The Fangirls’ Japanese Drama Review: Under the Miracle Cherry Tree

This is a story about Kota, a teenage boy who has died but then shows up again several years later, seemingly out of the blue. Actually, Kota died several years earlier on the way to confess to his love under the cherry blossoms. Now, the old cherry tree has been slated to be removed, so he’s come back to tie up the loose ends in his life and confess his love. It’s kind of like Hi Bye Mama but with a lot less crying.

The Story

The first scene takes place seven years before the main story. We see Kota lying at the bottom of a hill on the bank of a river, and know right from the start that he is dead. Then we jump suddenly to the present day to see a grown-up Mei, one of his friends. She is working in Tokyo and not doing very well. She quits her job and, hearing that a famous Sakura cherry tree in her hometown is blooming two months early, goes to see it. Standing under the tree, she shuts her eyes to the wind, and when she opens them, sees Kota there in front of her. She screams and runs back down the hill.

Most of the story is about Mei helping Kota as he meets up with friends and tries to figure out why he came alive again. He has conflicting feelings about seeing his mom. He can’t remember anything about the day he died, and in fact, remembers nothing until the moment he appeared in front of Mei. As memories slowly start to come back to him, the friends figure out what happened that day, and what caused the accident.

The Characters

Telzeytalks: Kota was an outgoing guy who was always taking pictures and planned to go to Tokyo to study photography the next year. He liked Mei but was shy about it, and texted her to meet him under the big Sakura tree on the hill just outside of town. So how did he end up lying by the bank of the river instead?

Clkytta: Kota was well liked and he was a good son. This guy really had everything going for him as he was on his way to tell his best friend that he liked her more than a friend. It was so sad that he never made it that day.

Telzeytalks: Mei as a high school student was very lively and teased Kota a lot. She visited a shrine and wrote a wish on a votive tablet that she wanted to receive a confession before the cherry blossoms fell. She got the text from Kota and waited under the tree, but he never showed up. As an adult she is much less confident and has a messy relationship with a man back in Tokyo.

Clkytta: Mei’s life has not been as she imagined. Kota’s death hit her hard, and she hasn’t made the best life and love decisions since then. When she goes home to see the cherry blossoms, her life goes into it’s own second blossoming.

Telzeytalks: Iori had been Kota’s best friend and was very distressed by his death. He had seemed to be doing well and had gone to medical school and become a resident, but continued to be depressed and avoided his friends. When their friend Haruka tells him that Kota has returned, he reacts suspiciously and seems to have a secret.’

Clkytta: I was halfway through episode one and messaging Telzey that this guy is suspicious! What is his deal? I smell a love triangle.

Telzeytalks: There are two characters who know something about spirits and what is happening with Kota. One is Naoki, a high schooler whose dad is the chief priest at the shrine. He recognizes who Kota is, and explains to him that he is dead and that seven years have gone by. While sweeping leaves at the shrine he hears a cat meow, and finding it under the veranda, discovers Mei’s weatherworn tablet. He dusts it off and hangs it up. The cat appears again in the arms of an elderly man who we only see a couple of times, who gives information to Kota.

Clkytta: Naoki is adorable. My favorite scene is him kicking Kota out of his desk and dissing him about his outdated uniform.

The Cinematography

Telzeytalks: I thought it was well done; they took extra care with the photography. There are a lot of great shots of Nagano and Lake Suwa, and especially of the beautiful Sakura tree on the hill. The lighting is subdued and mystic at the shrine, and warm and cozy at the favorite cafe. However, sudden jumps in scene sometimes made it hard to keep track of what was going on.

Clkytta: These scenes seem to pull you in, especially the home scenes. I love the bright cheerfulness of the cherry blossoms.

The Mythology

Telzeytalks: The native Japanese religion, Shinto, carries a belief that all things have a spirit component, especially large impressive things like huge old trees. Sakura trees are very much loved, and crowds of people go out to view them in the spring. My husband picked up this fondness when he was in Japan, and wanted me to be sure to call them Sakura trees, not just flowering cherries. They are symbolic too; since they only bloom for a couple of weeks, they represent the transience of life. This background belief fits in well with our story, with an unstated idea that the tree is causing the magic.

Clkytta: I did not know all of that! I just know that when the trees blossom it reminds me of young love and hope.

The Hi Bye Mama Connection

Telzeytalks: These two shows came out about the same time and have similar plots, so I wanted to comment. They are both about a person who has been dead for a long time and comes alive again. The ghost character in each is happy to see friends but avoids their mother, gets advice from a spiritual guide, and the magic is caused by a talisman written by someone who misses them. I thought the beginning of Hi Bye Mama was very cute, but that the last half went too far into excessive grief and crying. I found it very oppressive; my husband started giving the episodes “lugubrious ratings” and wouldn’t watch anymore. I ended up finishing so I could compare it to Under the Miracle Cherry Tree, and though the ending was ok, I enjoyed this one much more.

Clkytta: I did not watch Hi Bye Mama.

What We Thought

Telzeytalks: Even though there are tears and sad feelings, I was happy that the story keeps an even keel and focuses on the characters finding peace. Mei has some interesting talks with Kota about what she was like when she was seventeen and what she is like now, and is a little taken aback by his reaction. Essentially, he would like everyone to go ahead and live their lives and be happy. I loved this treatment, and would certainly recommend the show.

Clkytta: I’m still watching this drama, but I love the whole theme of change. Mei’s life is nothing like it was at seventeen and it resonates with me. When she tells him that he doesn’t know the her now, it makes total sense. As we progress through life our priorities change and things happen that change our perspective. I like how Mei seems to not regret her life, she mourns for what could have been, but she owns the person she is now.

Until the next petal falls,

Telzeytalks and Clkytta

Dramas With a Side of Kimchi

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