*Not spoiler free!*
Genre: Romance, Melodrama, Romantic Drama
Starring: Matsushima Nanako, Takizawa Hidaeki
Written by: Yukawa Kazuhiko
Synopsis: A teacher starts a taboo love affair with her student and suffers the consequences.
What It’s Really About: An look at the difficulties in reaching for personal freedom and independence from parental and societal expectations.
Watch When: You want to be confused and intrigued.
Usher | U Got it Bad
Episode 1: Hirose Michi and Kurosawa Hiraku first meet when he almost hits her with his motorcycle. She’s ambivalent about her job and her impending nuptials; he’s troubled and isolated. She urges him to go to the hospital after his fall; he ignores her and helps her find her engagement ring; when their eyes meet for the first time there is an immediate connection. It turns out that he’s a new student in her class, and the two quickly develop a close and unlikely friendship of mutual understanding and acceptance that leads them to moments of self-revelation.
Her father is the president of the high school public hearing. That’s how she got her job here. Otherwise, someone that young would never be able to become a full time instructor. She’s always worried about what other people think of her. She can’t do anything for herself.
You’ll inherit this hospital without doing anything.
On Michi and Power
In this drama we have a romance between an older woman and a younger man, a set up I always look forward to watching because of the reversals in gendered power dynamics they can explore. But there isn’t just an age gap here: our heroine is a teacher, and she falls in love with her student. So what we have to pay attention to is power.
When Michi and Hikaru first meet it’s apparent that she’s older than him, but they’re strangers. They know nothing about the other, and the societal roles each fulfill (teacher and student) have not yet been established. It’s in this context that they have their first connection–he smiles at her as he places her engagement ring in her palm, and Michi is immediately taken in. It’s a scene that will reverberate throughout the rest of the drama as a visual motif in Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam. They even recall it in their actions: later on Hikaru will get a pair of rings for them to wear, and they develop a sign for themselves where they touch fingers to show that everything is all right.
When they meet again they discover that Michi is Hikaru’s homeroom and math teacher. Her being his teacher him puts her in a position of power different from simply being older: she has power over him that is legitimized by an institution–the school–in which established hierarchies are fundamental to its mode of function. Michi’s position as a teacher doesn’t invest her with much power, though. She isn’t respected by her students. For example, her male students publicly leave sexist and sexual messages for her and her female students mistake this sexual harassment as wanted attention; in retaliation they play a cruel prank on her, locking her in a bathroom stall and dumping a bucket of water on her while taunting her to leave the school. Michi is treated as more of an outcast to be bullied than she is as a teacher to be respected. But I think Michi is implicated in her own reduction of power as a teacher: she tries to treat her students as if they’re friends. She wants to create a safe space for her students, to let them know that if they have a problem they can come to her with it (as it’s hinted at that she tried to do with Kinoshita), but she’s clumsy in her attempts. She cedes the authority that is inherent in her title; she hasn’t found a way to be open and approachable to her students without having them think that she’s on equal footing with them.
We can see this concession of power within minutes of her meeting Hikaru again. Before they enter her classroom she asks a favor of him, that he not tell anyone about her engagement. He has knowledge about her that he gained when they were strangers, and she needs him to keep that knowledge to herself now that they are no longer strangers and will be seeing each other almost every day. She’s dependent of him for something, and he in turn uses this to request that she not tell his mother about his bike.
Michi also lacks power in her personal life. She’s marrying a man she doesn’t love, she lives at home with an overbearing and demanding father, and she isn’t even sure if being a teacher is something she wants to do.
Despite all these reductions in power, Michi is still a teacher; she does have power over Hikaru. So the question becomes is she abusing her power? The answer is always going to be yes here, because no matter how close the two become, no matter how much they will come to identify with one another and comfort one another and be a witness to one another’s humanity, she is his teacher and he is her student. Her high school student. And you don’t sleep with your students! That being said, I love the story and our complicated protagonists, and I can’t wait to see how they’ll handle the shit storm that’s surely to engulf them.
- I already see the imbalance between our leads: Michi’s worried about the state of her future while Hikaru’s worried about getting in trouble with his mom.
- Her best friend is listening in on her call? That’s messed up.
- What are the consequences for doing this to a teacher? Surely they’d be expelled?
- She got the job cause her father’s the president of the high school public hearing, so we already know she isn’t as upstanding as she could be, accepting a position that amounts to nepotism (although I’m sure she simply acquiesced to her fathers demands).
- I’m struck by how public Michi’s life is. She always seems to be on display, always being judged by people who know details of her life that she hasn’t told them.
- We see Hikaru slinging his back pack over his one shoulder, like all the cool kids always do, but he’s actually doing it because he hurt his arm and refuses to go to the hospital–and with good reason, since his family owns one of the largest hospitals in town. After reading the synopsis of him as “troubled” I thought we were going to get some broody bad boy teenager, but he isn’t at all! He’s quiet without being taciturn, and while he does get into fights, he also seeks out companionship with the class outcast.
- The bike is a symbol of freedom and independence.
- In returning Hikaru’s phone Michi mimics the movement of his giving her her ring.
Episode 2: Hikaru acts out and is arrested when he discovers that his mother has arranged it so he won’t be expelled no matter what he does, and Michi goes after him; a rumor starts about Michi and Hikaru being more than just student and teacher; Michi apologizes to Masaru–who’s already begun wedding arrangements–and tries to apply herself more dutifully to what’s expected of her.
The same thing happened to me. When things get bad, she runs. She doesn’t have the guts to fight back when she gets scolded by her superiors. In the end, that’s the kind of person she is. – Kinoshita
- Michi gets in a taxi, leaving her Masaru and her family behind without so much as a call, and when the driver asks her where she wants to go she has no idea. Such a brilliant metaphor for the situation developing before us. She doesn’t know exactly what she wants, but she does know she doesn’t want to marry that man and do exactly as her father has planned for her.
- Girl. You are flirting with your student girl. Girl stop.
- I can understand why Michi’s so wary of marriage, considering what she sees between her mother and father.
- “Women bear evil on their left side,” and the camera pans to Michi’s left.
- Michi’s mother suspects she doesn’t want this marriage. She’s stubbornly (bewilderingly?) going down a path she’s aware she’s deeply uncomfortable with.
