Hi, I’m Benjamin Wagner, this is my blog and today, I feel a kinship with a lonely, lonely man. Homeraretai Boku no Mousou Gohan (loosely translated as I want to be praised: My illusionary meal) is a show based on a cookbook by a bass player in some moderately fun Japanese bands. Wada Masao was also in Terrace House (the best participant in any season, if you ask me) and was known as Kyuujitsu Kachou (Holiday Section Chief) due to his past as a Japanese salaryman and his appearance being reminiscent of many typical Japanese middle-managers. So, after this information dump, you may be thinking, how do you make a Japanese drama out of a cookbook, you fool? My answer is that it is no ordinary western-style cookbook at all. Alongside recipes, the cookbook also included anecdotes and stories by the man himself which led to this very adaption. Your next question is probably: ‘ Okay then, but what is the show about?’ Ah, well to answer that one you are going to have to hold on and join me as I attempt to review Homeraretai Boku no Mousou Gohan.
Wada Masao (the character in the show, not the writer/bassist/ Terrace House member) is a Japanese salaryman who plays in a band when he can. He lacks confidence in himself, is extremely lonely and has been single for 3000 days. Due to this extended amount of time by himself, Masao finds that whilst cooking his daily meals, one of the few things that grant him pleasure, he finds himself hallucinating a non-existent girlfriend to sit down and eat with him so he can earn her praise and feel a little bit better about himself in the process. The show then follows Masao as he meets (invents) many different women and experiences meals with them and as he attempts to make his band work with his busy full-time job.
When I first read the premise, I guffawed. I thought it sounded ridiculous and, to be fair, it probably does. However, a seemingly dumb or odd premise doesn’t make a show bad if it is dealt with well and, spoiler, it is executed to near perfection here.
However, before I start my traditional ‘answer the two main questions’ schtick, I have a gripe. 3000 days without a girlfriend is approximately 8.2 years. An impressive total but at the age of 26 years and 11 months, never having a girlfriend in this time, I trounce this total with 9818 days without a girlfriend. This isn’t some sort of prideful boasting; there is no pride in being alone. Just that 3000 days is made out to be a big deal in the show but when your personal record is over triple that, it immediately starts you off on a bum note, whilst empathising with the character just a little bit.
So, with my irrelevant personal moaning out of the way, I can move on to the story and characters.
How does such a premise extend into a 12 episode drama?
This is a relevant and pretty decent question to ask. On the face of it, this seems like a premise that could quite easily wear thin as the show begins to reach its later episodes but, to my surprise, it actually doesn’t. Each episode follows the same basic pattern:
- Introduce a problem in Masao’s life
- Gets bummed out and looks inside himself (introspection)
- Cook something for your imaginary girl of the week
- Grow in response to this (imaginary) interaction
Within this fairly tight framework, there is enough variety to keep each episode feeling fresh. This is also in part down to the growth of the band Masao is in being a consistent thread throughout the runtime of the show; often being introduced in the problem section, such as a search for a new band member or dealing with the pressure of an upcoming competition. How Masao deals with these problems and balances them with his already stressful job is the appetiser of each episode. The main course then is the interaction with the imaginary girlfriend; the titular illusion.
Often, the girl in question is someone he has seen or met in passing but in one case she was just the poster girl for a box of rice. This is an interesting dive into the psyche of a lonely man and I am not ashamed to say that quite often, I found the ideas presented to hit a little closer to home than I was completely comfortable. Like Masao, I often find myself fantasising about an idyllic future that is likely to go unfulfilled. For example, just walking to the postbox the other day I found myself dreaming about a nice family I had started after moving to Japan, and explaining to my wife why I would tell her every day that I loved her. Often these illusions go further than just a thought and I can recount conversations I’ve had with these people that don’t and likely will never exist. Apart from being unbelievably creepy, this sort of projection shows that even the strongest, most independent among us crave relationships with other people; be it platonic or romantic. Each time an illusion begins for Masao, his energy picks up and he becomes more open, more enthusiastic and when one ends, the twinge of sadness and feelings of being alone all flood back to him in an incredibly moving and relatable moment of silence; Masao turning around and seeing nobody there. Being completely and utterly alone. Whilst the tone never becomes too heavy and Masao often sees the funny side of things, the emotional weight isn’t diminished by this and takes what could have been seen as poking fun at those not in relationships and instead turns this into a thoughtful commentary on dealing with being alone.
One specific episode that deserves some stand-out praise is episode 10, where Masao imagines a former teacher of his that had recently passed away and uses the imagination time, for lack of a better phrase, to reminisce and attempt to come to terms with this sad passing. Instead of it being a reflection of Masao simply craving a girlfriend, this episode succinctly expresses a simple want for closeness and acceptance that he doesn’t often feel.
One story gripe I do have is related to the ending. One character I have not mentioned yet is Masao’s childhood friend who lives abroad but they often contact each other by phone; almost every episode in fact.
Spoiler Warning: I’m going to spoil the ending. You have been warned.
In short, Masao and Tomoko get a happy ending. And that’s fine, I like happy endings much more than sad ones. However… I don’t know. This might be incredibly petty but I feel sort of betrayed by this ending. It has certainly earned a nice, heartwarming finale for its beautifully portrayed protagonist yet, as a veteran of 9818 days alone, I feel a twinge of bitterness to this kindred spirit finding somebody nice and that they care for to spend their days with. Is this petty? Well, definitely. But in a show that I find myself so closely relating to its main character and his struggles to accept himself, this ending just doesn’t sit right with me, despite it being pleasant all the same. And, as an aside, the character of Tomoko is another that is well written and her continued presence throughout the narrative does hint at this ending way before it happens.
