Seeing double drama with Korean and Japanese TV: “Operation Proposal” vs. “Proposal Daisakusen”

Seeing double drama with Korean and Japanese Dramas

#Operation Proposal vs. #ProposalDaisakusen

Hello. This is a Korean In America. Today, I want to discuss the two series, the J-drama original “Proposal Daisakusen” and its K-drama adaptation “Operation Proposal”. Compared to the other articles in this series, it’s a rough and long ride along the two series. So, brace yourself!

Among my other articles in this series, this article is interesting in the fact that the term adaptation is most suited to this one. For the previous articles, I would have to say that the term remake would be more suitable with a slight dose of localization put into the mix. 

Examples would be “The Queen's Class Room” and “TheMan Who Can't Get Married”.  In the case of “Marry Him If You Dare”,  it should be categorized as more of being inspired by “Juunen Saki mo Kimi niKoishite”. The stories are different enough that the terms either remake or adaptation would be inaccurate.

This argument is using the degree of change between the original and the new product as a divide between the two terms. While a remake changes little from the original source material, an adaptation is more liberal with it. In the case of K-drama,“Operation Proposal”, it is clearly an adaptation. Other than the basic premise and story points, you would have to say the two are very dissimilar. However, this does not necessarily increase the value of the K-drama version. It means that it has to really stand on its own feet while being constrained by the shell of the original source material. And, the K-drama,“Operation Proposal”,  falls on its face into the mud!

Plot of Proposal Daisakusen
The  plot of the J-drama,“Proposal Daisakusen”, follows Iwase Ken played by Yamashita Tomohisa at the wedding ceremony of his friend, Yoshida Rei, played by the lovely Nagasawa Masami. Ken and Rei have been friends ever since the 3rd grade. However, for most of those years, the two were part of the five musketeers gang of friends dynamic.  The other slots of the gang were filled by another one girl and two boys.

Oku Eri, the girl looking for love in all the wrong places, by Enokido Mikio, the aspiring filmmaker, and by Tsurumi Hisashi, the helplessly devoted. 

For Ken and Rei, this five musketeers dynamic is their primary personal dynamic in which their relationship inhabits. Even though the two’s relationship started before the five musketeers, it never developed into something beyond the five musketeers dynamic. In other words, they were stuck in the friend zone.

However, looking at the five musketeers, being in the friend zone was not bad. All of the five, including Ken and Rei are good friends. No, the five are great friends! Their friendship is the type of relationship that you can only form during the innocents of youth when you only really have each other. It is a friendship that you remember in old age.

Now at the Rei’s wedding ceremony, as he sees the “Happy couple” slide show, which people say it’s cute at weddings, Ken is depressed that it is not him next to Rei. More accurately he really regrets not actually recognizing his feeling towards her thus not even getting a chance to date her.  This detail is actually really important to remember.

It is not that he loved and lost. It is that he never really loved before and thus lost by default. Then, suddenly everything around him freezes, and a snarky and sarcastic but, at the same time, kind god/fairly of love pops up and gives him a chance to go back to the past and do stuff over.

When I first saw this J-drama, I loved it. After then, I have seen it several times in full. However, I cannot call it a classic J-drama. It is good and could even be called great. But it is not a classic because of its critical weakness and its over-dependence on its strengths. 

Description of Proposal Daisakusen 
“Proposal Daisakusen” could be described as a dome with a heavy lantern on top. All of the weight of the lantern, which is a metaphor for themes, is supported fully by its outer structural shell. The inner core story is totally hollow without substance.

Ok… not totally hollow but close.

What I mean by this description is that, compared to the actually storylines, the external wrap around story structure does more of the heavy lifting. 

Let’s talk about the hollow inner core. What is the actual story of this J-drama once the external wrap around story structure, which includes the time travel aspect, is removed?

In the vein of the black and white classic movie “It's a Wonderful Life”, “Proposal Daisakusen” is criticizing our protagonist’s psychological behavior and teaching a lesson about the past and about regrets to the audience. If you think about it, “It's a Wonderful Life” and “Proposal Daisakusen” share similar story elements including the intervention of the supernatural being to start the protagonist on his journey. In the case of “It's a Wonderful Life”, it was Clarence, the wingless angel.

Look, Daddy. Teacher says: every time a bell rings an angel gets his wings.
--Quote from “It's a Wonderful Life

The protagonist of “Proposal Daisakusen”, Ken, is an archetypal Japanese youth character. He is indecisive, uncertain, regretful and emotionally vague. His journey is about learning to move beyond these negative characteristics that permeates within Japanese society.