- There is something rather absurd about all this. I just can’t stop thinking that she’s falling for a 17 year old! It’s not the age difference, it’s his current age. Even his acting out in this way reminds me that in many ways he’s still a child. I mean, shoplifting?
- Note how all these quotes question Michi’s identity. Kinoshita, a student she’s hurt before, declares she’s a coward and a hypocrite; Hikiro asks her who she is; and she herself cannot say.
Hikaru: That’s reality for you. What the hell do you want? What’s the real you? Is it the teacher forcing herself to smile? Is it the fiance pretending to be happy? Or is it the perfect daughter in front of your parents? In the end, you can’t do anything for yourself.
Michi: I don’t even know myself. What am I doing? What am I doing?
Episode 3: Michi and Hikaru both wonder at their attraction to one another; Hikaru’s mother arranges for someone else to become Hikaru’s homeroom teacher, exacerbating the tension at school and causing Michi to avoid Hikaru; with Kiriko’s meddling, Masaru suspects Michi; Michi stands up to her father and commits to her true feelings for Hikaru.
Michi: Stop treating me like a child. Making the principal spy on me. Feeling like I’m being watched all day makes me sick.
Michi’s Mom: You know, the only one who can decide your life is you.
A crucial thing here is that Hikaru doesn’t doggedly pursue Michi. He doesn’t actually believe that a romantic relationship is something that could develop between the two of them. The decision is hers, and it’s emphasized with how he’s always the one waiting for her, and how Hikaru doesn’t even confess–Michi does. So this story really is about a woman “corrupting [a] youth”; it sidesteps the usual justification these types of stories have for their heroines, where, yes, they’re dating a student, but the student was the one who seduced them. Green Chair comes to mind, where the heroine’s student is unapologetic in his pursuit of her and is in many ways the instigator. Hikaru is not the instigator here, Michi is. She hugs him, she kisses him. This is important on two levels: first is that she’s making decisions as opposed to simply acquiescing to what’s expected of her, and second because it’s a direct challenge to how she’s been desired in this episode–here she is not the one being romantically or sexually acted upon, she’s the one doing the acting. And when she does it there is no violence about it, no dissent; it’s not a punishment and both their desires are considered.
This is the first and only decision she’s made for herself, both in the sense that she’s made it on her own and in the sense that she’s made it according to her desires, without regard to how others may view–or punish–her for it. Because Michi isn’t just afraid of the notoriety that comes with not doing as is expected of her, she’s not just afraid of the exposure–she’s afraid of the punishment. There are only rumors of some dalliance between her and Hikaru, and already she is sexually assaulted two separate times by 4 different men/boys, one of whom is her fiance and none of whom suffer consequences. That’s what she gets for wanting something that others think she should not have the freedom to want.
That word, freedom, is crucial for both her and Hikaru–she wants freedom from her overbearing father, freedom from a future she already sees smothering her (before her is her mother, married to a condescending, controlling, violent man), freedom from her own indecision and docility, and he wants freedom from his father’s death and his mother’s implicitly sexual concern and possessiveness. Both want freedom to want. Both want freedom to not be ostracized for their privilege (which intellectually I can understand, but which my gut rebels against).
- Reciprocation is a theme in their romance–she wipes at his bruise with her handkerchief, he wipes at her tears with it; it’s all about mutual care.
- I love the relationship between Michi and Kinoshita. Because Kinoshita has expectations of her, just as her father and her colleagues do, only her expectations are not that she bend to her will, but that she be truthful to herself and not be a hypocrite and a coward. It’s the same thing Hikaru wants. Kinoshita wants her to be better while her parents and fellow professors want her to stay in line and act appropriately.
- One thing I love about jdramas is that everythign happens so quickly. In Taiwanese dramas nothing happens and in Korean dramas you don’t actually know what the story will be until the 6th episode. But here we are at episode 3 and already we have our heroine speaking back at her father and our leads sharing a kiss.
- I like that Hikaru isn’t applauded for the rumors of getting with the teacher.
- The same male students who harassed her before now try to assault her. Her workplace is not safe for her, let alone the students. One of them actually says, “Maybe we’ll rape you.” And then her fiance assaults her.
Episode 4: (TW: rape, assault) Michi and Hikaru continue their secret love affair in
post-coital post-confession bliss; after deciding to be with Hikaru Michi discovers a new sense of assertiveness; Michi and Hikaru face ridicule and censure when rumors of their affair continue, but she sticks to her guns; Hikaru discovers something about Kinoshita; Michi makes a public declaration.
I’m happy. Very happy. – Michi
Many have commented that the most shocking thing about this show is that they actually have sex, but what I find most shocking is that they actually take the time to show that Hikaru is very much a student. The show doesn’t make him more of an adult than he actually is. The actor playing him was 16 when it was filmed, so he looks his age, and the character has the immaturities someone his age would have. He says things like “let’s run away together” and “I’m running away” in all seriousness; he buys a bike and doesn’t tell his
mommy mother; we actually see her tutoring him in math so he can do well on an exam; when she asks for some time apart to take care of the things in her life that are falling apart, he breaks up with her, telling her she’s “just like any other adult”; when they go on their date he displays a confusion about why they can’t just sit at tables necking that seems to stem from naivete more than anything else (“It’s my first time doing something like this. I don’t understand it well, but are we abnormal? That we can’t do things like couples? Is it wrong for us to say we like each other in front of others?”). This isn’t like in What’s Up Fox?, where our heroine is immature and diffident, while her 9 years junior suitor is worldly, self-sufficient, and self-assured. Here, we are never allowed to forget the exact nature of Michi and Hikaru’s societal relationship. For example, they spend most of their time together at school and most of the censure they face is at the hands of other students, like the scene where he’s in gym exercising with other students. She is a teacher, and he is a student, and there’s nothing that can change those facts. (But still, I cannot believe these two had sex. Already. In the school library. And then cover themselves with the library curtains.)
Hey, do you know about Plato’s Gyges ring? I heard from Kinoshita, whoever puts it on becomes invisible. If that were true then we would be able to see each other without worrying about others. Although we’re not together, it feels as if you’re watching over me. – Hikaru
When Hikaru gives Michi the rings it recalls the first moment they met. The invisibility they say their rings afford them recaptures the context of that first meeting, when they were neither teacher nor student, when they were just two people meeting.
