Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Second Love (2015)

With nothing else but the relationship of its characters to focus on, Second Love is a throwback to what appears to be a dying genre---the renzoku renai of old. Bucking the trend of breezy, quirky romances and sensational melodramas, the series features two people, brought together by a strong physical attraction, struggling to find common ground to keep an extemporaneous relationship going. But perhaps more important than finding love, it's also about letting go of old dreams and finding the courage to pursue new ones. Hence, more than a nod to its stars' previous works, the title is really more about starting over and following a new path in life.

The show takes a stab at kitchen sink realism by presenting ordinary (but extremely good looking) people stuck in a rut; and said "ordinary" people hooking up. There appears to be a conscious effort to ground the characters by placing them in humble and oppressive environments from the stevedoring dock where the lead does part time work, the hostile school laboratory where his counterpart teaches, down to his dingy apartment where the two fortify their union, bathed by the light of a faulty heater. Such attempts at realism and serious art, however, is dampened by abbreviated character development, not to mention the innate glitz and affectations of its lead actors. Clocking in at seven episodes, the tail end feels a bit rushed, with very little dialogue to communicate the conflict between the characters, but overall, the series seems to have benefited from cutting a lot of corners.

Out of work dancer, Taira Kei (Kamenashi Kazuya) spends his time doing manual labor and is about to give up hope landing his next big break when he catches sight of high school teacher, Nishihara Yui (Fukada Kyoko) against the backdrop of the setting sun. Smitten, he doggedly wooes Yui, whom he considers his savior and his muse. He bares his soul to the older woman and asks her if they could start seeing each other. Moved by Kei's sincerity and equally dissatisfied with the life she's leading, Yui accepts his feelings and decides to spend the night with him.   

They decide to move in together just as quickly as they jumped into bed the night they met. In each other's arms, they find solace, but their relationship is soon put to the test when both professional and personal concerns need to be addressed. Kei gets an unexpected job offer and has to decide whether to take his friend's (Hayami Akari) advice to give up his goal to dance for a foreign company in order to be more financially secure. Meanwhile, Yui has to handle leaving behind an emotionally dependent mother (Asou Yumi) and thwart unwanted attention from a former lover, who happens to be a co-worker (Namase Katsuhisa).  

Second Love doesn't beat around the bush and presents its story in a forthright manner. Two people meet, fall in love and surmount both internal and external issues in order to find their way to each other. It's a generic love story which is in part romanticized because of the instant physical and emotional connection shared by the main characters but it's not a full-on fairytale either. The relationship for instance is anything but chaste; their past, checkered by failure and rejection. The series sets up customary story elements but cleverly side steps a number of dramatic clichés which is a pleasant surprise. 

Writer Ohishi Shizuka generally does a good job in conveying the thoughts of flawed, insecure characters, using voice overs as a means to indicate resolve, acceptance and surrender. In the case of Second Love, it's all about identifying one's limitations and learning to begin again. The injection of realistic components make up for the sheer pageantry of the show's contemporary dance segments, even if it seems to bend over backwards to give its lead actor every chance to perform. Kei and Yui may possess extraordinary skill or potential but at least they're portrayed as ordinary people behaving within the realm of reason. Even the secondary characters and their respective reactions are quite believable. As such, there are no drawn out dramatic scenes, no obsessed parents, scorned ex-lovers or villains in need of psychiatric help---which is pretty rare for a show in this genre. The ending is a bit of a cop out and some love scenes could have been edited out, but the given number of episodes feels just right for this story format.  



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