re made of; they’ll make it through whatever life throws at them just fine.

I like that, I like that a lot. It means that the next time I tune in to this show for a rewatch – their lives will play out differently each time, depending on where I am in my life phase then because this open-ended feel reflects my own emotional journey. Frankly, personally everything about the show just feels effortless. It resonates and permeates deep in my heart’s heart, going beyond where very few have: reality.

Osozaki no Himawari ~ Boku no Jinsei, Renewal ~ is a meaty, introspective watch. There is nothing glitzy, glamorous or loud about the show – not the writing, not the directing and not even the emotional conflicts. Yet it has effortlessly and easily paved its way into my heart; permanently etched, I didn’t see it coming my way at all but now, can only imagine my loss had I not – as usual, just like in Real Life.

I didn’t find it; its simply always been there all along, you know?

Final Verdict: 10/10.

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10 thoughts on “Osozaki no Himawari ~ Boku no Jinsei, Renewal ~: A Review of An Understated & Introspective Gem.

  1. I think Osozaki no Himawari is the kind of slice-of-life drama that doesn’t stand out to most people..but for the people who can relate to the themes in Osozaki, the drama is a great watch. You are right, so many things that the characters go through really resonate with real life and my personal struggles. Of course I also loveeee Ikuta Toma and all of the beautiful scenery!!!

    1. You said it – it won’t appeal to everyone but to those that it does, it’s such an awesomely winning show. Ikuta Toma surprises me lately – he’s not yet near award-winning material (though perhaps that one movie of his might change my mind; I’ve yet to watch it) but he is definitely steadily building his craft. I like how solid he is as an actor and that he’s putting in a good name for idol-actors, for once! As for Maki Yoko, it’s my first time seeing her but I love her!

      1. I think Ikuta Toma is one of those rare idols that can actually act. I really loved him in Honey and Clover too. I think he is really suited for slice-of-life dramas. :D

  2. I have just completed a 1 day marathon -all 10 episodes. And I totally agree 199% with your review. Life is real. Dreams are worth living. People in our lives matters, everyone of them.
    And yes, the romance bit is worth waiting 10 episodes for. Me loving the build up towards the final realisation that “I love this person standing in front of me”.

    1. Hey! Yay so happy you too, thought this gem of a show was PHENOMENAL. I love how you sum the ending as that: “I love this person standing in front of me.” I personally thought that somewhere near to the end (episode 9 maybe), he kinda realized that she’s the one, but it’s like the certainty eased him as opposed to thinking they ought to transition to lovers or whatever. It all felt so… natural. I also really loved that their compatilibty was so obvious to everyone around them, even if no one pointed it out loud (I recall a scene in the house, when the two were busy arguing and Junichi was just side-eyeing them with a grin). I love this show!!

  3. I watched Hana Kimi and decide to give this drama a shot. This is my 2nd Japanese drama. I am so loving it. Everything about the drama is so real and cool. Ikuta can act very well and I love the friendship between Jotaro and Kohari. Especially the greetings between them when they phone each other…. it’s familiar, warmth and sweet. Am diverting to Jap from Korean for now…

    1. Yay, another fan! This one is greattttt. Seriously one of my all-time faves. They have one of the better natural chemistry in Jdrama, I must say haha so this one’s a pleasant watch. You should try Honey & Clover if you’re a fan of Ikuta cos he was pretty darn good in that one too!

  4. I watched this a few years back but recently did a rewatch, and damn it still packs a punch. Your review captured all the things I liked about this drama: the small town setting, the grounded and realistic characters, the twentysomething angst that doesn’t devolve into theatrics, the solid friendship between the Jotaro and Kahori. It unfolds at such an easy pace that makes it a joy to watch over and over. Slice of life dramas like these seem rare these days, but what a gem this is. Thank you for your review.

    1. And thanks for your comment :) a reminder for me too on just why this show is timeless and gets me right in the heart.

      (Time for a rewatch, I reckon!)

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