Saying goodbye to a drama I hate is a feeling of relief. Saying farewell to a drama I felt indifferent towards is like scratching an itch. Putting away a drama that is near and dear to my heart is a process of baby steps, weaning myself off the euphoric high watching the drama brings. Because I know there isn’t going to be another new episode, the final episode becomes somewhat a treasured possession. Like that last piece of chocolate you hoard, that last bite you are loathe to swallow. Since I already did a baby recap for episode 11 of Rich Man, Poor Woman, I wanted to take my time to gather my thoughts before tackling the recap proper for this final episode. Even if I weren’t blogging and was merely a passive drama watcher, like I’ve been most of my life, RMPW would still stand out as a J-dorama anomaly in this day and age. Its been years since we’ve had a renai this snappy and full of life, as opposed to bogged down with an excess of woe and angst.
The ratings for RMPW remained in the low-to-mid teens throughout its run, yet another sign that Japan has veered away from romance dramas because for whatever reason the domestic viewership is not turning out to watch them. Which is such a shame, because when they do one right such as they did with RMPW, it harkens back to the heyday of great romantic J-doramas of the early 90s, all wonderfully sweet and funny. While I genuinely enjoyed live watching this story, I have a feeling that marathoning it will bring a different perspective and add more depth to what was experienced during a live watch. There was so much more to Makoto and Hyuga than meets the eye, and for 11 episodes we’ve barely skimmed the surface with these two unique and vibrant individuals. Oguri Shun and Ishihara Satomi truly brought their characters vividly to life that watching them onscreen was an emotional connection rather than a visual feast. I laughed, raged, swooned, and cried for and alongside these two, and its with a content heart I capture their final steps towards becoming a couple.
Episode 11 recap:
Hyuga walks back into Next Innovation, finding it eerily empty with only a few despondent employees left. Yamagami comes out and tells Hyuga that he knows its wrong to ask him to return to a dying company. Hyuga stares at the now white wall. Makoto is on the phone with her friend Haruka and she doesn’t want to see Hyuga despite missing him terribly since that’ll just make her not want to pursue her own career. She’s asked to work on a project and she quickly accepts. Her supervisor is very pleased with her go-getter attitude and tells her that the company is collaborating on a project with a lab in Brazil and she might be assigned to it.
Hyuga sits outside and Yoko joins him. He shares that Asahina still refuses to see him. When asked if he told Makoto that he wants to see her, Hyuga grumbles that he didn’t, which frustrates Yoko. I feel you, Yoko. Hyuga claims Makoto wants to focus on her career now and he wants to support her. Yoko calls him an idiot, asking why he won’t just tell her how he feels? Hyuga claims she stayed with him out of pity since she’s the type to want to help those who are down. Yoko looks at him like he’s an idiot. Which he is, an idiot when it comes to love and other feeling related things.
Makoto visits Wonder Wall and apologizes to the team for quitting. Yasuoka shows her his new name card which says he’s the new President. They’ve packed up Makoto’s stuff but she asks if a photo was found anywhere. Yasuoka says he will bring it to her if its found, and then tells her to keep the keys to the office since she’s always a member. They watch a news report of Hyuga greeting the media as the returning President of Next Innovation.
The prison guard hands Asahina today’s newspaper which reports on Hyuga returning to Next Innovation and vowing to save the company. Asahina wonders what Hyuga is up to?
Makoto returns to the company and runs into Hyuga. He asks how she’s doing and she says it feels fulfilling to work hard. She asks if he’s frustrated with the daunting task ahead and he nods, confessing he might not be able to save it this time. Makoto says he can do it and she really admired the pairing of Asahina and Hyuga, expressing regrest she will be on the other side of the world so she won’t be able to see it.
Hyuga is stunned and Makoto laughs about how funny it is she’s off to Brazil. Hyuga says its not funny but Makoto says she’s excited. She gets up to leave, telling Hyuga that she’ll wish him well from overseas and if they are fated they will meet again. Hyuga angrily calls her on her attitude, asking if she’s changed now that she’s part of a big company. He laughs at her job requiring her to work overseas, saying lab work can be done by automated robots.
Makoto angrily retorts that his work is the only worthwhile innovation, and with just a few keystrokes he can make billions. No wonder the media thinks this industry is just hot air. Hyuga says his job can only be done by him whereas her job can be done by anyone. Makoto says that is exactly why she will take this job because now its finally her turn. Hyuga angrily tells her to go to Brazil then and Makoto walks off.