Don’t just regret about not getting a chance to confess one’s love!
Don’t just hang around but see the people around you!
Pay attention to your own feelings and wants!
Appreciate the past but live in the present!

The Rei and Ken love story element is just a catalysis for these lessons.  It could even be said to be a McGuffin. Getting Rei’s affection and a happy ending with her or not getting the happy ending with her does not really affect the overall impact of the series. It is the journey and the lessons learned!

To summarize, the core story of “Proposal Daisakusen”  is about a normal “not anything special” guy getting to understand his friends better, appreciating his friendships, and ultimately learning to let the past go and move on beyond his current nature. This is done through recollection of the past through supernatural means ala a fairy/god of love.

With this type of theme drama series, it is vital that the series get its point across clearly and with as much punch as possible but does not preach at the same time. The best way of doing this is to make the audience identify and sync up with the focal point character. The focal point character is no longer a character within the narrative but that character is you!  A loose example would be the kids from “Queen’s classroom”. You are going with them along the rabbit hole that the teacher had prepared. 

The core story
This is when the hollowing out of the core story comes into play. “Proposal Daisakusen” takes 2 approaches to strip down the core story to its bare necessities: the employment of the mundane, and minimalism. Via those approaches, “Proposal Daisakusen” tries to get the audience to identify with Ken on his journey.

The core story and the mundane
Let’s talk about the mundane.

Our protagonist, Ken, is not a special guy. When I say normal “not anything special guy”, I mean it! He is just cliché archetypal young Japanese guy. He is directionless, indecisive, unsure of himself, and lacks any clear identity or voice. He has no clear personality or interests. While he plays baseball in high school, this is nothing but a casual pass time to do during high school. Even among his gang of friends, his is the most mundane since they actually have hobbies and aspirations. Rather it be poor character development, this state is actually is the point of his character.

His is a cipher.
He is the audience’s stand in.

We as an audience, rather than seeing him as a character in the story, see ourselves as him especially if we are a Japanese male around the age of 30.

A Japanese male with regrets about the past because we did not know really anything at the time but thought that we knew everything.

It is us that go on the journey through events, at least on an emotionally, that resemble our own past. It is us that get to relive our youth which seemed at the time to be filled with promise but now does not feel like it.

When the novelty has worn off, when the heady & heart thumping phase has long passed, true love is the desire to attend to the grunt, grind and mundane aspects of life together.     
--- Michele Scott

This is not the only mundane element in the series. The story itself is VERY mundane. It is about really NORMAL friends going through really NORMAL lives starting from high school and climaxing after college at Rei’s wedding ceremony.

In every episode, the series portrays one event in Ken’s past with his friends which include Rei also. If you think about it, every single event in this series is nothing to write home about.  They are all really cliché events but not in terms of drama. They are cliché in terms of actually life. If you have lived in Japan during the period portrayed by the series, you would have had, at least, experienced a few of the events in the series. Even if you were not in Japan, similar events would have happened to you if you’re in that target age range of around mid to late 30s.

While the mundane nature of the story is attractive in terms of nostalgia, it could get really bland fast. Thus, in order to keep the audience’s attention, a typical series would employ very interesting characters to compensate for the lack of interesting events. However, the J-drama,“Proposal Daisakusen”, does not strictly deliver them. Or to be accurate, it never intended to do so.

The Greek word for "return" is nostos. Algos means "suffering." So nostalgia is the suffering caused by an unappeased yearning to return.
― Milan Kundera, Ignorance

The members of the five musketeers other than Ken are nothing special as people. They are just normal people you would have met growing up. No one has any special talents that would lift them above mere mortals. No one is too self-indulgent to be the drama queens that make up the cast of a typical K-drama. They are just kids from the neighborhood that you spent most of your youth hanging around with doing nothing really special.

True friendship comes when the silence between two people is comfortable”
--David Tyson Gentry

While individually they are not interesting at all , their  dynamic within the five musketeers makes the five musketeers feel like real friends. They are the kids that, only after getting old, do you recognize were special because they were your true friends that only can be created in the innocents of youth. This is their attractiveness as characters. 

The core story and Minimalism
This leads into the talk about minimalism.

The audience cipher, Ken, is not really much of a character. Other than his archetypical characteristics, he has no personality and backstory as a character. Other some snippets here and there, you don’t know what he is thinking about most of the time. Well, it is more likely he is not thinking about anything.  In order to emphasize his role as a cipher, his character seems to be deliberately left to be a non-character. 

