When this drama first came out, I was hesitant to watch it. I had barely made my way through the Korean version “Playful Kiss” (despite my love at the time for idol Kim Hyun-Joong), which left me with the impression that this was a story of an obnoxiously dumb ditz who manages to force a sullen, utterly compassion-less, smart guy to marry her. Their nearly totally unhappy “romance” was at times painful to watch, and I had to wonder if the Japanese version, the story returning back to its country of origin, would have a different spin to it.
It did. And it has become one of my top favorite J-dramas. Despite the adolescent nature of the story, the show requires some amount of mature insight to see into some of the deeper layers. There’s a magical aspect to Itazura na Kiss that allows you to view it once, then view it again with a totally different point of view, which makes it seem like you’re viewing an entirely separate show. When I first watched it, I was completely on Kotoko’s side. I felt the frustration of her love, longing along with her for the fantasy image of what her perfect romance would be with the handsome, brilliant Naoki, to come true. There were times when I felt such a strong urge to smack Naoki, but somehow he’d always make up for his faults. The number of sweet moments from him are few, but incredibly heartfelt, and each time they occurred I could feel the same warmth and glee as Kotoko. I WAS Kotoko, comparing many of the events in her relationship to my own. By the end, I was satisfied that Naoki had been won over and truly loved Kotoko (even though it took him YEARS to admit it), but I still had to wonder why it had to have been such a painful, arduous journey for Kotoko and for the audience.
The magic happened when I watched it again for a second time. Somehow, it was like a switch had been turned on inside of me, and I became Naoki. I suddenly understood him in a way I hadn’t before. I saw that the times he was a total jerk to Kotoko were whenever his rival for Kotoko’s heart, Kin-chan, was around, or when Naoki felt pressured to act a certain way. Furthermore, Naoki simply sucks at expressing his feelings, which often leaves his actions as being nearly completely impossible to interpret. When he finally confesses his love, he demands “Don’t ever say that you love another man besides me”, which is a flashing sign that jealousy is a huge driving force behind how he acts. I GOT IT. Despite his calm, cool exterior, Naoki has some pretty major character flaws including jealousy and arrogance, but just like Kotoko, I failed to realize that those flaws were why he acted the way he did, not because he didn’t love her. Like Kotoko, I wanted him to be romantic and sweet all the time, but that simply isn’t who he is, and that’s okay. Naoki has his own ways of showing his affection, and often Kotoko (and myself) is too lost in her own fantasies and concerns to notice it. Being able to understand Naoki fully gave me a totally different perspective to the show, and taught me some lessons I can apply to my own life as well.
- Things won’t always turn out how you expect– But often, you’ll still be able to say that you had an unforgettable time forming some everlasting memories. That date with your special guy may not have gone exactly how you day-dreamed about it, but don’t let your disappointment at not sharing the perfect magical kiss at just the right moment cause you to fail to see the way he just opened up his heart to you in a way he probably hasn’t to anyone before. There are many instances where Kotoko would comment on how the days weren’t going exactly how she wanted, but that they were still enjoyable in their own way.
- People don’t always act how you expect– Similar to the previous point, Kotoko often had a tendency to lose sight of who Naoki really was because she spent so much time building him up in her imagination. He might be handsome and cool, but he possesses his own number of weaknesses. For one, Naoki despises doing something simply for the reason that it is what others want him to do. Naoki won’t kiss Kotoko at the times that she wants exactly because of the fact that she’s expecting it. Instead, he’ll take his opportunities whenever she’s sleeping to gaze at her affectionately, tell her how he’s feeling, and sometimes even kiss her. Naoki took so long to show his feelings for Kotoko (which really formed far earlier than you’d first think) directly to her because she so desperately expected that kind of romance, and that’s just not how he rolls. You’re tempted to think that Naoki is nothing but a jerk and Kotoko is delusional for loving him, but if you get wrapped up in all the things that he’s not doing, you miss out on all the sweet things that he IS doing for her. Kotoko waits a LONG time for Naoki to confess his love, but the signs were there all along if she just knew how to look for them.Which leads me to my next point:
- “Romance” and “love” can be defined an infinite number of ways– One of my favorite “aha” moments during my second viewing came from the scene where Naoki goes on a date with the voluptuous and talented Matsumoto Reiko. This date almost perfectly matched the kind of date that Kotoko (who stalks them the whole time) would die for to share with Naoki. When viewed as Kotoko, it seems like an act of betrayal, and its hard to understand how Naoki can be so charming and perfect to someone he isn’t actually interested in, but refuses to concede to what the people close to him want of him. “WHY WON’T YOU GIVE KOTOKO WHAT SHE WANTS IF YOU REALLY LOVE HER???” was my going mantra for a better part of the series. But when you take on Naoki’s perspective, you understand that this date is representative of how easy it is for him to take on a false persona for people that don’t mean anything to him, but it’s only with Kotoko that he can be himself, even if its not as dazzling as she’d like. His displays of love and affection are not always apparent, and it might never come in the form of a perfect date, but don’t be blinded to the signs of love that are present.
- It takes time for people to grow and mature– Since several years pass in the time frame of this drama, both Kotoko and Naoki do a lot of maturing. They learn a lot of hard lessons, and will continue to do so. Kotoko still often feels insecure and fails to completely understand Naoki, and Naoki still has trouble keeping his patience when she does something extreme. But time and time again, they come together, settle their differences, and end up a little closer and a little more grown-up. There’s no instant fix to immaturity, selfishness, insecurity, or ingrained character flaws. But given lots of time, lots of effort to be compassionate and understanding, and lots of love, they can grow and change for the better.
By the time I completed my second viewing of this drama, I realized how truly romantic and sweet it really is. It’s one of the most realistic romances that I’ve seen on a “teeny-bopper show” (as my dad likes to call it), and it’s one that I feel like you can watch in multiple stages of your life and gain a new piece of enlightenment about life and love each time.