Asahina sits in his prison cell reading articles on Next Innovation. The prison guard says that if he cares so much, why not ask in person. Asahina goes out to see Hyuga, who yells at him. Asahina tells him to give up on Next Innovation and start over himself. Hyuga says Next Innovation will not disappear and tells Asahina to return. Asahina accepts the blame and gets on his knees to apologize.
Hyuga says nothing other than to proffer up their usual fist bump to Asahina, and oh that makes me all teary for their lost friendship.
Makoto is napping at work when Hyuga calls Makoto. He apologizes for earlier, looking down on her work. Makoto is stunned by his candor and he admits that he was just shocked that she was going to Brazil. Makoto also apologizes for yelling at him. Hyuga shares the news that he finally saw Asahina, and then awkwardly says this is all he wanted to tell her. She asks if he’s in the NI offices and he says yes, describing how it feels so big now. Makoto confesses that she misses it there. Hyuga gets up and walks to his window, saying that he used to be able to see Yasuoka and folks while standing here. He tells her to come to the office to see for herself, saying he’ll be here all night working. Makoto says she’ll come if she finishes her work.
Hyuga happily ends the call and goes back to work. In the morning, the NI employees arrive and we see Hyuga laying on the ground still working while checking his phone. Makoto walks out of the lab and looks at her phone. Hyuga walks out of NI and answers Makoto’s call. He asks if she’s not yet done with work? She apologizes and says she’s not going because she doesn’t want to see him. Hyuga stops her from ending the call, asking why she won’t see him?
Makoto finally comes clean that she can’t see him because she loves him so much its too painful to see him. Makoto ends the call, leaving a thoroughly befuddled Hyuga staring at his phone. Makoto is offered the Brazil job officially and she immediately takes it. Makoto deletes from her phone background the picture of her and Hyuga in front of NI.
Hyuga runs off to see Asahina and he is flummoxed by someone who says she loves him but its too painful. Asahina laughs, saying that he hasn’t found humor in quite some time. He guesses its Makoto, which leads him to reveal that he’s been jealous of Makoto since she showed up. Hyuga stopped listening to him, and when Hyuga told Asahina that he was disappointed in him, that really hurt him. Asahina says that was in the past now and its not going to happen again. Asahina leans forward and says he only has one more thing to teach Hyuga.
Asahina explains that Makoto merely wants to hear how Hyuga feels about her. Hyuga is still confused since Makoto won’t see him. Asahina smiles and tells Hyuga to figure out the rest himself. Before going back to his cell, Asahina asks about the company. Hyuga tells Asahina NI will be fine since he’s found a solution. Asahina smiles wryly, pointing out that work matters still come so easily to Hyuga.
Hyuga meets with the NI Board to ask for the revival of the personal file project with a 50 billion yen allocation. Hyuag says that NI won’t take any credit and the company name doesn’t even need to be attached to the project. NI won’t accept any profit or fees from this project. He wants JI Tech to lend NI the money. When the JI Tech board members get angry, Hyuga hides behind Yamagami who just smiles. Hyuga tells JI Tech that they are getting in return a project that can last for 100 years, as opposed to other technology which becomes obsolete after a few years. With the personal file, JI Tech gets to build a new infrastructure. The JI Tech President agrees to provide the money as long as Hyuga can guarantee he can do it. Hyuga promises to deliver it in two weeks.
Everyone at NI is scrambling under the tight two week deadline. The Wonder Wall boys decide to come back to NI to help. The pretty employee chides Yasuoka for returning so late. The two engineers are ready to resume working on the personal file project.
Yasuoka sees Hyuga sighing and asks what is the matter? Hyuga says no one trusts their company anymore, so what exactly are they doing? IT enriches the lives of people, and that is what they do. Edison probably invented the phone to talk with a lover, the mail was created for people to keep in touch. IT is all about keeping people connected. Hyuga tells them to work hard for the people who matter to them. Hyuga re-writes a new Next Innovation logo on the wall and tells his employees that the next revolution will come from them.
Asahina agrees to see Yoko and she cries. He tells her not to cry because he’s now at peace. He confesses that its been exhausting living up to other people’s expectations, and he apologizes for letting his family down. Yoko tells her brother that she likes him even more now. Makoto is moving out of her apartment and Haruko tells her to see Hyuga before she leaves. She refuses since she might not want to go to Brazil anymore.
