The title says it all. Slow? Indeed, but in a nice, thoughtful way. Ladies, gentlemen, get ready to sway to the music.
Song of the Post:
Slow Dance Main Theme ~ Fukuyama Masaharu -「東京」 (Tokyo)[audio http://dl.dropbox.com/u/31675795/16.%20Fukuyama%20Masaharu%20-%20Tokyo%20%28Theme%20Song%29.mp3]
Episode 1: 夏の恋が始まる (Summer Love Begins)
Tokyo, summer 2005. Riding his moped, SERIZAWA RIICHI (Tsumabuki Satoshi) stops at his favorite coffee shop to order an iced cappuccino. He realizes that the waiter messed up a tad too late and re-enters to change his drink, hijacking the line in the process to the great displeasure of a woman, MAKINO ISAKI (Fukatsu Eri), who voices her complaints to the waiter and soon lashes out at Riichi.
Right when he begins to feel like he’s met her before, she dashes out to run after the bus going to the driving school nearby. Huh, so much for all your moral lesson, I suppose.
She decides to wait for the next one and rejects Riichi’s offer to drive her there, assuming he’s hitting on her. He tries to dismiss the idea, but she just hops on a taxi, leaving him regretting his courteousness.
As Fate has it, they meet again at the driving school. Being an instructor there, Riichi sees a completely different side of her as she nearly causes an accident and apologizes profusely to her instructor. The later comments on her to Riichi, saying that she “doesn’t step on the brakes”. Yep, I think he already knows that.
But hearing her full name triggers a memory from his high school days, as he remembers a certain young intern teacher introducing herself to his class. Going to visit his friend Hasebe Kohei (Tanaka Kei), they wonder if she’s now a teacher, as Kohei figures that she’s now a middle-aged lady eating crackers. Because why, that’s what happens when you reach your thirties, girls.
Kohei speaks about a movie project, asking if Riichi works with girls cute enough to play the heroine. When he’s being told that there isn’t even a script, Kohei points out that asking a girl first could launch their project, just like they did with Ayumi. At the mention of this name, Riichi freezes, but coolly dismisses Kohei when he asks if he’s still not over her.
Having admired rings at a Tiffany shop, KOIKE MINO (Hirosue Ryoko) heads off to work at an apparel shop: Edit. for Lulu. There, after being sarcastically greeted by her co-worker Nishiyama Junko (Muraoka Nozomi), she goes to see Isaki, who is the shop manager.
Chatting a bit, Isaki muses that the girls should be fine without her, prompting Mino to believe the rumor was true. Isaki wonders about that, so Mino says that she’s in line for a promotion to be the next area manager post. Pleasantly surprised, Isaki is abruptly brought back to earth when she hears that it’s only because of seniority. Keh.
Still, Isaki didn’t anticipate that, and reveals that she’s was thinking about getting married. Ah, the good ole’ dilemma: love or career? But there isn’t much love when she meets with her fiancee at night, in a fancy restaurant. She tells him that after hearing a girl speak about a dinner cruise, she wants to try it but he isn’t on the same page, saying that it’s just eating on a boat.
Switching topics, he presses her to give a reply to his proposal. Such a caring and tactful boyfriend, aren’t you? After a little pause, Isaki looks straight at him and says: “Yes.” Obviously relieved, Future Husband confidently asks if she’s going to join him next week in Frankfurt. Cue wide eyes.
He’s already rolling with it but Isaki stops him: she still has a job. Well said, girl. He knows, but belittles it, since looking for a house is much more important. Read: this is your duty, female. She tries to make him understand the importance of her promotion, but he asks her instead to give it up. Say what?
He has a daughter, and negociated with his ex-wife to take her with him. Thing is, he’s too busy to take care of her, and Isaki would be a much better choice than an unknown housekeeper. Aw, that’s the most romantic proposal I’ve ever heard. NOT. Fortunately, Isaki catched on the “housekeeper” part, and asks for more time to think. He apologizes, asking her to forget it all, making her uncomfortable as she’s like “From which point?”
Going back in his apartment, Riichi scans his mail and stops at the sight of the (french!) movie poster put on the wall. I find it quite ironic that the title is “Les Aventuriers” (The Adventurers) given Riichi’s situation: kinda stuck in a standstill.
