I think this drama gets bonus points simply for daring to go balls-to-walls and calling a duck a duck. Instead of fancy titles for what is essentially the Cinderella story, we simply have Rich Man, Poor Woman, a story that could be summed up as “Japan does a K-drama, yo!” Korea’s attempts at remaking J-doramas have been all over the place in success, so it’s interesting to see the reverse and watch Japan do a straight up rich man, poor woman romance that Korea is so fond of. How RMPW turns out in the long run, we’ll have to wait and see.
With shorter episode lengths, J-doramas are typically devoid of all the filler and fat that can sometimes bog down K-dramas, but conversely lack the time spent lingering on characters and moments. In a love story centered drama, this makes the story seem to barrel full speed ahead, yet sometimes we need to take big leaps of emotional connection to get to where the characters are. I don’t think RMPW is amazing or even revolutionary, but it’s addicting and entertaining so far. Sometimes I need more impetus to recap a drama, but for now I’m feeling like taking RMPW out for a twirl.
Episode 1 recap:
Hyuga Toru lays on a tatami mat in what looks like a temple room. He searches for Sawaki Chihiro on his cellphone and the results comes back empty. He looks disappointed, that is until his phone pings on a stock price and that revives him. Cut to the International Digital Trade Fair in Las Vegas, where Hyuga’s business partner Asahina cannot find Hyuga and gets a random text from him that he’s fine and not to be bothered. Asahina and another female worker barge into him hotel room to find it empty and a computer set to send automatic responses. Asahina says Hyuga is back in Japan.
Asahina and Yamagami Toshiyuki take a three way call with Hyuga, who says he’s buying the India cloud computing company Power Trunk for $900 million. Yamagami says no but Asahina laughs and Hyuga takes that as confirmation of yes. Hyuga presses a button and the company is bought. Asahina falls off the sofa laughing. This is not only a beyond strange business partnership, but money also seems to flow like water through a sieve.
Hyuga gets on his motorcycle and zooms off to work, wearing Toms and a casual outfit including clam diggers. Hyuga needs a stylist, and he clearly can afford one. He’s met outside the company by Yasuoka, his personal assistant. Hyuga barges in but stops in the lobby and asks what his name is? Yasuoka explains again that he is Yasuoka and he knows Hyuga doesn’t remember the names of people he’s not interested in. Hyuga smiles and says he remembers. Yasuoka says this is the 12th time Hyuga has smiled this way.
Hyuga arrives at Next Innovation, and a documentary takes us on a tour of the hottest IT company in Japan. Equipped with a gym, lounge, cafe, rooftop garden, Next Innovation is run by Hyuga Toru who is 29 years old and has a personal net worth of 29 billion yen. He runs the company by validating or terminating ideas immediately. His company sells virtual products such as games and avatars so it has no inventory. The company was started 8 years ago by Hyuga and Asahina in their university dorm room.
We meet a girl interviewing for a job the traditional Japanese way by slogging through interminable interviews. She vows to work hard but is turned down for lack of self-confidence. We flash back to 8 months ago, when the girl was happy and excited to start her job search with her other classmates. Then 5 months ago they all started to fill out one job application after another in Japan’s notoriously tedious graduate job search process and that started to weigh them down.
The girl is almost late for her part time job and rushes off, where she works as a waitress. On her way to deliver four beers, she spills it all and we see that she’s well meaning but clumsy. Back at home, she sticks red Post Its on job applications where she has been turned down. By 3 months ago, she notes that she’s been rejected for 30 jobs now. Sitting in another group interview, she looks around the room full of applicants and interviewers and realizes all she’s done is memorize useless names. Back at the university, she talks with the career counselor on how she’s read the entire job search book but its not helped her.
As she walks down the street, she’s almost run over by a guy in a motorcyle as he turns into a building. It’s Hyuga, of course. She looks up at the building and sits outside to observe the workers milling around, admiring them for having a job. She looks down and brushes off her dirty and worn pumps. As she walks away dejectedly, Hyuga takes the elevator up to his company. He smiles, filled with excitement at a new day. Cue title credits.
