Wednesday, January 22, 2014

JDrama Review: Mischievous Kiss: Love in Tokyo

Having watched many shows based on the wonderful manga Itazura Na Kiss, I will be doing frequent comparisons in this review. To aid in that, I will shorten the Japanese Version (Mischievous Kiss: Love in Tokyo) to JV, the Korean version (Playful Kiss) to KV, and Taiwanese Version (It Started with a Kiss) to TV for ease. I haven’t watched the 1996 Japanese version and won’t factor it in.

The Gist: Determined Aihara Kotoko (Honoka) has never been considered smart or talented, but that doesn’t stop her from confessing to the star student, the icy Irie Naoki (Furukawa Yuki). After Naoki refuses to even take her letter, Kotoko is resolved to move on with her life. That is until a small meteor hits her family’s new home and destroys its fragile structure. With nowhere else to go, Kotoko and her father (Tanaka Yoji) move in with his long lost friend. When Kotoko and her father move in, she realizes that this is the home of Naoki and their fathers are childhood friends. Kotoko’s resolve to forget Naoki are shaken living in the room next door, especially when his energetic mom (Nishimura Tomomi) takes a strong liking to Kotoko. All this only serves to frustrate Naoki, who doesn’t know what to do with the total mess that is Aihara Kotoko.


1.Positive Changes!

The recipe for a great remake really consists of two things: bold changes that make the show its own entity and maintaining the integrity and spirit of the original work. I think the JV does a fabulous job at both of these things. I loved the decision to hold back the letter and that Kotoko had the foresight to proofread her letter to death so she doesn’t suffer the same fate as her characters in the KV and TV (aka getting a failing grade from Naoki). Also, holding it back meant that when Naoki finally read her letter, he actually got to soften towards her and get to know her a bit. I liked the stronger emphasis on Kin-chan, which I will talk more about later. I love love love the rewrite of the hospital episode where Yuki falls ill. The pairing of the apartment stay over is less forced in the JV and they actually get a chance to really talk before a sweet and revealing close. I also liked breaking Yuko (Mori Kanna) and Sahoko (Takada Riho)into two characters. It took me by surprise, though I’m not sure how it is in the original, as Yuko gets the fiancé position in both the TV and KV. I think this worked better for me as Hera and Baek Seung Jo are actually a pretty good match in the KV.

2.Coffee Scenes

My, my, what a small thing that left such a strong impression on me! This is a little thing that the JV adds for its own flavor. Around episode 2 or 3, there’s a great moment, where Naoki walks down the stairs after staying up all night helping Kotoko study and she’s making him coffee. The viewer sees her from Naoki’s POV and with the sunlight around her to perfection, she actually glows a little. It’s the first time Naoki (and the audience) sees her as a little less neurotic and an actual woman. This thread is pulled through as Naoki asks her to make him coffee again and she leaves him some after their stay over in the hospital episode I mentioned before. Lastly, when Kotoko finally goes on a date with Kin, Naoki’s sitting in his room, ruminating over a cup of coffee. We didn’t get any flashbacks, but my mind at least flashed back to all their morning coffees and it was a subtle, beautiful touch.

3. Naoki and Kotoko

I’ve seen a lot of mixed feelings about these actors, but I liked them tremendously. People are mentioning that Honoka isn’t as pretty as other installments, but I thought she was adorable and completely likeable, which is perfect for Kotoko. People come down pretty hard on Naoki, saying he’s the most stoic of the versions. While the TV’s is very emotive and the KV’s not so much, I actually thought that the JV’s was surprisingly transparent. You don’t really see Naoki’s jealousy so early in the other series, but the JV makes a point of showing Naoki watching Kotoko with Kin, which set a strong foundation for their tipping point at the end of the show. Also, I think he’s a lot more open with Kotoko, I found myself surprised at some of the things he said to her as I expected him to be more reserved. So, yes, Naoki doesn’t smile as much as the TV and KV characters, but it’s obvious when he’s annoyed, jealous, happy, or completely miserable (as in his engagement to Sahoko). Top that off with a great chemistry between our leads and it’s a winner.

4. Kin

Played by Yamada Yuki, we finally have Kin we can appreciate. Jin is lovely in the TV, if not totally desperate, but oh boy is Bong Joon Gu ridiculous in the KV. Kin’s a little rough around the edges, but he’s actually cute and 100% supportive of Kotoko. As much as he loves her, he’s surprisingly willing to recognize her feelings for Naoki as long as it keeps her happy. Other reviews I read mentioned that Kin and Kotoko actually develop a friendship and I too found that a strong positive force working in this show. It’s a little bit sad that we don’t get to see more resolution for Kin, as fans of the story will know he goes on to be a happy and loved fellow.