Cut to a bustling trading room, where SERIZAWA EISUKE (FUJIKI NAOHITO), Riichi’s cool big brother, works. To set the character, we see him advise his subordinate to do the exact opposite of the current market pattern, and brilliantly succeed. We get it: this guy follows his intuition and acts on it.
Accompanying Isaki at the driving school, Mino embarrasses her as she asks for the instructors’ pictures. Pfft, right, might as well pick a cute one, eh! Kohei also came to pay a visit to Riichi and quickly spots Mino. Target in sight: GO! Sitting next to her, he looks at her with moony eyes and she flashes him an amused smile. Puppy has found his master!
The instructors call the drivers by their number, and Isaki finds herself under Riichi’s supervision. Acting like nothing happened, it’s only once they’re driving that she apologizes for her attitude at the coffee shop. Blaming it on her work, she notes that she can’t help but lecture young people. Riichi thinks she’s referring to her students, and begins to say that she also teached in his high school when she suddenly slams on the brakes.
She scrambles to get her phone, but looks disappointed at the incoming number. Riichi nags at her for not turning it off, so she delegates the task to him: “Then why don’t you answer for me?” Uh huh, I don’t think that’s what he meant.
She tells him that she’s waiting for a call from her boyfriend, and instructs him to answer for her. She says that she can’t reach him since she refused his proposal to go to Germany. Riichi wonders, then why does she care, if she turned him down? With a jaded sigh, she asks his age (25) and envies him for being at such a naive period.
She confesses she didn’t want to turn him down, but was surprised at this sudden turn of events and just wanted some time. When Riichi asks about her job, she flaunts her new position but deflates when she notices Riichi’s surprise (she thinks he doesn’t know what it is, ha!). Riichi tries to explain, but she blabbers on about how her boyfriend didn’t care about her feelings. Riichi interrupts her and she shoots him a glare. Hahaha.
Dumbfounded, he confirms the truth: “You’re not a teacher?”
She doesn’t make the connection and criticizes his generation for not being sharp enough while he stays there, gaping. Dzing! Did you hear that? The sound of his image of an ideal teacher shattering.
Her other guy friends usually don’t give a damn or blame her, but Riichi only said “Ohh” or “Aah” to the point that she’s not even sure he listened.
Because you didn’t let me say more.
Isaki jokes on this new trend of boys patiently listening, which is yet another proof of their generation gap. But he says that she’s popular as well, since nowadays people love women blabbering without restraint. Haha, you cheeky boy. She mellows at the idea of having guys liking her personnality but frowns when he adds that there might be the same amount claiming that they hate her type. Brakes=slammed. Though she just points at the red light. Lol.
Sitting with Mino at the Hemingway coffee shop, Isaki helplessly checks her phone, while Mino laments that it would have been such a reversal for Isaki to live abroad with such a guy. Isaki wonders where her actual life may be lacking for it to need a reversal. Being asked about it, Mino says she’s 24, though she can’t announce it proudly anymore. Geh, be careful to WHO you say that, Mino-chan.
Remembering the way Now Ex-Future Husband reacted to her reply, she admits it was kind of sad to see him accept it so nonchalantly. Pursuing him would be sad as well, or rather mortifying, as suggested by Mino. When comes Isaki’s turn to give her age, it’s defiantly that she answers: 31. Mino notes that she hesitated but Isaki counters right away. Ah, the sadness of getting old.
On the set of a karaoke video, Riichi waits for his friend Kida Takashi (Nishino Akihiro), working as an assistant cameraman. Chatting about going to their professor’s retirement party, Kida complains that he’s embarrassed but Riichi mentions his award for their graduation project and the fact that Kida joined a production company. Still, Kida knows the level isn’t high enough and is afraid of seeing classmates wearing nice suits as if they’re doing better than him.
If he knew he would feel this anxious, he wouldn’t have majored in film and would have chose the common path to be an ordinary salaryman. Riichi points out that he’s contributing to society too but Kida switches to him: is he going to stay at the driving school forever? He insists on the necessity of coming to terms with reality. Thinking that he could make a living through film production was nothing more but a distant dream. Aw, there’s something incredibly sad about the way he gave up on his naive vision of life, and looks now so blasé.
