Dorama review: Mischievous Kiss – Love in Tokyo

Mischievous Kiss Love in Tokyo poster

Mischievous Kiss – Love in Tokyo (Fuji TV 2013) seemed like it was almost a carbon copy of Good Morning Call to begin with. And I enjoyed Good Morning Call. But where that show stayed just the right side of irritating cliches, Mischievous Kiss rode those cliches all the way through two seasons. It’s really not great on the gender politics front, but so light and fluffy that I kept on watching, hoping for improvement. It is based on the Japanese manga Itazura Na Kiss written by Tada Kaoru.

This show depicted everything that annoys me about gender stereotypes in Japanese culture. The man is rich, intelligent, calm, collected, cold and cruel but apparently handsome enough for everyone to desire him. (Does that really happen with cold men in real life? In my experience the friendlier, chattier men get all the romantic attention, but then I don’t live in Japan.) The woman is poor, not at all clever, giggles and daydreams through her days, is popular and a good friend, pretty but not beautiful. And for some reason the woman is hopelessly in unrequited love with the man. Man treats woman with total contempt until another man expresses interest and then jealousy prompts realisation of actual feelings. But this doesn’t result in man actually treating woman well, no no no. It means he gives her just enough attention to string her along while continuing to be a total asshole.

The style of Mischievous Kiss is very camp, overwrought and comedic (which is perhaps why it took me most of season one to realise that those gender roles were not getting any better). The acting is laughably bad, as is the set-up.

Aihara Kotoko (played by Honoka Miki) has had a crush on Irie Naoki (Yuki Furukawa) for three years, since they started high school together, before she summons the courage to hand him a love letter, which he discards and tramples underfoot. That same day, she is supposed to move with her father Shigeo into their first home of their own, but just after they have finished unloading the removal van, the house is struck by a meteorite and completely destroyed. All their savings had been sunk into the house and the insurance company won’t stump up, so they are homeless. Thankfully, Shigeo’s childhood friend Shigeki offers them spare rooms in his large family home. And of course, Shigeki turns out to be Naoki’s father.

So Kotoko and Naoki are now living together reluctantly. The whole situation is tense at first because Shigeki is a rich, successful businessman, while Shigeo is a well-respected but less financially successful chef. Naoki and his little brother Yuki are snobs, but their mother loves Kotoko and soon starts talking about pairing her off with Naoki, which only exacerbates the tension.

While this was still a high-school romance, I could forgive some of Naoki’s childish behaviour towards Kotoko. But time passes quickly and soon they are at university. Where Naoki continues to be a complete ass who calls her stupid repeatedly, dates another girl solely to make her jealous, and is generally a poor specimen of a romantic hero. Kotoko is painfully meek, constantly apologising and frustratingly rarely allowed by the script to be good at anything.

Mischievous Kiss screenshot

I didn’t find the actors or the characters hugely attractive, so my only excuse for not giving up on this after (or even during) season one is that I harboured a memory of Good Morning Call, where the power balance of the couple was much better in the second season. That was not the case here. In its defence, Kotoko’s friends do repeatedly point out how poorly Naoki is treating her, and it does a good job of depicting that moment towards the end of university when you suddenly need to think about the future. Also, it’s super light and fluffy. And features a lot of food, which I am a sucker for.

One sort-of saving grace, is that season two has a fairly prominent character who is a trans woman and not an object of fun. I mean, all the characters are overacted and stereotyped for comedic purposes, but Moto-chan is accepted as a woman by her friends, faces challenges to her gender at work that are dealt with sympathetically, and is not noticeably “othered”.

I also quite liked the character of Chris, a British woman who moves to Tokyo for university and befriends Kotoko. Chris’s Japanese is slow, heavily accented and (especially at first) mistake-filled, but it never felt like the show was laughing at her for this. Early on she responds to a haughty Japanese man asking her out in English with a fantastic and witty putdown in Japanese. It was nice to see an acknowledgment that Tokyo is an international city, with people from all over the world living there.

But honestly, I think I may have hate-watched Mischievous Kiss more than I enjoyed it. It wasn’t gripping in any of the usual ways, and I definitely can’t recommend it. Go watch She-Ra: Princesses of Power instead. That really is an awesome TV show.