In an effort to end my drama-watching drought, I returned to my first love: Jdramas. Wakamonotachi 2014 (lit. Young People 2014) – also known as All About My Family – is a remake of 1966’s Fuji TV drama of the same title, and focuses on the staying power of families, specifically by closely examining the intricate relationships of five siblings with each other and those around them. Helmed by a stellar ensemble comprised of established and up-and-coming actors and actresses, Wakamonotachi 2014 is totally a worthwhile watch.
By that I mean, Wakamonotachi 2014 is cute. Odd choice of word maybe, but that’s what comes to mind.
The Stellar Cast & Their Perplexing Characters
My favorite aspect about the show is hands down the ensemble of cast – so friggin’ amazing, period. Four episodes in and I still find myself in awe that they managed to assemble Tsumabuki Satoshi, Eita, Mitsushima Hikari, Emoto Tasuku, Nagasawa Masami and Aoi Yu all in one show – so many reunions and two-to-six-degrees connections! Floored, I’m absolutely floored. Needless to say I am experiencing out-of-body feels of Orange Days mixed with Nada Sou Sou, Soredemo, Ikite Yuku, Osozaki no Himawari and other what-have-yous. Crazy!
I never realized how much I miss seeing Tsumabuki Satoshi on my screen until I see him come alive through this show – oh damn, I’ve really missed him. While I do agree he has a tendency to overact in Wakamonotachi 2014, it’s a minor quibble because it doesn’t discredit his acting talent. Despite the chock full of A-listers and strong characters across the board, I really believe that Tsumabuki Satoshi‘s character, Sato Asahi or fondly addressed as Asa-nii, is the show’s driving force. He is the glue that holds everyone together, including us the audience.
As the eldest brother and more-or-less the de facto father figure, he meddles into the lives of his younger siblings irrespective of their consent and opinions, sometimes to devastating effects. Despite how annoying his character is at times, his character is perhaps the most relevant to us – how many of us know someone like him in our family? The one who sacrifices himself for a cause he believes to be more noble than himself: family. It doesn’t mean he is always right nor does it mean his so-called martyr actions are always welcomed and applauded, but we’ve got to give it to him for always thinking of others ahead of himself.
Then there’s the typical-second-child-syndrome brother, Sato Satoru or fondly called Sato-nii, played by the chameleon Eita. In Wakamonotachi 2014, as he’s done a dozen times by now, Eita once again reminds me why he’s it: total show-stealer, this one. I just love how effortlessly he blends into and becomes his character – the former convict, bum of a person with no goals within sight and no motivation to speak of, and unreliable second brother. I find his trajectory most intriguing because I look forward to his transformation from bum to person – it’s an all-too familiar trope, I know, but it never gets old. Plus, I smell potential romance with Nagasawa Masami‘s character, who is a representation of indifference. More about her later.
Mitsushima Hikari, dare I claim as one of Japan’s most talented actress of her generation, holds her own between the havoc and bumble of brothers as the only female among the siblings, and as the third child. So far Sato Hikari’s scenes are limited but I suspect it’s only a matter of time before we get an episode dedicated to her character alone. Nonetheless in all her scenes thus far, she commands each scene with an emotional ground. I expect nothing less from her and boy am I glad she delivered; the emotional resonance that is always conveyed through her acting is once again in full force here. Of course her character is far from perfect and like her brothers, I don’t approve of her actions, but Mitsushima Hikari does what she does best: she gives us a layered, three-dimensional character who is unapologetically human.
Emoto Tasuku‘s college-age character Sato Haru is our the fourth child – the brain i.e. the national university attendee. An aspiring filmmaker, the one with a good head, a dependable brother – I’d use these terms to define his character, so different from the rest and specifically for the actor, a total contrast to his quiet, awkward, and introverted character in Osozaki no Himawari, where I first spotted and fell for him. I love Haru’s sensibility, and how he’s such a brother to everyone – doesn’t get it right all the time and not without his own faults, of course, but he’s the kind of person you know you could throw out to the world and survive; he’ll find a way. I also love that he is a good example to the youngest brother – it’s cute.
Speaking of the youngest, that’s Sato Tadashi acted by Nomura Shuhei who I am not familiar with, but can only assume is an up-and-comer because he is part of this ensemble of such strong actors. Hilariously nicknamed Virgin by his brothers because well duh, he’s the high schooler in cram school and I guess the epitome of hope i.e. the one who would end up with a bright future. Okay, so it’s more like kinda…? So far he mostly provides comic relief and while he does have his own arc (including a potential love triangle with Haru), to be honest, for some reason I’m less invested in his character’s trajectory. I do enjoy his interactions with his siblings and how he’s totally, obviously the baby – even if he’s in his teens – cos they make fun of him all the time and yet are fiercely protective of him. I totally relate, ha.
As for love interests, there’s one for each – kinda, refer back to third and fourth brothers’ descriptions. For the record, I absolutely love Aoi Yu – everything about her – and so I’m really happy she has a straightforward love story with Asa-nii. They are adorable. I love that her character is spunky and gives it back to him when he needs the swift kick. She is gentle and soft-spoken, but not incapable. Like all the characters in the show, Aoi Yu‘s Sawabe Asuza isn’t perfect – not your typical epitome of the last Japanese woman, nope – and because she’s only a side character, admittedly she’s pretty one-dimensional, but I still believe she is essential to the show, the family, and the overall feel of the show.