This might seem a tad misplaced as I’ve mentioned how much I like our three main characters, but I think a few of the side characters didn’t work as well in this version. For starters, Naoki’s mom is a character I cherish in this story, but boy does she really push them. It’s fine if she thinks that Naoki and Kotoko should be together, but when it’s overriding her son’s feelings and actually pushing them apart, that gets to be a tad annoying. She’s a bit crazy in all the version, but it’s dialed up for this one. Second, Aizawa Yuga’s Irie Yuki is cute, but I don’t think you get the range and bonding that shines through in the KV (it’s much better than the TV shudders). I think Kotoko’s friends Jinko (Fujimoto Nanami) and Satomi (Yamaya Kasumi) could have used a bit more character building, but the JV is the shortest, so I can understand needing to cut some of it out.

2.The Ending

Don’t get me wrong. This ending had me squealing like a middle school girl as it just has that raw emotion that is so satisfying after all the trouble. That said, with how well the rest of the show was paced, the ending was certainly rushed. *SPOILERS* While I don’t mind them ending on a wedding (it’s no surprise to longtime fans), I think it would have been better to just do a jump ahead in time rather than having his mom throw together a last minute surprise wedding. I mean, sheesh, give them a second to be engaged and plan things out their way. Still, I liked this wedding best of all. It didn’t have the awkward comedy of the TV version and Naoki actually acts like he wants to be there, not like the KV, where Baek Seung Jo just sort of grimaces the whole time.


1.Shooting Star?

Really? That’s the route we’re going with? Her house got hit by a FREAKING METEOR? It was already hard to believe when the KV and TV series had her house collapse from an earthquake, but this is just stretching the realms of believability. Not to mention the effects are bad. I think if they were going to change things up, this was not the way to go. I guess they were trying for a romantic vibe, but it’s a swing and miss.

2. Too Short!

One of the things I love about JDramas and I’ll say it all day long is their brevity. It gets in, gets out, concise and to the point. So, at 16 episodes, this show’s about as long as most Korean shows, and it still felt too short. I tore through these episodes like I didn’t have anything else to do and I could have taken more. If they do a second season, it will be more than welcome in my book. It’s not like there’s a shortage of material to work with. The KV had a few specials to round things out, but only the TV’s two season approach really left me feeling like the story was fleshed out (though that had its own problems).


So… I’m surprised and not at all that I just adored this show. I powered through it and it still has that spark of shows that are exceptional. It’s possible I may just love this show in any iteration, but I felt that this one had some strong merits of its own. While it seems silly to have the same story twice in my top ten, this one is right up there with Playful Kiss as one of my all-time favorites and I’m sure I’ll be watching it again sometime soon.  

Final Grade: A+

EDIT: SEASON 2. It happened! And it's wonderful. Read more here....


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  2. Awesome review! I loved the coffee scenes too! After watching the show quiet a few times, I really started to get the symbolism and emotion behind it. Every time he has the coffee, there is usually a illuminating light that shines just like Kotoko and Nioki sees it. I just started a blog and so I was just stumbling upon different reviews for inspiration. Sorry for the bad English... {Not my native language}


    1. Ara,

      Your English is great! Sorry for the delay on the reply. I'm glad someone else loves the coffee scenes, so I don't feel like I'm just making things up :) It's a great show! Love it. Good luck with the blog.

  3. Agree with most of your points, but I did want to say that the TV separated the "love rival" and fiancé characters like the JV version did and their characters in the storyline are similar. It was just the KV version that lumped it all together.

  4. Ah! Thanks! It starts to bleed together when you watch so many shows :)

  5. What sets this version apart is the direction/acting of Miki Honoka as Kotoko. The Kotoko character can be rather annoying, but wether by the Director or by her acting or a combination of both Miki made Kotoko such a lovable character.

    I have viewed 12 of the 16 episodes for season 2 and she continues to make this a great story. Even though Miki has barely turned 18 and looks even younger she plays a believable 20 something year old. Probably because the character Kotoko goes though life with a child like innocence.

    1. Thanks for the thoughts! I agree, she is great in this role and her and Naoki are adorable. I'm really loving season 2 - it's amazing how intimate it can get while Naoki is still so stoic. I can't get enough!!

