Smile is a Japanese dorama series which attempts to take on the controversial theme of racism in Japan. It definitely didn’t sound like the kind of series that I’d normally pick up but I decided to give it an episode or two since Aragaki Yui would be playing a major role in it.
Synopsis: Hayakawa Vito (Matsumoto Jun) has a Filipino father and a Japanese mother, but he was born and raised in Japan and has never visited the Philippines. The ever-smiling Vito works at Machimura Foods during the day, and at night, he works a part-time job trying to make his dreams come true. One day during an incident at a bookstore, he meets a girl named Mishima Hana (Aragaki Yui), who lost her ability to speak due to an accident. But even though she can’t speak, Vito is drawn to her beautiful smile. However, Vito becomes wrongly suspected by the police for a crime, and after meeting the lawyer Kazuma (Nakai Kiichi), the issue begins to grow… Together, Vito, Hana, and Kazuma will go through challenging times and have to overcome many obstacles. –Tokyograph
The plot revolves around Hayakawa Vito’s life struggle against racism in Japan and sure enough, this being a dorama series, it’s blown out of proportion to the point that it’s become painfully unrealistic. There’s a fair amount of weeping, sobbing and gnashing of teeth plus a sweet side story but the drama was generally not as well executed as it could have been and so alot of the plot twists and developments lose their impact. Also, 2/3rds of the story was told through flashbacks which was thankfully not too obtrusive. The major plot lines get resolved and dealt with eventually by the end of the show though there are some little holes here and there that I would advise be ignored.
Matsumoto Jun takes on the role of Hayakawa Vito, protagonist and half filipino (in the show) who just happens to take the brunt of a country’s worth of racism. Granted, I don’t particularly like this guy much due to his dorky looks and generally weird take on the characters he gets cast in, but at least he was lesssssssssssss (his millions of fangirls are forcing me to stay my insults) unbearable than how he was in Hana Yori Dango. His acting definitely needs to be improved as there were many points in the series where I’d be confused as to what’s going on with his character.
Nakai Kiichi plays Kazuma, the lawyer who decides to defend Vito in court due to certain reasons. As a veteran actor who’s seen his share of successes, he did a very good job. It’s just a shame that the whole Matsumoto Jun thing prevented me from feeling the connection of their two characters.
Aragaki Yui starrs as Mishima Hana, a psychologically mute young girl with a dark secret and also Hayakawa Vito’s love interest. This type of role meant that Aragaki Yui had to really work on her body language and facial expressions so that she can convey to the viewer what her character is trying to ‘say’. I was thoroughly impressed with her effort as she managed to do what the director and script required as well as bring her unique brand of cuteness into it. Some parts of it seem forced as her character would be almost literally throwing herself at Hayakawa Vito but I don’t know if that’s Aragaki Yui’s fault or the scriptwriter’s.
Aside from one or two shots, the entire series’ visuals is typical of Japanese doramas. Not much to say here.
Soundtrack: Smile’s OST has a few gems in it but even the unremarkable tracks were used very well in the show itself. At no time was I bored of the soundtrack and the music would always enhance the scene it was played in. Good quality orchestral music with an emphasis on flutes and acoustic guitar makes up most of the OST. No synthesizers used as far as I can tell.
Smile fails spectacularly at what it set out to do but the constantly evolving plot keeps things interesting enough to watch till the end. Dramatic scenes weren’t lacking but they lacked the kind of punch that productions such as 1L of Tears were able to deliver. BUT I’m willing to forgive some of that because Mishima Hana’s side story was very well done and woven almost seamlessly into the main plot. Fans of Aragaki Yui must give Smile a go but any other dorama watcher probably wouldn’t be missing much if they decided not to pick up this series.