So, with almost unanimous praise and just a petty gripe holding me back, it’s time to focus on the characters and the acting a little more. So, the question is:
How relatable are the characters and are they effectively brought to life?
I have already spoken quite a lot about Masao throughout my discussion of the story but little about the actor who portrays him. Takasugi Mahiro manages to bring Masao to life pretty competently but, considering how attractive the actor is, it is a little hard to believe he has gone 3000 days without a girlfriend. In terms of his acting, the high moments are high and the low moments are low but there is nothing that truly stands out. Even the aforementioned emotional scene regarding the death of his teacher just seemed to be skating by. This really isn’t meant as a criticism but it just isn’t a performance that will live with me. The supporting cast of characters also deserves a deeper dive because, even though Masao is the main driving force of the show, it is the characters he interacts with (imaginary and real), that help tie everything together.
The band members
The very definition of ‘supporting cast’, the band very rarely take centre stage and, even after the show finishes its run, you don’t know a great deal about any of them. All pull off the awkward early-20’s dreaming big and living small people they are attempting to portray and none of them is inherently unlikable, just they aren’t the driving force or focus here. One character that does stand out is Fujisawa Tamaki, played by Natsuko. The character was designed to be eclectic and offbeat- something the actress nails, and her comedic timing is also superb. Everybody here has passable performances but none linger long in the mind either. This is unlike…
The shop staff
I watched episode 1 with a friend before he bailed out but one thing he did say was:
‘When I go to Japan, I want to meet an old woman like the one in the shop’.
Yes, weird as it may be to say, the supermarket worker is probably the standout character. Her odd interactions with the main character as he shops for his imaginary dates are where the show reaches its comedic peak. Masao’s stubbornness regarding cuisine conflicts with her attempts to sell things to him but it is clear she has a lingering fondness towards her odd repeat customer. An interesting note is that the real Wada Masao is in the show, and he plays the woman’s colleague in the shop. A minor role to be sure, but he has his moments. And just seeing him again after Terrace House is enough for me. Talking of Terrace House and the ruthless pursuit of girlfriends, that leads us onto…
The Girlfriend of the Week
Each illusion is unique. The illusion that is created by Masao is based on his estimation of a woman he meets in real life, such as a crowd member he makes a creepy amount of eye contact with, or a shop clerk or even his boss at work. Each woman feels a unique role. The crowd member fulfils Masao’s desires to be admired as a celebrity like his bandmate Eiji and praises him. The shop clerk fantasy involves him speaking about his musical passions with her simply because she wore a shirt mentioning the band Iron Maiden. Even the conversation with his boss invents facets of her personality which end up being false. Each girlfriend is believable and brings forth a personality trait that Masao would want in an ideal partner. Each girlfriend is unique and is brought to life by varied and interesting performances by each actress. And, on the subject of the actresses, there is one in particular who deserves a special look…
The childhood friend
Tomoko. Throughout the run of the show, she is Masao’s constant. Her confidant in a faraway land. It gives Masao some comfort to know that he has a friend he can trust and talk to, just by picking up the phone. And, this might be a hot take, I really like this character. She seems so… real. As if the scenes she’s in are entirely improvised and her and the lead are simply chatting like friends. That is a massive compliment for the authenticity and believability that Ono Karin brings to this role. When things get emotional later on, she has the range to deal with it but in her normal agony aunt over the phone role, she absolutely knocks it out of the park. Colour me impressed as another actress goes on the list of ‘other works to check out because I like the actress’. Crude, I know but I think my naming sense is coming along.
Now that has all been dealt with, we move onto the section where I speak about things over than the acting or the story. And there are two things today. First of which is the cooking side plot that I have barely mentioned in the previous 1800 words. For a show so heavily linked to a cookbook and cooking, I haven’t really spoken about the food. Honestly, I’m impressed that this show manages to keep the story the focus and the food being cooked is only a tertiary part of the whole experience; a medium of growth for the character. Homeraretai would certainly be a lesser show if the cooking was less of a focus, but it does surprise me that the interactions around the food, are far more important than the recipes themselves. Except for the final dish, Wada’s signature clam curry. That, for Terrace House fans, is the perfect wink and nod and made me grin like a little girl.
The other thing worth mentioning is the opening song. The opening song is stupendous. It went straight on my Spotify playlist and when it comes on, like hell do I skip it. I even walk around the house singing the hook at the moment. It’s interesting that one of Kyuujitsu Kachou’s bands was involved in the music and the jazzy, funky grooves that this song exudes left me searching their back catalogue for anything else this good. Okay. I don’t know enough about music to review it. But I like it. So listen to it.
So, as this long journey comes to an end, what are my final thoughts? This show is amazing. I love it. The deep introspection is beautiful, the sadder moments hit but they don’t linger enough to bring the often funny tone down. Yes, I’m still bitter about the happy ending but that’s more a reflection on my old-crone like personality more than it being a poor directorial choice. I have very little to criticise here as I can see so much of myself in the show. This show hits close to home and it’s amazing. Watch it. Enjoy it. Share it. Come back next time when I review something else. I’ve been Benjamin Wagner and I endorse this message.
Score: 9.1/10– One of the easiest to watch shows I have ever had the pleasure to watch.