Hyuga is in the study lounge of Next Innovation discussing using the company resources to manage a national census whereby a national registry can be created and every citizen assigned an ID number. This will prevent pension data from being lost and allow for an personal file on everyone that is easily accessible which includes information from birth to death. It’s clear Hyuga wants to do this for his own search needs, but he tries to argue its good for the people. Yamagami says no but Hyuyga easily gets Asahina’s approval with an affable smile.
The next morning, Asahina sits with the worried Yamagami who thinks Hyuga is undertaking too ambitious and large scale a project and burning through the company finances. Asahina tells Yamagami to see this as an exciting challenge. Yamagami notes that Hyuga probably still doesn’t remember his name, which is when Asahina reveals that Hyuga can’t remember people’s faces. He has prosopagnosia, a facial recognition deficiency. Asahina wonders why Hyuga wants to build a national database. Hyuga does a search for Sawaki Chihiro and is shocked to find a match with a woman.
Our leading lady is sleeping in lab and bemoaning about her job search with her friends. Her classmate says she should set up her own company, and reads from a magazine with Hyuga on the cover discussing Next Innovation. Turns out Hyuga didn’t even go to college, he actually dropped out in high school. When she sees his picture on the cover, her face freezes and its clear she recognizes him. Or does she? Her classmates discuss how Next Innovation is holding a job fair next week.
She starts to research Next Innovation online. She gets a call from her brother who has sent her a package and assures her that she’ll find a job. She’s hard working and so smart, everyone has faith in her. She hangs up the phone and opens the package to see her brother sent food items and even an envelope with some money. She cries to see this, which actually cheers her go. She goes back to research Next Innovation and watches a video of Hyuga saying that anyone can change the world and to think outside the box.
She goes to the mall to buy a new pair of shoes, worried that she might not have enough money. As she’s trying on the shoes, the sales lady can see that she’s job hunting and wishes her luck, sharing that she wore out 3 pairs of shoes when she was job hunting.
Hyuga types an email to Sawaki Chihiro, introducing himself as Hyuga Toru and apologizing for contacting her, finishing by asking if she is his mother. He flashes back to being a young boy of 4 or 5 being left behind by his mother. He searches again and comes up empty on the name. This is intercut with baby Hyuga crying and screaming for his mother, who continues to walk away. Adult Hyuga sits down in the dark room and broods.
Hyuga gets a stick to the shoulder by the temple priest for falling asleep in the temple. Hyuga reminds him that his donations pay for the upkeep of this temple, and the priest adorably bows and tells him to come anytime. As Hyuga walks away, he shares the information that he found a Sawaki Chihiro online, but he doesn’t know if she is his mother. He wonders if he’s self-centered to look for her, but the priest assures him that its human nature to want to know where one came from.
Our leading lady walks into the lecture hall where Next Innovation is holding its recruiting fair. She sits in the front row and the lights dim. Next Innovation flashes on the screen behind the stage and Hyuga walks out. She stares at him and looks totally wowed. He wants to talk about “innovation”.
Asahina stands to the side and a woman arrives who reveals that Asahina owns half the shares of Next Innovation but to the world the company belongs only to Hyuga. She wonders why he doesn’t go onstage with Hyuga as well. Asahina silences her, saying that Hyuga has enough charisma for the company. The girl hugs Asahina and says she missed him.
Hyuga talks about how values continue to change and old methods are being retired. He asks whether the people here believe they can change the world or just sit on the sidelines. Asahina says Hyuga’s eccentric personality draws people in. Hyuga gets off the stage and talks with the candidates about why they are here. One guy says he wants to work with Hyuga, who says he must be satisfied to be here, so he’s cut. Another says he wants to do new things, which makes Hyuga laugh and he thinks the guy will sit around doing nothing. Hyuga spots our leading lady and asks how many job offers she has. She says zero and he asks if she went to a rinky dinky school. She retorts that she went to Todai (Tokyo University). Hyuga points out that society now makes it hard even for graduates of top schools to get jobs. Hyuga bounds back onstage and announces that only people who have been accepted by two companies can continue, everyone else can bugger off.
