While I had watched a large number of Japanese dramas in the first few years of studying Japanese (and I feel it helped me immensely in many ways), at some point I started getting tired of the same hackneyed stories and cheesy acting. I’m also pretty picky about plot, and when I am able to understand much of the Japanese it’s harder for me to forgive a weak story.
Just the other day I was doing a search on Amazon to see what Japanese dramas were available. Many of them looked boring, and the handful I watched a few minutes of were not too interesting. But one really caught my interest and I ended up watching the entire first season (11 episodes).
The drama is titled Tokyo Girl, and is (unsurprisingly) about a girl from a small country town who travels to Tokyo to try and make her dreams come true.
I mentioned about being picky about plot, and to be honest the story itself was only mediocre, though there was a few interesting twists. But practically everything except the story was pretty great.
First of all, the narration––focusing around social critique––was written particularly well. In particular, the first episode was really good in that respect to the extent that I ended up watching it a second time and still enjoyed it. The last episode also had a good amount of thoughtful narration, and though the middle episodes had less there was a little here and there.
Another thing that I really appreciated from the beginning is the acting quality of “Tokyo Girl” was exceptionally high. Not only the main character, played by Asami Mizukawa (水川あさみ, ) for most of the series, but also many of the supporting actors and actresses were very realistic. In terms of the average drama I think the acting level was in the top twenty or ten percent. The script itself sounded fresh and realistic, which I think helped out.
Related to that, this series had an interesting twist in the storytelling: pausing the action to have various characters (not just the main character) have brief soliloquies where they speak directly to the camera. While I had seen this done in Western TV shows before, it was pretty rare for a Japanese drama, perhaps the first time I have seen it.
Finally, this drama showcased a lot of interesting locations, including bustling city streets and luxurious restaurants. While it is not uncommon to come across such visually appealing places in dramas, seeing such scenes is always a treat for lovers of Japan. The first episode was particularly great in this respect since it ran the gamut of spacious country streets to ultra-expensive condos only the rich can afford.
For anyone learning Japanese I think this is a great drama, partially because of the realism of the dialog and acting, but also because it’s just entetaining to watch. Some of the narrative parts had what you could call a ‘literary’ style with words you won’t frequently hear in everyday conversation, but overall the Japanese level wasn’t that advanced. For the times I glanced over at the subtitles (part of the time I watched with them disabled) the translation quality seemed pretty good.
While I won’t say this is one of my favorite dramas of all time, I would say it is one of the best dramas I’ve seen in the last few years. If you are learning Japanese or just enjoy Japanese culture, I recommend checking it out. It’s free with Amazon prime. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a second season yet, but maybe they’ll make one eventually. (Fortunately, I think the first season is, for the most part, self-contained)
By the way, if you are interested to know one of my favorite Japanese dramas ever, I’d take a look at Nodame Cantabile (it’s available on Crunchyroll), which Mizukawa plays a major role in.