This is even true for him in the individual stories within the series. Yes, the overall meta story is about his efforts to change his past and get the girl, Rei. However, in the individual stories and scenes, he does not ploy much a role. Here is just there most of the time. His friends are going around and living their lives and it seems like Ken is just there for the ride. What is more interesting is that the other characters seem to view this as normal for him which aligns with the theme of the series. The real problem with Ken is that he is never fully present. Thus, he is only an active character in about 10% of the total air time.

At this point, we have to talk about the acting. Yamashita Tomohisa who plays Ken is not a great actor. How bad an actor he is was not evident in my first viewing of the series as I was so engrossed in the series. However, if you see the series closely, you can see how a bad an actor he is.

Throughout the series, except for some nice voice overs, he never speaks more than one line of dialogue at a time. He never really emotes or changes his expression through the whole series. He just has that goofy indecisive expression and shaggy hair style throughout. He is just a poor actor who has been in a lot of J-drama series such as “Dragon Zakura “ from a young age but never learned how to act.

The genius of the series is that, as a character,  Ken played by Yamashita Tomohisa does not need to act as he is just a static cipher within a group of friends. To be frank, actual good acting would just revealed the stripped down nature of the narrative and separate the audience from its standin character within the series.  The series, thus, uses him to help the audience squeeze into the group of friends.

The other actors are great delivering very town down but believable portrayals of a friend. While none of the characters are special in terms of drama, the actors are able to create a great friendship dynamic. You really believe that the five which includes the audience’s standin are a really close nit group of friends. 

In addition to the minimalism shown through the characters, the scale of the world in the series is also a great example of minimalism in favor of focusing on the 5 musketeers. The only events in the show are about these 5 musketeers. In almost every scene in the past, there are at least two characters from the 5 musketeers. The scope of the stories never moves beyond the scope of the close nit 5 musketeers. There are other side characters coming in to perform function within stories. However, you don’t really get to know them.

You have the girl friend of Mikio who is just around for a few scenes.
You have Rei’s father pop up for a moment.

It is like seeing a friend of a friend. You may have seen them around but you never know them really.

The external wrap around structural shell
This strip down nature of the series in itself may not be enough to catch and keep the audience’s attention. In order to do so, the series requires a strong external wrap around structural shell to prevent the whole dome from collapsing from the hallowed out inner core.

With “Proposal Daisakusen”, the wrap around structural shell is basically the time travel format. Except for the prologue, the whole 11 episode series only exists within an interval of 10 minutes set in the present. It exists within the few minutes it takes to go through a photo slide show. Every episode exists between the transitions between each single slide. Have you though why the setup like this?

“Proposal Daisakusen” is setup to show that, even when you have time travel, the one directional flow of time is still an uncontrollable fact. The slide show runs through a temporal sequence starting from the earliest to the present and Ken is just there helplessly watching. Not only does the slide show represent the flow of time of the past, it also represents the fact that the time in the present does not stop. Thus, every choice matters even with time travel. This is also expressed by the god/fairy eating a food item every time a time slip happens. Time flows and things change and do not remain constant. Thus, this setup is closely tied to the theme.

I'll just tell you what I remember because memory is as close as I've gotten to building my own time machine.
― Samantha Hunt, The Invention of Everything Else

The actual nature of the time travel is also interesting. The god/fairy lets Ken travel but it is Ken who is actively initiating the time travel through a silly posture.  The point of time and place of the time travel is dictated by a photo taken with friends and includes both Rei and Ken. Ken travels to the past a short time, ranging from a few hours to a day, before the photo was taken. Rather than physically travelling, he slips into his body at the time. Thus, rather than travelling back in time to change the events, it becomes more of a form of visual recollection of past events. He is there to revisit his past decisions and trying to understand why those decisions were made and to acknowledge that he is still the same stupid person her was before. While everything else changed around him, he is still the same person who had not learned the lessons he should have learned. So, the focus is on understanding and acknowledgement rather than actions.

This form of time travel is tightly designed to keep the audience aligned to the theme while creating a sense of time and suspense. Even the behavior of the god/fairy is to bookend both ends of each lesson. He indicated an event in the beginning and is there at the end of each journey to summarize the lessons learned from each time travel episode and provide directions for the next one. In this way, he is meant to be a quirky mentor to Ken.

If you think about it, the overall conceit of using the slide show has a meaning of its own. Why does the slide show matter? Or more accurately why does this day of the wedding matter to Ken in terms of his feelings toward Rei? Officially, Rei is already married! The slideshow is just part of the reception. It is not like the moment when the priest asks for one last objection. He is rather late for that.

