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Japanese show ‘Can’t Write!?’ is an ode to writers and creatives

By Kimani Franco Published Aug 09, 2021 5:18 pm

Writing can be as easy as putting one word in front of the other, but what do you do if you can’t even find the first one?

Can’t Write!? A Life Without Scenario is a story about a struggling screenwriter and a bestselling author whose lives as a married couple change when the former gets offered a big break to write for a primetime TV show.

The Japanese show focuses on two writers facing the ever-present constant of finding inspiration amid the overflow of unspeakable revisions, volatility from clients, wrapped neatly in uncompromising deadlines.

What is essentially a comedy show surprisingly has emotive moments and relatable experiences that most writers, particularly screenwriters, can quickly associate with how art imitates life.

INT. Family House—Plot

The series opens with stay-at-home dad Keisuke taking care of his family when a call from Tozai TV producer Mr. Shoji tells him he’s been chosen to be the head writer for an upcoming primetime drama.

Yoshimaru Keisuke (Ikuta Toma) has adored television dramas since his elementary years. But after falling short in all his interviews for TV, he winds up in real estate—eventually meeting the love of his life Nami (Kichise Michiko), a single mom who is looking to rent at the time with her daughter Erika.

Yoshimaru Keisuke (Ikuta Toma) has adored television dramas since his elementary years.

The two get married, and while pregnant, Nami writes a book that wins a newcomer literary prize that launches her writing career as an author. Not long after that, Nami turns in two more books to elevate her status as a bestselling novelist.

Meanwhile, Nami’s success as a writer reminds Keisuke of his dream. Despite a couple of episodes for a drama series, Keisuke rarely works on major projects.

Deep down, however, the dream of becoming a screenwriter isn’t lost.

INT. Writer’s room – Likes/Dislikes

Keisuke feels he can’t write an entire drama from scratch by himself. It also doesn’t help that production initially wants him to write a detective show that turns into a high school drama with a teacher as the lead, who is also an heir to a corporation or zaibatsu, and incidentally, a vampire who feeds on people with type B blood. If you’re confused, so is he.

Ikuta Toma as Yoshimaru stands out in the lead role as the aspiring screenwriter balancing the nuances of the creative process through his frustrated soliloquies. A seeming callback from his iconic role as Nakatsu Shūichi in Hana Kimi (2007). Nevertheless, his portrayal of a writer, a restive, determined artist, provides certain authenticity for someone committed but still untested in the craft.

Eureka moment.

The novelist and Keisuke’s wife Nami, played by Kichise Michiko, shines as the lovable partner of the newbie screenwriter. Every time Keisuke finds himself unable to write, Nami provides her expertise not simply as the loving spouse but as the novel savant that she is.

While writing between drafts, Keisuke develops a form of anxiety that manifests as a comically maniacal bald man reminiscent of Dan Aykroyd’s alien family in Coneheads (1993), who calls himself “Skinhead Man.”

It’s a welcome direction the show takes to depict a writer’s struggle as he battles against himself and his self doubts.

Keeping the audience in the dark and along for the ride of Keisuke’s creative process works because it also leaves the viewer pondering how the inexperienced screenwriter could pull it off. And as a spectator, you can’t help but root for him when he starts fixating on his insecurities as an artist or his abilities to create.

Keisuke develops a form of anxiety that manifests as a comically maniacal bald man.

And so far, his inability to make it as a screenwriter is not for his lack of talent, but the absence of passion and commitment: to follow through with his dream. As in any creative pursuit, it’s easier to call it quits rather than to face the fact that you may not be good enough to make it.

Keisuke faces this dilemma constantly in the series, along with bouts of indecision and impostor syndrome. It’s shockingly deep, especially for a program billed as a 20-minute comedy show.

EXT. Japanese dorama

Japanese dramas, or doramas, have increased in appeal with streaming giants like Netflix exclusively broadcasting Korean dramas following the success of its first original K-Drama Kingdom released in 2019.

For a show released in 2021, it somehow lacks the punch of its contemporaries in terms of production value. Although it’s far from the predictably effective tropes of Korean dramas, Can’t Write!? adopts familiar literary devices akin to offbeat anime humor.

Writing as a profession is tough. Can’t Write!? conveys this sentiment in an ode to writers by acknowledging the invariables they face daily without resorting to portraying only the grind.

What is essentially a comedy show surprisingly has emotive moments and relatable experiences.

There is a moment in the series where Keisuke celebrates the completion of his draft only for him reeling in the next scene because he has to do it all over again for the next episode.

The creative pursuit is often very personal for a lot of reasons and yet Can’t Write!? is able to make it relatable while ensuring viewers a fun ride with lots of laughs and light moments.

Packed in easily digestible sitcom-like episodes, the exaggeration will surely bring in the chuckles. It is the experiences, however, which are driven and felt by the characters that make the series one of the most relatable Japanese storytelling to date.