Older woman/younger man romances are a common trope in Asian dramas. Why? I frankly have no idea (it’s not the source material – one or two of the following dramas I explore are based on mangas, but not enough for it to be a trend) but it appears often enough to be a noticeable trend. It appears occasionally in Korean and Taiwanese dramas, but it’s Japanese dramas which have the market cornered on this particular trope, in particular the dramas featuring Johnny’s Entertainment boys. There seems to be a clause written into every famous JE star’s contract that he must, at some point, do an older woman/younger man drama. See the full round-up below (which also doubles as a quick primer for dramas with this theme):
Kimura Takuya- Long Vacation
Nagase Tomoya- Love & Eros
Okada & Jun – Tokyo Tower (film, not drama)
Matsumoto Jun – Kimi wa Petto, NatsuNiji
Kamenashi Kazuya – Suppli (also known as Sapuri)
Yamapi – Sore wa Totsuzen
Akanashi Jin – Anego
Tackey – Majo no Jouken
Of these, the most famous is probably Kimi wa Petto starring Matsumoto Jun and Koyuki, soon to be remade as a Korean film starring Jang Geun-sook. I got through the first few episodes of it before the creepiness of it all finally got to me – the age difference is the least provocative/disturbing thing about a relationship founded on the premise that the younger man is the “pet” of the older woman (she even names him after her dog). Nevertheless, the acting is great, and the drama’s popularity clearly show that it’s to some people’s taste. I have mixed feelings about the upcoming film remake – on the one hand, it sounds like they’ve toned down the younger man’s childlike/pet qualities – they’ve played up his career a lot more, making him a rising ballet dancer, and I suspect that Jang Geun-sook will give the character something more of a quirky vibe based on his performance in You’re Beautiful. On the other hand I’m not sure that even Jang Geun-sook, whom I adore, can make the story appealing to me. But we shall see (Korean adaptations/remakes of dramas based on mangas are rather hit-or-miss for me – Boys Over Flowers was a miss but I can’t wait for the upcoming Mischievous Kiss, which looks potentially much more solid and charming than its Taiwanese counterpart. So perhaps the Korean version will work for me where the adaptations of other countries didn’t).
I found Kimura’s Long Vacation boring (the curse of older dramas – lower production values), but Jun’s currently-airing Natsu no Koi wa Nijiiro ni Kagayaku (abbreviated as Natsu Niji) is very adorable by all accounts, and at least this time he’s no-one’s pet.
Majo No Jouken is also a very famous drama, about a 17-year-old high school student (Tackey) and a 26-year-old teacher who fall in love. I’ve never seen it, but based on music videos like this one (warning: extremely spoilery), it looks intense, heartbreaking, and well-acted (and not at all my cup of tea). It has a Korean counterpart in Hello My Teacher, a 2005 drama starring Gong Yoo and Gong Hyo Jin, which is the story of a 25-year-old high school teacher who falls for one of her bad-boy students. I could be wrong, but in this case I’d be willing to wager that the Jdrama has the Kdrama beat for sheer angst/tragedy quotient.
Less scandalous takes on this trope are the office dramas, into which category both Suppli and Anego fall. The age difference between the couple is about the same as the teacher/student dramas – usually about 10 years – but at least with these the men are usually over 20. Both Anego and Suppli were popular – Suppli had huge star Kamenashi Kazuya as the male lead – but Anego slightly more so, and deservedly in my opinion. I tried the first few episodes of Suppli, and found it charming but too low-key for even my taste (though I’ve heard very good things about some of the romantic scenes that happen late in the drama). Suppli is the story of a carefree young man teaching an older woman how to live, while she teaches him how to grow up, and its its themes felt a little forced to me. Kame’s character is a temp worker hired at the older woman’s company, and the maturity difference between the couple is very wide. Anego on the other hand is deeply charming, not least because the amazing Shinohara Ryoko is the female lead. Akenashi Jin’s character is still boyish, but a talented businessman and determined individual, and Shinohara’s character has a straightforwardness which makes her a more natural fit for a younger man than some of the other younger man/older woman pairings I’ve seen.
Recent Korean drama The Woman Who Still Wants to Marry isn’t quite an office drama, but it follows the same format as the Suppli and Anego in that Park Jin Hee’s 3o-something character is a successful career woman, while Kim Bum’s character is a 20-something man just beginning his life and floundering around a little in his career.
School dramas also feature innocent forms of this trope, in which high school boys have crushes/affectionate relationships with their female teachers, who often inspire them to grow up/be better. The Gokusen series (three linked Jdramas about an idealistic teacher who inspires her class of juvenile delinquents to shape up) is probably the most famous example of this. In Taiwanese drama KO One, Jiro Wang’s bad-boy-with-a-heart-of-gold nurtures an intense crush on his pretty homeroom teacher. (Taiwanese dramas rarely feature the older woman/younger man trope, but it occasionally appears in a watered-down or school-setting capacity). He later falls in love with a girl his own age, but the puppy love for his teacher is cute while it lasts.
Other dramas with this trope include Over Time, Ohitorisama, Katagoshi no Koibito, Gift, and Koishite Akuma (all Japanese – see what I mean?).
What’s interesting about this theme is not just its prevalence, but that it’s clearly much more present in the consciousness of Asian drama-makers and their audiences than that of American television creators and their audiences. Older woman/younger man romances are certainly not unheard of – Dawson’s Creek, in its first season in the late 90s, tried to be all edgy and provocative by featuring a sexual relationship between a high school student and his female teacher, and One Tree Hill featured a brief relationship between a 20-something basketball player and the 40-something mother of one of his teammates. I’m sure various other shows have had it at some point or another. But in general, it’s a theme which isn’t much covered in American television – the very fact that both of the series I mentioned featuring this are generally considered nothing more than well-written soap operas attests to the general lack of interest in this as a theme.(The other side of the coin, older man/younger girl, is quite common on the other hand).
Even in Asian dramas, moreover, the relationships are almost invariably portrayed as either doomed or short-lived – the emotions are portrayed as real and intense but almost always lead to either the social/career destruction of the characters, or as a brief catalyst for change in the protagonists’ lives, after which they both go their separate ways.