We see lots of candidates get up and walk out. Hyuga sees the leading lady still sitting there with her head down and tells her that she can leave now. As she walks over, Hyuga announces that she is a shining example of the failure of the Japanese education system. She trips as he says this and loses a shoe. As he continues to publicly deride her uselessness, she picks up the shoe and puts it on, standing up with conviction and starts to rattle off every single detail about the company history and even names all the employees standing in the audience.
Hyuga acknowledges she has good memorization skills, but she is upset and tells him to judge people with sincerity rather than writing them off. A voice calls her a sore loser and tells her to go home. Hyuga says the movers of the world are rebels and he likes her rage. He calls her Miss Todai and she tells him that is not her name. She clenches her hands and tells him that her name is Sawaki Chihiro. Hyuga’s eyes widen and he flashes back to his search for that person. Asahina looks on curiously. Hyuga confirms that her name is Sawaki Chihiro and says he might remember her name but not her face.
Later that night, Hyuga searches for Sawaki Chihiro on his phone while talking with Asahina and Yamagami. The national registry is an ambitious project, but if the national census is combined with their IT infrastructure and security, they could win this government contract. They need to first start with the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communication and winning the approval and backing of the Vice Minister Fujikawa Masako, who apparently argued with Hyuga before and he hates her, calling her the homework lady. They suggest bringing a girl along to meet with the Vice Minister, which gives Hyuga a great idea. He pulls Chihiro’s application and says this girl is just like the Vice Minister. Chihiro gets a call and goes to Next Innovation, amazed by how buzzing the office is.
Hyuga greets her and calls her name Sawaki Chihiro, which makes every single person look up. Yasuoka pats her, congratulating her for getting Hyuga to remember her name. In Hyuga’s office, he asks how much time she charges for 48 hours, which makes Chihiro think he’s propositioning her. Hyuga says if he was interested, she wouldn’t even be in line. He hands her a huge binder of homework to study before meeting the Vice Minister. He wants her to memorize it before tomorrow. Chihiro realizes this is why she was asked back, and Hyuga laughs that she thought she was getting called back for an interview.
Chihiro goes through the binder and memorizes it page by page. She will have to pretend to be an employee of Next Innovation. Hyuga and Asahina take delivery of a new fridge and Hyuga obsessively positions it perfectly in the center of the room. The two guys enjoy a beer and Hyuga says the personal file project will make easy for people to apply for their pensions. Asahina worries that it might bankrupt the company if something goes wrong. Hyuga reminds him that on the innovation wall, the first thing Hyuga wrote is “This is where we build our future.” Asahina wrote “To us nothing is impossible.” Asahina says he really meant Hyuga and not the two of them.
The doorbell rings and its the girl from earlier, who introduces herself as Asahina Yoko and the younger sister of Hyuga’s business partner. Hyuga casually invites her in and she seems sad he doesn’t remember her. Turns out she’s a cook who has traveled and worked abroad. Yoko tells Hyuga that she will be working on the first floor restaurant of the Next Innovation building. Yoko finds out from Asahina that Hyuga can’t remember names to faces.
The next morning, Chihiro announces to Hyuga that she’s memorized it all. Hyuga checks out her dowdy outfit and drags her to look at how sad sack she looks. He tells her that they are meeting a very sophisticated woman. Cue obligatory K-drama make over scene, as Hyuga drags Chihiro off to a fancy boutique and wonders if what he wants is impossible – turning an ugly duckling into a swan.
Chihiro heads into the dressing room and models outfit after outfit awkwardly. Hyuga either nods or shakes at head, and pretty soon they are done and leaving the store carrying bags of clothes. They head to a salon and next thing we see, Chihiro walks out wearing a smart elegant white suit with her hair and makeup done.
Asahina sees her and is impressed with the transformation. The three of them head off to the meeting. The trio arrive at the government cocktail party, where Hyuga rushes inside while Asahina notices Chihiro fretting about where to leave her old shoes and tells her to leave it on the floor of the car. They walk inside and Chihiro is understandably so scared she clutches her stomach. Hyuga borrows Asahina’s line about “To you, nothing is impossible” which peps Chihiro up.
