Drama Review (Part 2): Tsuki no Koibito / Moon Lovers (Fuji TV, 2010)
by Ender’s Girl
In continuation of court case 11-13-1972: The People vs. Hazuki Rensuke…
7.3 Rensuke vs. Maemi
Que horror, 8,834 words in Part 1 and nothing on Ninomiya Maemi (Shinohara Ryoko) beyond a few cursory mentions. But if my rant review has placed inordinate emphasis on the Rensuke-Xiu Mei arc so far, it’s only because THE DRAMA DID IT FIRST. (Drat you Asano Taeko!!! Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries!!!) Well dang it, OF COURSE I was Team Maemi since Day 1… no, make that Day -936. Weren’t most viewers? The only people I can think of who’d ship Rensuke and XiuMei are… the Taiwanese (lol), while the Rensuke+Yuzuki backers can only be high-maintenance teenage girls with weird father complexes (haha). So I think it’s safe to assume that TsukiKoi viewers in general were madly rooting for Maemi. I mean, duuuude… it’s Shinohara Ryoko.
So maybe Ryoko isn’t as young and smokin’ hawt in TsukiKoi as she was in — say, Anego (and understandably so; Anego was a corporate babe while rugged ol’ Maemi built cabinets for a living, duh). But even with the plaid shirts and distressed jeans, sturdy boots and funky jewelry, tossing back her disheveled hair and twirling that ubiquitous hammer, Shinohara Ryoko RAWKED the part. And I’m sure she’d be loath to admit it, but she’s kind of the… female Kimura (when he isn’t playing these horrid lust-filled men, that is): they’ve got the same casually sexy, “look-how-SO-NOT-uptight-I’m-being” flair about them, the same blow-your-socks-off charisma and screen presence. So yeah, Shinohara Ryoko and KimuTaku are probably more alike than they’d care to admit. But could these aforementioned qualities be what limit both Kimura and Ryoko as actors? Their mannerisms in speech and movement are so marked and readily recognizable that admittedly, not all character templates suit them to a convincing degree.
[Sidebar: Too bad Kimura and Ryoko don’t seem to be on the best of terms, professionally and otherwise – IF you believe the ugly rumors of inter-agency wrangling that reportedly took place while TsukiKoi was in pre-production. Word is that Shinohara balked at working with Kimura again unless Management also offered her 61-year-old husband a project of his own. I guess the, um, sheer pleasure of sharing scenes with the Dorama King wasn’t rewarding enough for Ryoko, ehh? Lulz. But, really — wow… did these two hate each other that much while doing Gift fourteen years ago? Take this any way you like, but… KimuTaku usually hits it off… beautifully with his female co-stars, which is why he almost always requests them for later projects: Matsu Takako! Fukatsu Eri! Shibasaki Kou! Even you, Koyuki! (lol) So what gives, Ryoko? Tsk tsk, bad memories, huh, Ryoko?]
So it turns out that Ninomiya Maemi, Rensuke’s oldest (and only, haha) friend who witnessed the inception (ooohhhh) of Regolith back in their university days when he carved his future company’s name into a classroom desk while the professor wasn’t looking (tsk tsk. that vandal!); Maemi, who faithfully backed Rensuke as he built his furniture empire literally from sawdust and plywood; Maemi, who for more than fifteen years played Rensuke’s wingman, confidante, cheerleader and colleague rolled into one – has in fact been secretly in love with Rensuke all this time!!! Big surprise there? Nopee. (But you do ask yourself if she might have some kind of… self-image problem under all that levelheadedness, because only someone so psychologically warped could sustain such masochistic devotion towards Rensuke the Colossal D*ck, let alone stand making furniture with him for a decade and a half. Tsk tsk.)
I can see that Asano Taeko must have wanted to write her female characters as diversely as possible: ergo Yuzuki the Spoilt, Xiu Mei the Simple-minded, and Maemi the Sensible. But you’d think that Asano would at least try to develop all three characters by delving into their respective relationships with Rensuke. Instead we get a lopsided exploration at best: six episodes out of eight become the Chairman Rensuke + Comrade Xiu Mei Horror Show, leaving the final two episodes for BFF Maemi to pick up the bits as Rensuke and Xiu Mei’s love cookie crumbles. (You can forget about Yuzuki the Supernumerary, who flits in and out of the scenery and contributes less than – oh, nothing.)
