So recently, k-dramaland had a trend of mental illness dramas, none of which really resonated with me, so I was hesitant to try out Dr. Rintaro, a drama about a psychiatrist and his relationship with a geisha who may-or-may-not-but-probably-does-I-don’t-really-know have a mental illness. Plus, medical dramas aren’t really my thing; I’m pretty sure the only medical drama I’ve ever finished was Code Blue and that was when I was in my extreme Yamapi-fangirl phase, so yeah, definitely not my favorite genre. Dr. Rintaro is definitely sappy, but the mystery, romance, and yes, even the medical (though it’s sometimes questionable) is solidly intriguing.
So let’s set the stage, shall we?
Hino Rintaro (Sakai Masato) is a famous psychiatrist that studied in America, he believes more in connecting with his patients than simply prescribing treatment. Psychoanalysis is not an illness, but something that requires sympathy. Kind and gentle, Rintaro can’t help but be drawn to people who are in need, even when he knows he shouldn’t interfere. His way of diagnosing patients earns him an enemy in Professor Miyagawa (Nagatsuka Keishi), a doctor that believes that biology is the proper way to treat patients.
On paper, Rintaro does sound a little too perfect and I think the first episode sort of over-hyped him. I mean, c’mon, seriously?
Okay Show, I get it, Rintaro’s a saint. You don’t have to remind me every episode. He does solve a case each episode just by talking with patients, justifying his American method and to keep up his benevolent image, but there have been plenty of moments where Rintaro’s been stripped down to a normal guy and that’s when I connect to him a bit more. He’s the nice guy that sticks to his beliefs, the common hero, but he’s not overly idealistic or a pushover. Sure he has a savior complex and it looks like it might bite him in the ass soon, but he knows his limits; he can practice the way he does because he gets results, but he’ll always be lower on the totem pole because if he becomes a professor, he won’t be able to treat patients, and he doesn’t want that. As such, he has to put up with Miyagawa, whether he wants to or not. It sucks, but it’s definitely the lesser of two evils, at least for now.
Rintaro is really a departure from characters Sakai Masato has become famous for and while Sakai is fun when he’s hamming it up onscreen, he’s turning in a decent, restrained performance, even in the comedic scenes, though I think he slipped up a bit in the second episode. Rintaro does come across as a little naive, but thankfully he has some good colleagues to keep his head on straight. Araki Shigeto (Endo Kenichi) is Rintaro’s former colleague that we don’t know too much about other than the fact that he was kicked out of the hospital, for reasons unknown, though I’m guessing he had a feud with Miyagawa. Rintaro goes to Araki whenever he’s frustrated about how things at work are going and Araki helps straighten him out. Their scenes are short and few, but Araki really adds a human element to Rintaro, showing that he’s not all-knowing or god-like; he needs to get some stuff off his chest too and Araki helps him power through.
Mizushima Yuriko (Kichise Michiko) is a physician at the hospital and Rintaro’s long-time friend. She works with Rintaro’s assistants to keep him out of trouble, goes in and out of his house to make sure he’s eating, and gives him sound advice. She’s practically his girlfriend in everything but name, but Rintaro only sees love as a transient mental illness so Yuriko’s stuck in the friend zone. Though that will probably change now that Yumeno (Aoi Yu) is in the picture.
Oh what a mystery you are Yumeno. When Rintaro is invited out by the higher-ups to discuss becoming a professor, he meets Yumeno, the second top geisha in Shinbashi. While she initially isn’t interested in Rintaro because he’s not a professor, she starts hanging around him once she realizes he’s famous. Though she’s cool and collected when in her geisha garb, giving a cute smile here and a sly wink there, when Yumeno is in civilian clothes, she seems like a completely different person, avoiding eye contact and barely listening when people talk to her. When Rintaro meets her like this, Yumeno genuinely doesn’t seem to know him, let alone realize he’s there, sparking his interest in her.
Yumeno’s real name is Aizawa Akira and she’s constantly hassled for money by Masuda Ikumi (Yo Kimiko) and her goon, though there’s no clear reason why Yumeno always submits to her. At first it appears she’s using Rintaro, quickly confessing her love to him before lying that her father needs money for an operation, but she returns the sum back to him. What’s her angle exactly?
Strangely, I thought Aoi Yu was miscast in the Rurouni Kenshin movies where she played Megumi, which despite a solid performance, felt like a little girl playing dress up, but there’s no doubt that she’s alluring as Yumeno. She knows how to get what she wants and isn’t above doing anything to get it. It’s hard to tell whether she’s being sincere or not with Rintaro as it seems she has a larger scheme at work as we see her spying on her customers a few times, but we’ve been privy to a few moments where she’s alone and it does seem like she has a problem that isn’t only about Masuda. The show’s doing a really good job of keeping me guessing because I genuinely don’t know; she seems so out of it when she’s in normal clothes, yet when she goes back to being Yumeno, she recalls everything that happened as Akira. Is she ill? Is she faking it? Is she in love with Rintaro, does she see him as a doctor, or is she just using him? It’s driving me nuts that I don’t know.
Rintaro isn’t so blind to be fooled by Yumeno, as he knows when she’s pretending to be drunk and that she’s lying about her sick father, but he lets her get away with it. He knows something’s wrong with Yumeno and being the sympathetic person he is, he indulges her by taking her out and giving her money in the hopes of getting to the root of her problem, but she’s obviously swaying him more than he would like to admit.
I think there’s a bit of iffiness regarding a romantic relationship between Yumeno and Rintaro, but technically she’s not his patient, even though Rintaro keeps saying she is, so he’s not crossing a line. It looks like the show will focus on Rintaro sorting out the difference between love and sympathy as his relationship with Yumeno develops, which sounds like a more realistic approach to this type of drama and one I’m interested to see unfold.
Yumeno also brings into question Rintaro’s empathetic, counseling approach to patients. As Miyagawa frequently points out, what patients say can mislead a diagnosis and Yumeno has tried to misdirect Rintaro more than once. Maybe machines and tests are better in this case. The idea of biology versus human connection is an interesting one and I want the show to explore it more, especially since it would make Miyagawa more than Rintaro’s rival, but it seems determined to trump up Rintaro and his amazing treatment methods, so I doubt it will happen.
I will admit that the one area Dr. Rintaro hasn’t kept me engaged is the case of the week. They really just serve as a way to praise Rintaro’s revolutionary and amazing treatment methods, so I can’t help but feel a little manipulated after each case is wrapped up. The first episode deals with a suicidal woman that is bullied at work and the second episode deals with a depressed novelist that can’t recognize people, both of which Rintaro solves…by telling them everything will be okay. *Sigh* In the grand scheme of things, they’re B-plot stuff, so I’m not too bothered by it, but I wish more realistic solutions were made for the cases.
Overall though, I am enjoying Dr. Rintaro and look forward to watching it for the rest of the season. I am worried a little, just based on the case of the week format, about how Yumeno’s story will play out, but the show’s been doing such a good job keeping the mystery going that I hope I’m just worried over nothing.