A love bound by fate

Japanese drama First Love is a heartfelt story of two young people growing up

Hikari Mitsushima and Takeru Satoh in First Love. (Photo © Netflix Thailand)

Back in the 90s, there was hardly anyone who did not know of songs by Utada Hikaru. She was a Japanese artist who broke through the pop charts, which at the time were mainly dominated by Western artists like Britney Spears, Mariah Carey, TLC and Boyzone. Her tunes like Automatic, Movin' On Without You and the pop ballad First Love made a huge impact on teens everywhere, including Thailand.

So when it was announced that Japanese filmmaker Yuri Kanchiku would direct a new drama/romance series inspired by a song by Utada Hikaru, it instantly trended. The nine-episode series stars Japanese heartthrob Takeru Satoh (Rurouni Kenshin trilogy) who plays opposite Hikari Mitsushima (Death Note) in a drama that revolves around the first love of two high school students whose relationship gradually grows distant with time, but life brings them together again as adults. If you're looking for a bittersweet romantic story that can make you weep and put a smile on your face, you are in the right place.

Set in the winter city of Sapporo, First Love follows the relationship between two main characters Yae (Mitsushima) and Namiki (Satoh) in two different timelines -- their adult years, and younger versions portrayed by Rikako Yagi and Taisei Kido. The couple met and fell madly in love first in the late 1990s, sharing their love of the sky. Yae dreams of becoming a flight attendant while Namiki wants to become a pilot in the Japan Air Self-Defense Force. However, as they grow up, they go on their own paths before finding each other again after more than two decades.

This show has everything you could expect from Japanese romance stories. There are cute and sweet moments as well as tragic ones as we root for their relationship. We witness how the relationship blossoms and everything that happens in between. As viewers, we are there with them seeing their lives unfold on the screen. It doesn't take long to like the characters and I think that is a big draw.

The cinematography is beautiful and feels exotic. You get to see a stunning landscape and the sight of Sapporo and Hokkaido which are covered in snow most of the time. The atmosphere and concept of long-lost loves finding each other again reminds you of the American film Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind (2004).

Sure, some may find this show to be a little cliche of "first love never dies", which is basically what the drama is about, but the performances, innocent and sincere dialogue, and cute slices of life feel relatable as many of us may have had similar experiences when we were younger.

However, besides the love angle, the series also focuses on the realities of life. Dreams you may have had when you were younger and idealistic become uncertain. You may feel confident and believe in your dreams when you are young, but then when you enter this sense of void in adulthood and things don't work out for you, you get into limbo. You're navigating through life, given the circumstances that have happened and you make it work somehow. So it's definitely like this bittersweet approach when it comes to dreams and aspirations. Again, there are highs and lows in this particular series. Some of the storytelling can be a bit slow and J-dramas may feel foreign and boring to those unfamiliar with this niche, especially the first couple of episodes. Yet if you stick around, the series picks up around Episode 3. You have to take note of certain things that pay off later in the series for you to fully appreciate them.

Overall, First Love is a nice drama that has sweet moments and a very melancholic feel. I appreciated the references, music and storytelling with nice cinematography. For someone who wants to have a taste of Japanese dramas, I would definitely recommend this.

  • First Love
  • Starring Hikari Mitsushima, Rikako Yagi, Takeru Satoh, Taisei Kido
  • Directed by Yuri Kanchiku
  • Now streaming on Netflix


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