[Part 1 here.]
The year was 2016, it was Christmas, but our household was having a meltdown.
The Christmas decor did nothing to cheer up the atmosphere nor the frenzied preparations for the season distracted my mother, sister and our housekeeper from one thing: Vito.
I used to monopolize our TV in the living room by watching Arashi concerts that they could not really relate to. Every now and then, my mom or sister would come by, watch a few minutes, ask questions, make comments, then go back to their own TV with their own local dramas and news, or to whatever they were previously doing.
Sure, they knew of my devotion to Arashi even if they could barely tell each member apart. But like the guide I use with my colleagues, sometimes they manage: Jun is the Japanese version of “Daomingsi,” Nino is the actor in a Clint Eastwood movie, Sho is the newscaster, Aiba is of the “Aiba speaks Engrish” fame (I have shown the video to every colleague who had the patience to sit through my Arashi sessions and they always ended up laughing and asking if there’s still more, so shoutout to whoever made that compilation video back in the days, it still makes me laugh a lot to this day too), and Ohno is the leader.
One time, I guess my sister was feeling generous that she sat down while I was watching a concert and asked if there is something else we could watch like an Arashi drama. So thank goodness for my friends who have generously shared their comprehensive Arashi video files and out came the hard drive.
“What kind of drama do you like?” I asked.
Ok…. that was not exactly easy.
I clicked on the remote and as if I were doing a powerpoint presentation, showed her the TV screen. “So Jun, the Japanese Daomingsi, has some romance dramas… Nino the Hollywood star tends to have serious dramas…Sho the newscaster and Aiba who speaks Engrish have some interesting ones…oh how about Ohno, he usually does unconventional roles like this one, he plays a monster, or this one, he plays a grim reaper…”
My sister’s eyes were starting to glaze over so I quickly clicked on Ohno’s folder and chose Uta no Onii-san thinking the music element of the drama might be “interesting” enough. Well, not really. So we moved to Shinigami-kun. That went down as quickly.
I was stumped, not that I desperately wanted my family to like Arashi because it was enough that they respected my fangirl choices without laughing at me, but it would be nice to have a collective experience that involved something I love.
“Oh what about this Jun drama…although it’s sad but maybe more relatable. He plays a Japino.”
“Japino?” My sister asked, half-curious, half-interested.
“A Japanese Filipino.”
That’s how we ended up with Smile.
My mother, hearing the plot, came and sat down as I clicked on the first episode. No one left the room all throughout and that’s how we all ended up watching Smile during the holidays.
We’d watch an episode during breakfast while my sister was preparing to go to work and our helper was doing her chores, peeking at the screen or sitting down with us as we assured her it’s all right if lunch will be late. Then once more in the evening when my sister arrived from work.
They would complain all the time on how depressing it was but they kept on watching, wanting to know what will happen to Vito. It was also a chance for me to watch the episodes in their entirety. Previously, I would skip through the heavy parts of the drama and that meant skipping a lot. Watching Jun as Vito, the Japanese Filipino convicted wrongly of a crime, was just heart-wrenching.
Smile was Jun’s second drama after his iconic role as Domyouji in Hana Yori Dango. He played Ban in Bambino in 2007, the aspiring Italian cuisine chef, who was bullied in the kitchen. Then Smile came in 2009. Both roles were a far cry from Domyouji and I commend Jun’s efforts to take on roles that went against the stereotype, otherwise he would have been stuck doing similar roles.
“Why is Vito’s life so sad?” my sister would wail, her shoulders sagging as she prepared to leave the house for work (I did think that Smile was perhaps a wrong choice to start the day with).
“My poor Vito,” my mother would say while in the middle of planning the Christmas dinner menu.
It was like a main event when we finally reached the final episode. We all gathered in the living room, all three of my fellow audience preparing their hearts for Vito’s conviction (I refused to reveal to them the ending). They were so emotionally invested in the drama that nothing, not even a phone call, could distract them from the screen. They all heaved a collective sigh when the ending came.
“That was so hard to watch,” my sister said. “Next time can we watch something lighter?”
Smile has left such a deep impression on them that when I watch an Arashi concert, they’d always look for “Vito.”
“I like how Vito looks there,” my mother once commented while I was watching a concert DVD. “He looks happy.”
“It was just a drama, mother,” I reminded her. “And that’s not Vito, that’s Matsumoto Jun in his natural habitat.”
They can never forget Vito that my sister even named our new pit bull “Vito.”
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