NI and JI Tech finally sign the contract for the personal file project collaboration after the successful testing run of the personal file. The JiI Tech President tells Hyuga that 99.9% of companies disappear within 30 years. So for a company to last long takes a lot of effort. He tells Hyuga to make a miracle happen. Hyuga nods and bows deep and low to the President.
Hyuga runs off to tell Asahina about the success and sees that Asahina looks content at last. Asahina tells Hyuga that he did well. Hyuga laughs, saying its been a long time since he heard Asahina compliment him. Asahina says Hyuga has become like a normal person now, which Hyuga is happy about. He likes who he has become and candidly says that he’s changed because of Makoto.
The NI team host a party catered by Yoko to celebrate the personal file project. Turns out Nogi has become the head chef while Yoko is now his sous chef, and they banter in a friendly way. People ask if they can scribble on the wall and Hyuga tells them to go ahead.
Hyuga sips his wine and happily watches everyone partying. Hyuga looks around the office and thinks back to all his memories with Makoto here.
Hyuga is asked to give a speech and he drunkenly stumbles to the front. He starts to name people which worries Yasuoko, who says the company has 37 employees. Hyuga tells him to be quiet and correctly names him. Hyuga is actually is able to remember everyone’s name and age. He drunkenly says he has gotten a perfect score now and thanks everyone for making him a better person. He says he won’t forget any of them before passing out drunk. We see Makoto visiting the Wonder Wall office but no one is there.
Yoko hands Hyuga some water, remarking on how odd it is that he got so drunk. She asks if it doesn’t feel like something is missing? Makoto calls Yasuoka and tells him she was at Wonder Wall and is now off to the airport, asking Yasuoka for the picture of her and Hyuga. Yasuoka purposely talks very loud on the phone and tells Makoto he doesn’t have the picture, all the while handing the picture to Hyuga and giving him a jacket. Hyuga looks at the picture and gets up, walking to the door before breaking into a run.
Makoto searches through all the boxes at Wonder Wall but can’t find the picture. She wonders out loud whether this is a sign she needs to forget Hyuga? Hyuga arrives at Wonder Wall to find Makoto has already left. He races to her apartment but it’s empty as well.
He keeps calling but she doesn’t answer. He angrily rages that he needs to install a GPS device on her the next time he sees her. Yasuoka wakes up all the drunken and sleepy NI employees to tell them to use their technological tracking abilities to try and find Makoto for Hyuga. The employees are able to find out which flight Makoto is supposed to be on and when its taking off.
Before Makoto gets on the plane, she looks at her phone and then walks to the line. Suddenly she hears Hyuga’s voice yelling “didn’t you promise to always answer my calls!”, which Makoto thinks is coming from her phone. Hyuga tells her not to move which is when she realizes he’s right there at the airport. Makoto leaves the line and starts running around the airport. OMG, this is adorable and hilarious.
She finally stops running and Hyuga walks up to hand her the picture. She asks if this is why he came, thanking him. He says this is one reason, but he also has something he wants to tell her. Hyuga explains he can remember names now and the company is saved. All of this makes Makoto very happy as she congratulates Hyuga on being perfect.
Hyuga asks Makoto what she means that she likes him so much its painful. He tells her to just stay by his side if its so painful. His confusion upsets her and she yells at him for not telling her how he feels but asking her to stay. She calls him an idiot and says she’s leaving!
Hyuga stops her and says that he likes her, is that enough? She’s unimpressed with his seemingly unfeeling declaration so Hyuga puts on his jacket and makes himself more presentable before saying “Natsui Makoto, I like you. So please stay by my side.”
Makoto starts to cry and begins to jabber about work and whatnot before Hyuga pulls her in for a kiss. He tells her that the other side of the world is no big deal. He’ll find a way to bridge it. He chides her for not understanding what he does for a living. The thousands of miles between them, he will make it disappear, so she can feel secure and go.
Hyuga then adds that he may be able to bridge the distance between them so they can see each other virtually, but he can’t bridge the distance so they can kiss. You sly dog, Hyuga! Hyuga suggests they kiss now and Makoto smiles and nods. Hyuga leans in for a kiss, but before their lips touch he pulls back in embarrassment, which makes her laugh again.
They smile at each other and then lean in to kiss again!
Time jump of one year and nine months later. Hyuga brings back the just-released Asahina and presents him to the entire company. Asahina greets Yamagami and everyone else, bowing low and deep. Hyuga hands him a marker and shows him a space for him to write. Asahina writes a new note on the wall that says “We can do it if we do it together!” Asahina asks Hyuga if he can do it? Instead of answering, Hyuga extends his fist. The two guys fist bump again. Elsewhere, Yasuoka and his office crush have gotten hitched and that’s a cute little ending for them.