Running to her company’s HQ, Isaki is told by her superior that she indeed gets the promotion. Because the previous area manager got pregnant, natch. He directly asks her if she has any marriage plans, prompting Isaki to mention that she did (girl gotta save some pride), but turned it down. That earns her to get praised for her courage, though it doesn’t really sound as a compliment.
He presents her the new shop she’ll manage, Mrs Panther (pffffft), to her surprise and (hidden) disappointment. She drinks her frustration away at her usual bar with Mino and Yashima Yuta, the sales representative. She forces herself to laugh at the irony of having to chose between being a housekeeper or the manager of an obscure shop, but Mino points out that there’s no choice to make since she already turned down the first offer. You see this black cloud, Mino-chan? You should see it. It’s called depression.
After a short hesitation, Yashima decides to stay a bit but Mino puts on the charm, and hands him his briefcase as she says how guys prioritizing their work are great. It totally does the trick, and she savors her victory with beer. Isaki understands that she was afraid to let her real personnality come out, and worries that all this hiding could tire her out. But Mino counters that it’s a given for girls to be different when they’re facing boys or fellow girls.
Isaki notices that she changed her seat and wonders who’s coming, to which Mino replies that someone hitted on her at the driving school and she agreed on a date. Isaki is horrified at the speed of the process, comparing it to her old days when talking didn’t stand for dating, but has to stop as Kouhei joins them. He didn’t come alone, and both Riichi and Isaki turn to their friend to ask some explanation.
In an other bar, more elegant, Eisuke looks mighty bored while texting when his girlfriend Sonoda Yukie (Ebihara Yuri) comes to check on him. He obviously has been forced to come and asks if he can head home but she teases him, saying that she likes his annoyed face. Shutting his phone, he smiles unconvincingly.
Embarrassed, Isaki tries to hide in her beer glass (good luck on that), glancing at Riichi who faces her. It gets awfully quiet when Mino goes out to take a call, so Riichi starts the conversation, asking if Isaki got any news from her boyfriend. She glares, and indicates that it’s already an old topic. Who needs a guy or a career when women can live independantly? Yup, though you do need a career for that.
Mino hurriedly comes back but only to leave for real. Kouhei attempts to set an other meeting but Isaki gets up, advising him not to try anymore. “Because she has a prince.” This prince is supposed to come get Mino on August 1st, and though Mino looks a bit confused, she confirms it. Kouhei isn’t deterred and follows her anyway, leaving Riichi alone to deal with a drunk Isaki. Gonna be tough.
She insists to thank him and hands him a banknote…errr…a drinking coupon. Arf. Right as he’s about to cross the door, she slurs german words, translating them to japanese. “Gute Nacht. Good Night.”
He spots an introduction book to the German language and sighs, now feeling pity. So he takes off her shoes (that’s sweet), getting hit in the process, but freezes when the doorbell rings. Oh crap, don’t tell me it’s…
Riichi tries to shake Isaki awake, but to no avail. Not knowing what’s the right thing to do, he decides to run after the person….who really is Now-Ex-Future-Husband (NEFH). He stops him and introduces himself as the one who was with Isaki just now, and I don’t know if I should rejoice or cringe.
NEFH gets it and leaves but Riichi precises that they were with friends and that she drank a lot. NEFH looks surprised so Riichi conjectures that maybe it’s because she got dumped, but NEFH identifies himself as the one who got rejected. He came because he wanted to talk to her one last time. Psh, go get yourself a proper housekeeper! Riichi is asked to give an envelope to Isaki but politely refuses, arguing that he isn’t that close to her.
Going home, he’s surprised to find his brother Eisuke there, since he usually spends his nights at some women’s places. But big bro reminds him that the apartment is still under his name. Quibbles, quibbles.
Finally attending the professor’s retirement party, Riichi is joined by Kida. A discussion with their ex-classmates gradually makes him feel out of place, as they write-off his passion for filming as a simple hobby, though they don’t mean it, as the considerate Kida comments.
