Remote Love: On the Love and Culture Depicted in Japan’s First Post-COVID-19 Drama Series
How does the TV world of Remote Love look after the coronavirus? Surprisingly normal.
The streets are full of masked faces in the first few minutes of Remote Love. Hands are thoroughly sanitized, and distance is respectfully taken among co-workers. These scenes shouldn’t look foreign for anyone going out in public since the global spread of COVID-19, especially for those who have returned to a physical workplace. But six months after Japan enforced a stay-at-home period in response to the pandemic, it still feels oddly new to see the current social-distanced reality reflected directly and so casually on a TV drama series.
COVID had already been altering drama-TV production in Japan by the debut of Remote Love this October. The state of emergency halted filming altogether, delaying the completion of ongoing series in the spring and postponing the releases of new ones. The stay-at-home period managed to inspire some solitary TV-making experiments as seen in the NHKs series Ima Dakara, Shinsaku Drama Tsukuttemimashita from this May. While the stories continued after the quarantine lift, the filming of some series like Bishoku Tantei seemed largely compromised with a noticeable abundance of space and lack of people in scenes, perhaps to keep within social-distancing policies.
While later new series depicted life as if nothing happened during the interim, maybe a mask here and there, COVID and its impact immediately foregrounds the story of Remote Love. Main protagonist Mimi Ozakura (Haru) works as a health physician at a corporate clinic, and she remains by the books when it comes to enforcing policies to avoid the spread of the new virus. Her stickler attitude becomes the very punchline as she imposes a strict 6-feet distance and insists of a proper disposal technique for paper masks. From the first ten minutes, Remote Love introduces a new kind of in-joke inspired by social rules that were virtually nonexistent six months prior.
Remote Love remains very current to actual-life events all the way to the date of the show’s timeline. The pilot begins in April when the state of emergency has been declared both in the show and real life, forcing the show’s office employees to work from home. Remote-work culture starts to solidify while familiar scenes such as online drinking parties enter the picture. The show has fast-forwarded the timeline to October by the third episode, and Mimi wonders how movie theaters are operating post-COVID as she tries to plan her first date with Lemon, her SNS crush she met via an online game chat during quarantine.
For all the minor details it gets right, four episodes in, Remote Love has yet to explore too deep into the drama’s main topic of love and romance during these post-coronavirus times. The show has scratched at the surface through the subplot of one of the office employees Fuichi Aobayashi (Kouhei Matsushita), who very early on asks Mimi on what to do in his just-begun relationship now that they must stay in their homes. Can they still physically meet? Is skinship still acceptable and how close can they get? The answers to those questions between the two become a little clearer six months later with policies and manners firmly established, and the issues centered on the couple also inspires an almost laughable moment fantasized only during a post-COVID time: a mask-to-mask kiss scene in the office.
At the very least, Mimi’s so far online-only relationship with Lemon becomes the least modern issue. Seen through the subplot of office lead Hajime Asanari (Mitsuhiro Oikawa), dads are re-discovering their place in the home due to teleworking; as mentioned with Fuichi, lovers are coming across the effects of limited physical closeness in a romantic relationship. Compared to those conflicts, the anxieties that arise from Mimi and Lemon’s Line exchange feel like yesteryear’s problems despite it still hitting relevant to how the Smartphone-attached generation bond with one another.
All this mass cultural shift explored in Remote Love has happened in about six months time. So many things has certainly happened in the world during that span, though six months is still a relatively short amount of time in the grand scheme of things. And for all of this constant mention from society about us living in a new normal, there’s still something a little odd, a little too novel about the post-COVID details depicted from the drama series. But if Remote Love surprises with how it treats the time-specific events so casually, perhaps we’re simply responding to just how impressively smooth the culture at large has adapted to such a rapid, drastic change.