Hyuga is online talking with Makoto, who has a Brazil flag on her face. She’s asking him if he’s read her just published paper in a medical journal. He’s distracted doing other stuff and she can tell. Hyuga ends the call, telling her that he’s busy right now. He suddenly hears her voice yelling that he shouldn’t end calls so abruptly like that.
Hyuga turns around and sees Makoto standing by the front entrance. She smiles at him and peels off the Brazil flag sticker on her cheek. He smiles back at her with a giant grin. Hyuga walks over and welcomes her back. She smiles and he smiles back and they hug each other.
The entire group snaps a picture, including Asahina and Yoko, and Hyuga hangs it up. Hyuga looks at that picture and says “not bad.” The last scene ends with a “See you again!”
Thoughts of Mine:
It was so lovely to have RMPW wrap up in ways that exceeded my expectations, allowing even the jaded ole me to feel the rush of giddiness watching what ought to be pretty predictable ending that instead felt very fresh. I think it all boils down to Hyuga and Makoto, in many ways written so uniquely even as fictional characters that what they say not only confound me, but often confound each other. That’s actually pretty cool, because that forms the very basis of their relationship from the get go and carries all the way to the end of the drama. Makoto meets Hyuga on the jetty in her hometown and he immediately says things that come off as impolite and awkward. But for a girl lacking self-esteem like Makoto, the only way to get her spirit back up isn’t to coddle her with comforting words, its to prod her into becoming defensive and standing up for herself. But Hyuga’s way is too extreme and he hasn’t learned to temper himself. He’s like a wild stallion who can win any race against any horse but hasn’t learned to race in a professional setting yet. So meeting Makoto provides him the emotional engagement he needs to learn to live both intellectually as well as socially. He may be the smartest kid in the room, but its time he learned to respect the other denizens in the room as well. In the end, Hyuga and Makoto did learn to fill in what they lacked in the past as well as find an emotional anchor for their future.
I am surprisingly fine with the forgiveness and redemption of Asahina, probably because he was a true friend and partner to Hyuga up until he let his jealousy and insecurities rear its ugly head. Without Asahina, Hyuga would have never built Next Innovation, and that is a truth that Hyuga accepts along with the acknowledgement that just because Asahina betrayed him doesn’t negate their years of friendship. Just because Asahina failed, Hyuga’s newly learned maturity allowed him to be the bigger man and extend the hand his friend needed to climb back towards the light. I also appreciated how the find mommy plot line was so deftly dealt with, because in the end, Hyuga realized his mom didn’t want to meet him for whatever reason and he accepted that. He accepted what she wanted over what he deemed to be right. This is such a huge development for a man who was introduced in episode 1 denigrating everything that wasn’t the Hyuga way. I won’t say Hyuga needed the Asahina betrayal to learn hard lessons, but he did use it and transform himself in a positive fashion, and I find that so moving. This entire process was at times pretty Inspirational 101, but it was never maudlin nor milked for the kumbayas. The story very narrowly tells of the journey of Makoto and Hyuga after meeting each other, and that limited scope served very well to ground the proceedings so it never felt too full of itself. It’s also this same reason that overall Yoko ended up an okay second female lead, with not much purpose but what little she served counted. She was a good friend to Hyuga and pushed him to be candid and for that I appreciated her existence in this story.
I loved how all the little character touches we spend 10 episodes seeing came together in the final episode to guide Makoto on her own career journey while bringing Hyuga back to Next Innovation and confessing his feelings for the woman he loves. Makoto remains the girl who doubts herself, that even when she’s found a professional opportunity she still cannot bring herself to pursue Hyuga. Her courage comes and goes, when Hyuga is down she is like a mother hen shielding him and keeping him company, but when Hyuga is up her insecurities about matching up to him take over. The title of Rich Man, Poor Woman ended up not being about money, or wealth as a financial denominator. Hyuga is rich with intelligence but poor with socializing. Makoto is poor with self-esteem but rich with empathy. We have two people who spark with each other finding out that each can help plug a gap in their own limitations, and this journey was for them to face challenges and use it to learn to improve themselves. In the end, the story had the requisite Cinderalla Fairytale ending since the pretty poor girl ends up with the handsome rich boy, but watching it I came away with a sense of appreciation for how this oft-used stereotypical set up was given a smart new spin.