 He was in love with her before the marriage and could be still so afterwards. And marriages are not this immovable thing now with marriages breakup all the time. For Ken, the end of the wedding represents the moment of truth. It is the point in which, once pasted, you have to move on with your life.

All of these elements belong to the external wrap around structure. It constantly aligns the audience with the themes of the series and structures time into a series of discrete events which is meant to provide insight unlike real life which is continuous in nature. This helps to get the audience from pre-time travel Ken to post- time travel Ken in an efficient manner.

Whole this approach to story has its benefits by providing a seminal TV viewing experience to the audience, it is a very risky tight rope act. This type of approach is a double edged blade since you are more likely to crash and burn if you fail to nail it in execution or if the audience fails to sync with the audience’s cipher character for any kind of personal reason.  Considering the popularity of the series, it can be said that “Proposal Daisakusen” did nail it.

To summarize , the events in the story are not really special or interesting. The characters are not special in objective terms. This is the reason for the dome with a heavy lantern on top metaphor. “Proposal Daisakusen” strips the core story elements down to their bare bones in the pursuit of its theme which is the heavy lantern on top in the metaphor.

K-drama adaptation Operation Proposal
This is contradictory to common K-drama conventions. For most  K-dramas, it is the inner core that supports the whole series.

It is the character shenanigans.
It is the over dramatize events.  

They are the meat of K-dramas. It is not its themes or external wrap around structure. These differences really come to light with the K-drama adaptation, “Operation Proposal”.

One thing I have to give credit to the K-drama adaptation, “Operation Proposal” is that they knew the difference between what “Proposal Daisakusen” was doing and the convention of K-drama. But their response to this understanding is weird!

They tried to turn  “Proposal Daisakusen” into a conventional of K-drama which is a weird decision considering the overall structuring of “Proposal Daisakusen”. As with a dome with a heavy lantern on, there is not much flexibility for changes unless you do not want it to fall down. It is not like “The Man Who Can't Get Married “or even “The Queen's Class Room” which have more content and plot to work with. As a result, “Operation Proposal” becomes a very different animal from its original source material, “Proposal Daisakusen”.

Peeling away the external wrap around structure
With Operation Proposal”, the first thing they did was to peel away the external wrap around structure.

Yes, the time travel is still there.

However, the slide show is gone and even the initial period of the series is after the whole wedding ended and set at our protagonist’s home. Now, the time travel is triggered by many different things including just thoughts. Because of the slide show is gone, the time travel is not linked to a temporal sequence of events but rather a stream on consciousness that lack structure.  As a consequence, the theme is never really clearly expressed.

People assume that time is a strict progression of cause to effect, but *actually* from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint - it's more like a big ball of wibbly wobbly... time-y wimey... stuff.
― Steven Moffat

In regard to the time travel itself, our protagonist still slips into the body of his past self. However, the time limit is non-existent and vague. Depending on the situation, our protagonist, Kang Baek Ho, leaps months ahead of the targeted event and sometimes seems to stay in the time stream up to the current time. In some other situations, he seems to jump back… maybe???

It is rather unclear what is happening in regard to the time travel mechanism. However, because of the long period spent in the past, the focus shifts away from the decisions made to actions being made by the time travelling future self. Throughout the series, you see Kang Baek Ho change much more of his own life than Ken in “Proposal Daisakusen” to the point that I don’t really understand how he keeps track. Or it may just be poor writing. At the same time, this makes Kang Baek Ho feel like more of an idiot than Ken who is just a kid hanging around.

So these changes totally dismantle the external wrap around structure’s effectiveness and weaken the series’ focus on its themes. With the discussion  about characters, we touch what was done to the inner story core of “Operation Proposal”.

K-dramatization of characters
Every single character was K-dramatized. 

In the case of Ken’s K-drama version, he now is an actual character. Kang Baek Ho unlike Ken is now a semi-professional baseball player.  Baseball was just a hobby for Ken and the gang during high school. For Ken, it just represents the carefreeness of high school and nothing more. Now, Kang Baek Ho is someone who may become a professional baseball player. This makes him more than mere mortal that makes up the audience.

Kang Baek Ho also got a K-drama backstory with birth issues and etc. Now, Kang Baek Ho  is a character so dense with backstory that he is leaking backstory elements. It is really funny that, basically all the information about Ken and his relationship with Rei we got throughout the whole of the J-drama is provided in the first episode of “Operation Proposal”. And we get to know much more about him during the remaining 15 episodes.

