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