After revisiting an old favorite, Hero, and watching its recent sequel, I followed actor Abe Hiroshi to another of his past roles as the main character in Kekkon Dekinai Otoko. This is likely my most favorite character of his that I’ve seen to date–he plays a successful architect named Kuwano Shinsuke with a solitary lifestyle of his own choosing. He has no qualms with eating alone in restaurants, does not allow anyone but his mother into his home, and relies heavily on his charismatic colleague to mediate all customer interactions. This is a man bent on self-satisfaction. He does not care if diets heavy on fatty meats and milks are detrimental to his high cholesterol–he will continue to eat at all-you-can-eat barbecues and drink his daily glasses of whole milk. But through his continued interactions with the people around him, particularly a few strong-willed women, he starts to appreciate human connections.
Each of the twelve one-hour episodes can stand alone as an inspection of another aspect of Kuwano’s life. The titles all follow a question format along the lines of, “So what if I _?!” The questions come across as defensive, and usually highlight a habit or preference that is either mildly or greatly influenced by another person (or dog) in a different direction. Despite the episodic nature of the series, there’s a noticeable change, as minute as it may be, in Kuwano’s way of viewing and communicating with others. They, in turn, begin to better interpret his actions and comments–very often he says one thing, but means the opposite. When the two sides fail to connect, misunderstandings result in some hilarious turns of events.
Characters & Influence
All of the significant characters appear in the first episode: Kuwano’s coworkers Eiji and Maya, his neighbor Michiru and her dog Ken-chan, and doctor Hayasaka Natsumi. While there are a couple of male influences on his life, the biggest pushes come from the female cast, all of whom differ greatly in their own goals and outlooks. But even without the rest of the cast, Kuwano is a fascinating subject of study on his own–not always in a good way, but always in scenes that entertain. Abe Hiroshi’s admirable acting comes through when I can sit for entire sections with absolutely zero dialogue, just watching his expressions and reactions to the world around him. The dismay on his face each time someone re-routes his short-lived path to the Adult section of his local video store is so painful I can feel it in my gut. The satisfaction and pleasure in his smile when he completed his model of the RMS Titanic perfectly exemplified his joy in building.
It seems that the women in his life, particularly his coworker and his doctor, are the ones who most understand Kuwano’s thought process. It takes his neighbor a much longer time and numerous encounters for her to see past his grumpy exterior. His move to assist isn’t always immediate, but he almost always ends up in the right place when most needed. The back and forth helps each side grow and better appreciate the other.
When it comes to his work as an architect, his selfishness and love for the kitchen take the stage. He is renown for his skill, but also for his lack in negotiation. It’s a troubling pairing for him and his coworkers–people who admire his abilities and want to see him succeed, but who also agonize over his repeated refusal of work and self-marketing. After a few head-to-head disagreements with both Maya and Eiji, he learns that compromise isn’t always such a bad thing–sometimes the changes are actually quite educational and influential, such as when Kuwano accommodates a client’s request for floral wall. The initial idea sounded horrific, but the adjustment to a mural was surprisingly tasteful.
If there’s a character in this show capable of stealing the light away from Kuwano, it’s not who you would expect. The runner-up for most charismatic is Ken-chan, Michiru’s pet pug. At the beginning, Kuwano only hears his neighbor’s baby voice sweet-talking, and doesn’t realize that Ken is a dog–he misunderstands that Ken is Michiru’s boyfriend. Once he does learn the truth to Ken’s name, there’s a time of distrust between the two where Kuwano only sees the dog as an inconvenience and burden. But when an emergency arises that lands Ken-chan in Kuwano’s care, we see a softer side to our protagonist that involves gourmet dog meals, meandering walks, and some serious eye-to-eye communication.
Kekkon Dekinai Otoko is hands down one of my favorite J-drama to date, and one I highly recommend to others seeking a series with more substance that isn’t in any hurry to prove itself to anyone. This is a journey in the life of one man and those who surround him. You’ll find yourself flabbergasted, frustrated, chortling, and jumping to the next episode.