Episode 5: Michi’s father kicks her out after her public declaration of love; Michi refuses to quit teaching because that would give credence to the notion that her relationship with Hikaru is wrong; Hikaru faces bullying by his classmates while Michi’s parents face harassing phone calls; Michi tries to mend her relationship with Kinoshita and help her; Michi and Marasu meet when her father falls ill.
All this time I’ve tried to be a good child, worrying about what others think and doing as you say. But that’s wrong! That’s not the true me! I realized that when I met him. – Michi
Michi is suddenly obstinate and accusatory. What a change we see in our heroine: the very first scene of the series opens with her hesitantly accepting a marriage proposal from a man she didn’t seem particularly excited to speak to, a perfectly respectable, even laudable, marriage proposal she then kept a secret from her family, her colleagues, and her friend, and now here she is, announcing to the entire world that she’s in love with Hikaru. The difference is that this is something she wants and she’s willing to fight for it to be real and to be acceptable, while with her situation with Masaru she wanted nothing to do with it and wanted it to disappear.
You can hide in here in the teachers’ room. But meanwhile Hikaru has to face the whole class–no the entire school on his own. As long as you don’t quit, he’ll have to endure the agony of it every day. – Kinoshita
We already know that the problem isn’t so much their age difference as it is their already established societal relationship as teacher and student. Michi knows this, too. In initiating and continuing to date Hiraku Michi is breaking social rules, but not rules that unfairly constrain her or reduce her humanity (unlike her father’s expectations and violence). She’s breaking a good rule that’s meant to protect students, to protect the young from predators. But Michi’s breaking of this rule, or taboo, is intimately related to her gaining some sense of autonomy. It’s as if instead of just standing up to her father and breaking off her engagement full stop, she’s using her feelings for and relationship with Hikaru as a means to escape, as a means to rebel. She’s going above and beyond just rebellion. I guess what I’m wondering is does her rebellion have to manifest in the form of dating Hikaru? Could she have rebelled against the constraints of her family and her social standing if she had nothing she wanted? If all she had was the knowledge of what she didn’t want? Could she have rebelled if her desires weren’t so outside of what is appropriate? I’m thinking that her affair (or romance) with Hikaru isn’t just about love–it’s about her escape.
What’s so strange about the way this is unfolding is that no one seems particularly upset on Hikaru’s behalf. No one seems to think he’s being abused. His mother says that Michi is manipulating him, but her concerns stem from her possessiveness and a peculiar fear of abandonment she exudes, and not from a place of horror or insult. Is it because of his gender? Is it because the age of consent in Japan (according to a quick Wikipedia search; sorry English teachers!) is 13? Everyone tells Michi she and Hikaru cannot be together because it’s shameful and embarrassing, but no one ever suggests that she might be hurting him. Now, I don’t think she’s abusing him, but I think it’s strange that no one else in the drama questions this.
Speaking of Hiraku’s mother, it’s clear that she harbors some wildly inappropriate sexual-romantic feelings for her son. The reaction she has to a teacher dating her son is curiously understated. She’s jealous. She’s threatened. She’s even angry. But she’s not repulsed. She doesn’t fear for Hikaru’s safety. If Michi’s romance with Hikaru is as much about her escape as it is about her desire, then is Hikaru’s romance similarly about escape? (Note that in this episode his physical means of escape, his bike, is taken away by his mother, who he’s always threatening to run away from.) It would be more subconscious on Hikaru’s part, though, because I don’t think he understands what’s going on with his mother. He suspects something, and he feels uncomfortable with her at times, but he doesn’t know that she’s attracted to him in that way. He doesn’t understand that she’s jealous. The drama paints Michi’s feelings for Hikaru as coming from a place of care and safety; they’re taboo, but ultimately good. Hikaru’s mother is painted in a different light. In episode 3 Hikaru slams a bottle of water on a table and it topples over and water gurgles out of it onto the floor; here she runs to the shady doctor in a state of sexual passion (after she was about to tell Hikaru she loved him more than Michi) and in her fervor she knocks over a mug of coffee, which falls on the floor. This motif of falling liquid signifies a lack of restraint, a dangerous wildness. And so, instead of simply taking Hikaru’s bike away, she sets it on fire. Michi and Hikaru are breaking a taboo, but her desires are downright perverse.
- I love the way he walks behind her when they walk into school. It’s like she’s going off to battle and she’s the captian and he’s her lieutenant or something.
- These students are cruel and merciless. Their bullying doesn’t only involve physical pain and humiliation. They take Hikaru’s clothes (metaphorically undressing him and marking him, as he has to spend the rest of the day without a uniform, like a scarlet letter) and then they hang them up, ruined, in the secret place he and Michi always use for their escape. Even this, they want to tarnish.
- Hikaru dreamed that Michi would say no to him. He anticipated her saying no, expected it. When Michi says no to Masaru, he ignores her and tells her he will never give up. :/
- Images of escape: looking out of windows, running hand in hand, Hikaru’s bike, the openness of the beach and the sea.
Michi: Mother, what should I do? The more I follow my heart, the more people around me are hurt.
Michi’s Mom: I don’t think you should worry about other people. In order for us to live, we end up hurting someone. Shouldn’t the most important thing be how the most important person to you feels?
Episode 6: Michi and Hikaru run away together; Hikaru’s mom goes to Masaru to help her track them down and is threatened by the very doctor she’s having an affair with; Michi and Hikaru visit his uncle to learn more about his father; Kinoshita tries to find out what happened to Michi and Hikaru, and we learn about the difficulties of her home life; Michi and Hikaru face Masaru’s rage.
In the end, Hikaru’s feelings for you will grow cold. He will come back to me.
Hikaru’s mother asks for Michi to “give him back,” as if she’s taken him and Hikaru has no choice in the matter; but he’s made some decisions too: as they were running from the school, he took the lead. She tells Masaru they’re both victims, and there’s this weird equation of her, the mother, with him, the lover.
It’s going to be tough to continue on a never-ending journey. …What’s waiting for the two of you is nothing but sadness and hardship. But I don’t think there are meaningless things of life in this world.
Michi and Hikaru being on the run from a society that wants them apart recalls Romeo & Juliet, but the narrative explicitly works against that narrative because his uncle tells them that no matter what happens they should choose to live.