So for the first six episodes, Maemi earns her keep as – Xiu Mei’s babysitter, oh wow!!! *rolleyes* Although it was refreshing to see how both women intuitively hit it off from the get-go. (Take Kimura out of the picture and this could’ve been a chick bonding drama instead. Would that it were!!!) Maemi the Universal Friend becomes Xiu Mei’s single-member booster squad and mediatrix throughout the poor peasant girl’s Nihon Nightmare. But both women are such decent human beings so that even after Maemi has realized that her feelings for Rensuke run over and beyond platonic love (Episode 3), and even after Xiu Mei has figured out this fact on her own (Episode 5), the two still genuinely remain friends. I mean, HOMGEE Maemi even teaches Xiu Mei how to — <wait for it> make Rensuke his favorite onigiri!!! Evidently, the surefire way to Rensuke’s heart is by greasing his gullet with sticky rice balls filled with cod roe. Well, I wish these ladies had made him onigiri stuffed with SKUNK DOO-DOO instead. “Only the finest rice balls for the Furniture King! Yum yum yum!” Ahahahahaha
I was also hoping that Maemi would at least take notice of Kazami at some point in the story. The poor kid was clearly smitten with her — even though it was obvious (to everyone but Rensuke) that she had eyes only for The Boss… or did Kazami want her partly because she was in love with The Boss? Now this guy Kazami is one Second Fiddle I would NOT mind ending up with the Leading-Lady-in-Waiting (= Maemi) – thanks to the fact that Ryoko and Shota actually had CHEMISTRY. And calculating, ambitious, sneaky Kazami was far more interesting a character than Rensuke the one-note asshole. I kept chanting “Shota!” *pound pound* “Shota!” *pound pound* during the Kazami+Maemi scenes — like their motorbike ride + lunch picnic at the park, or their Moment at the playground where he hugs her from behind and murmurs in her ear, “You don’t need to smile all the time…” (Déjà vu: Heyyy Kimura did the same thing as the nerdy college boy secretly in love with that slutty girl-cretin in the 1993 drama Asunaro Hakusho!!! Same playground too!!! (okay maybe not literally the same playground, lol) And he also uttered a similar line: “Won’t I do?” while hugging said girl-cretin from behind. Hahahahahahhaha whatta time-space warp. WEIRD.) But honestly, Maemi YOU SILLY COW, ya shoulda given the boy a chance!!! MOAR wasted potential, tsk tsk.
Or take that scene in Ep. 5 where Kazami unobtrusively holds Maemi’s hand during An Extremely Awkward Moment at Dinner with Rensuke and Xiu Mei. (What do you call the Moon Lovers when they’re eating their supper? The Moon Grubbers of course! Hahahaha) Kazami does this because just seconds before, a giddy Xiu Mei blabbed that she had spent the night in Rensuke’s hotel room!!! Which naturally causes poor, overworked, unappreciated Maemi’s world to come crashing down. But how does she react to Kazami’s tender show of comfort? She recoils from his hand, excuses herself and GOES TO THE LOO. Oh my gosh, Maemi you DODO. Or how about a later scene where Maemi and Kazami are at a bar and he’s teaching her darts, leading to a mini squee-worthy but heart-tugging exchange:
Maemi: (is glum ‘coz she’s in love with a prick) *sighhhh*
Kazami: (softly) “Look at me when you’re with me.”
Maemi: (turns resignedly, peers closely at Kazami, her voice lightly teasing) “Wow… you have such smooth skin for a boy…”
Kazami: (stiffly) “Look at me as a MAN, not as a boy.” (stands up to fire a dart home for emphasis… poor Kazami! OH NO MAEMI YOU REALLY BLEW IT THIS TIME! blerg)
(It doesn’t speak too well of TsukiKoi‘s writing that the character with the best lines in this entire drama happens to be — a double-dealing snake wearing funny pants and way too much hair gel, lol.)
When Kazami finally musters the courage to take advantage of Maemi at her lowest point (hihihi) during one drunken moonlit night (yeah boy!!! kiss her yeahyeahyeah!!!), you’d think that maybe NOW she’d hook up with him. But nooooo. Her eyes and heart remain steadfast on Rensuke, her Unholy Grail, her unattainable Man in the Moon. And it’s not as if Rensuke treats Maemi any differently from the other little people (herewith known as “the rest of humanity”) who are clearly unfit to lick his elevator shoes. It’s not as if he’s appreciably warmer towards her — like maybe smile or relax more, and be less of a jerk towards his groundlings when she’s around. But no. NO. There was nothing to indicate that their long-standing friendship was a REAL relationship that went both ways. I wasn’t convinced that Rensuke truly valued and cherished Maemi as a friend, and that he wanted her close by because he genuinely cared about her and enjoyed her company – and not because he just needed someone to make more dining tables for his company, durr.
Now if you’re Maemi, and the man of your dreams — so near and yet so far!!! — treats you like just another implement in his toolbox, just another office grunt whom he can browbeat at whim… THEN WHY MARTYR ON? Why stay with him? Sure, she isn’t afraid to tell Rensuke off when he’s (grossly) out of line (i.e. “I can’t believe you screwed those Shanghai workers over. You suck Rensuke, you suck!”). And she does try her darndest to defend the Regolith galley slaves from the wrathful whip of their Chairman. But what’s deplorable is that she doesn’t have the desire or the will to step back and say that enough is enough, that she won’t be used as Rensuke’s crutch until he realizes that a scuzzbag like him doesn’t deserve to be with an awesome person like her. Oh NO, she’d rather suffer in silence AND I HATE THAT. He always gets his way AND I HATE THAT. She indulges his narcissism and self-absorption and egomania AND I HATE THAT. Come and take your f***ing MEDAL, Maemi. Clap clap clap.
