I would like to give credit where credit is due. Videos are from YouTube and other sources such as NicoNico while Oricon rankings and other information are translated from the Japanese Wikipedia unless noted.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

'K' (Kang Yoon Sung) - 「Only Human」 - 『1リットルの涙 』/Ichi Liter No Namida

Image courtesy of

While there have been a number of Japanese dramas whose plot revolved around incurable illnesses or other physical disabilites like 『ピュア』/"Pure" (1996), 『聖者の行進』/"Seija No Koushin" (1998), "Summer Snow" (2000) and 『ビューティフルライフ』/"Beautiful Life" (2000) among the most notable, Fuji TV's 『1リットルの涙』/"Ichi Liter No Namida" (2005) is perhaps the best such example. Based on the acclaimed and best-selling non-fiction book of the same name, the book chronicled the life of 木藤亜也/Kitou Aya (1962-1988), a young girl from Toyohashi City in Aiichi Prefecture who at age 15 was diagnosed with the degenerative genetic disorder Spinocerebellar ataxia (SCA) and who had kept a personal diary detailing her courageous fight against the disease and her struggles with coping with its debilitating effects. The book (so titled because Kitou remarked she has "shed enough tears to fill a one liter bottle") collected her writings and inspirational poems that Kitou had written while attending high school and later when she was hospitalized. Released in 1986, just shortly before Kitou succumbed to the illness at the age of 25, the book was an acclaimed best seller which sold over a million copies in Japan and has since been translated into English, German, Chinese and French.
Cover of the book "1 Liter No Namida" - Image courtesy of
Kitou Aya - Image courtesy of

While a film version (released in 2005) with 大西麻恵/Onishi Asae in the title role as Kitou Aya was the first to adapt the book, it is the subsequent TV drama series (released later that same year) which featured 沢尻エリカ/Sawajiri Erika in the title role that is the more well known adaptation.  Although the TV series featured a stellar cast of veteran dramatic actors including 薬師丸ひろ子/Yakushimaru Hiroko, 陣内孝則/Jinnai Takanori and 藤木直人/Fujiki Naohito, was young Sawajiri (in her first major TV role) that captured the heart of audiences in her touching and heartfelt portrayal as Ikeuchi Aya.

Poster advertisement for the film version of "1 Liter No Namida" (2005) with Onishi Asae - Image courtesy of
Screenwriter 横田理恵/Yokota Rie (who was one of the main screenwriters for the TV adaptation of the popular manga  『ごくせん』/Gokusen) does a terrific job of adapting Kitou's original work and translating it to the small screen however, a number of facts were changed for dramatic effect (Aya's story is set in the 2000s rather than in the 1970s; Aya's siblings are changed from 2 brothers/2 sisters to 1 brother/2 sisters; Aya's family name is changed from Kitou to Ikeuchi; Aya's father's job was changed from a White-Collar office postion to a Tofu Maker and a love interest in character Asou Haruto portrayed by Johnny's Junior member 錦戸亮/Nishikido Ryo was included).

The essence of Aya's story thankfully is kept intact with all the difficulties and obstacles that Aya had to face as the disease's effects take their toll. It is to director Murakami Shosuke's/村上正典 credit that he doesn't sugar-coat the story and invites the audience to not only see and understand the pain that Sawajiri's Aya undergoes but show what a cruel disease SCA can be both physically and socially.
In a bit of a clever cameo, Onishi Asae (star of the film adaptation) makes a brief appearance in the TV Drama playing Oikawa Asami/及川明日美, Aya's roommate at the facility that Aya goes to when she is unable to complete classes at her regular high school. It is a wonderful cameo and is indeed a nice tribute to Onishi who boldly portrayed Kitou Aya on film and gave a powerful and touching performance there.

