I know that I said that I’d stop binging on Japanese dramas for a bit but I lied. I scarfed up Tokyo Tarereba Girls a few days ago and I’m not sorry that I did! This post will contain spoilers after the break, but not before.
Caution: I’m seeing some issues with the “Read More” function. If you don’t want to read any spoilers, stop at the point of a side-by-side image and don’t read the subtitles on them.
Now, why did I say this drama is frustrating? Well, it’s not because of the story, or the acting; it’s because the plot revolves around the premise that a (Japanese) “woman’s happiness” depends on getting married and having a child, and in the case of the 3 young women in this story, before the Tokyo Olympics (so they have someone to watch the games with?) in 2020.
They are all 3 single attractive women, all 30 years old, and while not exactly big money earners/successful, they live happy lives and have a great bond. They learn that it’s getting increasingly harder to find a potential husband candidate now that they have turned 30 and every wedding invitation or man choosing a 20-something is a slap in the face.
Maybe Kaori (the nail artist) is a little ambitious in wanting a man who’s good looking, between 30 and 40, and who makes a healthy salary, but she’s attractive and has her own small shop — in our western world she’d be a catch. So too would the very cute Rinko (the scriptwriter and central figure of the girls) because she’s so appealing (and has in fact at least one guy who’s been very fond of her — her senpai Hayasaka, an ubermensch). And practical, good cooking and appealing Koyuki (she helps in her father’s pub) is another catch who at the very least could appeal to any man’s stomach, but is also attractive in her own right. The idea that these young women would find it hard to find a man is somewhat ridiculous, if only we didn’t all know that this is just the case for many young women. That’s why this story feels relatable, but frustrating.
And it’s not just that they find it hard to get themselves on the marriage-bound track, the things that happen to these 3 during the course of the story, both as 3 close friends and how they relate to each other, but also with the men that enter their lives felt very real and plausible (if not at times a little/lot frustrating or disheartening).
Rinko and her friends are drinking and chatting in Koyuki’s pub (as they often do) about men and whether or not Rinko should make a play for her senpai when they draw the ire of a cool, good-looking young man with the blonde hair of a Korean idol. He labels them as “Tarereba” — living their lives on the “what ifs” that could happen but not acting on them or being forthright and honest. Rinko discovers that the sharp-tongued guy is KEY, a popular model, and he keeps coming into their world through a series of coincidences. This label rankles; but they end up taking decisive steps towards their future goals in different ways (which are also realistic and relatable).
Now it’s time for spoiler-ish stuff…
Okay, this says a lot! Congratulations, drama, for acknowledging the fact that people have sex before (and outside of) marriage! This is one of the relatable things that I enjoyed about this drama; these characters feel attractions and impulses that are natural, even if not exactly emotionally healthy or wise.
Rinko, after a particularly bad day followed by an evening of drinking too much, is taken home by KEY and after she lets loose with her frustrations with recent events, is surprised to find that he wants to have what appears to be pity sex with her to make her feel better about herself. And she lets him because he’s a good looking guy, she’s felt a little attraction to him already, even if he’s been annoying them with the Tarereba label, and she does need some sort of male/human validation/consolation at that moment. What’s interesting is how much she shares with Kaori and Koyuki (and this comes back to bite her a wee bit), and how much they share with her when it comes to their relationships too.
Kaori decides to go with a dating agency and plunks down about $3K only to meet her old boyfriend, a musician who’s now finally become successful (he was a struggling artist when they lived together) and succumb to his FWB approach for nostalgia’s sake. He’s so open about things (he lives with another woman FFS!) but she has her own delusions about their relationship to work through. It seems like a very poor choice, but her friends don’t hold it against her — nor do they let her off the hook when it comes to thinking this is a good choice.
Koyuki is the one who seems to make the worst decision; she meets a young man and is smitten by him emotionally (he’s just her type) even though he’s definitely not available (married). Surprisingly, she enters into an affair with him, sneaking away for dates and overnighters and all. It’s kind of a sad relationship because she goes into it with her eyes wide open; it’s completely her choice. I’d like to know more about her decisions in this, but the performance by the actress in this role is subtle and appealing and somehow very complex.This is one of those stories where I’d like to spend more with these characters than I get in a 10-episode story arc, to see where they go and how they continue to grow. Will they find their happiness alone or with their perfect mate?
Kudos to the Nippon TV team once again for a thoughtful drama! Here’s a trailer to pique your curiosity: