Series Review: Tokyo Tarareba Musume (NTV)

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(L-R) Tetsuro Hayasaka, Kaori Yamakawa, Rinko Kamata, Koyuki Torii, and Key

I don’t know that I’ve ever reviewed a Japanese drama on here (I just checked, I haven’t), that’s not to say that I don’t watch them, because I occasionally do. I used to watch them a lot more, but haven’t recently. This is for a number of reasons, the primary few being jdramas have a lot of overacting and I usually only want to watch a certain few actors (Hiroshi Tamaki, Kazuki Kitamura, and Takeru Satoh) but I have a friend who loves jdramas and I’ve started watching stuff that she recommends to me. Tokyo Tarareba Musume (Tokyo ‘What If’ Girls) was one of those and man, I’m so glad I watched it!

 Tokyo Tarareba Musume (henceforth known as TTM) is based on a manga of the same name and is the story of three women (Rinko, Kaori, and Koyuki) in their early 30s. Here’s a brief summary:

30-year-old Rinko Kamata works as an unpopular screenwriter. She doesn’t have a boyfriend, but she has two female friends Kaori and Koyuki. They meet regularly at a bar. There, they complain about their situations and go through what if scenarios. One day, Rinko Kamata decides to go for happiness at love and work.

That is sort of right, but the show is actually more about growing up than anything else. The “What If” girls of the English title basically mean girls (women) who daydream “what if such and such happened” which, to be honest, is something we’ve all done (myself included). It’s one of the things that makes this drama so good and relatable.

When I started watching TTM, though, I wasn’t convinced I was going to like it. I tend to like more serious dramas, ones without a lot of romance and TTM seemed like it was going to be lighthearted and have a ton of romance. In spite of myself, though, I found myself looking forward to each new episode and enjoying it quite a bit.

Rinko, as we know, is a screenwriter. Her best friends Kaori owns her own nail salon and Koyuki works in her dad’s bar/restaurant. Rinko, Kaori and Koyuki hang out at Koyuki’s restaurant and much of the show takes place there. In many ways, these three women reminded me of my friends. We don’t necessarily drink a lot, but we always have these conversations about love and life and work.

At the heart of the drama, though, are the three friends and their quest for husbands. It sounds silly, but it’s not. Rinko falls for a cute model/actor (Key) but also dates a movie-obsessed man as well as Hayasaka (one of her editors, though not when they’re dating) who she has a history with. Kaori tries to do match making/online dating, but keeps coming back to her ex-boyfriend, Ryo, who is now a famous rock star with a model girlfriend. And Koyuki ends up having an affair with a married man. These are all real stories — dating people you don’t fit with, being the other woman, dating your exes. They all felt far more real than expected.

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Rinko, Kaori, Koyuki, and, of course, Key

There are two things, though, that tie this drama together. The first are the three woman. Their friendship is the heart and soul of the drama and there are so many moments when you feel that and when I see, as I said above, myself and my friends in them. The second thing is Key. He has his own tragic backstory (which I won’t spoil in case any of you want to watch it) which explains his rather rude behavior to the women. He shows up in the restaurant during one of their girl’s nights out and proclaims that Rinko is a “What If” woman and sort of goes off on her.

While his delivery is bad and I don’t necessarily forgive him for the way he says it, he always has good points. But what makes it okay in the end is how Rinko, who does fall very much in love with him, stands up to him. Key tells her to grow up, to stop hanging out with her friends and she confronts him. In what is probably my favorite scene, Rinko tells Key that he’s wrong. That she’s been friends with Kaori and Koyuki through so much — that even when things are terrible, they’ve been there for her and if they weren’t around, things would be that much worse for her.

This was probably the moment when I most saw myself in the drama. My friend H and I have hung out on Wednesdays since 2011 and hung out even before that semi-regularly. There were days, back before we both had full times jobs and were working two jobs (sometimes in one day), when the only thing getting us through the week was the fact that we were hanging out. I know what it’s like to have friends that make your otherwise shitty life that much better and brighter. I looked at Rinko and I understood her.

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Koyuki, Kaori, and Rinko

Of course, things sort of work out in the end, but TTM isn’t a true romance. There’s no weddings at the end, no one is completely happy and that’s the message of the drama. Rinko comes to realize, and us with her, that what makes her happy isn’t having a boyfriend, a relationship, getting married. It’s not one thing that makes her happy. Instead, the fact that she’s happy — that’s happiness. It doesn’t matter if it’s because she’s dating someone or eating great food or just hanging out with her friends. Being happy is happiness and it was nice to see that in a TV show.

It takes 10 episodes to get to that point and the journey is completely worth it. I loved TTM and I cannot recommend it enough. If you’re interested in watching it, let me know and I can point you to the videos.