The Man Who Can't Get Married (2009) ~Seeing double drama with Korean and Japanese Dramas

#TheManWhoCantGetMarried vs. #KekkonDekinaiOtoko Review / Comparison

Seeing double drama with Korean and Japanese Drama 

Hello, I am a Korean in America. This is a multipart series of comparing Korean adaptations of Japanese Drama series and vice versa. For part 2, I'll go over the 2 versions of “The Man Who Can't Get Married” Let’s examine if he cannot really get married.

Of the several K-dramas based on J-drama originals, this K-drama remake was the one that made me really notice the trends of remakes between the two countries. As a fan of the original J-drama, I started watch the K-drama remake with part disdain and part curiosity. I ended up being rather surprise by the end product. It is difficult to call the K-drama an adaptation because it basically lifted most scenes from the original Japanese script. It should be called a fateful remake that covers the same beat as the Japanese original but bring in enough nuances to be fresh.    

The plot of Kekkon Dekinai Otoko
J-drama "Kekkon Dekinai Otoko" or The Man Who Can't Get Married” is a slice of life type of show centered around Shinsuke Kuwano, a successful architect at 40, and the new two females that enter his life. He is a rather self-focused and eccentric artist who lives to his own beat rather than conforming to social standards such as getting married. 

The series starts with Michiru Tamara, a young girl now just starting out in society, and her small dog moving next door to him. Shinsuke Kuwano does not get on with her simply because she is a disruption to his life style. At a similar time, he starts going to visit a doctor, Dr. Natsumi Hayasake, on an unscheduled but frequent bases because of the unhealthy life style. To complete this relationship triangle, the Michiru Tamara and Dr. Natsumi Hayasake bump in together and become friends.

If this series was originally created in Korea, this would be a love triangle entangled in misunderstanding, misbehavior, and general anarchy. In other words, it would be a soap opera.  However, this series is a J-drama which have more respect for their stories. The triangle is a relationship triangle connecting real people who are suitable mature for their age but, at the same time, have a unique and slightly rebellious spirit towards social conventions. There do not do behave outrageously because the plot requires it.    

As a slice of life show, the plot does not run towards a specific goal which, in the case of K-dramas, is getting the two leads together against contrived resistances. The plot is about these three people getting to know each other and showing how each other influence the others in a positive manner. At the end of the series, everyone is left off better than at the start of the series.

The difference between the original and remake
When discussing the difference between the original and remake, the title of the show “The Man Who Can't Get Married” becomes poignant.  It references the discussion between the female characters have about the male lead. 
Is the fact that he is not married at 40 his choice or is it not?

The K-drama remake is truthful to the original source material. However, there are some differences between the two series based on two factors. 

The first is that the actors had different interpretation about the characters they were playing. 
The second is that the original 11 episode script was expanded to a 16 episode K-drama series. 

These factors make the Korean remake different enough to warrant its existence.

The nature of the male lead
In the original, Shinsuke Kuwano played by Abe Hiroshi was a self-focused, eccentric artist oddball. He ignored a lot of social conventions because he did not like them. He thought they were silly and interfered with his life style. 

In other words, he was deciding to behave in this manner. 

In the k-drama remake, the actor Ji Jin Hee seems to interpret the character differently. His portrayal of the character more inferred to the character having a social disorder rather than choosing to behave in a certain way. This distinction is very subtle because the original script never made it clear. However, it does change the character drastically in the eyes of the audience.

The Hero
In the original, Shinsuke Kuwano was just this guy who was successful and lucky enough to live in his own way. You, as an audience member, are envious of this character because you could not be him. You have to conform and be more like the brother in law who is married but constantly cheating on his wife. It is not a coincidence that the brother in law is constantly buzzing around Shinsuke Kuwano even though his dialog skews towards conformity. 

So, in the original, Shinsuke Kuwano is our hero. While he does need to grow up a little, we as the audience respect him.  

