A Sharply Graceful Girl is a quietly humorous Japanese drama about the difference one friendly face can make, and in making the most of your opportunities.
Synopsis: Everything has been going badly for Yuichi, an editor for a large publishing firm in Tokyo. He is demoted to a small branch office in Kyoto, and the view from his new apartment is mostly electrical wires. To top that off his name is spelled wrong on his new business cards and nobody seems to care. When he tries to help some lost French tourists he gets lost himself, and then they come across a local girl who speaks French and makes a difference to them all.
Thoughts About the Characters
Yoriko (Yokoyama Yui) is the French-speaking girl who runs a small tobacco shop. She doesn’t seem to have many customers or much stock, either. She is a little prickly but is helpful anyway. She takes time to explain local customs to Yuichi, and shares a motto that she gleaned from one of her French books. “It is important how we live the life we chose, not just which one we chose.”
Yuichi (Nakao Masaki) is depressed at first but is encouraged by Yoriko and gets a big kick out of finding the source of her motto. (haha!) He is friendly and well-meaning enough that she starts opening up about locally popular places that tourists don’t usually see. He is also pretty quick in asking permission to write about them in the town magazine.
The cutest little boy ever, Shunsuke (Okada Atsuya), lives next door to Yuichi. I loved the day they went with Yoriko to visit the Imamiya Shrine. When Yuichi wondered why there were so many women there, Yoriko quickly changed the subject. I wondered if we were going to find out, especially when Shunsuke dragged them off to a neighboring shop for roasted sweets. Yoriko was embarrassed enough when a lady there commented on what a happy family they were. She was absolutely mortified when the lady added what this shrine was famous for. Hahaha!
The director juxtaposes scenes in a way that gives extra meaning. Yuichi, feeling depressed, looks out from his apartment to a sea of wires and run down buildings, and then the camera focuses on Kyoto Tower in the distance. There is something better out there.
Yoriko sees Yuichi at the laundromat and goes in to talk. When he decides to start writing about the local customs she has been telling him about, we see a close-up of the clothes dryer standing still and then suddenly starting up. We feel like he is similarly getting going now.
Half the charm of this show is in the close-up look at Kyoto. Having been there myself to see the palaces and shrines, I was surprised that Yuichi wasn’t happy to be there. I guess the word “demoted” says it all. I enjoyed the details in the narrow streets and neighborhood shrines.
Close-ups give us an intimate view of the story, and are often used here to introduce new scenes. The first we see of Yoriko’s house is a New Year’s good luck decoration of rice straw and a mikan (mandarin orange).
Should you watch?
Yes, I encourage you to watch. I liked it a lot. It is only four episodes of thirty minutes each. If you enjoy thoughtful slice-of-life dramas, you should like this. You get to know the characters pretty well, and there is a slight angle on a love story. If you are looking for excitement or something dark and edgy, this isn’t it.
Of Dramas With a Side of Kimchi
P.S. SPOILER ALERT!! If you are going to watch the show don’t read this part. If you already decided not to watch and want to know the punch lines to the two jokes I didn’t finish, here they are. !!SPOILER!! The quote was from Bridget Bardot. The shrine gives good luck in finding a rich husband. It was built during a time of plagues as a place to pray for good health. The third Shogun married a commoner woman from here who often visited this shrine. When she became rich and powerful she donated a lot of money to refurbish it, so it became associated with her.