Pinoy jdorama addicts are thrilled that Matsumoto Jun is playing a Filipino-Japanese character in his latest series, Smile (or Sumairu) currently being shown in Japan every Friday at the TBS Network). And that includes me, of course!
Naturally, I wasted no time and managed to watch two episodes. Here is what’s happening so far:
MatsuJun plays a role of a young man, Hayakawa Bito (or Vito) whose father is a Filipino immigrant while his mother is Japanese. He grew up fending for himself since his dad left them when he was young while his mother was too busy to care about him. He was forced to live a life among gang members as a teen and as a result, had brush-ins with the law. However, he is naturally a good person and wanted to live a normal life as best as he could. He found a job as a worker in a food company, a family who ‘adopted’ and cares for him, as well as loyal friends, including a love interest (played by Arakagi Yui) who lost her ability to speak due to a traumatic experience yet to be revealed. However, fate is not so kind to Bito since his past and underground connections still catch up to him, and as a result, he was accused of crimes he did not commit.
In the first episode, his character is shown still locked up in jail (the year is 2015) serving his sentence for alleged food poisoning. Later scenes show intermittent flashbacks of the past to explain his history. His lawyer (played by Kiichi Nakai) is helping him gain his freedom. Despite his predicament, Bito is still hopeful of being set free.
MatsuJun’s optimistic character, Bito (right) is always ready to flash his beguiling and child-like smile (hence, the title) to the prison guards, which prompted one to comment (that is, according to a fansubber’s translation): “Filipinos usually have bright eyes, don’t they? They’re cheerful and positive. If someone’s troubled or has no money, they’ll treat them to food or even beer.”
The drama tackles the issue of discrimination in Japan. It shows how a racially-mixed character like Bito is being discriminated upon by authorities (i.e. ethnic profiling, unfair treatment, slow justice). For example, in one scene, he was stopped on the street by a cop who was suspicious of his ‘foreign’ looks, thinking that he might be an illegal alien (personally, I am not sure how Bito could be mistaken for being ‘foreign-looking’ but obviously MatsuJun looked like he gave himself a nice tan for the role). In the first episode alone, he was called “Filipino bastard” (or Filipino a@@hole–depending on whose translation you’re watching) around three times, but only by the baddies and evil cops (one bad cop even kind of reasoned out that that WAS the gangsta nickname he supposedly acquired when he was a troubled teen).
This looked like a heavy emotional role that MatsuJun gets to play (in one scene, he was crying non-stop for like almost five minutes). He gets to be cursed at and mistreated (in-between sobs, he goes: “Will anyone believe a half-Filipino like me?“). I am not sure if this is how Fil-Japs are really being treated in Japan but one source (日刊サイゾー) says that Smile is not as “visual (?)” as Jun’s past doramas, and its portrayal of discrimination is quite “uncomfortable” to watch and may be a bit foul or considered “exaggerated fiction.” I think the source also says that it is not doing so well in the ratings, ranking only third behind other current dramas, Konkatsu and The Quiz Show. < (ﾟ□ﾟ*) > ~oh no!~
By the way, here are my personal insights:
With regards to Bito being jailed for food poisoning… Apparently, the sekihan (red glutinous rice similar to our own biko) he helped make and deliver was tainted and consequently, poisoned some schoolchildren. The writer of the dorama probably got this idea from the heart-breaking food poisoning tragedy that happened in the town of Mabini, Bohol, wherein 27 schoolchildren died after eating cassava snacks sold by a food vendor in 2005. The vendor had mistaken pesticide for flour (read story here) when he cooked the cassava, and in Smile, the sekihan was also tainted with pesticide.
I also think that the story will not focus much on Bito’s Filipino heritage (he grew up in Japan and not in the Phils.). From the looks of it, he doesn’t seem to know anything much about being a Filipino and there is no indication that he’s interested at all to learn more about it. The focus is more on the injustice and maltreatment of his character, and how he will survive this predicament through the help of his loyal friends. Pinoy fans will not likely get to see and hear him speak Tagalog… or visit the Phils. Anyway, that’s just my guess. It would be cool if he did though. (^-^)
Here is a theme song from the series’s opening credits. It’s weird not having Arashi sing the theme song of MatsuJun’s doramas. But I’m sure you’ll see that Ariamaru Tomi by Shiina Ringo goes perfectly well with the series’ opening credits which you’ll find so cute that you just can’t help but… smile 🙂