Mom. I’m sorry. I can’t become like Dad. I want to live for the one I love. I want to live to make her happy.
This episode left me with more questions than answers. Like in the above quote, does Hikaru mean he’s sorry that he can’t become like his dad, or does her mean he’s sorry and then explain that he doesn’t want to become like his dad? This is different from before, when he thought studying and becoming a doctor would make his mother accept him and Michi.
Does Michi’s no longer being a teacher make their relationship more acceptable? No, as he is still a minor. But I think the show is trying to show us the hypocrisies of their environment, with how everyone is so upset at Michi and Hikaru but no one is concerned for his safety, and no one tries to help Kinoshita, who actually goes to look for them. She has to go to the person who is no longer a teacher for help, the person who chose to stop teaching because what she was doing was so frowned upon by her colleagues.
All the women in this show display a lack of power that is characterized by their victimization at the hands of the men in their lives: Michi and her mother are dominated by her father, Kinoshita is physically abused by her father, and Hikaru’s mother is manipulated by her lover (Evil Doctor; actually, their situation is intriguing because Hikaru’s mother has public power, and someone is working to take that power from her, as opposed to the other women here, whose subordination is taken at face value). This is more universal than in any of the more recent dramas that have come out, where it’s usually just the protagonist who is suffering from male aggression. It makes me think that what Michi is trying to escape from isn’t just her father’s control, but something even more pervasive–she’s trying to escape patriarchy. When they run away she and Hikaru leave behind everything: family, friends, and institutions–they escape from society as a whole.
- Michi publicly asks for 2 twin beds and privately gets into Hikaru’s bed.
- And again, when Michi doesn’t do exactly as he wants, Masaru’s anger makes an appearance, and he punishes her. His only response to her not wanting for herself what he wants for her is violence.
- I am not a fan of melodramatics, so when Masaru came and began fighting Michi and Hikaru, I a was disappointed. I felt I’d be much happier with a quiet contemplation of what it means for Michi to be breaking this taboo than a spectacle of violence from the people around her. But maybe that’s the point: that the response to her breaking this taboo is a disintegration of the fronts of politesse that everyone has been keeping up.
Episode 7: (TW: abuse, suicide) Michi and Hikaru try “finding freedom” by living on their own, away from family and friends and judgement; Evil Doctor uses Hikaru’s “elopement” to weaken Hikaru’s mother’s authority in the hospital; Kiri confesses to Masaru; a battered and desperate Kinoshita seeks help from an absent Michi.
I love the connection between Michi and her mother. When you look at the drama as a whole, you see a pattern of male abuse and female interdependence. Even Kiri, who is more in love with Marasu than she is friends with Michi, supports Michi, even though her motive isn’t friendship but her own desire and resentment. After her father kicks her out Michi’s mother invites her back, telling her to return any time she may have a problem. It matters so much that Michi calls her mom to tell her “I have been relying on you a lot.” She means that she’s taken her mother for granted for all the things people usually take their mothers for granted for, but within this pattern it means that her mother has served as a protector for her from her father’s derision and violence, and this becomes clearer when we discover Kinoshita’s mother (who her drunken father angrily accuses her of calling) is absent. The only functional male-female relationship is the one between Michi and Hikaru–which is ironic, considering the boundaries they broach in first creating and then continuing their relationship: the taboo relationship is the one that’s healthiest.
As for women abusing of men, I think that may be what the show explores with Hikaru’s mother. She serves as a foil to Michi. Both women are romantically and sexually attracted to this 17 year old boy, but Hikaru’s mom’s desires are so disturbing that they throw his romance with Michi in a kinder light.
On Michi and Kinoshita, On Michi and Hikaru
What can you do about it? You’re not even a teacher anymore, so could you butt out?
Kinoshita’s always been Michi’s harshest critic. Others condemn her and cast her out, but Kinoshita’s criticisms of her have a truth to them that reveal her weaknesses and hypocrisies. Unlike her other detractors Michi actually did hurt Kinoshita, and she did it to adhere to the very status quo that her other critics punish her for violating. With the above words Kinoshita challenges Michi to do what she was unable to before: now that she’s escaped her bullies and her father’s dominance, can she find the courage to stand up for Kinoshita? In essence, can she take what she’s done for her personal life and do it for her professional life? Can she show the same confidence and love and concern to Kinoshita that she showed to Hikaru, and rectify her past mistakes and failures towards her? Kinoshita is in many ways a mirror to Hikaru: she’s isolated in the same way Hikaru was, they both have troubled home environments, and they act out their fear and hurt in self destructive ways. I think Kinoshita is who Hikaru would be if Michi hadn’t fallen for him.
After speaking to Kinoshita Michi tells Hikaru her suspicions of her abuse. But when Hikaru immediately suggests they return to Tokyo to help Kinoshita, Michi’s first instinct is to worry that someone will see them, and the bit of peace they’ve carved out for themselves will be sacrificed. It’s selfish and it’s cowardly, and Hikaru’s taken aback, even disappointed in her, but I think it’s strangely wonderful that Michi can be these things in front of him, when she’s spent so much of her life trying to be the perfect daughter and the perfect girlfriend.
There’s this look that passes between Michi and Hikaru in the scene I just described that’s absolutely captivating: Hikaru says, “Let’s go to Kinoshita’s house.” Michi is surprised. This is not what she’s expecting Hikaru to say. She told him about Kinoshita’s situation, but it was supposed to be an anecdote over dinner, maybe something they could talk about and mull over. But it wasn’t something to immediately take direct action on.
Hikaru doesn’t notice anything strange, and he continues, oblivious to any possible disagreement between him and Michi. He tells her that Kinoshita would never ask for help and Michi answers with a sudden “But.” Hikaru asks her “But?” What “but” could she possibly have? For him there isn’t really a choice to be made, there’s only one possible response: Kinoshita’s in trouble; they can help her and they should. This is part of his youth, I think, how reckless he is, how open and sincere and unheeding of himself. It’s the same note than runs through both times he tried to run away and through his monologue about not believing Michi could ever love him, that he strikes when he says, “When I become an adult, will they all forgive us? If that’s so, I hope time will go by faster.” He’s almost naive, and I feel it’s these qualities that Michi finds so attractive in him. He doesn’t have the caution and hesitation Michi does, and doesn’t see any reason they shouldn’t go and help Kinoshita the next day.