Case in point: When Papa Mastpole, with Yuzuki’s connivance, steals the “Regolith in Love” tag line for his own ad campaign, Chairman Rensuke orders his team: “We have to come up with a new concept.” (Company Drudges protest feebly) Rensuke: (covering his ears) “Come up with a new plan by the end of the day. That’s all. Go to work, b*tches!” *cracks whip* Maemi: (incredulously) “You’ve got to be kidding me. We can’t do a new ad in such a short time.” Chairman Rensuke: (pounds table!) “PLEASE make a new one. Did you hear me?” (stalks off) And surprise, surprise — Maemi goes and follows Rensuke’s imperial decree anyway. See how she readily melts under Rensuke’ amber gaze while he just leaves her in the office for what will likely be another sleepless night of hard, thankless labor??? He runs her ragged because she LETS him. And one more thing, I don’t even get WHY it’s suddenly Maemi’s job to conceptualize, outsource for and execute the ad campaigns for Regolith. Surely a company of their stature would have — oh I dunno, A REAL AD AGENCY (or at least an in-house advertising department) to take care of — oh I dunno, THEIR ADVERTISING??? *bangs head against shoddy wooden cabinets*
Not only does Maemi remain friends with Rensuke the Rotten, but she willingly becomes his Numero Uno Apologist, too!!! Gaaaahhhh. No wonder he never rectifies his ways, because everyone – Maemi most of all – keeps making excuses for his rottenness! At one point Maemi tells Xiu Mei, “Since Rensuke met you, he’s changed a lot. He’s nicer now. That’s why I want you to trust him and wait for him.” <APOLOGIST!!!> Maemi also recounts to Xiu Mei Rensuke’s rough childhood (yawwwn), and then asks her if she could please go easy on the man because <wait for it> he’s so scared of long-term commitment that — oh look — he lives in a hotel. <APOLOGIST!!!>
Later, when Maemi tracks Rensuke down after Kazami & Co. pull a People Power and nearly run him off the planet (really? wow, see how much I CARE? yawwwn), she tells him this: “Distributing his furniture to the world while wishing it would make everybody happy… what a naïve man, huh?” (Wow, are we even talking about the same guy? So all this time Rensuke was trying to “make everybody happy”? LMAOWHAAAAT) <APOLOGIST!!!> Even Rensuke’s former company man Kijihata (Watanabe Ikkei) — you know, the longtime employee whom Rensuke SELLS DOWN THE RIVER in Ep. 5 — intimates to Kazami that Rensuke personally sent him to China to facilitate the reunion of Xiu Mei’s parents. “He’s not a heartless man,” Kijihata concludes of the very person who THREW HIM TO THE WOLVES when the company needed a sacrificial lamb. <APOLOGIST!!!> Wow. WOW. I don’t know what Rensuke was putting in the office Kool-Aid, but he sure got everyone to drink it straight up. *rolleyes*
Episode 7 is when Tsuki no Koibito starts to mutate into something else altogether, that you wonder if it was some random drama that got appended to the main series, lol. Eps. 7-8 can collectively be called — Tsuki no Koibito the Tanpatsu!!! Hahaha. I know it sounds weird, but the drama’s schizophrenic dichotomy reminds me of the HMS Titanic when the ship’s hull, having been breached by the iceberg, famously broke in two before completely going under: a bigger section containing the bow (= Eps. 1-6), and a smaller section containing the stern (= Eps. 7-8). Stretching the analogy further, TsukiKoi would be that high-profile drama of 2010 which was deemed “unsinkable” by most quarters — because of the impressive budget! because of the all-star cast! because Captain KimuTaku was at the helm! etc. etc.! – but alas, proved no match for the Deadly Iceberg of Crap Writing that promptly sank it in the ratings (not to mention the viewers’ affections, tsk) faster than you can say “rubber duckie.”
When taken as a stand-alone drama, TsukiKoi the Tanpatsu becomes so, so much more watchable, like 903473% more watchable than the Rensuke + Xiu Mei Horror Show. Try picturing the drama beginning on a clean slate, where there’s none of the grossness and emotional/psycho-sexual baggage from the first six eppies, none of the growling and scowling and prowling to sully Rensuke’s character, none of the WTF-LMFAO-AHAHAHA-*DIES* illogicalities weighing down the script.
Try picturing this tanpatsu to be really just about two long-time friends who find their way into love. Try picturing a woman who has harbored deep but unreciprocated feelings for the man since – well, forever; while the man, still reeling from upheavals both personal and professional, takes time out to heal and to regroup. The woman searches for the man and finds him at the university where they first met as Architecture/Design majors, and where they studied, worked and dreamed together as good friends – the best of friends – not knowing back then if all their aspirations would ever come to fruition.
