I've recently fallen in love with Mimura.
And I think it had to do with the Japanese dorama, Ima Ai ni Yukimasu.
The first episode begins like a dream. Beautiful grassy landscapes bathed in golden shafts of sunlight, the camera floating languidly as we see and hear the laughters of a happy family of three, a young couple and their son, at the ruins of a building in the middle of a forest. Then, the soothing voice of the mother, Mio, reading from the picture book she had prepared for her son, Yuuji, just before her untimely death. It is a tale of a mother who went to an alien planet after her death, and then returning to her husband and son during rainy season.
Still too young to understand what had happened to his mother (yet hearing whispers during the funeral where people blamed his birth for her death), Yuuji clings to the story his mother wrote to him, believing that one day, she will return for him just as she has promised.
When it begins raining on a June morning, exactly a year after Mio's death (and on Yuuji's birthday), Yuuji runs out into the forest to the special place where he used to play with his mother. His father, Takumi, chases after him to get him to go to school. When they arrive at the old ruined building where they used to play, Yuuji's mother, Mio is sitting there by herself, seeking shelter from the rain, completely alive and healthy. Unfortunately, she has no memory of them or anything that occurred during her life.
I bought the series in Shanghai by accident, thinking that I had gotten myself the movie (the pirated DVD used the film poster for its cover), only to find out, to my horror, that I was watching a dorama after seeing the end credits come out prematurely (I ignored the fact that the two leads of the dorama, Narimiya Hiroki and Mimura, looked NOTHING like their film counterparts, Shido Nakamura and Yuko Takeuchi, assuming that maybe I've been misinformed about the cast... besides, Takei Akashi, who was also in the film, reprised his role as the son).
Watching the first episode of 'Ima Ai ni Yukimasu', especially during its opening, I was blown away by the gorgeous cinematography. So poetic and lyrical that it didn't seem like something I would usually see on television. In fact, it reminded me of the cinematography in Shunji Iwai's ALL ABOUT LILY-CHOU CHOU, the lush colours, the soft dreamy images, the stylistic framing, the use of silhouettes over strong lights, it's very much unlike the more restrained, realistic on its film counterpart (which I later caught on TV by coincidence, few days later). Despite its obvious low budget (well, it's definitely not a big-budget fare like a Takuya Kimura drama), the picturesque scenery of a Japanese countryside and its attractive leads (okay, being the hot-blooded male I am, I'm referring only to Mimura) are shot so beautifully that it might be one of the most visually stunning doramas I've ever seen.
I have to point out the cinematography of this dorama since, compared to films, people generally overlook these technical aspects when watching J-doramas. And being a filmmaker myself, cinematography and visual aesthetics are some of the most essential elements of my own works. (Although, there were some complaints that I care more about cinematography and framing than actual performances from my actors)
I've finished the whole series two days ago, each episode was an emotionally exhausting experience, there wasn't a single episode that didn't leave me all choked up and having breathing difficulties.
Looking up on this dorama, I found out that some viewers have complained about the lack of chemistry between the two leads, Narimiya Hiroki and Mimura, or the slow pacing (being an 11-episode series, I can't see why one would expect this to move faster than a 2-hour long film), or, most annoyingly, the exclusion of a few 'good scenes' from the movie.
In my opinion, the dorama, Ima, Ai ni Yukimasu, is actually better than its film counterpart. After all, this isn't supposed to be a frame-by-frame remake of the film, but a different interpretation of Takuji Ichikawa's novel. Characters are given more time to develop, thus making Mio's progression from initial confusion and complete unfamiliarity with her husband and son to discovering her love for them both even more moving. And then, Takumi has to constantly deal with the fact that even though his wife has miraculously returned from the dead, her time with him and their son will only last until the end of rainy season, a painful secret he has to hide by himself, constantly gnawing at him. There is also the mother-in-law character, Mio's mother (not in the film), who sometimes feels that her daughter may have lived longer if she hadn't approved of her marriage with Takumi. While civil towards her son-in-law, there is a hint of resentment towards him that she has never gotten the chance to deal with.
Anyway, I thought this may be one of the most romantic J-doramas I've ever seen in years (the last one being the Takuya Kimura classic, Beautiful Life). Although subtle and quiet, there seems to be more complexity and emotional depth in the relationship between Mio and Takumi. In one episode, Mio, still unsure of her feelings for this man who claims to be her husband, starts to get increasingly tired of Takumi's constant recounting of their past, feeling that all these while he is clinging merely to the past, and not really appreciating her for what she is now. She decides to learn how to ride a bicycle just so she can be what she is in the present, and not remain the same person in Takumi's mind. Why this strange twinge of jealousy? Is she falling in love with him again, and realizes that she is competing against the her from the past?
Like the film, there are numerous flashbacks to Mio and Takumi's high school life, which was a series of missed chances and unspoken feelings. The gradual unfolding of their past unraveling the mystery behind their romance, and also Mio's reappearance. I favoured the dorama's take in the ending over the film's, less emphasis on their high school encounters, more on the truth behind her reappearance.
The acting is uniformly good. I ended up feeling for the entire cast of characters, who endeared themselves to me despite some of their limited screentime (the aforementioned mother-in-law; the good-natured Mariko, a co-worker at the library Takumi works at, who secretly loves him; the guy who secretly loves Mariko; the old geezer head librarian who's constantly asleep; Yuuji's perpetually hungry class teacher; the couple who owns the bakery;), and like I said, the pacing of the series wasn't a problem for me, the visuals were simply top-notched for a TV series.
Seriously, you people should check it out. You'll thank me.
Also excited to hear from anyone who had seen either the series and/or the movie.
Following's a sample for your viewing.
Ending of Episode 5
Did I mention that I've fallen in love with Mimura?
(*sigh* Of course, you know you're getting kinda old when an actress your age is playing a mother in a TV series)
Look out for my review of the much-beloved 1 Liter of Tears soon. Just started watching Takuya Kimura's Engine.