Thursday, April 18, 2013

JDrama Review: Smile

The Gist: Vito (Matsumoto Jun) has it rough. As a half Filipino, half Japanese, he is often the target of racism and gets tangled up with unseemly people in his effort just to get by. Luckily, he is able to find a day job he likes and when he meets Hana (Aragaki Yui), he can't help but like her. Having lost her voice from a trauma, Hana is difficult to communicate with but she forms a quick attachment to Vito. Drawn in by her smile, he helps her get a job where he works so that they can be together all the time. Things always seem to turn sour for Vito when he gets arrested for a crime and Hana is the only witness, unable to testify.


1. Hana

Expertly cast by Aragaki, Hana is a particularly difficult part to play because she is silent through almost the entire drama. Her facial expressions and body language need to be dead on to communicate what she's trying to convey. Aragaki does this so well that you can feel what she's thinking, even when she can't say it. The subtlety of this character is what makes her so outstanding. As much as I will always love Matsujun, Hana totally steals the show. 

2. Seriousness

This drama is not fluffy popcorn romance. Vito is dealing with some major problems between the racism and the crimes. Also, his complicated relationship with Seiji (Oguri Shun) really makes you feel that Vito is trapped. It's a nice break from how light most of the popular JDramas are and actually gets you thinking about larger problems. Most shows blow small problems out of proportion, but you really have to admire Hana and Vito for finding reasons to smile even though their lives are so difficult.

3. The Ending

**SPOILERS** Of course with a premise like this, it's impossible to not want to see Hana speak. They build it up to the perfect moment. Vito's conviction and life depend on Hana testifying, which flashbacks to a trial her family had gone through before. She has to overcome her fear to save Vito, which she does in what is probably one of the most satisfying scenes I've seen in a drama.

4. Seiji

Oguri Shun and Matsujun are just attached at the hip it would seem. I loved seeing Shun in a darker role. Seiji is the kind of villain you love to hate. There's really no redemption for him and the pressure that he puts on Vito is what drives the main problem of the show. Not that I didn't love him in Hana Yori Dango, but it's always enjoyable to see different sides of an actor and I thought he was brilliant. 


1.  The Lawyer

Nakai Kiichi as Ito Kazuma becomes very involved in our heroes journey when he becomes Vito's lawyer. It is revealed rather quickly that Kazuma is biracial, just like Vito. His apathy highlights how hard the life is, but it also made me a little bit uncaring towards him. I never totally came to embrace him, even as he comes to help Vito. I just felt out main pair were much stronger characters, that I sort of didn't really mind if Kazuma was around or not.


1. Heavy

I feel a bit weird making the distinction that I like the seriousness but don't like the heavy. I think at times the show becomes a little overbearing and especially after Vito gets arrested, things are so bleak it's hard to watch. Hana and Vito's relationship helps lighten things, but by the end of the show, I was more than ready to watch something that didn't really matter.

So... If not already biased towards anything starring Matsujun, I did enjoy Smile for its more serious plot and brilliant acting by the leading lady. The seriousness can be a little harsh occasionally though, often making you wish for something a little happier here and there. The ending is rewarding, however, making it worth the trek to the end.

Final Grade: B

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