On the other flip side, Nagasawa Masami‘s character Yashiro Takako is an enigma. I am intrigued. It’s not so much that she is mysterious, though she exudes a mysterious aura – it’s her aloof and indifferent demeanor, like she literally can’t care less. I can’t remember the last show I watched of the actress but my strongest memories of her were in Proposal Daisakusen and later, Last Friends (where she nailed it and shone), my goodness she’s really grown over the years – as a woman and an actress. Impressive because now she actually has stage presence, which I thought she lacked in her earlier acting stints. I thought her first scene in Wakamonotachi 2014 was memorable; I was taken aback by her transformation. I hope, hope, hope that she will indeed have a love line – subtle be damned – with Eita‘s character cos I really feel they’re different-but-similar.
Up-and-coming – so I assume – Hashimoto Ai completes the trio of love interests. A classmate of Tadashi and later part of Haru’s acting troupe, her character is nothing new. However, to give credit to the young actress, she is rather charming. I don’t at all find Hashimoto Ai as a strong actress – she comes off rather stilted and expressionless – but she does have stage presence, and she’s well, young. She’s got a lot of years to improve her craft. I do hope we’re given a redemption-slash-transformative trajectory with her character cos hers is quite an interesting one, and I don’t mind if she ends up with Haru (though not necessarily, nor is there a need, for forever).
Last but not least there’s this older man, a family friend, who has a rather complicated relationship with the family. His name is Shinjo Masaomi, acted by Yoshioka Hidetaka. I… don’t feel much about him because I find that his character is mostly trying to gain sympathy points from the audience. It’s not his questionable action so much, more that it is obvious to me that he thinks of himself as the victim, not the perpetrator. Hence the empathy and sympathy cards. Sorry dude but nope, try your luck elsewhere cos those aren’t working on me.
The Plot, Tone, Feel & Music
Plot-wise the show isn’t anything new, for those of us who are familiar with stories about family – but that’s not a bad thing. Really. Some tropes will never get old and at least for me, the familial ties is one I’m totally okay with being used and reused to no end, as long as it’s deftly presented. While Though Wakamonotachi 2014 is undeniably recycling an all too-familiar trope, I am thankful the storyline isn’t rolling-my-eyes predictable. The writing is solid, evident through the layered characters and the witty dialogue. The directing is assured and as a result, the show’s cinematography is a stunner. Coupled these aspects with the strong acting pool – check, check, and check. Worth watching? Totally.
Tonally, I’ll say this right off the bat – yes, Wakamonotachi 2014 does tend to come off preachy and patronizing, especially when it comes to the worth of a family. Here’s my advice: just roll with it. They’re heartwarming messages which comes from a good place with good intentions, so just accept the messages with an open and kind heart. Take the good, practice the noble, and learn from the bad.
If I were to categorize the show’s overall tone and feel I’d peg it under slice-of-life, coming-of-age. It’s anticlimactic for the most part as secrets and conflicts are revealed like they’re all just part of life and spoken, discussed or acted upon equally anticlimactically, both of which I appreciate. For instance, the homecoming of Eita‘s character and the push-and-pull relationship dynamic he has with his siblings – everything was done in a manner of no frills, no fuss. Another case in point is when Satoru was dragged to the house of the deceased lady (his victim) to apologize for his past wrongdoing towards her. This scene wasn’t played out in this overtly grandiose scene as if it’s this big, merry occasion that someone supposedly evil is seeking forgiveness for a wrong committed. Nope. The scene was instead played out using pastel colors involving key characters who were present to receive and witness the important moments, and ended just as quietly.
Oh yes, the soundtrack? Absolutely beautiful, and no surprise there – the song’s sung by Moriyama Naotaro.
Wakamonotachi 2014 is heartwarming, as all family dramas tend to be, which I appreciate. Thumbs up to the show too for transmitting its messages not only through zippy dialogue and interactions – there’s equally as much to pick up and scrutinize from the unsaid. Like the fact that each episode starts with the siblings at their breakfast table, a total ruckus that never fails to include heated conversations and debates between the boys while Hikari rolls her eyes or looks dejectedly at this scene – so typical of a family, any family, and the endearing dynamics of each.
Indeed Wakamonotachi 2014 is nothing new – not in concept, plot, storytelling or anything else, but it is solid across the board. Writing-wise it is tight and richly layered with engaging characters, directing-wise it is gorgeously presented that imbed visual pathos, and acting-wise my mouth is constantly agape, so draw your own conclusion from that. Wakamonotachi 2014 fills to the brim with warmth and understands that real life doesn’t take place through grandiose moments, instead through the steady, small beats of everyday interactions. Above all, it understands that no family is perfect – far, far from that – with devastatingly flawed characters forced to hold together the edges of a tattered cloth called family …and that’s okay.
Don’t call it a tragedy – it’s just life.