I like to get cerebral with my entertainment. And since I don’t feel like writing about books, I shall write about Asian dramas! Specifically, two live action adaptations of the same manga: once in Japanese (Nodame Cantabile; also the original manga is written by a Japanese mangaka in (obviously) Japanese) and then again in Korean (Naeil Cantabile). (Naeil means Tomorrow in Korean therefore the alternate title.)
Disclaimer: I claim no mastery or expertise over dramas. The following is really self-indulgent. I have things to say.
The manga was written by Tomoko Ninomiya and is complete at 23 volumes, boasts two seasons of anime adaptation. The Japanese live action adaptation was very successful with one full season (11 episodes), 2 specials (2 hours each) and 2 movies. The Korean live action adaptation is complete at 16 one hour length episodes.
A general synopsis, in my own words, would be: Chiaki, a prodigal pianist, is stuck in Japan because of a childhood trauma involving planes and disaster that has left with an insurmountable fear of flying and water. He desires to become a conductor but battles against ennui and hopelessness with the thought of not being able to study with his desired master abroad. At the tertiary level music school he attends, he hears the sound of the piano one day and he follows the sound to see Nodame (Noda Megumi) playing haphazardly but with an undeniable brilliance. When he passes out later in front of an apartment he thinks is his, Nodame comes across him (it’s her apartment; she lives beside him) and takes him in for the night. Her quirkiness leads her to decide that she is in love with him and hijinks ensue when Chiaki finds that he may not be as averse to her (especially her piano playing) as he pretends to be.
So when I say Nodame Cantabile is popular, it just might have been a bit of an understatement. The Japanese live action adaptation was popular all over the world, massively popular I might even say. And when news came out that they were making a Korean adaptation, fans were concerned and now that the drama is over, I’d say, unwillingly, that perhaps they were to be concerned. However, let’s leave that for later and first compare posters!
Now a closer look at the leads.
Before I begin speaking about both dramas, let me just that the Japanese adaptation is very faithful to the manga; it changes none of the story or character . In fact, I would go so far as to say that the only that is different between the manga and the live action is the medium in which the story is told.
The Korean version, on the hand, changes a LOT of things.
Take another look at the gifs; they are actually pretty revealing of the relationships between the two leads in both versions.
The Korean version shows hesitation and caution on Naeil’s part when she approaches Yoo Jin (Kversion of Chiaki) while the Jversion reveals the degree of familiarity and confidence Nodame feels with Chiaki.
In the beginning, Naeil’s character closely resembled Nodame or the original character but audience reactions were mostly negative. Perhaps the cultural differences and audience expectations made Naeil unappealing to them. I don’t know. She was loud, silly, talked in a baby voice, single minded in her obsession with Yoo Jin and irritated everyone who watched her.
Why this should be so when everyone who watched Nodame were more accepting and tolerating of the same qualities is a question I can try to answer.
The cast of side characters Nodame is surrounded by are just as colourful, loud and silly as she is so she’s not alone in her weirdness. Naeil, however, is the only character in the Korean adaptation who hasn’t been toned down to meet the expectations of the Korean audience so she is alone in her eccentricity and unexpectedly strikes a discordant note. When everyone else around her is restrained and some level of sane, she becomes less lovably crazy and more annoying stalkerish.
The Japanese version is careful to be true to the original character and Nodame’s eccentricities are tolerated because within all the craziness is a genius. Someone who coax the most beautiful sounds out of the piano possible. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that all geniuses in Japanese dramas are eccentric so Nodame’s quirkiness is expected.
I found it curious and not a little upsetting that Naeil’s prowess as a pianist is not as eminent a theme as I had expected it to be. This brings me to my next (and most important) point.
The most striking difference in the Japanese and Korean versions is their approach to the music. The Japanese version is an ode to classical music; the pieces are exactly researched, the narrative makes mention of their composers, their feelings when the pieces were composed, the technicalities. There are long sequences where the narrative is paused or on hold while the orchestra brings to life the music the story is all about. The music is one of the main protagonists in the manga and the Japanese adaptation.
In the Korean version, however, the music functions as an afterthought. The scenes in which the orchestra or the pianos are played are abridged and often interrupted by flashbacks where the music stops or is replaced by other music which was not a little annoying. The pieces chosen for the drama are different from the original and are more obscure compositions that the general public will not recognize. Naeil spends more time at her sewing machine sewing than at her piano playing. She does not evince the same joy and passion when playing the piano or listening to music as Nodame does. In other words, she is unable to convince the viewer of her love for music. My favourite piece from the Korean version is this one:
However, the Korean version is not without its strengths. It does a much better job at explaining and bringing to life Naeil’s trauma where music is concerned. Naeil’s scenes with her younger self in moments of clarity and introspection were beautifully done. Naeil also does a wonderful job of coming to terms with her own musical ambitions.
I was also more convinced by Naeil’s actions where curing Yoo Jin of his trauma is concerned. The Japanese manga and drama ask the reader/viewer to suspend her disbelief but the Korean version adds some logic and a skein of believability to her actions that serves the drama well.
Korean dramas are usually more interested in exploring relationships between people. They love their love triangles and love rivals, and their poor but well meaning heroines. The love triangle in this one is resolved pretty nicely though sadly and it is a new addition to the story though not one I’m protesting with much heat as it did give us this dude:
Again? Oh well, okay.
(All three leads in the Korean version have dimples. Huhhhh.)
The differences between the Jversion and the Kversion are large enough that they often do not seem like the same drama. I would have said to watch both and be amused by both as the Korean version is rather more realistic (if you ignore or skip over the long scenes concerned with the mating habits of the school principal and the runaway conductor). Those who do not like the over-the-top physical manga-esque comedy of the Japanese version will enjoy the more restrained atmosphere of the Korean version–I would have said that but then I watched the finale and well, it was disappointing. So maybe don’t watch the finale. Just watch the second-last episode and pretend the drama ends over there.
I’ve probably not said all I wanted to say but at this point, I can’t think of anything else so we’re done. I hope you enjoyed my thoughts and well… There will probably be more posts like this one in the future. I will be reviewing books here but most of my reviews will be on The Book Wars.
If you want drama recs from me, let me know.