As we wrote earlier, Matsumoto Jun stars as a half-Filipino in his new drama Smile now airing on TBS. Aside from the idea of Matsujun playing a half Pinoy character, what really made me watch this drama is its take on discrimination in the Japanese society. I haven’t been to Japan yet but from what I’ve read and some stories I’ve heard, foreigners, not only Filipinos, have a difficult time blending in. Discrimination is typical in all societies, not only in Japan, and I’m glad that the topic is deemed worthy to gain attention in a drama.

If the topic is not enough for you to watch Smile, then you may be interested to know that drama sees the reunion of some of the Hana Yori Dango crew. Aside from Matsujun of course who played the role of F4 leader Domyouji Tsukasa, my personal favorite Oguri Shun (Hanazawa Rui) also has a supporting role. I’m not sure though how minor Shun’s role is and how many episodes he’s going to appear in but I saw him in episode 1 and he also shows up in the preview for episode 2. Smile was written by Takayuki Takuma who also wrote the scripts for Hana Yori Dango (not to be confused for Yoko Kamio who is the original Hanadan manga writer/creator).

Without further ado, here’s my summary for episode 1:

Bito Hayakawa (Matsumoto Jun) looks intently at a torn page from a book about African American civil rights activist Martin Luther King and reads his famous words “I have a dream.” Bito’s dream, as we learn later on, is to open up his own restaurant that would serve different cuisines–a place where everyone who sits and eats are smiling.

Spring 2015

Someone visits Bito in Tokyo Prison. The jail guard tells the visitor that he admires how naturally bright (I think he meant cheerful) Bito is. The visitor tells him that Filipino people seem to be always cheerful and have a positive attitude. They’ll even buy food or drinks for someone who’s in trouble even if they don’t have money.

We then learn that the visitor is actually Bito’s lawyer Ito Kazuma who has come to deliver some bad news–he wasn’t able to buy Bito the otoro sushi he requested. This makes Bito disappointed, as if he received some life altering news. The two reminisce about how they met. Kazuma recalls that the first time he saw Bito was in a rotating sushi restaurant but Bito couldn’t remember this. He wonders whether Kazuma was curious why an East Asian like him wanted to eat sushi. Still smiling, Bito recalls it’s been five years since Kazuma has been his lawyer. The scene is heartbreaking but the jail guard breaks the ice by telling Bito that he’ll do his best to bring Bito some sushi for his birthday. This makes Bito extremely happy.

Spring 2009

Bito and his friends run to catch the discounts at a rotating sushi restaurant. They are eyeing the otoro sushi, an expensive type of sushi. While lined up, they learn from Kazuma that it’s their last chance to get to eat the discounted otoro. However, Bito and his friends get to their seats too late so they couldn’t avail of the discounted price anymore. Kazuma gets the last discounted otoro and eats it while Bito looks on hungrily.

We then get to see the food delivery service where Bito and his friends work. While working, Bito gets a light gash on his hand.

After he gets off from work Bito rushes to his night job serving in a coffee shop. He stops by a bookstore on his way where he and Mishima Hana (Yui Aragaki) meet for the first time. Hana accidentally drops her wallet and Bito gets to pick it up. He then hears a commotion, as Hana is being accused of shoplifting and taken to the back of the store. Hana could not explain herself since, for some reason, she lost her ability to speak. Bito goes in and explains to the owner that the girl must have meant to pay but lost her wallet. The owner allows them to leave and Hana is grateful to Bito for rescuing her. She notices his wound and sticks a band aid on it.

Bito gets in late for work and is bullied by his senpai (senior) who calls him a “Filipino shit.”

The next day, Bito and his co-workers have a send-off dinner for one of their co-workers who’s leaving the shop. We learn more things about Bito as he answers questions from his friends. Bito is half Filipino but he’s never been to the Philippines. His mother named him after Vito Corleone from The Godfather. His father, who was a Filipino, didn’t like the name but his mother did as she pleased.

While having dinner, Bito gets a call and rushes to the café where his senpai is waiting for him. He continues to taunt Bito and tells him that he needs to go to work despite his day off since he was late the other day. While working, Bito is shocked to see his senpai dealing drugs to a popular actress named Yuki. Although sensing something bad is happening, he gets tricked by his senpai into giving away his locker key. Bito sees his senpai leave with some thugs he seems to have encountered before.

While walking home, Bito gets a fright when a cop calls his attention and mistakes him for a foreigner. The cop asks for his passport but lets him off upon seeing Bito’s I.D. Bito again meets Hana who helps him pick up his bag. Hana hands him a thank you gift for saving her a while back. At home, Bito finds a little pig accessory (the thing you put on cellphones or keychains) inside the package.

News have spread that the actress Yuki has been arrested for drug possession. Cops are surveying the places where Yuki has been hanging out, including the café where Bito works. One of the cops sees Bito coming out of the bar and it seems that he knows Bito.

Bito and his friends run across some Yakuza-looking guys on the street. They apparently know Bito who used to be with a street gang led by someone called Hayashi. The other gang leader named Kai tries to bully Bito and his friends and they get into a fight. Luckily, Bito’s lawyer-friend Shiori comes to their defense and breaks up the fight.

We then learn more about Bito’s dark past. In spring of 2000, Bito and his friend were members of Hayashi Seiji’s (Oguri Shun) gang. They had a fight with Kai’s gang and it was then that Hayashi cut Kai’s face. We also learn that Bito’s senpai Kondo is a member of Kai’s group. Sensing this may cause him trouble, Bito’s friends and boss convince him to quit his job at the café.

Back at the café, Bito hears Kondo talking to someone about using his locker. Bito asks for his key back and quickly inspects the contents of his locker but he sees nothing suspicious.

Meanwhile, Hana applies for work at the food delivery service and gets accepted, to Bito’s surprise. The boss introduces her to the other crew and explains that due to psychological reasons, her vocal chords could not work, thus she is unable to speak.

Hana follows Bito around. He goes inside the same bookstore where she got chased so she disguises herself with a pair of sunglasses. The owner sees them so the two run out. Bito thanks her for the pig accessory and asks her why she gave him one. Bito learns through lip-reading that Hana likes pigs. She tells him to make wishes to the pig for it will make his dreams come true. Bito tells her that his dream is to open up his own restaurant.

Bito arrives at the café and the cops go in to investigate. They take Bito to the locker room where they see a sachet of drugs hidden inside a hanger in Bito’s locker. The cop wants to take Bito to the police station but Bito, who’s afraid he’s been set up, tries to escape. He hides inside a record shop where he calls his boss and breaks down. He tells them that he’s innocent and wonders if they’ll believe him even if he’s half-Filipino. They assure him that they’ll believe everything he says. A guard sees Bito and tries to chase him. The cops finally corner Bito as Hana and Kazuma look on.

My thoughts:
The first episode isn’t that exciting as some scenes actually bordered on the melodramatic. It could use tighter editing as well because I felt there were some scenes that dragged on.

As for the good points, I commend this drama for being bold enough to tackle the topic of discrimination. The subject alone makes it worthwhile for viewers, not only for drama otakus like me. It’s also refreshing to see Matsujun in a different role as I’ve been used to seeing him as the cocky Domyouji Tsukasa. I didn’t expect him to fit a role as vulnerable as Bito but I think his acting worked, which makes him a better actor in my eyes.

Credits: Arashi for the awesome hard-subbed episodes

Myla Torres-Eder

Myla writes news stories for a living and watches K-dramas for leisure. She enjoys doing both for Hallyudorama.

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