The Victim 
In the K-drama remake, the character seems to subconsciously want to conform but cannot. However, he cannot because he does not understand certain social conventions. Rather than being a choice, it is an illness that prevents him from becoming normal. This is more evident in the extended portions of the script not in the original. There is much more interaction with his family and even with Dr. Natsumi Hayasake. While the family was more of a back drop in the original, the K-drama uses it to motivate and make the male lead react in a certain way. It is the same with his interaction between Dr. Natsumi Hayasake. In the original, you never know whether Shinsuke Kuwano’s frequent visits are either because he likes her or just because he does not take care of his body. In the K-drama, it’s clear that he is pestering her because it is his childish reaction caused because he is smitten with her and does not know how to react.  Thus, in the audience’s eyes, he is more of a tragic figure. In that way, he is closer to the role Jack Nicholson played in the movie “As Good as It Gets”. When you think about it, there was a dog in that movie also…

The nature of the series
Theses difference in character interpretation is important because it really changes what the show is. The original J-drama was a comedic slice of life series in which the audience laughs at his odd ball behavior. However, the audience does not laugh at him. The laughter comes from his refusal to conform to society. Thus, it creates this sharp witted humor and a lite bounce to the series. 

With the k-drama, the laughter is more subdue and rather bitter since we, the audience, pity the male lead. Thus, the show feels more grounded and less obviously funny. The series feels like a dramady which puts more focus on the drama portion.

The difference also changes how we watch the series. With the original, you view the series without an ultimate goal other than getting to know the character and how they are changing though out the series. In contrast, when watching the k-drama, you are more focused on how the male lead will be saved by the other female leads. In other words, there was more of a plot driving series with the k-drama.

How these differences are judged is more about personal taste than any objective evaluation. The original is tighter and energetic.  The remake is more deliberate in its development of its relationship. The original is funnier while the remake is more dramatic. The major plus towards the original Japanese series is with the male lead.   Abe Hiroshi has far more screen presence and charisma than Ji Jin Hee. It is his acting that sells the character.  Just from his gaze, Abe Hiroshi demand attention. In contrast, while not a bad performance, Ji Jin Hee does not come off in the same manner. And I do not think it is just his interpretation of his character. In addition, he is not strong enough in the comedy department and requires others to carry more of the comedic load.

Comparing the female leads
With female leads, the two series seem to be equal in talent. Uhm Jung Hwa who portrays the doctor is far more cosmopolitan than her counterpart Natsukawa Yui. In the Japanese series, Natsukawa Yui’s role was the straight man to Abe Hiroshi’s outrageous antics. However, since Uhm Jung Hwa has to carry more of the comedic load than Natsukawa Yui, this is not a bad thing as she has a great comedic sense of delivery. With the younger part of the relationship triangle, the actresses in both series do a good job in portraying innocence and naivety although I prefer the Korean actress. However, this is just my personal taste.

The answer to the title question
How do I conclude this discussion between the original and the remake? The two series, while being quite similar, have opposite answers to the question of “Is the fact that he is not married at 40 his choice or is it not?”.  The Japanese series is saying yea while Korean series is saying nay.  

The original series is a masterpiece is tightly delivering a sharp witted but energetic comedy. It does not provide anything other what is required. While to do not know much about the characters, you really know who the characters were and become at the end of the series. The Korean series is more toned down and less tight. However, the relationships between the male lead and his family and the female characters are given more screen time. So, at the end, it is easier to imagine that Uhm Jung Hwa and Ji Jin Hee’s characters will end up in a more traditional happy ending.

At the end
At the end, I would have to say that the Japanese original is superior because of its originality and Abe Hiroshi’s portrayal of Shinsuke Kuwano. However, the K-drama remake is not too far behind. You should see the original first. The remake has enough different towards the second part of the series to watch the same story again. 