Michi explains, “If we go to Tokyo, then someone might see us. And then we might have to run from here, too.” She doesn’t look at him as she says this, she’s looking down at her lap. It’s almost as if she’s speaking to herself, as if she’s unaware that Hikaru is listening to her. When she does look up Hikaru is staring at her but he says nothing, he’s so shocked by what she’s said. Her brow unknots and she looks away, and it’s a moment of self-recognition for her. In his face she sees the gravity of what she’s just said, and her instance of private deliberation is revealed. She sees how she chose herself and her happiness over Kinoshita and her problems, and she’s ashamed, because and she blinks and looks down, and Hikaru follows suit. And they sit in silence.
This is the clearest moment of gender reversal we’ve had so far in this drama: usually it’s the soft hearted woman who has to get her cold hearted male lover to be self sacrificing and to realize he has the power to effect positive change in others’ lives. It’s a great example of why I find romances where the woman is older to be so narratively powerful: Michi isn’t cold at all, and in fact has spent her whole life striving to be that person in other’s lives who doesn’t cause damage. Her affair with Hikaru is pretty transgressive in and of itself, but it’s even more so considering her previous obedience. So to have her self-awakening be insufficient, for the narrative to demand more of her, is why I feel her romance with Hikaru isn’t just romance for romance’s sake: it’s about freedom. Her and Hikaru’s longing for freedom isn’t just an empty motif that’s called on every time they meet an obstacle in their romance, but is actually intricately weaved within her narrative. The whole point of her romance is that it’s a means to achieve freedom; and perhaps it needs to be so extreme so that she can achieve it. A more conventional love perhaps wouldn’t ask enough of her for her to break from the demands of the status quo she was so beholden to. She needed something radical (or is it perverse?).
Hikaru doesn’t censure Michi. He just decides he’s going to go and help Kinoshita anyway. And after such a revealing and uncomfortable moment between them, after he sees her when she’s not at her best, Michi asks him to promise never to leave her, and he does. I think this is the episode I started to really root for them.
The book Hikaru hands to Michi to give to Kinoshita is entitled “Friendship.” That is so sweet. You know, I’ve been pretty indifferent to Hikaru up till now, especially considering my penchant for absolutely adoring the less aggressive male leads, and mostly I’ve seen him through Michi’s relationship with him. It’s only now, in an episode where he stays home while Michi goes off to work, that I’m starting to see him for who he is: he’s young, he’s honest, and he’s kind; he’s endearingly optimistic, and he has fairly clear ideas about right and wrong. He really doesn’t see anything wrong in his relationship with Michi. He’s challenged her before, like back in episode 2, when he asked her what it was she really wanted and pointed out how she used her position as a teacher to pull away from him, but I found their exchange here over dinner to be more genuine than those times: it lacked the threat for cliche and that slight but certain sense of absurdity I felt when he questioned her before. Here he wasn’t some punk kid telling his teacher to be authentic; he was confronting a situation where what he feels is right directly endangers what he longs for, and I think he saw Michi as an adult for the first time.
And speaking of women’s relationships, almost all Hikaru’s relationships are with women. Kinoshita is his closest (and seemingly only) friend. In the second episode he goes out drinking with the girls in his class, and, of course, falls for Michi.
- I like how we get to see that Michi’s absence affects people in ways other than anger or worry that she’s gone. She’s not exactly George Bailey, but Kinoshita needs her, even though she’d failed her before.
- If there’s anything a show can do to win me over, it’s domesticity.
- Hikaru says “I love you” to Michi as she’s sleeping, and instead of saying Sensei he uses her name.
- “Being beat up is one thing. But the thing she suffers from the most is probably being alone. I have you, but I don’t think she has anyone.” I love the look she gives Hikaru here. It’s not the look she gave him when they first met, when he was someone new and totally different from everything else in her life. It’s a look that says, “See, this is why I love you.”
Episode 8: Hikaru’s mother has Michi arrested, then proposes to drop the charges against Michi only if she promises never to see Hikaru again; after being rejected by Michi, Masaru goes to Kiri, who later deceives Michi and Hikaru; Kinoshita helps Hikaru and Michi meet up; Masaru talks Hikaru into submitting to Noble Sacrifice™.
I’m a little disappointed with the events of this episode, especially after episode 7 was so revealing and moving. I thought that this couple, with their commitment to one another and their honesty and all they’ve had to sacrifice in order to love one another, would never fall into the trap of purposefully hurting the other and sacrificing their relationship for the supposed good of the other.
Episode 9: (TW: rape, assault) After Hikaru leaves, Michi discovers she’s pregnant; Kiri visits Michi, apologizing telling her of her jealousy of her; outmaneuvered by Evil Doctor, the hospital board votes Hikaru’s mother out of her position; Michi disappears and tries to live life on her own.
On Michi and Freedom
I feel like this is when the drama almost loses me, because before Michi was in love with Hikaru, but she still had a self and a life outside of him, even though she dramatically changed her life to be with him. When she ran away with Hikaru and moved to the seaside with him, it was a choice she made (she could have chosen to remain a teacher), but now I feel like she has nothing else to do but wait for Hikaru. The drama rests more on the tension of Michi’s insubordination than it does just on her romance; in effect the romance of the show overcomes the overwrought melodrama its premise implies by making it a means of escape from the societal (patriarchal) constraints Michi faces, but when Hikaru starts making decisions on his own (displaying the very actions Michi is trying to escape) it all falls apart, because Michi’s pinned her escape on this one thing, and she doesn’t fight against Hikaru’s actions. Even without reading Hikaru’s letter, she “believe[s] in [him] and wait[s].” Instead of losing everything for her freedom, she loses everything for Hikaru. I guess this means you shouldn’t tie your freedom to another person: it’s dangerous and maybe isn’t even real freedom.
On Michi and Kiri
Why? I trusted you. I really trusted you.
