On Tatta Hitotsu no Koi and Eriko Kitagawa (2006)
Tatta Hitotsu No Koi (which translates to, roughly, Just One Love) is a 2006 Japanese drama written by Eriko Kitagawa. She’s someone who I think deserves to be a further subject for study. After watching some of her dramas, I believe her sensitivity, world view and, quite simply, skill in writing melodrama make her someone worth paying attention to and also celebrating. I previously covered Orange Days on this blog. Look forward to more of coverage of her scripted dramas.
Anyway, the drama in question stars Kazuya Kamenashi (of KAT-TUN fame) as young guy named Hiroto who runs a ship repair factory. His days consist of hanging out on a boat with his friends as they smoke cigarettes and drink beers. These are working class guys: their world is cluttered, full of rusty machinery, and imperfect. One day, in a fit of transgressive, smash-the-state rebellion, he (along with his friends), sneak into a fancy party meant as a get-together between students of really prestigious universities. Here, he meets Haruka Ayase (who never met a pout she didn’t like) as Nao, a rich girl who becomes interested in him. She has a nice two-story apartment, drives her own car, and everything around her is incredibly clean and almost pastel-colored.
He’s poor, she’s rich; you could write this stuff yourself. But then we would be missing out on some surprisingly nuanced and striking drama. Part of my continued interest in this show stemmed from how remarkably different it felt from other stuff I was watching at the time. The closest point of comparison, and arguably the more popular one for this sort of stuff, is k-drama. The stuff is more visible than ever, as sites like Drama Fever and Netflix keep streaming it. But I’ve never seen any k-drama that got anywhere near the visual nuance and inventiveness that this series had (a possible exception would be Autumn in My Heart).
I keep thinking back to the rhythms of the scenes that take place on the boat. An early scene shows all three friends hanging out on the boat, drinking beers, fishing and smoking. On the background, a character fishes for a beer bottle that fell in the water; while in the foreground, two characters have a conversation while having a smoke. Soon after, the character in the background turns around and joins them, and it’s only at this point that we start to get close-ups and singles; but, even then, the show keeps to more respectful, distanced single shots (compare this to the rather oppressive, full-face close ups in k-dramas, and the difference is night and day). Here is a video of the scene in question:
Perhaps you see nothing special in a scene like that. That’s fine. Maybe it’s only after being exposed to a slew of indifferently shot and ineptly edited k-dramas, but after seeing scenes like that, it’s like mana from heaven. There’s a particularly special scene only about 10 minutes into episode 6, that’s nothing short of Borzagean in its focus on two lovers cocooned from the world. Hiroto and Nao are drinking on top of the boat, and throughout this lengthy scene, they become closer and closer to each other. At first, physically, as she lays down next to him and hugs him, and then aesthetically, as we move from a frontal master shot, as they sit next to each other, to close-ups of their intermingling faces as they declare how much they like each other. The close-ups end after their physical contact dissipates, and their conversation continues. As Hiroto begins to talk of his future, we get a dissolve to a wider shot of the boat and its surroundings, giving us a context for the future he’s talking about (and perhaps its inescapibility, given the dilapidated nature of the factory). This scene lasts around 9 minutes, and its dramatic construction is nothing short of impeccable.
Although I’m aware that Kitagawa had nothing to do with the formal decisions of the scene, it’s her sensibility that allowed for such a scene to happen (after all, her directorial debut Halfway, has nothing whatsoever to do, formally, with any of the stuff in her series). So maybe it’s director Hitoshi Iwamoto who’s the person to follow here (looking at his filmography, I’d be hard-pressed to know where to go after this). But what’s undeniable is the running thread running throughout her work. She’s primarily interested in romances, which already is unfashionable by any standard. All her characters are separated by some kind of obstacle (illness in both Beautiful Life and Orange Days, class in Tatta Hitotsu no Koi, and age plus a whole lot of other complications in Long Vacation). Her characters are either working professionals, or in the process of becoming one and we get plenty of scenes showing them do their work, which not only makes them more grounded and realistic, but also gives them interesting things to do (the exception would be Halfway, which basically meanders for 90 minutes, seemingly half-formed). But, to me what matters most, is that she’s redeeming a genre that really doesn’t have any foremost practitioners. Where else can you find such considered, thoughtful, and downright earnest romantic work such as this one? It’s unfashionable, and basically no one does it. You would have to look at the work of Hur Jin-Ho or Imtiaz Ali to find someone who takes this stuff seriously enough to engage with it in a meaningful way. Or maybe I’m crazy and soap operas from Japan aren’t the best thing ever. But as Hiroto lays down in the middle of the baseball diamond and talks about what happened to his dreams, all while the camera slowly gets and closer and closer without cutting (except once for a key reaction), I’m in love with love.
How To Find It
Unfortunately, the Japanese don’t really license these shows (either for physical releases or for streaming). You’re going to have resort to other means.
Tatta Hitotsu No Koi (2006)