Kekkon Dekinai Otoko aka The Man Who Can’t Get Married aka He Who Can’t Marry (2006)
[12 episodes, approx. 45 mins each]
Directed by Miyake Yoshishige, Komatsu Takashi, Ueda Hisashi
Written by Ozaki Masaya
Starring Abe Hiroshi, Natsukawa Yui, Kuninaka Ryoko, Tsukamoto Takashi, Takashima Reikko
Japanese w/ English subtitles
I’ve never watched a Japanese drama (or dorama as it’s called in Japanese) and I wasn’t sure what to watch since it seems to be hard to find a decent website that reviews them (whereas I can find a fair number of blogs that have an extensive list of well written reviews for K-dramas). Brief research yielded some popular dramas like 1 Litre of Tears, Hana Yori Dango or Nodame Cantabile. I’m not really sure how I found out about Kekkon Dekinai Otoko but I did decide to watch it based on the premise and I am absolutely glad I did.
To briefly summarize it focuses on the main character Shinsuke Kuwano (Abe Hiroshi) who is a 40 year old male and single but isn’t concerned about it. In fact he relishes being alone and doesn’t get along well with others. His character reminds me of a Japanese Dr. House (Hugh Laurie) except that he’s an architect. He ends up meeting a young, perky neighbour named Michiru (Kuninaka Ryoko) as well as Dr. Hayasaka (Natsukawa Yui) an unmarried physician in her late 30s. Kuwano isn’t particularly friendly to them at first but he gradually begins to grow on them.
The TV series is labeled a comedy and it does that well but at the same time there is a deeper layer of meaning that really elevates the story. The characters are all fascinating and supported by excellent acting that was nuanced and not exaggerated. I laughed every time one of the characters was startled by the unexpected appearance of Kuwano. Hiroshi did a phenomenal job portraying Kuwano. There wasn’t a single character I didn’t enjoy watching and I was really happy to see friendly female interaction. Perhaps I shouldn’t comment based on my limited experience with Asian dramas but it always seems like the main female characters are written to be enemies or rivals. Seeing reasonable, well-adjusted women who get along with each other was really refreshing. Another refreshing aspect is that the potential love interests have their own pros and cons with none of them being portrayed as the obviously ideal woman for Kuwano (although it’s easy to guess who Kuwano prefers).
This might sound somewhat stupid but I was surprised to find that the storytelling structure of each episode was episodic. I wouldn’t say that each episode is a completely self contained story but each had a well defined theme. It was more like a series of individual short stories that had a common continuity rather than one large story. In fact, most of the episodes don’t really end with a major cliffhanger to hook you in for the next episode but I found myself so entertained that I really wanted to see what would happen in the next episode. I also found the number of episodes and the length of each to be appropriate but I enjoyed it so much that I wished this had a few more episodes to it to further explore some story potential.
Update: A Korean remake (He Who Can’t Marry) of this was broadcast in 2009. It was a longer series at 16 episodes. It largely follows the same plot but it does go further in time than the Japanese one and actually explores the main couple’s relationship after they get together. The Korean version tends to make things more dramatic and tries to end episodes on cliffhangers. I would say that it doesn’t really do anything new. Some events/characters are better executed while others not as much. Whether you prefer the Korean or Japanese version I think will depend on what style you prefer. I preferred the Japanese one but the Korean one has its merits. For those familiar with the Japanese version, the biggest reason to watch the Korean version is for the later episodes that go beyond the storyline of the Japanese version. At 16 episodes it does drag a bit at times but the length is for the most part appropriate. At least it’s not your typical 20+ episode Kdrama series, which I have often felt was too long.