This same line could be said to Hikaru. The difference is that Kiri betrayed Michi in order to punish her, and Hikaru betrayed her in order to “save” her; either way, both made decisions that directly affected her without considering her or knowing the whole picture. Kiri and Michi are not very close: Kiri says she was tired of everyone liking Michi. Does she not know about her students bullying her? About her father controlling her? About Masaru not actually caring about what she wants? What makes her think that anything about Michi’s relationship with Hikaru is “easy”? And has Michi never asked Kiri about her love life? Kiri leaves with, “I guess this means we aren’t best friends anymore,” but I don’t think they ever were. Michi was very isolated, and it wasn’t until Hikaru that she found someone she could really speak to, which makes his Noble Sacrifice™ all the more devastating.
Kiri reminds me of Kinoshita before Michi came and helped her: even with her limited knowledge of Michi she has a certain insight into her, just as Kinoshita had–for all her being bullied and misunderstood, Michi is so self-interested as to have been blind to Kiri’s attraction to Masaru, and to Kinoshita’s suffering physical abuse at home. (I’m not censuring her here; she should be self interested, should have the freedom to be that way, and I love that with Hikaru she’s found someone she can express those aspects of herself with.)
I regret leaving Sensei. I thought it was for her own good, but in the ned, I made her suffer. I don’t know what I want to do now. I feel that I can’t do anything towards the future. Kitai-san, why did you choose a job at a bank? What kind of dreams did you have to become a banker? Do you feel this job was worth it?
I’m sorry, but i don’t have time to listen to such nonsense.
It’s interesting how Masaru answers Hikaru’s question. Masaru doesn’t have Hikaru’s romanticism and optimism (which I think are the things that attract Michi to him). He gets this wondrous look on his face when Hikaru questions him, as if it’s been so long since anyone, even himself, has considered such idealistic questions. It shows how young Hikaru is, that he hasn’t become jaded yet, but it also shows how wholesome he is, that he would ask these questions of Masaru, a man who beat him and Michi up and positions himself as his superior and rival. Hikaru touches something in Masaru, I think, and it may be the same thing he touched in Michi when she smiled at him at the train station back in episode 7.
I think part of Hikaru’s story is one of a loss of innocence, only he doesn’t lose it because of his relationship with Michi. She doesn’t take it from him. Rather, it comes as a consequence of reaching adulthood. Hikaru is at a crossroads. He’s still so young himself (I love the detail of him writing his letter to Michi on notebook paper that still has the frayed edges on; it’s just so emblematic of something someone young would do), and if Michi has the baby, he’ll be partly responsible for raising another child. Again and again he comes up against adults and their hypocrisy and cynicism: here with Masaru; before when Michi hesitated before going to help Kinoshita. But unlike when he was so certain that the only thing to do was to help Kinoshita, he’s now confused and bewildered. I think he’s always had a sense of confusion about his life in general. He’s always been vaguely uneasy and anxious about his future and his relationship with his peers. It’s been vague but pervasive; but when confronted with concrete problems he’s always known what he wanted and how to proceed. That was the defiance he showed to Michi when he asked her who she really was and what she really wanted. But now the confusion and ambivalence he’s felt (how he keeps switching back and forth between being studious and working towards taking over the hospital and dropping out of school) is no longer indistinct: the crisis he faces isn’t far off in the future, but now. Will he be able to keep his idealism as he heads into adulthood, or will he become like Masaru and Kiri and Michi’s mother and his own mother and all the other adults who’ve made themselves small so as to feel their disappointment less?
On Hikaru’s Mother
The image of Hikaru’s mother standing there in the board room as all these men file out, ignoring her after they’ve fired her is really striking, especially when paying attention to gender roles in the show. I’ve always felt that she’s rather fragile, and that it’s only when she goes up against Michi that she is any real threat. Even against her own son she’s physically weak. In this episode she is betrayed, just as Michi was betrayed by Kiri. Evil Doctor is so manipulative: Hikaru’s mother confronts him about his professional treachery, and he turns it into a personal conversation about how if she had just loved him more and focused on him instead of Hikaru, she wouldn’t have been voted out of her position. In what universe does that make sense? That’s how abusers talk, making everything someone else’s fault. It’s infuriating to watch him sitting there in her chair, leaning back all comfortable as she stands before him with head bowed. She tries to separate Michi and Hikaru, and meanwhile she is stripped of power.
- Lol. Is Kiri smoking supposed to show how evil she is?
- I’m so glad Michi doesn’t fall for Hikaru’s little stunt; it’s one thing for a character to commit Noble Sacrifice™, but it’s another for their lover to believe them.
- I’m not sure if Hikaru realizes his mother’s feelings for him, but Michi certainly does.
- I love love love that Michi and Kinoshita have become close; I wish that they spoke about more than just her relationship with Hikaru, though. I would love to see them talk about their parents, about the other students at school, about how to make friends, and about the society they live in. What does Kinoshita think of Michi’s parents’ marriage, and what does seeing Kinoshita’s father make Michi think of her own father, I wonder?
- Hikaru writes to Michi and her father reads the letter and keeps it from her. It’s an invasion of privacy; he feels entitled to make decisions for Michi, even after all her rebellion. Then he orders her to have an abortion, an extreme violation of her body, and lies to her. He tells her Hikaru will never come back, but he knows he has every intention to. Hikaru wants to try to make things right, wants to try to adhere to the demands of society as much as they can, and he still is unhappy. Is the problem, then, that Michi and Hikaru are flouting social dictates? I don’t think it is. I think his problem is that Michi and Hikaru are flouting him.
- The problem with Noble Sacrifice™ is that Hikaru is making decisions on his own: when he does that they stop functioning as a unit, as a couple, and it’s comparable to Michi’s father making unilateral decisions for her life without even thinking of consulting her.
- This is the third time Michi is sexually assaulted.
- “I just wanted to watch a happy family crumble.” This drama is full of angry, vindictive women. Kinoshita, Kiri, and now Hikaru’s old tutor. What made her think Hiakru’s family was happy?
- Their rings make them invisible, and to escape her father’s violence Michi disappears.
- “As long as I’m by your side, I don’t need anything.” Hikaru’s mother tells him this, and it almost word for word mirrors what Michi said to him back in episode 7.
Episode 10: (TW: suicide) After reuniting, Michi and Hikaru decided to no longer “run or hide” from those who disapprove of them; Michi visits Hikaru’s mother; Michi and Hikaru encourage each other to make amends with their families; Michi tries to save Hikaru’s mother from a drastic decision; Michi’s mother reflects on her marriage; Masaru rears his head once again.