They stroll idly through the campus, revisiting their familiar haunts – classroom, hallway, desk, tree-lined quadrangle – and finding small comfort in the fact that some things have not changed over the last decade or so. The view of the ocean from their old workshop, or from the sea wall as they partake of their favorite cafeteria lunch – kimchi pork with rice – is still as breathtaking and calming to the soul as it was when they first arrived as undergrads. Perched on the shoreline breakers, bathed in the warm golden hues of the setting sun, and lulled by the wind on their faces and the gentle rhythm of the surf, the man and the woman know this afternoon could not be more perfect. Their conversation switches from the old, easy banter to comfortable stretches of silence; they know each other so well that one can anticipate the other person’s mood before they’re even aware of it.
And Kimura in this scene is… is… (E.G.’s well-placed defenses go “Teletubby-bye-bye!”) …DAYUM, IS SO EFFIN’ CUTE. I mean, that slightly rumpled white shirt with the rolled-up sleeves??? The oversized shades??? The short tousled hair caught by the breeze??? HOT. HAWWWWWWWWT. (Blast you KimuTaku, why do you do this to me??? Why WHY WHY????) Objectively speaking, Kimura’s styling in Tsuki no Koibito would rate a B+ overall — with the mix ‘n’ match of unbuttoned blazers, edgy T-shirts and jeans, and rockstar shades to complete the look. (His worst drama fashion-wise? Mr. Brain of course!!!) But I never completely bought into the whole “corporate rebel” image because at times it felt too… I dunno, calculated to project Rensuke as someone who lived by his own (fashion) rules, someone who refused to kowtow to such stick-in-the-mud sartorial conventions as three-piece suits and penny loafers (shudders!). So for the better part of this drama, that vaunted Kimura cuteness didn’t do much for me. It was only in Ep. 7 when, far removed from Rensuke’s Kingdom of Evil (populated by Regolith slaves, ungainly Commie Teletubbies and water striders, oh my!), Kimura could once again make my insides clench in that old familiar way with just one look, one tilt of the head, one glance in my direction. (Oh bugger!)
After that lovely afternoon rediscovering their university campus, Maemi deliberately misses the last bus back to Tokyo so she can be with Rensuke. (Of course.) They spend the night in their old workshop but sleep on different benches (bugger!). She walks over to him (go Maemi gogogo!!!) and massages away ten years of stress from his taut shoulders (because he’s… <wait for it> hurting, remember!!!), and he murmurs offhand that she smells of ice cream (subliminally, comfort food = comfort friend, so take that whichever way you like, Maemi). And of course they just have to talk about the… <wait for it> MOON!!! Which thus makes them the… <wait for it> REAL MOON LOVERS!!!
Then Rensuke the Random regales Maemi with the tale of the bowerbird aka the “interior decorating bird,” which festoons its nest with twigs, feathers and coconut shells (okay, maybe not coconut shells lol) to attract females. (Uh-oh, more metaphors coming our way! Does this… bowerbird you speak of also smoke like a chimney and hate humanity in general, hmmm Rensuke? hahaha) When the Ballad of the Bowerbird ends, Maemi *reluctantly* goes back to her bench on the other side of the room, making a last-ditch effort by teasing Rensuke, “Don’t get any weird ideas…” while her eyes shoot him “please ravish me tonight, O Furniture King” mental projections. But he deadpans back at her, “Ninomiya… like I would.” (OH COME ON Rensuke you humorless gobshite, you kin do bettah den dat!) So Maemi *glumly* settles in for the night, and awakens the next morning to find Rensuke gone, but – OH! OH! WOT’S THIS??? There, on a stool right beside her head, is a… <wait for it> BOWERBIRD’S NEST DIORAMA THINGY SO EXQUISITELY CRAFTED, AS IF BY FABERGÉ HIMSELF!!! Which Rensuke must have built just for her WHILE SHE WAS SLEEPING!!! What could this mean, O Rensuke the Unfathomable? What. Could. This. Mean???
After that university trip down memory lane, Rensuke returns to Tokyo and shacks up with Maemi while he gets his life back on track. You think, “oh how romantic, they’re roomies” and expect Rensuke to finally GET IN ON THE MAEMI ACTION – but given Rensuke’s wont of using people for their dwellings, the romantic edge gets dulled a bit. You realize that the Once (and Future?) Furniture King, newly homeless after checking out of his hotel, just needs a place to crash and Maemi happens to be the most convenient – not to mention willing – option available.
Still, there are a few Moments that make you go “Yeahyeahyeah maybe NOW we’re getting’ sumwhere!!!” – like the “Kitchen Surprise! Surprise!” incident where Maemi comes home to find Rensuke with a *strategically* draped white towel around his nekkid torso (“strategically” meaning “Imma show off all me good parts” lulz). To be honest I would’ve squeed MOAR!!! had I not seen the beginnings of — <dare I say it??? wait for it!!!> Koi no Handles-u (or love handles, hahaha) winking naughtily at me above Kimura’s waistband, tsk tsk. Oh he’s still fit all right, but his bod was WAAAAY more toned in Pride and Engine. Hmmm… signs of the times? Law of gravity finally catching up, ehhh KimuTaku? Lol
But even their playing house is over too soon: Maemi realizes “Oh crud I’m really really in love with him but he’s clearly clearly still in love with Xiu Mei, look how he turns moony-eyed and runny-nosed whenever her Regolith commercials are shown on TV” and she decides to not-so-subtly kick Rensuke out of her spare room. At this point Rensuke *SORT OF* realizes he’s been – oh I dunno, USING MAEMI ALL THIS TIME MAYBE? (“I’ve always taken you for granted. And I was also hurting you without noticing it. Gomen.” *slings his backpack over one shoulder and stalks off into the night*) Okay that’s good, you tell yourself. The mea culpa may be hard to swallow but it’s the first step to self-awareness. Very good, Rensuke! Keep it up, Rensuke!
