On the night of Tanabata, Hiura Mitsuki, the manager of the American football club in university days, suddenly shows up in front of ace 'QB' Nishiwaki Tetsuro and his buddies after the club reunion she missed. She makes a shocking confession: “I killed a person.” Mitsuki also confesses to having gender identity disorder, and that she now lives as a man. Tetsuro and their other comrades feel disturbed but scramble to protect their friend. How did the incident happen? As they try to get to the truth, distressing facts are gradually revealed. What decision will Mitsuki and the team members reach?
~~ Adapted from the 2001 novel by Higashino Keigo, One-sided Love.
Cast & Credits
One of the motifs is a Möbius strip, which technically has both one and two sides, which is also why I think the correct English translation of Kataomoi should be the more literal One-sided Love (I think the title is meant to have a double meaning). The story does have many "unrequited love" situations, but that's not the theme—it's about much more than that, about loving more wholly and unconditionally in spite of not understanding every side of the other.
While the story is based on a Higashino Keigo mystery novel (for those who don't know, he's one of Japan's most popular writers), the tone of this series is not that of a detective/crime/investigation drama (although there are elements of investigation), but rather, a thoughtful relationship-focused friendship drama with a cloudy murder mystery plot that weaves together those relationships. It's relatively slow-paced compared to another kind of genre you normally see mysteries filmed as, but it's extremely compelling and could really be marathoned in one go if you had the time!
It's rather artfully filmed at points, including the end sequence of the first episode, as someone mentioned. I almost feel this could have been a better feature film with a higher budget, but it's really well-made and was the perfect length for the story at six episodes.
As for all the hand-wringing about how they'd handle transgender identity issues, it's done in a sensitive and compassionate way without being maudlin or overkill like you might expect from Hollywood. Honestly, I wasn't surprised at that at all, but I did find it refreshing and insightful without being preachy or telling audience members how to think. While it's a huge part of the story and is discussed at length, it isn't The story. There is the mystery, but the story is ultimately about friendship, and each character is wrestling with many questions about relationships in their own way.
What some viewers may take more issue with is the ending, but in context I found it satisfying. It's certainly very Japanese in its embracing the ambiguity of many technically explosive moral situations, and recognizing sacrifice as part of love. Okay, I just made some sweeping generalizations there, and it may come off as a judgment/rationalization of those situations, but it's not, at all. I just wanted to mention these things, as I sometimes feel like certain elements of many J-dramas get a bad rap because they're seen through a different cultural lens...
The casting is great, as all the team members featured in past and future are totally believable both at age 20 and in their mid-late 30s, even though some of the actors are pushing 40 or over. (Miki is even shockingly convincing as a high school-aged Mitsuki in one brief scene! And not just because her make-up artist was great!) The three main actors (the Nishiwaki 'couple' and Mitsuki) showed a huge range and a depth of emotion that gave me the sense they truly put their all into their characters. While Kuninaka Ryoko plays a role similar to others she's done [the emotionally complex wife who looks sweet but is tough], it's because she's so good at it. She plays off of both Kenta and Miki's characters wonderfully and somehow makes the weird tension (that isn't even what we'd think) actually believable.
I'm not an avid rewatcher at all, especially when it comes to a story with a mystery plot, so normally I can't figure out a score for this! However, I think Kataomoi's rewatch value is high as you'd likely be able to better appreciate some of the great little symbolic touches, as well as the psychological aspects of what characters are going through at various times (that were initially more of a mystery). Most of all, probably Kenta's role as it's a subtle emotional character arc that only becomes more meaningful later in the story. On the other hand, this is a story that stays with you, so you'll probably still be thinking about it later and retroactively appreciate these things!
Music was on-point as usual, with a great theme and emotive score. It almost never got sentimental or emotionally manipulative, but rather added complexity and mood. I feel like the end credits song has for sure been used before...if so, anyone remember what drama? I can't remember, but it's evocative and a perfect fit.
NOTE: For those wondering about the sex scene in the first episode, it isn't graphic/realistic but more atmospheric, is short, and serves a purpose. It's not jarring and you can see why it happens. But 'mature' is still a valid tag because the themes in this may not resonate for perhaps younger teens as the characters are nearing midlife and dealing with many of the emotional, relational, and identity issues of that age.