On Michi and Hikaru
I don’t want to make my mom suffer anymore, but she will never accept us. I don’t know what to do anymore!
Hikaru’s life is in so much flux: a few days ago he was in LA studying hard to be accepted by Michi’s family, before that he was in school in Japan working to become head of the hospital so that his mother might accept him and Michi, before that he was at best ambivalent about his future, and now he’s working at a gas station to support Michi and their baby, with no plans of taking over the hospital. There’s an incredible disorder to his life, and I think it’s a manifestation of his confrontation with adulthood. Most romances with an older woman and a younger man explore the ways in which the younger man is still “capable.” They tend to do this by making the younger man mature and responsible, usually in contrast to the older woman’s late blooming self-actualization. But Majo No Jouken is different. Hikaru isn’t any more mature than Michi is, and he’s shown as still very much a teenager. Michi reaches her maturation much earlier than Hikaru does: in fact, as she gains confidence and direction, Hikaru becomes more confused.
Hikaru’s mother’s suicide attempt recalls what Hikaru’s uncle had said back in episode 6: that no matter what Hikaru and Michi face, they should never give in to their despair and commit suicide. In saving Hikaru’s mother Michi honors that. The Michi who saves her is so different from the Michi we first met, the one who backed away from developing a relationship with Kinoshita, who couldn’t stand up for herself. Some latent drive for helping and saving others was triggered in her when she met Hikaru (probably because he was the only one around her who was open to receiving help from her) and now she’s brave enough to try and help others.
I’m confused by Michi’s decision to break up, but I think it is in response to Hikaru’s confusion (he who has always been so sure) and to her seeing him interact with his mother for the first time. She’s seen them each seperately , but she’s never witnessed how his mother treats him. There’s a frightening desperation in his mother’s voice when she asks why she has to live when she has nothing left to live for, and Michi’s face shows her realization that this is what she could lose Hikaru to, to his mother’s need for him, to her apparent inability or unwillingness to live without him. Her escape is different from his: she can leave her father without worrying about his safety or well being, but Hikaru is tied to his mother in ways Michi isn’t to her parents; her mother tells her to be selfish while his mother tells him (and dramatically demonstrates) that she literally cannot live without him.
- Again with the spilled liquid. Only this time Hikaru’s mother does it on purpose. And then she tries to drown herself.
- I don’t see any real reason for Michi t o remain friends with Kiri, and I feel Michi is much closer to Kinoshita than she’s ever been with Kiri.
- “You’re just like your father, the man that I fell in love with at first sight.” NO. Stop. Stop projecting your feelings for dead your husband onto your son.
- Masaru feels trapped, too. By his job and his lowly position in it and his inability to talk back to his superiors.
- Hikaru stays there to watch over her because something is clearly wrong. I still don’t think Hikaru has a good grasp of his mother’s feelings towards him.
[Michi's hand, which Hikaru doesn't take because he thinks they can find a way that doesn't involve running away, and his mother's hand, which he takes because he's starting to understand the magnitude of her dependency on him.]
Episode 11: Hikaru cares for his mother; Michi begins a new job; Michi’s mother insists on a divorce; after Michi breaks up with him, Hikaru returns to his troubled and reckless ways; scandal erupts at Kurusawa Hospital under Evil Doctor’s direction; Michi and Hikaru meet again and Michi falls sick.
I have no intention of letting little brats like you do me.
Pfft. Omg Michi. I have a sneaking suspicion she said “fuck” not do.
Dear, do you remember what you said when we got married? You asked me if I would live for our unborn child. At that time I was recognized for my musical talent, and I was going to study the piano abroad. But that meant I would have had to abort Michi. You told me no matter what you would make me happy. Is this what you meant by happiness?
I just love Michi’s mother too much not to quote her here. Michi and Hikaru were willing to sacrifice near everything to find their freedom,and now we know that Michi’s mother sacrificed her talent and her ambition to gain some sense of familial happiness. It’s devastating to see what has become of the promise her husband made her.
This is called “The Original Sin.” In it, Adam and Eve give in to seduction and consume the forbidden fruit. From then on,humans were banned from Paradise forever.
I cannot believe I never considered the Christian symbolism in this drama! Their world of freedom that they perpetually are unable to reach as Paradise! God giving Adam knowledge and their meeting working as an analogy of their self revelation! The rings as a symbol of eternity!
The reason I supported her all this time wasn’t for her sake, but for mine. In exchange for giving birth to Michi, I gave up my dream. I never told anyone, but it was always stuck in my heart as I went on with my life. But Michi fell in love with you. And no matter what others around her say, she’s trying to carry out her feelings. Seeing her like that made me feel I did the right thing in giving birth to her. I didn’t make a mistake. She taught me that. Please, please save her.
Wow. A woman actually gets to talk about what she felt like after choosing not to have an abortion and it’s not all rose petals and joy.
Oh god, I’ve been rather reserved with this show, analyzing it but keeping my emotions in check throughout, but when Michi and Hikaru meet again I have to say was a goner. It’s so perfectly set up: Michi is once again a teacher, but at another school, and Hikaru is no longer a student. She actually wants to be a teacher now, and she does it on her own terms. She’s honest with herself and her students. She’s unafraid of them, though they remain bratty and uncooperative. They meet at a museum at an art exhibition, a place that is the embodiment of Hikaru’s optimism: what could be farther from a bank? Hikaru hears her voice and turns to see her lecturing, mirroring how he would gaze at her in class. And then she turns with her students, heading towards him. And when their eyes meet her students are milling about around him, and they are both anonymous, invisible, just as they had once pretended, perfectly encapsulated for that one moment in a place where no one knows and no one cares about their relationship. They are burden-free, just like the very first moment they met.
On Michi and Hikaru
Kinoshita: Why did you guys break up?
Hikaru: I don’t even know… I wonder what I was to Sensei? Feeling like this, I don’t feel like doing anything. And I can’t think of the future like you.
Kinoshita: Hey, you want to go the art museum sometime? Right now there’s an Italian Renaissance showcase…
Hikaru: Sorry. I’m not in the mood for stuff like that.
I was struck when Hikaru uttered those last words because they reminded me so much of what Masaru had answered when Hikaru had asked him why he’d become a banker. He’d said, “I don’t have time for such nonsense.” And it’s with that connection that I was able to make sense of this last episode.