  6. I totally agree with all your "love" for this version
    Coffee scene: Love love love!! Boy, I thought I was the only one who thought that this is something special they have (set it apart from other versions), as it continues to season 2 episode 9 with that cute little vixen Rika. They way Naoki says "No, I like her coffee" makes me want to re-watch season one all over again. How nostalgic.
    Naoki and Kotoko: I believe Yuki Furukawa and Miki Honoka were born for these roles. At first I was skeptical since Miki was only 16. But she surpassed my expectations. Cast any 16 years old and it will come across as retard. As for Yuki (I couldn't believe he was not 17), yes, he is the most stoic of all versions. But I believe this is how Naoki should be. That what makes it more worth it to see him smiles (hence the "bread crumb" picture above), shows jealousy, or says / does something sweet. Not to mention his English skill. Is he Irie Naoki or what?!
    Kin-Chan: I'm glad you pinpoint about this since I don't read a lot of review about him. He is actually cute in this version and totally lovable. That hospital scene where he found and lectured Naoki... what a man. I'm glad he found Chris on season 2.
    If I may add, I love the boat scene twist. It was supposed to be on season 1 during their first accidental date and they fell (like KV), but instead it happened during season 2, their real date and it became one of the most romantic scene ever!
    Can't get enough is right! Sorry for the long comment. I could go on and on about this show. I have re-watched it 3 times already and I have a feeling there will be the 4th time :) Best drama ever! And love your post.

    1. Thank you for the long comment! I love a good fan rant :) Yes, omg, Naoki's English is phenomenal. He sounds like a native speaker. I honestly didn't even realize the age gap between the actors was so huge until the second season.

      I'm glad Chris got her due. I always felt bad for Kin. I love him in this version, especially everything about the hospital scene. It is perfect!! :D I remember the boat scene so clearly in the Korean version and I agree, this one was amazing. It's so cute how Naoki is starting to give in to her.

      Long live the coffee scenes! I'm so glad they kept the trend going in season 2. It was honestly a great way to finish out their story. I'm just sad there isn't more!!!

  7. Hey, as promised I watched the Japanese version of this story you love so much!

    I can say that it was 100% satisfying. I also believe this version is the best out of the three. Your review says it all, and I agree with everything.

    The changes made here were really for the best, as if they analyzed the weaknesses of the previous iterations to improve the whole show. Generally speaking, changes in small details made it look more realistic, more natural: the love letter you mentioned, as well as Yuko/sahoko splitting (I mean, there are already enough fate/ coincidences involved in this drama), the appendicitis event instead of a random car accident (ok, it's still a very curious timing but appendicitis really do pop up out of the blue), the whole incident with Yuki’s illness was better-handled (the fact that she could not give the go for Yuki’s operation as she was not family, Kin’s role in finding and moralizing Naoki, the sleepover at his apartment that enables him to open up), the second kiss at the hospital while Kotoko is sleeping (more cleverly placed), the non-constant threat of moving out etc. And a lot of unlikely moments of the other versions were not included, for the best. I had no problem with the casting, I thought they were good, and the characters were more likable in this version (except maybe Seung Jo’s mother was better, but Naoki’s mom did a fine job as well).

    As I said before, my problem with this story was always the heroine, and the believability of the romance.
    But Honoka made a great job with Kotoko: I like how she somehow manages to keep her dignity, even if she holds on to her everlasting one-sided love, and how she stays realistic throughout the show. She never really expects anything from Naoki, she realizes when teasing is teasing, but she simply can't give him up. I could definitely feel more sympathy towards her character than I did in the other versions. Her determination and persistence finally felt like an admirable strength that lifts her up, rather than a depressing habit that turns her into a pathetic stalker. She is still a cheerful daydreamer, but when it comes to it, she understands what is real from what's not, when to make a move and when she has to back off. In that sense, she was subtly smart, emotionally speaking. She actually appeared more of a support and less of a burden to Naoki, despite her legendary clumsiness (he can confide in her, and she can comfort him).

  8. Her character being more sensible, and stronger when facing Naoki, I could also feel why he would be attracted to her. I was so glad that they made him show signs of interest towards Kotoko early (another fan of the coffee scenes here! I just loved that glowing-Kotoko freeze frame, and the way they silently share their first cup together). Even the small scenes here and there where he happens to notice Kotoko and Kin being so close, or when he throws a tennis ball at her face just for fun (or for an opportunity to talk to her?), it really helps believing the bond that is shaping between the two leads, little by little. Although some could say Naoki more stoic (I personally didn’t think so), I thought he warmed up changed faster thanks to Kotoko than in the other versions (like accepting to go out with his classmates for the first time in episode 2, or helping her do her homework voluntarily in ep 3). The relationship development really made more sense.