But 4.3 nanoseconds later Rensuke finds another victim to leech off – who else but Yuzuki the Ever-Willing! – and holes up in her ancestral chalet where he can enjoy unlimited access to Papa Mastpole’s woodworking equipment – a smart move, as this is essentially an upgrade from Maemi’s dinky quarters. (Bravoh Rensuke, bravoh! NOT) He finds work – and a renewed interest in furniture-making – when the local heritage center commissions him for a renovation project. But unbeknownst to him, Maemi strikes a my-life-for-his (lol) Secret Handshake Bargain with Kazami (who, btw, is happily taking Regolith to new heights when he and Papa Mastpole open an affordable new furniture line for all the “little people” in Japan that Rensuke used to trod upon, yay). Maemi hopes that with Regolith 2.0 joining the bidding for the renovation contract, the competition will force Rensuke to — <wait for it> PUSH HIMSELF TO BE THE BEST!!! OH WOW!!!
This could get interesting, you tell yourself – especially when Maemi and her crew (a perky, saccharine almost-couple in their twenties who bored me to death by… simply existing, lol) camp out with Rensuke in the mountain cottage to help him with the renovation bid. Yuzuki is also on deck (they are using her crib after all) and flounces prettily all over the place while Team Rensuke work 24/7 to fell pine trees and carve them into chairs — and all that stuff. But strangely enough, Yuzuki didn’t grate on me this time. Weird.
Rensuke and Maemi are in their element here: sawing lumber, whittling wood, and basically getting under each other’s skin over petty things while the people around them grin knowingly at each other. (Rensuke: “You’ve got something on your face.” Maemi: “What?” Rensuke: “A big mouth.” LMAO! I’ll admit – that was cute.) But just like their University Idyll back in Ep. 7, this Mountain Workcamp Getaway only puts them in another bubble, insulating them from the distractions and consequences of the Real World. These two only seem happy when placed in a vacuum; but when they rejoin civilization, Maemi drifts out of Rensuke’s orbit, out of his sphere of attention, and they’re back to their one-sided friendship, to their one-sided love affair.
The closest Rensuke and Maemi ever come to a Rargh! Hubba Hubba! Moment is when they get caught in a rain shower in the woods. They run back to the chalet but find it empty — apparently their worker elves went to town upon Yuzuki’s instigation. (As a viewer, you pump your fist in the air and lean forward eagerly: could this be their Love Rain? Could it could it???) Drenched to the skin, panting after the sprint, shivering but strangely flushed, Rensuke and Maemi strip off their sodden outergarments – and their eyes meet. (Let this be it! – you scream. Let!!! This!!! Be!! It!!!! Take her on the porch Rensuke!!! Just do the math, eejit: empty house + willing woman + valid health reasons to get nekkid = Take!! Her!!! Now!!!)
There was SO MUCH POTENTIAL in this scene, possibly enough to ignite whatever sexual tension Rensuke and Maemi had into a romantic conflagration. But this tension sputters and fizzles out just seconds later when <wait for it> Comrade Xiu Mei decides to show up out of the blue!!! Oh great. Just. Grrrreat. And BFF Maemi is once again banished to the back burner while Rensuke and his former fille de joie “hash things out” in private. Xiu Mei tells Rensuke she’s been offered an acting job in China (translation: “I still love you, and if you want me to stay I’ll stay”) and Rensuke wishes her luck on her new career (translation: “Me no want you no mo’, me ain’t nevah gonna change for you”), and Xiu Mei writes “Rensuke I love you” on the misted windowpane (translation: “You are my one and only Furniture King and I’ll never get over you even if I live a thousand years… and if you follow me to the airport and ask me to stay, I TOTALLY WILL”) before leaving Japan for good with Ming in tow. And Rensuke sees her off at the airport, fondly murmuring, “Farewell My Concubine!” Lulzzz
After the bidding for the heritage center renovation (which Rensuke loses to Kazami and Regolith – but that’s okay because as a result he sort of becomes friendly again with Kazami and Papa Mastpole and his former company grunts, so all’s well that ends well. yawwwn), Maemi confesses her feelings to Rensuke (or rather, to Rensuke’s immobile back, lol) while they pack up their gear at the chalet: “I love you, Rensuke. I’ve always loved you. You never noticed it at all. How insensitive can you be? Well, it would’ve been a problem too, if you had noticed. I liked how things were… just like taking a warm bath. You were always running towards something. I loved watching your back. So… just keep running. That’s it. I just wanted to tell you that.”
