- Kikazaru Koi') and Sou were high school sweethearts whose relationship was aided by their mutual friend Minato. (Minato was best friends with both and had feelings for Tsumugi, but kept those feelings to himself when he realized that Tsumugi had a crush on Sou.) Tsumugi fell for Sou's voice when he read an essay of his at a school assembly, and as a couple they bonded over their shared love of music (especially the band Spitz).
- But then Sou got diagnosed with hearing loss soon after the trio's graduation, and he was so overwhelmed that he hid his disability from his hometown friends by moving to Tokyo for college. After going completely deaf in college, Sou broke up with Tsumugi via a text claiming he'd fallen for someone else, when really he loved her so much that he believed it'd be too painful for both of them to no longer hear each other's voices or enjoy music together like before. Now, in the present, eight years have passed, and Tsumugi shares an apartment in Tokyo with her little brother while working at a record store and dating Minato. She thinks she's over Sou and is about to move in with Minato, until she unexpectedly crosses paths with Sou at a subway station on her way to an apartment viewing.
- Tsumugi almost immediately begins taking sign language classes to better communicate with Sou, and Minato—grateful to have his best friend back and sensing that Sou and Tsumugi's romance might eventually be rekindled—amicably breaks up with Tsumugi before his own potential resentment and jealousy can ruin the trio's renewed friendship. As the series approaches its conclusion, seemingly everyone in Tsumugi and Sou's lives is asking them, "Why aren't y'all together?" The lead exes do want each other back, but can they make a relationship between a hearing person and a non-hearing person work? Can Sou stop fixating on what they've lost and still might lose enough to give their love another chance?
- This is one of multiple Asian adaptations of the American, largely NYC-focused, romantic anthology series 'Modern Love' that were released in 2022.
Speaking of bonuses, I also thoroughly enjoyed episode 7, the shortest and the only anime episode of 'Modern Love Tokyo'. In it, an
office worker named Tamami who doesn't feel special often spends time at a
bar drinking wine and doodling. When the bartender unknowingly plays her favorite song from high school ("You May Dream" by Sheena & The Rokkets), Tamami reminisces about her short-lived romance with one of her schoolmates. Back then, she found a boy named Rin playing that song on the piano in their school's empty gym/auditorium, and they bonded over being Sheena & The Rokkets fans. Thinking
about that time also reminds adult Tamami of how her art teacher encouraged her
to have confidence in her skills, which motivates her to start posting her drawings on Instagram. She gains a following there, which leads her to reconnect with Rin, who's a professional musician now.
Each episode is under half an hour long, but it took me a while to finish all 50 of them because I would only watch this show when I was eating. 'Shinya Shokudo' tends to be quite mellow and cozy-feeling, and since I'd already seen most of it previously, I figured watching it while eating my meals would help maintain my attention span as I progressed through the series. I wouldn't always remember to turn the show on when I sat down to eat, but I remembered often enough to start mentally referring to my viewing sessions as, "Let's eat and cry while watching other people eat and cry." (There's a lot of eating and crying on this show, y'all.)
Even though I'm not left with any more affection or nostalgia for 'Shinya Shokudo' than I already had before, there are no words to describe how powerful it was for me to see the "Cream Stew" episode (S2E6) again. I saw the young sex worker in the all-white suit and her white shoes and her updo come on screen, and memories of studying that episode and its script in class with Matsuhima-sensei at JCMU came flooding back to me. That was the episode that started it all, that inspired me to seek out the rest of the series in the first place, so taking that episode in anew meant a lot to me.
I can't say that the Netflix seasons add anything spectacularly new to the series overall, and that was probably intentional on the production team's part since aside from brighter lighting and clearer film resolution, the visual and tonal continuity between seasons 1-3 and seasons 4-5 is pretty seamless. The ending theme songs are switched out almost every season, but "Omoide" by Suzuki Tsunekichi (RIP) reigns as the opening theme song for every single episode. With everything that matters about the show remaining the same, much of the plot being centralized inside or around one location (the titular diner run by everybody's favorite gangster-turned-chef), and many of the same actors making multiple appearances... honestly the most obvious signs of change and the passage of time that I noticed were the cellphones that characters used. You glimpse the full gamut of how cell phone technology in Japan evolved from 2009 to 2019, and I don't know why that's so fascinating to me, but it is.
So there you have it, a shorter than usual J-drama roster this time around. If I had to pick a favorite between the two new shows I watched—which I do, because I always pick a favorite when reviewing J-dramas—I'd have to give it to 'Silent'. Even though it didn't give me what I was looking for romance-wise and was pretty subdued as a whole, learning more about deafness and the deaf community in Japan made seeing the show worth it. The care and dignity with which it's written are top notch, and watching the film CODA (2022 Oscar winner for Best Picture) in the midst of watching 'Silent' made me appreciate the latter even more. Give it a try if you are interested in representations of disability in media, prefer gentle love stories, or want to hear "Subtitle" by Higedan again and again.
Now, off I go to find more J-dramas!