    I also thought that the pacing was brilliant. I was so glad they opted for a flexible timeframe. Cutting short the high school years (and all the fast forwards), we could avoid the endless cycles (of humiliation and rejection) and get to the point. It's like we only witnessed the important steps of the relationship building, to better understand how Naoki fell in love with Kotoko. 16 episodes only for the pre-marriage period, but we are never bored a second. Very well done.

    Kin-chan was so much better than its Korean version, as you pointed out. The thing I loved most about him was that we could actually feel the friendship between him and Kotoko. The scene in the restaurant when she convinces him to come to the graduation party is lovely. Their relationship is a lot less one-sided in that aspect; so when she decides to give him a chance at the end, it feels less forced. I also liked the fact that he’s not repeatedly ridiculously hanging on to her, but he let her try her best with Naoki first, before making a serious move. He was really given more presence in the spotlight; his presence is a necessary source of tension for Naoki to realize his feelings, but he also is a real support for Kotoko. [I know it concerns the season 2, but the only thing missing that I liked in the Korean version was the sweet talk between Jung Gu and Ha Ni at the swing, when he tries to clear up his feelings for Ha Ni after rejecting Chris (real love, habit or loyalty), that I thought was really helpful to make him move on.]

    Thanks for recommending it! I had a great time  I’ll comment the second season too.

    1. Yay! I'm going to say that I envy the amount of free time you have to watch both these seasons so quickly >.< If only I could quit my job and just watch dramas all day. I really love this rewrite for all the reasons you said, but I just super love Honoka. She's a real joy to watch and I hope we see more from her in the future. I honestly am still just stunned about how young she is because she is really carrying this show. I like what you said about Kin-chan also. I feel like all of the relationships in this show were a lot less one-sided, which did feel a lot more natural than the other versions. I'm so glad you enjoyed it!

  9. Well, I had a one-week break from college, so I used my time to do what I like most :) But my classes have started again, and I don't have as much free time now, so I have to reduce drastically my consumption of dramas for a while. I feel so miserable...

  10. Regarding the freaking meteorid disaster.
    I suppose you haven't read the manga nor watching the anime. It was really earthquake in manga. But it was never earthquake in 2 japanese adaptations, why?

    Because Japanese people are very sensitive to earthquake. By the time the first Itakiss live action was released there was a great earthquake, and now the 2013 version one, came out 2 years after the great tohoku earthquake, and until today it still left some pain for some, i guess it is just right to make Kotoko had another disaster scene.

    And to make it more plausible with the shooting star scene at the beginning and the ending of the drama.

  11. I love your review above.

    For me this version is the best among all, from the theme, casts, OST, and Kotoko's fashion here. Itazura Na kiss love in Tokyo is my first Itakiss instalment, I watched the TV and kV afterwards and Itakiss lit was the best.

    Kotoko (Honoka) is portrayed very well here. She's cheerful, happy, helpful, loyal to get friends, hopeful and has her own pride. I never liked female lead ad much as I love Kotoko here. She's just the perfect interpretation of Kotoko. Like manga comes to life.

    And Naoki is also best portrayed by Furukawa. I can tell how he feels by following his gaze. That's how Naoki supposed to be.

    Irie mama is also the best here. She's not annoying like other review says, just like in the anime.

    KIN-chan as well. I live the friendship between Kotoko and kin. While other version made Kin looks like some pest who's annoying, here wasn't. Kin chan really got his portion well. A supportive and encouraging friend.

    My rank for Itazura Na Kiss :
    1. Itazura Na Kiss Love it Tokyo
    2. It Started with a kiss
    3. Playful kiss

    I don't know why people think PK is better than LiT. The actress plays Oh ha Ni is not that pretty, Honoka is much prettier, Oh Ha Ni is chubby, and always sulks and complaining and whining most of the time. I really don't like her facial expression. Ha ni's father talks too much and the kin chan in kv (dont know the name) is ridiculous and annoying. And ha ni treats him like a pest. too much filler and not really following the manga. Incosistent character of Oh Ha Ni, in the beginning she was shown like a independent strong girl who is able to get a can out of the error vending machine, but suddenly she's chickened out when baek sung jo is around, what the hell. And she's shown weak and clingy and dumb here