But Round 2 begins when the professor comes to talk. Almost everyone is working in the movie industry, so Riichi doesn’t really brag about his own job. The professor unknowingly twists the knife further, mentioning how Riichi’s graduation project (read: his career) was promising. But it’s also mixed with references to Ayumi, the girl he was in love with, and to whom he dedicated his
love letter movie.
It’s with a heart full of regrets and nostalgia that he enters Kouhei’s place, finding that Isaki got there first. He broaches the topic of her boyfriend’s visit but she isn’t in the mood and stops him right away, handing him a beer. Being an outsider, she asks them why they’re not in the industry after majoring in film but Kouhei fills her in on how only a handful get to work in it after graduating.
He adds that the graduation project is the last film most of them do, and Isaki laughs: “In a way, it’s just for the memories!” You can literally read “whaddya say, woman?” on Riichi’s face. Don’t mess with a young man’s sensitivity!
Kouhei tries to get her out of her gaffe, but instead slips in how the video got too emotional, which earns him a tensed warning from a drained Riichi. Too late, Isaki smells drama and playfully wonders if there was a grudge, or if you could die by watching the video. You’ve seen “Ring” way too many times. But Riichi has had enough and reveals that he was dumped three years ago by the heroine of his graduation movie.
Right when he doesn’t expect it, she says that she heard he was her student back in the day. It was just a thing she did to get her college credits, but she remembers the fun she had: act all important, lecture the students. And as an intern, she didn’t had to put up with the responsabilities. Jackpot! I bet Riichi must feel pretty stupide by now, but it gets worse and he can’t help but smile bitterly when she laughs at how everyone listened to her so intently.
Isaki: I was so young, so stupid. Now that I think about it, it’s really embarrassing!
Riichi: The one who’s embarrassing is the current YOU.
He advises her to use her brain a bit when she asks what he meant by that. It escalates, and he scoffs at how she runs to her job when her love life is a mess, and runs back to men when her work life sucks. She’s indecisive, and that’s why she has nothing left even though she’s past 30. Now full-on sarcastic, he mimics her young self:
Riichi: You said: “Don’t lose hope until the end. If you give up, then it’s game over and your dream will end.”, right? You tell people those highfalutin words, and yet you…
Isaki: Wait. When did I say these things?
Oh man. He’s so fired up for something she can’t even remember. In a nice sequence, we follow them at home, both in a pensive state. Riichi decides to watch his graduation project (entitled: “Two in a million.” That’s cheesy.) while Isaki ponders calling NEFH or not. She finally presses the button to call, just when Riichi turns off the Tv. Talk about symbolism.
And guess who are reunited in the same group, at the driving school? He plays it cool and tells the trio of drivers students to observe the way he drives. It’s reaaaaaally quiet in the car, and slightly awkward as one girl remarks, until Riichi breaks the silence. Is she (Isaki) not going to meet her boyfriend at the airport? Taken aback, she wonders why and he tells her that he’s taking his flight today.
That’s totally new to her, and she freaks out when she hears about his night visit. Even Riichi feels nervous, and tells her that NEFH was supposed to drop by her store. Panicked, she takes it out on him but is told that SHE was the one who turned down the proposal. She counters that she didn’t know she would manage such a dull brand. Hee, because that’s your reason to marry
She takes her phone and calls the shop. getting Junko to find the envelope in a notebook. A bit too late, aren’t you? It looks like tickets, but after feeling giddy, Isaki grows anxious and orders Riichi to put pedal to metal and whizz to the airport.
He opposes her plan but she pulls out her special card: “I was your favorite teacher, wasn’t I?” Suddenly brought back to the past, he remembers this young intern, tearfully thanking the students and encouraging them with what will later be called “highfalutin words”. What she said then resonated with Riichi, who felt as if those words were meant for him, and still treasures them. The power of this memory is enough to make him shift to second gear and drive towards the airport, driving school be damned.
Inside the terminal, they’re all united to find NEFH, Riichi even taking the lead. But the flight already departed, and it’s now a dejected group that steps towards the exit. On their way, a flight attendant stops Riichi. Smiling, Hirose Ayumi (Kobayashi Mao) only has the time to greet him before heading elsewhere but Riichi gathers the nerve to call out her name.