And what does Rensuke do with Maemi’s heart, all stripped bare and laid before him? OH LOOKY — he puts on his shades and leaves her there without a word. Well how about that. Then Maemi’s back in her apartment-slash-workshop – but OH WHAT’S THIS, Rensuke’s gotten there first and he’s fixing her door hinge. Then he kisses her and — WHAM! – they’re a couple, and that’s that. (Although Maemi’s dazed reaction to Rensuke’s oral assault was a hoot.) This penultimate scene is cute and fuzzy all right, but as a much-anticipated capstone Moment to a love story fifteen years it the making? IT WAS BLOODY ANTICLIMACTIC. What. A. Letdown. Even their kiss was SO NOT up to scratch. (I’ve SEEN you make out with women, KimuTaku. THAT was NOT your best effort, shame on you!!! *pounds gavel* DON’T make me come over to SHOW you how it’s done!!! *smears on pink lipgloss, smacks lips* lulz)
And then – OH LOOKY, IT’S OVER. BOOM! – next thing you know they’re newlyweds driving off to their honeymoon in Rensuke’s snazzy sports car — discussing kimchi pork rice bowls for God’s sake. Credits roll. So much for a ren’ai.
It boggles the mind how a seasoned scriptwriter like Asano Taeko, who explored and developed Kimura and Matsu Takako’s relationship dynamic SO DAMN WELL in Love Generation, could drop the ball in Tsuki no Koibito. Rensuke and Maemi’s love trajectory stays about as flat and unexciting as a dried nori strip: there’s no real growth to their relationship because there’s no real growth to the characters.
Perhaps to make up for lost time squandered on the six-episode-long Rensuke and Xiu Mei’s Relationship FAIL, Asano crams as many Rensuke+Maemi Precious Moments into Eps. 7 and 8 as humanly possible, invoking the law of proximity — as if being at such close quarters would be enough to generate enough romance. And yet throughout Rensuke and Maemi’s supposed “falling in love” tanpatsu, something was. still. missing. I was waiting for that spark of realization, that unexpected enkindling of whatever latent feelings lay between them. Or at least, I would’ve wanted to see even just a growing awareness on Rensuke’s part that his buddy-bud-bud Ninomiya Maemi possibly meant more to him than just his “Besto Friend.” [Altogether now: “Besto friend, besto friend, daisuki na hito / Tottemo tottemo, boku no besto friend…” (“Best friend, best friend, the person that I love the most / Always forever, my best friend”) Ah.juz.love.SMAAAAP!!! *fond tear*]
I wanted MOAR!!! sexual tension, MOAR!!! physical attraction, MOAR!!! urgency, even MOAR!!! awkwardness, or really just about anything to signify a tectonic shift in their relationship, a seismic tremor that – no matter how subtle on the surface — hid the seething undercurrents of their own unrealized emotions. In other words, anything to remind you that what you were watching was still… well, a ren’ai.
I wanted Rensuke’s gaze to linger a beat longer on Maemi while she busied herself with something, as though he were seeing her for the first time. I wanted to see him inexplicably making phone calls to Maemi at two in the morning — ostensibly to bug her about something work-related, but really just finding an excuse to chat, to hear her voice. (Yes I know it’s a bit Two Weeks Notice-ish, but c’mon, you guys loved that movie too, dincha? Ain’t nuffink bad with clichés done well, yo.)
I wanted to see Rensuke feeling the pinpricks of irritation — or better yet, of jealousy — whenever he saw Maemi and Kazami together. (Which is WHY I wanted Maemi to AT LEAST feel attracted towards Kazami, enough to date him for a couple of episodes. True, this sort of setup would’ve been more conventionally K-Drama-Love-Square-ish, but it also would’ve raised the stakes of the game and made things a heckuva lot MOAR!!! interesting for ALL parties involved.)
And I’m not just talking about the final two episodes. I wanted to see these little nuggets, these little seeds sown throughout the drama. I don’t mean that Rensuke and Maemi should’ve gotten hot ‘n’ heavy in Episode 1, or that midway through the story he should’ve cheated on Xiu Mei with Maemi (‘coz that would be WAY TOO MUCH LIKE <wait for it> Asunaro Hakusho, hahahaha *barfs*). But – this is a REN’AI for Pete’s sake. If Rensuke and Maemi were to end up together after all, then the writer ought to have tilled the ground and primed the pump so to speak, and invested enough in their relationship so that when Rensuke finally realizes it’s Maemi whom he loves and must pursue before it’s too late, you won’t feel blindsided by his change of heart. And more importantly, neither will she.
But Rensuke never comes to WANT Maemi as a woman. And I don’t mean the “I wanna shackle you to my bedpost and hug you tight while you pummel my chest and wail something in Cantonese and afterwards we’ll look at the moon through my window and count water striders till the sun comes up” kind of “wanting” (lol). But seriously – I would’ve wanted him to burn for her, to sweat a little, to see how close he comes to losing her, to realize that he truly WANTS her; that he NEEDS her not only as a friend or colleague but as a WOMAN, as his soulmate and life partner; that he LOVES her like he loves no one else. Instead, what’s the most romantic thing that Rensuke ever does for Maemi? He assembles a Bluebird of Happiness D-I-Y Model Kit (each part sold separately! batteries not included!). And oh right, he fixes her door hinge. WOW WOW WOW!!! He must REALLY REALLY LOVE HER NOW!!! Ahahahahhahaha. Ah. Crud.