There are three problems with this. First, Ken’s counterpart is no identifiable and real.  Second, he is now just a typical K-drama character. There is nothing unique about him that makes the time spent with him stimulating. Third, he is no longer the audience’s standin character. He is just a character within the narrative. All of this further separates the series from its so called themes. The same is done with the others in the 5 musketeers. They are all K-drama characters with all their clichés and over the top drama queen behaviors. As a consequence, no one feels real.

Similar thing happened with the side characters. Some of them just became totally different typical K-drama characters. The romance rival character who was just this mature and nice older guy in “Proposal Daisakusen” became a son of a super wealthy son slumming it as a baseball couch. With this character, “Operation Proposal” tries to create a typical K-drama love triangle. This does not really fit into story since there was never a rivalry in the first place. Kang Baek Ho  has to actually be in the game to have a rivalry. He never was in the game which is the problem with his character!

The shop owner of the gang’s hangout has changed from a normal guy who love to make weird burgers to a closeted flaming gay guy. In either series, the shop owner does not play any significant roles. There is no reason for him to be a closeted flaming gay guy. Even the one off character who is one of the gang’s girlfriend was turned into a weird emo introvert working at the gang’s hang out. She is positioned as another romance subplot that never really worked.

K-dramatization of the story
In regard to story , “Operation Proposal” share some of the main story points with the “Proposal Daisakusen”. However, it has fewer actual time jumps since each jump is stretched across 2 or 3 episodes. The stories are more focus on the character of our protagonist Kang Baek Ho and his love interest, Ham Yi Seul. This is possible because the K-drama spends more time in the past like months. One of the consequences of this is that it is no more about a series of single decisions at a point in time.   By going back in time, Kang Baek Ho does more for his baseball career than his romance. If you had only a day or hours, not being able to accomplish stuff like confessing your love is understandable. However, if you have weeks or month, your failures are laughable.

Another consequence of this is that it focuses less on the five musketeers as group. It reaches the point that the others are not really needed to the main plot and feels like filler material unlike the J-drama which is centered around the five musketeers as group for its story. This is helped along by the K-dramatization of the characters.

At this point, I’ll have to talk about the acting in “Operation Proposal”. The actor who plays Kang Baek Ho is a better actor than Yamashita Tomohisa. However, this does not mean he is good actor. He is still terrible on any objective scale. The major difference is that “Proposal Daisakusen” tailors the role for Yamashita Tomohisa. On the other hand, Operation Proposal” requires the character to do much more. This, in turn, ends up emphasizing the poor acting quality.

With the other characters, the actors behind the J-drama characters are far better at their craft. Without being over the top, they are able to portray the beauty of friendship with their subtle and realism performances. The actors in “Operation Proposal” are just what you would expect from young K-drama actors who major in over the top performances. They all feel like K-pop stars trying to act like real people.

Better Female lead
The biggest standout actor of the J-drama is the actress, Nagasawa Masami, playing Rei in “Proposal Daisakusen”. She was at her prime during that period.  She is able to breath life into her surroundings and even into Yamashita Tomohisa when they are on screen together without being glamorous. You believe that Ken would be in love with her since we, as the audience, are in live with her. In comparison, Park Eun Bin who plays the girl in “Operation Proposal” is just dull even for K-drama actress standards. She is like a black hole that makes the overacting of the other characters more obvious.

 At the end, “Operation Proposal” is like a gross mutation you see happen during a bad transporter accident in the movie “Fly”.  “Operation Proposal” changes a lot about the original source material but does not get it to work as an overall series. The problem is that they kept much of the core themes and setup that are incompatible with the changes.
As a consequence, the emphasis on the theme is very weak to the degree that it is almost nonexistent. The external wrap around structure, which was the jewel of the original J-drama, was gutted to the degree that it is unrecognizable. The characters are now glamorous but shallow caricature without any realism to them. And you can see the K-drama tropes shoved into the inner core of the story poking out of the shattered remains of the external shell.

So, you get the jest of my impression of “Operation Proposal”. “Operation Proposal” commits the greatest sin of adaptation. It takes something that was carefully crafted to do one thing and totally ignores it to makes something that is just tedious and boring. I had this editorial in the pipeline for a whole. However, I  just could not get through the episodes of “Operation Proposal”.

I was so bored!

After thoughts
In conclusion, Operation Proposal” is a terrible adaptation of “Proposal Daisakusen”. I personally think that it is a worse adaptation then the J-drama adaptation of the K-drama,“Hotelier”. And that was bad!

Go see Proposal Daisakusen”Do not bother with “Operation Proposal

Streaming links
Proposal Daisakusen : Good drama net
Operation Proposal : Good drama net

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