Streaming Link For Japanese VersionGood Drama Net
Streaming Link For Korean VersionGood Drama Net

Seeing double drama with Korean and Japanese TV Series: 

Seeing double drama with Korean and Japanese TV: “The Queen’s Class Room”

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  1. I liked reading your comparisons. I saw the K-drama first, and then was thrilled to find a J-drama version with Abe Hiroshi of all actors. They couldn't have cast a better actor than him for the J-version. I Loved it. I can see how his version is adamant about his own choices but I feel he warms up to the idea of marriage when he meets the doctor. Almost begrudgingly. I felt like that while he did have real ailments, each time he grew closer and closer to the doctor and it developed into a real, mature affection by the end and you know their relationship will blossom because he took that step and invited her to dinner.

    Ji Jin Hee's take on the character is weirder, he has all these little tics and issues that you begin to wonder if this guy should really marry at all. :P I found him funny, but at times uncomfortably funny. I thought…should I be laughing at this guy who obviously is a french fry short of a happy meal? The K-drama version, like most K-dramas, was more about how these two are going to get together and make it work. When I read comments about most K-dramas it always revolves around everyone 'shipping' the leads and less on character development and relationships. But I still love them anyway!

    1. Yes. Most of K-dramas are soaps. Koreans does not have a think layer of creativity. It is pretty homogeneous. That what makes J-drama fresh as it keeps thing changing.

    2. Hmm.. I got I little bit different interpretation compared to yours. To me, Kuwano also got that 'illness'. For him to be a genius architect, he had a strange personality where he's hard to mingle with people. In other word, he got high IQ but very low EQ. He regards human relationship is unimportant, not because he chooses to do so, but because his incompetence in that field leaves him with no other choices but to avoid getting along with others. That's why in his 40 years age, he doesn't really have close acquaintances other than his workmate & family. He even leaves customer-relationship things to his assistant, since every time he deals by himself it turns to a disaster (he just doesn't know how).

      The dorama took place when an interesting circumstance happen around his unique personality. Where two ladies got attracted to his personality. AND you know, since Kuwano-san had this strange personality, right to the end he just can't understand how to deal with this kind of interpersonal relation.

      I haven't watch the K-drama adaptation.. But, I rarely enjoy K-drama since its tendency to be a soap opera - as what you said. Having said that, I'm interested to give this adaptation a try.

    3. I get your opinion. Both the male leads' character is not a well adjusted man as seen objectively. Both have socialy adjustment problems. However, Abe Hiroshi portrays the character in a more independent manner and not controlled by a social disability. Ji Jin Hee's portray does emphasize the social disability aspect. Basically he may have asperger's syndrome or something.

      It may just be that Abe Hiroshi is much more charismatic.

  2. I really enjoy reading these Seeing Double Drama articles. I hope you can do one for JIN and Maou.

  3. Yes I was thinking about that show. been some time since Ive seen both. do I do need ti brush up. I was thinking of doing operation proposal first. Have u seen the new episodes of suspicious housemaid remake? not as good...

  4. any other recomendations?

  5. hi! i decided to watch both after reading this seeing double article, but i decided to watch the k-drama first. had i watched the j-drama first, i would have gotten bored with the slower pace at the start. however, the additions and the pleasant ending of the k-drama was good. i would have to agree that it was a close fight!!!

    probably, one of the minor differences that made me choose the j-drama over the k-drama is kaneda-san vs mun seokwhan. in the original, the "ah kaneda!" moments were more comedic whereas the additional drama of mr mun weren't as solid. kaneda's experiences (as an extroverted playboy) only complimented those that were happening around kuwano (introverted and inexperienced with women). while mr mun was more integrated in the story line in the remake, he didn't have much impact as a character. sometimes it was like he was just put in for plot convenience. in other words, he wasn't touching at all. kaneda touched the audience by his post about his new friend. later on, we find out that he is just like kuwano, just another 'man who can't get married'.

  6. A Korean in AmericaFebruary 3, 2014 at 2:53 PM

    I didn't catch that one.
    kaneda was more of a side gag in the original.