Everything that Rensuke does to win Maemi’s heart is simply TOO LITTLE, TOO LATE . And truth be told, there’s nothing remotely romantic about that.
8. Rensuke vs. TsukiKoi Viewers
Given the stereotypical KimuTaku role, it’s pretty clear that Asano Taeko meant to implant a sympathy-hooking bone of humanity somewhere in Rensuke’s body… but it’s so vestigial you don’t even notice it — like your coccyx or something. (Rensuke’s Coccyx of Humanity!!! oh boyohboyohboy!) Asano makes every bleepin’ character on this drama bend over backwards trying to psychologize, eulogize and apologize (for) Rensuke — as if making excuses could negate the sheer odiousness of his character, or reverse the damage his own actions have wreaked on everyone and everything around him — from Regolith to Xiu Mei and her parents to Ming and the Shanghai workers to the human race in general, lol. But talk is cheap, Asano Taeko. Show, don’t tell… No, I take it back, don’t even bother showing us. We aren’t interested.
I honestly would not have minded Rensuke starting out this detestable a person — so long as he experienced real transformation in the course of the story. Romantic dramas of this mold adhere to certain norms in both character and narrative development – and so you’d expect a protagonist like Rensuke to follow this classic trajectory. After all, Tsuki no Koibito is a RENZOKU REN’AI for heaven’s sake, and not some “deconstructive postmodern noir drama” (whatever that is, lol) where life is viewed through the lens of disillusionment and despair and nothing good or uplifting ever happens in the end.
In keeping with genre conventions, Asano Taeko tries to depict Rensuke as a Romantic Antihero, more specifically a Byronic Hero: attractive and sexually potent, successful but morally murky, emotionally scarred and usually with a mysterious past, arrogant, cynical and individualistic, given to introspection – or qualities found in such iconic representatives of the archetype as Michael Corleone (The Godfather Trilogy), Jay Gatsby (“The Great Gatsby”), Edmond Dantes (“The Count of Monte Cristo”), Heathcliff (“Wuthering Heights”), Mr. Rochester (“Jane Eyre”), and in contemporary culture, the likes of Bruce Wayne or Don Draper (Mad Men).
But no matter how flawed or dark this Byronic Hero may be, there is always that inner conflict, a struggle between his dark side and his better nature that gives the character enough depth and complexity to capture your interest and elicit sympathy and understanding. Imperfect beings as they are, what makes these protagonists resonate so strongly with readers and audiences is that more often than not, their underlying motivating force is still something of noble worth — such as their love for a woman or for their own family, or a deep sense of justice and compassion for the needy and oppressed. Aristotle once said that, “A man cannot become a hero until he can see the root of his own downfall.” The best Romantic Antiheroes/Byronic Heroes take a trip to hell and back as the result of their own transgressions, but they find their redemption in the end — though at great cost, be it their own life or a loved one’s.
Ultimately, the problem with Hazuki Rensuke is that he lacks the clarity and honesty to fully realize the truth of his own condition. He never learns from his wrongdoings, he never tries to rise above his own meanness and self-centeredness, he never changes for the better, he never seeks the path to personal redemption. Moreover, not only does Rensuke fail to “see the root of his own downfall,” but there is also NO downfall to speak of, no reversal of fortune, no besetting tragedy — because Asano Taeko lets him off with nothing more than a light scolding, a slap on the wrist. When the Regolith employees stage a mutiny (“Et tu, Kazami?” lol) and force Rensuke to step down (and divest his controlling share of the company, I assume), this is supposedly the point when he hits “rock bottom.” But all Rensuke ever loses is his position at Regolith; he keeps his wealth, his sports car, and all the accoutrements of a privileged life.
Even in the affairs of the heart, Rensuke experiences no REAL LOSS by breaking up with Xiu Mei, as she was never his equal in the first place, just a personal possession he could and would not change himself for. And Rensuke never loses Maemi either because — well, she makes it too easy for him. So where is his tragic undoing, his epic downfall to serve as the fulcrum for redemption? Zip, zilch, diddly-squat. Even Rensuke’s attempts at “introspection” are rather laughable: so he disappears from the industry radar to “go find himself” (hahaha) by… um, revisiting the flea market where he sold his very first chair as a starving young designer, and where he first met Papa Mastpole, whoopee! And in so doing he *re-connects* with his roots and goes back to the basics of his profession, whoopee! He rediscovers the simple joys of chopping wood and carving it up into side tables, whoopee! But what does Rensuke do to make us root for him? Nothing. In fact I had more sympathy for Kimura’s character Katase Ryo in the 2002 Kitagawa Eriko-penned drama Sora Kara Furu Ichioku no Hoshi. And if you’ve seen that drama then you know it’s… it’s a big deal.
