When you need a bit of a drama lift and somewhere to escape to, but don’t have the mental bandwidth to commit to a full-length drama, it’s short little dramas like this one, that tend to hit the spot best.
At just 4 short half-hour episodes, A Sharply Graceful Girl provides just enough continuity to give you a sense of commitment, without feeling overwhelming, because of its bite-sized servings.
Also, Show is constructed mostly to be a pretty and informative travelogue of Kyoto, Japan, with a bit of a romance sown in, for good measure.
Given the current global situation where almost everyone’s under lockdown and country borders are closed and you basically can’t travel anywhere, this show just might provide a bit of relief for any pent-up wanderlust.
WHAT IT’S ABOUT
Yamada (Nakao Masaki) is an earnest, enthusiastic magazine editor who’s freshly arrived in Kyoto, having just been transferred from the Tokyo head office.
He happens to meet Kyoto local Yoriko (Yokoyama Yui), a tobacco shop owner, who appears prickly and aloof, but is more helpful and kind than she first appears, and the two slowly become friends.
STUFF I LIKED
Nakao Masaki as Yamada
Right from the moment I first set eyes on him, Yamada struck me as a very pleasant, earnest young man. He might sometimes overstep his boundaries or make unwitting social gaffes, but he’s clearly good-hearted, helpful to a fault, and eager to please.
From wanting to do well at work, to sweeping the area in front of his neighbor’s house, to offering help to tourist when he’d just arrived in Kyoto himself, he’s a bundle of good intentions.
But it’s also quickly obvious that he’s a bit of a pushover; when his business cards are misspelled and he tries to get a correction, he’s hung up on, and when Yoriko bosses him around, he complies without protest.
I do like that he’s helpful, too. He wades into the river to retrieve Yoriko’s hair tie, but tells her that it’d simply fallen to the ground, when he returns it to her.
Yamada’s wholesome and sincere, and a bit of a dork to boot, so much so that I quickly grew fond of him, and decided that I wanted only good things for him.
Yokoyama Yui as Yoriko
As our titular sharply graceful girl, Yoriko immediately appears more complicated than Yamada. I quickly got the sense that there’s much more to learn about her.
Right away, though, it’s clear to see that even though she has a prickly don’t-mess-with-me facade, Yoriko is hardworking and kind.
She goes out of her way to help the French tourists and even lends them her bike, even though she’s been a little distant when Yamada first approached her for help.
And, when she realizes that Yamada has no clue about the customs around sweeping in front of one’s house, she immediately moves to educate him, even if with a slight bite to her tone.
Even though our story is mostly told from Yamada’s perspective, Yoriko is our true protagonist, and it’s her personal journey of healing through helping others, that is our focus.
I rather liked that idea, that the way to find your own healing, is to look beyond yourself, to see and help others.
Kyoto is pretty to look at
Like I mentioned earlier, Show is more like a dressed-up travelogue than an actual drama.
Even though I’ve mentioned before that I generally wish for prettier cinematography and more polish in J-dramas (the ones I’ve seen, at least, coz I can’t speak for ’em all), I must admit that Kyoto does look very pretty in this show.
If I may speak from my rather limited experience, I’d say that for a J-drama, Show itself is prettier to look at than average.
We get quite a few quaint shots of Kyoto with lots of character, and we also get to see customs and quirks unique to Kyoto, and we also get glimpses of the culture around food in Kyoto as well.
All very pleasing to the eyes, I thought.
Show’s thoughtful tone
Show contains little pockets of quiet thoughtfulness that clue us in that there’s more to these characters than we see on the surface.
I appreciated those quiet pockets because they helped to add a sense of depth to a short story that could’ve otherwise felt overly light and superficial.
Tsushimura Kaho as Junko
I just wanted to say that I really liked Yoriko’s bestie Junko. She’s a supporting character in an already short story, so we don’t get to see much of her at all, but I really liked the warmth that Tsushimura Kaho imbues in her character.
And I liked that our aloof, reticent sharp girl has a caring bestie to confide in, who understands and supports her unconditionally.
STUFF I LIKED LESS
Basically, I feel like Show’s short length is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it’s accessible and easy on the ol’ brain, coz it’s so short.
On the other hand, I feel like the story suffered a little, because it’s so short.
It’s not a deal-breaker, but here, in a nutshell, is what I mean.
Show has a strong slice-of-life feel, and I often felt like not a lot happened each episode, yet the highlight reel effect makes it such that it does feel like stuff has moved forward.
By episode 3, Yamada and Yoriko are on good terms and even get mistaken for a married couple, and feelings are apparently blossoming, and Yamada receives news of a transfer back to Tokyo, even though I feel like not that much has happened since we first met them.
It’s weird, this feeling of nothing’s happened, but by the way, lots of things happened.
The other thing, of course, is that with a slice-of-life approach combined with short screen time, we don’t get to delve very deeply at all, into our main characters, what makes them tick, and how this relates to and affects the way they interact with each other.
Additionally, side characters who are introduced can’t be treated with more consideration, and therefore they end up feeling like random plot devices, almost.
THOUGHTS ON THE ENDING [SPOILERS]
In the end, Show gives us an ending that’s realistic yet hopeful.
Yamada is promoted because of the great articles that he’s been writing about Kyoto, thanks to Yoriko’s help and guidance, and our not-quite-a-couple is confronted with their feelings.
It’s clear that neither of them feels that what they have between them, is enough to warrant an actual confession, or any change in plans.
Junko, wingwoman that she is, volunteers Yoriko to help Yamada pick out souvenirs to bring back to Tokyo, and so we get to see a little more of Kyoto and its specialties.
Even though Yamada regretfully tells Junko that he hasn’t been able to do anything for Yoriko, Junko feels otherwise, pointing out that Yoriko’s been speaking more of the Kyoto dialect, after years of not speaking it, and that it’s all thanks to Yamada.
Aw. I couldn’t tell, honestly, that Yoriko had been speaking any differently over the course of our story because my knowledge of Japanese is patchy even at its very best, so it’s nice of Show to bring this to my attention.
Just as Yamada is about to leave, Yoriko comes running to the bus station, and brings him the snack that he’d mentioned in passing that he’d wanted to try, but which had been sold out. Aw. She’d gotten up early just to get that for him?
That’s an admission of care, of sorts, any way you slice it. Yoriko breathlessly asks if she can come visit Yamada in Tokyo sometime, and Yamada beams, “Of course!” with tears sheening slightly in his eyes, which I read to be an expression of joy, anticipation and relief.
In return, Yamada hands her a parting gift, which turns out to be the cat purse that he’d been eyeing at the souvenir shop. Aw. Time skip later, we see that Yoriko’s still providing help and information to visitors, just like she used to do, when Yamada was around.
In the end, I like that we get enough closure to point us in a general direction; we know that Yoriko’s healed enough from the experience, that she’s no longer so sharp nor aloof, and is even able to graciously keep running the information center.
We also know that she and Yamada will stay in touch, which in turn gives them a chance to develop the feelings that they’ve begun to have for each other.
For a short little travelogue type story, that’s not bad at all, right?
THE FINAL VERDICT:
Understated and quietly uplifting, despite the short length.
FINAL GRADE: B
You can also check out a subbed trailer on Facebook here.