The cast of "1 Liter No Namida" - L-R - Sanada Yuma, Jinnai Takanori, Narumi Riko, Sawajiri Erika, Yakushimaru Hiroko and Miyoshi Ai - Image courtesy of
 "1 Liter No Namida" proved to be a huge career boost for Sawajiri Erika and her incredibly poignant performance won her much accolades and attention. While her next role in the TV series 『タイヨウのうた』/"Taiyo No Uta" (2006) the following year seemed to typecast her again in a tragic role as another character suffering from a debilitating illness, it proved to be another career highlight. Sawajiri's popularity and nice-girl image would however soon turn for the worst when during a promotional event for the 2007 film "Closed Note", Sawajiri would commit a public-relations nightmare by acting aloof and condescending towards assembled members of the Japanese press assigned to cover the event. Rumors suggested that Sawajiri was unhappy with the finished picture and thus was not willing to promote the film. While her talent agency attempted to do damage control, even going so far as to force Sawajiri to do a tearful 1 hour interview to explain her actions (something Sawajiri would later tell CNN International years later was a mistake), the Japanese public turned on her.

The once popular and likeable star has since been consistently voted as among "the most hated female celebrities" in yearly polls conducted by the women's magazine "Shukan Bunshun".  Sawajiri's rebel "bad girl" attitude doesn't really help matters as well as she has attempted to try and distance herself from the tragic and suffering characters that she has portrayed in the past. Yet Sawajiri recently made a stunning comeback in 蜷川実花/Ninagawa Mika's  『ヘルタースケルター』/"Helter Skelter" (2012) in which she played the unapologetically vain and superficial Lilico, a model who was literally "made" via plastic surgery. Sawajiri's new sexy look was quite a pleasant surprise and has helped to redefine her image.  Sawajiri has also studied abroad extensively and has become quite proficient in the English language (perhaps she is eyeing future roles in American films following in the footsteps of 菊地凜子/Kikuchi Rinko).
Sawajiri Erika - 2005 - Image courtesy of

Sawajiri Erika - 2010 - Image courtesy of
Sawajiri Erika - Promotional Ad for "Helter Skelter" (2012) - Image courtesy of

Sawajiri Erika - 2012 - Image courtesy of
The haunting theme song "Only Human" for the series was provided by the Korean pop singer 'K' (Kang Yoon Sung). While "K" has released two albums in South Korea ("K" in 2004 and "Beautiful Smile" in 2006) to moderate success, it is his Japanese albums which have really proven to be popular. "Only Human" is 'K's' 4th Japanese released single and reached No. 5 on the Oricon charts for the month of its release and placed No. 47 on the Oricon charts for the year (2006).  With its tear-inducing yet inspirational lyrics and meloncholy melody, it is the perfect song for the series and one of my favorite J-Dorama songs.

Cover for the single "Only Human" by K - Image courtesy of
'K' AKA Kang Yoon Sung - Image courtesy of

On a sidenote the "1 Liter No Namida" OST also featured two other notable insert songs - レミオロメン/Remioromen's tender winter/snow themed song 「粉雪」/"Konayuki" and their school graduation anthem 3月9日which was sung by Sawajiri Erika's Aya character's class in their school singing concour.

Two years after the inital series ended, a special episode 「1リットルの涙」特別篇‧追憶 (2007) was aired that continued the story after Aya's death.  Set five years after the events of the drama series, the story followed Aya's younger sister Ako (the wonderful 成海璃子/Narumi Riko) who has become a nurse and Aya's love insterest, Asou Haruto (錦戸亮/Nishikido Ryo) who had been inspired by Aya to become a doctor.  Together they help comfort and mentor a young Junior High School girl, Nagashima Mizuki (岡本杏理/Okamoto Anri) who is suffering from the same illness as Aya and in addition had been bullied at school because of it.  While the bulk of the special featured highlights from the TV drama series, the original material was nicely done and incorporated well into the special.  It was also nice to see how the Ikeuchi family have coped and moved on with their lives and how they have kept Aya's life and memory still alive.

Five Years Later - Haruto (Nishikido Ryo) and Ako (Narumi Riko) - Image courtesy of
 "1 Liter No Namida" has deservedly been regarded as one of the best Japanese dramas of all time and is frequently ranked near the top of critic lists. In fitting tribute to the life and memory of Kitou Aya, Director Murakami always made it a point of ending each episode with various photo images of a smiling Kitou Aya with family and friends enjoying life. Passages from Kitou's "1 Liter No Namida" are also included which further displayed Kitou's love for life despite the hardships she suffered from the disease.

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