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Wednesday, February 3, 2016

'The 101st Proposal' -- Never give up, even when it gets weird.


In my little bit of research coming into working on The 101st Proposal (simply listed in my files as Proposal 101, which sounds like it could be about a huge corporation rather than marriage), I saw multiple websites claiming that this show helped to usher in the Golden Age of Japanese drama. In particular, it was made in 1991, a fact not lost on me as soon as I watched the opening.

I'm not at all familiar with J-drama prior to this show -- this may well be the oldest non-tokusatsu show I've seen -- but it definitely does have all the earmarks of Japanese drama as I know it. The same pacing, the same music cues, the same level of melodrama. But there's something distinctly Western about its choice of theme and how it approaches it. Like the actual core of the piece is stereotypical American rom-com, and I do wonder if the 90s was when non-sci-fi entertainment and culture started to merge a bit more between East and West, leading to what we think of as J-drama now. (This isn't my area -- I could be off base, but fascinating if so, no?)

Stop me if you've heard this one. Boy meets girl. Boy falls madly for girl. Girl isn't necessarily against him as a person, but does not have nearly the same level of interest. Girl says no. Boy swears that he will make girl love him. Now couch that very familiar, very Western romance plot in a background of o-miai and there's The 101st Proposal.

'Boy' in this case is Tatsuro, a lovable loser with a heart of gold who's been rejected at 99 marriage interviews and is going for lucky 100. 'Girl' is Kaoru, a refined classical musician widowed at the altar three years prior and poked into the dating matchmaking scene again. Tatsuro loves Kaoru instantly -- I mean look at her, can you blame him? -- but the feeling isn't mutual. And so proceeds a series of mishaps, misunderstandings, and attempts at winning her heart, framed by their respective siblings and associates.

I'll be blunt -- I'm not a fan of the 'I'm gonna love you until you love me' brand of fiction, if only because I've seen how that tactic goes in the real world and I don't like the idea of putting out TV shows even speculating that this kind of behavior works. That's a very 'real world' thing of me, and that's something that a lot of people can suspend their disbelief on, but it was my sticking point all through working on this project. I could see Tatsuro was a nice dude, but I kept wishing I could just reach through the screen and grab him by the ear and tell him that letting Kaoru have some space would be a far better tactic. Maybe she'd be more open to seeking him out on her own later, and even if she didn't, both of them would be a lot less stressed.

And now we see why I don't write a lot of romance.

However. And I will genuinely say this for it. While a lot of shows of this ilk present the girlfriend/wife/whatever as a reward simply for not giving up, Tatsuro is at least a decent human being who cares about others and doesn't like the idea of women in his office being mistreated. So we're not watching the wish fulfillment of a jerk whose only positive trait is perseverance. And yeah, time is actually taken to get to know both involved parties, so Kaoru isn't framed as a frigid bitch for not being interested. Her hesitation, all things considered, is pretty damn understandable.

That aside, the layering of plots, the pacing, the individual character arcs -- all of those are interesting. So even though the actual crux of the show is a thing I actively don't like in people, the show proper is solid and well written. And yeah, I can see how this was an early influence in the J-drama we all know now. If it weren't for the video quality and fashion choices, I could see this being a recently made show.

Also, you get a moment or two of my favourite thing ever: Americans acting in English in a J-drama. You know exactly what I'm talking about.

The 101st Proposal is available to watch on Crunchyroll right now.