The tension from this episode doesn’t come from the will-they-or-won’t-they scenario we’re presented with. It comes from the reversal in character we see in our leads from when we first saw them. Michi is a far cry from the frightened, lying woman we met 11 episodes ago: she’s managed to find some kind of peace, and she lives her life according to her own terms. Hikaru has not been so lucky. He’s lost, and it’s something that has been happening to him since episodes 8 and nine, when he broke up with Michi in order to “save” her–when he made a decision for her without her knowledge. After he returns he tells Masaru (in that same conversation where he so sweetly reveals his idealism) that he wishes he’d never left her, and that he doesn’t know what to do. Before he breached the trust he and Michi had formed Hikaru had always known what to do, even as he’d been troubled and angry: when school was too much for him he ditched; when he thought Michi could never love him he decided to run away; when Michi disagreed with him about helping Kinoshita he decided to do so on his own.
When Hikaru gave in to Noble Sacrifice ™, he in effect did what all the other men in Michi’s life had been doing to her: he made a decision for her because he thought he knew what was best. This last episode is a kind of purging of the pessimism that has been building in him ever since that act. Hikaru’s decision-making is tied to his confrontations with adulthood. It’s like each decision he makes in his relationship with Michi is a step towards becoming an adult. I’ve mentioned before that part of Hikaru’s story is a conflict between the innocence or optimism of youth and the cynicism that may come with adulthood; it’s only now that it becomes a little clearer to me that what Hikaru’s interrogating may very well be his own complicity with patriarchy. In this episode Hikaru is faced with one of the most serious decisions he’ll probably ever have to make: whether to listen to Michi and not have her get an abortion, or listen to his own judgement and have her have it–thereby ignoring her and what she wants to do with her body. Everyone gives Hikaru this power, from the doctors down to even Michi’s mother, who believes he’s the only one who can talk her out of her decision. And he decides that she’s going to have the abortion. It’s only after Michi tries to escape from the hospital and she begs him not to make her go through with it that he relents. They return to the library–that site of Michi’s first independent decision, and there they switch their rings to their left hands (indicating marriage). And when she asks him to say her name he does–so she can hear, this time.
- Now Michi doesn’t avoid the truth when she goes on interviews; she’s no longer aimless and she has a purpose.
- Hikaru spends most of the episode wearing black, but at the end he’s wearing white.
- Michi wakes up! It’s the exact opposite of romeo and juliet–she wakes up! (Remember what Hikaru’s uncle said in episode 6?)
- Hikaru has called Michi by her name before: back in episode 7 when he told her he loved her as she was sleeping.
- I’m sure there’s tuff that could be written about Michi and her body (what it means when she falls sick, how it’s made public, how it’s a target of violence, how she becomes pregnant and her story is imbued with Christian iconography), but I’ll leave that for the next time I watch the show.
- Ugh, none of the men are punished for any of the things they do.
On the Ending
What does it mean that she has a miscarriage after all the violence that’s been perpetrated on her body? That she loses her baby when she’d wanted to keep it against her father’s orders? I feel like this is when the show really falters: it was daring enough to have Michi and Hikaru sleep together and to have Michi become pregnant, so why not have them raise a child together? The image they would make wouldn’t be any more absurd than the one Michi and Hikaru already make in the eyes of their society. Furthermore, it feels unfairly manipulative to have her wake up smiling after losing her baby, and have her story end there, as if her being pregnant was nothing more than an empty plot point.
Having her wake up smiling to see Hikaru beside her after she’d fought so hard to keep the baby is an incongruous image, once you actually think about it. How will she react once she knows she’s no longer pregnant? I’ve read some interpretations of the show as having a sad ending, that Michi either dies or stays in a coma and what we see is only a dream Hikaru is having. I don’t think there’s anything in the story to support that reading, but the more I think about it, the more I reconsider my initial joy at the ending. I do think Michi lives and wakes up, but I feel more troubles may lie ahead of them in the aftermath of her miscarriage.
With these considerations, I think the real happiness to be found in the ending comes with Michi’s summary of her life philosophy:
It’s not that I’m waiting for a miracle. I don’t believe in miracles. Rather, it’s a combination of love, will, courage and other things like that that make a miracle happen. So I don’t want to lose hope.
I think freedom is the joy of living or the insistence of a will.
Michi’s still a dreamer, she still wants freedom, but she knows that freedom doesn’t exist in some distant place she and Hikaru can escape to: it’s no longer a beam of light shining down on them from up high, or a little seaside home where they exist alone. It exists in autonomy, in free will, in her making a choice–i.e. to not get an abortion even at the risk of her own life–and having that choice respected by all the people who would want to make the decision for her. She didn’t get the miracle that would have saved both her and her baby, but because for her a miracle isn’t an inexplicable event, but the result of applying work to compassion, her not getting the miracle will not be so devastating as to incapacitate her. She–and Hikaru–will be able to move on from it. And so, in this romance whose purpose is freedom, the true “happy ending” doesn’t come in Michi and Hikaru’s reunion, but in the prospect of them being able to work on the realization of their freedom after Michi has finally been able to articulate it.
The premise of this show promises sentimental melodrama about the consequences of giving in to passionate love, and while Majo No Jouken certainly has that, I was pleasantly surprised by how much more it delivers. The show explores what women suffer at the hands of male violence, how societal expectations restrict choice and freedom, and considers the confrontation between youth and adulthood, idealism and cynicism. The central love affair is as much about our heroine and hero achieving romantic love as it is about them wresting themselves from their societal constraints, and the show itself is as much a romantic melodrama as it is a school and family drama, with strong subplots that detail school and familial disfunction and disintegration. It’s full of women who each have their own stories and journeys, who are supportive and vindictive and hurt and in love and disappointed in what has become of their lives. The show has a generous visual vocabulary, though at times its insistence on symbols becomes cliche and overdetermined, and commits to a boldness I would have loved to have seen from Kimi Wa Petto. It comes this close to falling apart in the last episode, and I was scared we were going to enter Anego levels of wtf-ery, but ultimately Majo No Jouken remained steady in its course. I can see why it’s a classic, and I already want to rewatch it without stopping every few seconds to take notes.
And lastly, I don’t know who the Nya subbers are, but thank you for your work! 15 years later, and people are still enjoying it!