She asks him if he’s still making films, and as we know it’s a sensitive issue for him, so it’s with a hint of bitterness that he replies that he’s now working, as any normal employee. He still manages to let her know that his phone number hasn’t changed, and she promises she’ll call him. Smooth, little boy.
Before leaving for good, she wonders if he lives at the same place, with his brother. Uh oh. I know where it’s heading. You can practically see Riichi’s face deflate, as he mutters that they’re living separately now.
Having arrived at her shop, Isaki wistfully looks at the memo left by NEFH, and though she’s soon led to focus on her work, a part of her still thinks about it. Night comes and both Isaki and Riichi bumps into each other at their (now) usual place: Hemingway coffee shop. She treats him to a drink to thank him for what he did. Ironically, she gives him the same one he got by mistake at the beginning, but enjoins him to drink it anyway.
You don’t know until you try it. It’s like life.
He smiles, remembering that she said the same thing years ago. In a pensive mood, he muses that he was a good student, and that his parents thought he would enter a good university and land a decent job. He agreed, willing to follow his brother’s steps, as he used to always do. Becoming a director was Eisuke’s dream at first, though he quickly exchanged it for a highly-paid investment banker job. Seeing that, Riichi thought about giving up as well, but heard Isaki’s candid words. Scoffing, he says they moved him.
With a sigh, she utters: “Slam Dunk”. The words she used back then were quoted from her bible, the sports manga Slam Dunk, because she was searching for something really cool to say. Pfffhahahaha. Now I want to do an internship too, just to be able to deliver all my favorites manga quotes to my bored students.
Riichi takes it more badly, obviously shocked at the revelation, while an oblivious Isaki believes it’s because of the generation gap. Sneering, he can’t believe his whole life had been affected by a manga but she goes on saying that she’s bad at lying. She may have parrotted the manga, but that were also her true feelings.
Looking at her differently, Riichi counters when she apologizes, stating that he’s actually grateful. You only have one life, and so far, he’s only been running away since he graduated, afraid of the consequences and escaping both his dream and reality. Laughing at himself, he realizes that he was the one stepping on the brakes.
But a serious, though smiling, Isaki announces that he have just restarted. For her, he moved on his own today. Embarrassed, Riichi asks her about the tickets, and she shows him the envelope. He tells her that it’s not too late to follow NEFH, but she doesn’t look convinced, not having opened it yet.
He presses her to do so, suggesting that there may be a love letter inside, which gets her to swiftly open it. Ha, how easily you fell for that. But the real content has her confused, as she discovers not a flight ticket to Germany but two tickets for a dinner cruise. She also finds a letter, devoid of love: NEFH thanked her for everything, telling her to find someone to enjoy the dinner with. Ooooooof. I know it wasn’t the greatest love, but damn if that still doesn’t hurt.
Haha, feels strange to end an episode this way. But it’s one of the things I appreciated in this first episode: the charm of its execution.
Too little known by most J-drama fans, Slow Dance is a show deserving more recognition. Yes, it does have an incredibly simple plot (life and love for a quartet of Tokyoites), but for those loving slice-of-life stories, it offers plenty of small moments and insights into the life of twenty to thirtysomethings.
The first episode, though not enough to prove my point, already set the mood. It has this kind of indie vibe that I find particularly appealing, promising a pleasant ride. Sure, for those of you addicted to fast-paced series, Slow Dance may not be your thing, but if you’re searching for something different, it would be a good pick. I like that this drama isn’t afraid of letting itself breath. The acting is pretty solid for most of the cast, with the leads making their story feel real. In a “it-could-happen-to-you” kind of way. But I guess I’ll have more occasions to develop that point.
What really make me fall for this drama was certainly the amazing, perfectly selected soundtrack. I really, really enjoy the music of the series. I would even go as far as to say that it played a bigger part than the actors themselves. It brilliantly served as an enhancer, going along with the characters’ feelings, and helped me feel as if I was a part of the show. One good sample would be the main theme, used in the opening and skillfully presenting the general tone of the drama:
Isn’t this song lovely?
To conclude this post, this drama hasn’t a big fanbase, despite its high-profile cast, and may not attract the masses, but its introspective pacing and tone has undeniably a refreshing quality compared to the batch of fluffy dramas we’re given each season. Stay tuned for the next episode!