They meet with the Vice Minister and Chihiro reveals that the data the government collected (which she memorized last night) showed that the public would support a national registry but fear the misuse and theft of data. The Vice Minister is impressed and compliments Chihiro as coming prepared. Hyuga explains security would be the top priority in the company for this project.
The Vice Minister asks to talk with the another official and Hyuga starts to fret since he doesn’t remember the guy’s face and can’t place his name. Before Asahina can come to the rescue, Chihiro has noticed Hyuga’s discomfort and leans over to tell Hyuga the guy’s name and rank. Hyuga calmly greets him, and Asahina thinks to himself that Chihiro is quite useful.
As Hyuga and Chihiro send off the Vice Minister, Chihiro is so excited and thinks that once the personal registry is created, blunders such as the deletion of the pension data would not happen again. The Vice Minister reveals that she was partly as fault since she worked at the social security administration during that time.
Afterwards, Hyuga rages at Chihiro, screaming at her for quite possibly destroying this entire project. She needs to do exactly as she is told, why did she think she knew any better? Chihiro stands there with her head down and tearing up. Hyuga storms off when Asahina steps in. He kindly tells Chihiro that she can leave for the day, which is when Asahina receives an urgent package of information.
Hyuga drives off and he looks over at the passenger side and sees Chihiro’s old shoes there. He flashes back to his interactions with Chihiro, and he convinces himself that he should praise her a little. So he turns the car around, but when he pulls up he sees Asahina walking out with Chihiro. Asahina tells Chihiro that she did well and even reacted to helping Hyuga. He asks if she wants to eat something and Chihiro confesses that she is indeed hungry. Hyuga watches as Chihiro gets into Asahina’s car. He turns his car around and drives off.
Asahina asks Chihiro to pick anything she wants to eat, but wonders if he can ask her a question first? Asahina asks who she is? He knows she is not Sawaki Chihiro. He pulls out a personal file on Chihiro that he just received and is about to say her real name when Chihiro cuts him off and says her real name doesn’t matter, it’s not like “he” will remember her. Asahina asks if she means Hyuga, and wonders why the name Sawaki Chihiro means something to Hyuga. Chihiro doesn’t answer him as she stares straight ahead.
In Hyuga’s car, he picks up Chihiro’s shoes and looks at it before tossing it in the backseat and driving off.
Thoughts of Mine:
RMPW is what I call a buzzy drama. It’s fast-paced and sorta feels fancy free, like hurtling down a highway in a convertible with the top down. So far we have a socially awkward IT-whiz orphan Annie looking for his mommy, Cinderella is a liar who gets a new outfit and loses her shoe, and the all-knowing sage wise man may have his own agenda up his sleeve. All we know for now is that our leading lady is not named Sawaki Chihiro, but that’s the name I’ll keep calling her until we do learn what her real name is. Hyuga must be beyond bright if he remembers his mom’s name even though he was abandoned at such a young age, and I like that he really wants to find her more out of need rather than anger. He’s such an odd duck, not necessary a mean person, but someone who doesn’t really give a damn. Whereas you can see that Asahina appears to care a lot and be empathetic, but I’m getting vibes that there is more to him than meets the eye.
I don’t want to dig too deep in RMPW and discuss how its a dissection of Japan’s centuries old education-first system versus the modern success recipe of being a genius who thinks outside the box. I think both types can succeed, and really its about finding the right fit in life and getting the right chances. Chihiro can’t get a job not because her diploma is worthless, it’s because she’s not confident and can’t sell herself. But I love that there is a kernal of pride in her that Hyuga can dig up, and conversely she gets him to notice her by giving a false name but I bet that her actions also intrigue him. Episode 1 was really a set up episode getting all the major characters aligned together and setting up the story line driving the narrative forward. I’m intrigued enough by the potential to keep going, so hopefully this drama will give me more Hyuga-Chihiro moments, because I find myself cringing and chortling whenever they are together.