Rensuke’s wasted potential brings to mind Lee Byung-hun’s character Lee Min-chul from the 2001 K-drama Beautiful Days — a most compelling Antihero/Romantic Tragic Hero if there ever was one. Admittedly the role would not have been half as memorable if it weren’t for Byung-hun’s masterful performance, but due credit goes to the writer Yoon Sung-hee for delineating the full sweep of Min-chul’s personal journey. Despite the drama’s strong melodramatic persuasion, the character of Min-chul rings truest because his downfall is real, his loss and grief palpable. He loses almost everything — wealth, his own company, beloved family members — and very nearly loses the woman he loves (Yeon-soo, played by Choi Ji-woo). But he earns his absolution through great self-sacrifice — and so his growth as a man is complete, his journey reaching full circle.
Or take Kusanagi Tsuyoshi’s character Tsubasa Hikoichi in the 2009 Jdorama Ninkyo Helper (okay so he isn’t really a Byronic Hero, but most definitely an Antihero), who starts out in the story an even bigger scumbucket than Min-chul — or even Rensuke for that matter — because it’s hard to beat a yakuza scammer who robs little old ladies blind of their life savings, tsk. But OH MY GOODNESS (or should I say, OH MY SOUL), Hikoichi’s inner metamorphosis is completely believable and you do find yourself not only liking, but loving this unlovable person — without feeling like the writer was trying to propagandize you into doing so. [Read my Ninkyo Helper review]
In sorry contrast, Rensuke’s own story remains a nugatory and pointless mission, a quest in search of — er, whatever it is, you’re not even sure. Instead of going on a transformative, redemptive journey, he tootles along Teletubbyland; instead of coming to grips with certain truths about himself, and swallowing the bitter pill of self-awareness, he gets to keep his (moon)cake and eat it too. Until the very end there’s nothing about his character that makes you care, that makes you give a sh*t. He doesn’t learn anything because he doesn’t lose anything. There’s nothing about him that earns your respect — not as a man, not even as a furniture maker, lol.
Even his reputed prowess as an interiors king feels more a product of hype than anything else. All that this woodworking wunderkind, this enfant terrible of the furniture world has to show for his name are a couple of rudimentary-looking chairs you can interlock and take apart like… Lego toys. (Man, those local heritage center officials let Rensuke off too easily; they shoulda specified something more challenging, like… “a gilt camel-backed loveseat with cabriole legs upholstered in plush jacquard” instead! How’d the Furniture King like THAT? Hahahaha)
Well-written dramas about well-rounded antihero characters are actually rich psychological studies from which the viewer can derive great fulfillment. Tsuki no Koibito is neither psychologically rich nor fulfilling; the only thing well-rounded here is the titular moon. Everything else is flat and hollow. For eight excruciating episodes you wait for this drama’s beating heart to reveal itself, but at journey’s end you realize it has none. Full moon and empty heart: how’s that for irony.
Which makes you wonder: did the Dorama King finally overreach himself with this ambitious but embarrassingly inferior production? Did he try too hard to keep lightning in a bottle, as if fearful that his rightful claim to the ren’ai crown may be slipping away with age? Well it’s a bloody shame, because Kimura’s last two drama roles actually conformed to the templates that he normally does best: playing the Offbeat Hero of the Day in Mr. Brain, and now the Romantic Leading Man in Tsuki no Koibito. And yet he was wide of the mark in both, with Tsukumo Ryusuke and Hazuki Rensuke only coming off as disappointing effigies of his iconic Golden-Age characters – Kuryu, Sena, Halu. Could this disturbing trend be the handwriting on the wall? A slippery slope into more FAIL projects, an epic frittering away of the monumental gains accrued over the Once (and Former?) Dorama King’s decade-and-a-half reign? Three strikes and you’re out, eh old boy? Man I certainly hope not. I’m not quite ready to mourn your dethronement just yet.
Artistic & technical merit: C
Entertainment value: C+
On account of all this talk of Teletubbies and Nazitübbies, I’m signing off with this short fanvid of our favorite psychedelic-hued, terrycloth-suited, television-bellied, antenna-sprouting, gay-beyond-belief satanic alien mascots — aka Stinky-winky! Dipsh*t! Lardass! Poo! – all “dancing” to a song by the industrial rock band Rammstein. Believe me, I had MOAR! fun watching this clip than I did for all eight episodes of Tsuki no Koibito. So… enjoy! Teletubby buhye-bye! Hahahahaha (Video credit: 6Hybrid6Raynebows6 @ YouTube)
Photo credits: ashkt.livejournal.com, chikara4piece.blogspot.com. d-addicts.com, dangermousie.livejournal.com, dramacrazy.net, dramaticallyincorrect.wordpress.com, evacuatewithstyle.org, hamsapsukebe.com, ifbyjapan.blogspot.com, japanesia.org, ladyjansneverland.blogspot.com, noitakarai.wordpress.com, rz-jocelyn.livejournal.com, silentregrets.com, tenkai-japan.com, timelessub.com, viikii.com, wretch.cc/blog/gakinme