Our Cinderella is not your typical beautiful flower cast to the side of the road by her selfish, greedy relatives. As a matter of fact, we aren’t introduced to her family at all (yay!). Stressed-out by the naysayers, she’s literally harvesting a beard, comparable to that of Justice Bao. Episode 1 is fast-paced and beautifully shot, placing us right the middle of her ordinary life. And how magically complicated it’s about to become, flanked by a young, handsome pursuer, and a snarky middle-aged man.
Meet our 39-year old leading lady, Toyama Sakura (Shinohara Ryoko). She lives alone and her morning routine includes dousing her bare face into a sink of water as a way of washing and using a magnifying glass to check for signs of hair growth around her mouth. Lady Masculinity descends on her this morning and she gasps in horror at a short whisker poking out under her chin. *snips, oww*
From early morning to late evening, our plain Jane works as a hair stylist at a busy salon (“Happy-Go-Lucky”), focused on delivering 100% customer satisfaction. With that kind of work ethics, she naturally doesn’t have the time for love and men. Oddly enough, Sakura’s well-loved by the customers as their love guru.
Unbiased, eager, and kind, she should be every boss’ ideal employee. Nope. Her boss is unsatisfied with her. He wants profits and could care less about the customers. Thus, another year goes by with her promotion snatched under her nose. The title ‘manager’ is relegated to her rival, Tachibana Rintaro (Fujiki Naohito), a man she knew when they were still in school. Snappy, confident, and sarcastic, he spends his days making fun of the way Sakura lives. He looks down on women and believes that society is still male-dominating in more ways than one. And that she wouldn’t succeed without bowing at their feet. PSHHHH.
Which leads us to this.
ME: “Well-played, Sakura. Well-played.”
Sakura’s circle of friends are pretty small. Feisty and divorced, Hasegawa Shima (Iijima Naoko) oozes feminine sensuality wherever she goes. But being sexless for nearly a year, she’s out to hunt down any attractive man that crosses her path. I find her behavior quite disturbing and borderline sexual assault in this one scene where she forces this young guy into the bathroom and has some fun “time” with him. Had she been a male coercing his power over a young lady, I’m sure the community will burn him alive. One could argue that the guy could easily overpower her had he wanted to, so it’s a mutual agreement. Still, it doesn’t sit well with me. Shima does do something morally upsetting at the end of this episode though. Watch to find out!
Her other friend is Takenouchi Miki (Otsuka Nene), a docile housewife, who simply wants to serve her husband and (rebellious) kids. Her greatest concern lies in her husband’s avoidance of intimacy. The other problems come in the form of her mother-in-law, a grumpy old lady who doesn’t respect her son’s privacy. She comes and goes as she likes. Miki finds her intrusive and to her dismay, her husband is indifferent.
When Sakura, Shima, and Miki hang out together, the two friends often hear out Shima’s advise. They joke about Sakura’s manliness in the last decade, calling her an Oyaji-gal (a young woman who acts like an old man), and reminding their friend that a woman who doesn’t take care of her outer appearance will soon lose touch with her feminine side. They urge her to find a man. She initially rejects the idea because she’s completely happy with who she is and where she is right now. But slowly, their words get the best of her, as she realizes that she has forgotten that feeling of being in love. Determined to remove the fear of becoming an oyaji-gal, she vows, “Before I turn 40, I’ll definitely find a good man and be absolutely in love.”
The problem is how?
Next day, Sakura reveals to Rintaro about her said goal this year and he snorts at her. While they banter back-and-forth, a beautiful customer, Ogami Chiyoko (Nanao), side eyes Sakura. Looks like our pretty girl here has a crush on Rintaro, hence she gets up hastily and invites Sakura to a matchmaking party, held tomorrow at a fancy hotel. Rintaro’s jaw drops, “Choko-chan, you’re joking, right?” Sakura glares at him and he blurts out, “You’re so clumsy, they’ll think you’re Choko-chan’s Mama!” So mean! She also asks to bring along Shima and Miki (both not knowing they’re going to a hookie party. One is married, for god’s sake.)
Morning arrives and our girl spends her waking hours caking make-up on her face. She isn’t shy to squeeze out a few lines, mocking her horrendous clown looks. When all is done and over, she decides the best way to go out is in her natural face. Ransacking her wardrobe, Sakura heaves a sigh – she only has a business suit + skirt to wear. Outside, the rain patters overhead as she waits to hail a taxi. Between an approaching taxi and helping an old woman with her fallen groceries, Sakura chooses the latter option.
Completely drenched when she gets to work, Rintaro casually lifts up her skirt, advising her to pick a shorter skirt, one that shows her panties is suitable for such gatherings. She hisses at his perverted mindset. In comes the old woman from earlier. She feels guilty to have caused her trouble and specifically walked here with a kind offer. A dress she’s made for her daughter a loooooong time ago is available for Sakura’s use. DUN! DUN! DUN! It’s grandma’s wear, and Sakura has no choice but to adorn the old-fashioned dress to the party. (Really?!)
Everyone ignores her so she drinks herself silly. Except for one guy, Saeki Hiroto (Miura Haruma), a BMX rider, for some reason, living on the the command of Chiyoko. He’s scouted to the location with the sole mission of seducing Sakura. The guy’s got game because he doesn’t approach her, instead he observes her from a distance, plotting for his captivating entrance. Drunk and stimulated by her own righteousness to stand up for a fellow girlfriend in trouble with a shady man, Sakura’s carried out by the security guards.
She crumbles on the stairs, flicks off one heel, and sways down the steps, which is the perfect moment for Hiroto to show up, holding her heel.
Hiroto: “You forgot something. My Cinderella.”
Me: “SO CHEESY!! LOL!”
He kneels down and slips her foot into the shoe. She stares down at him dreamily, her cheeks flushing a deep pink color.
Next morning, they’re in bed together. She closes the distance between them and watches his sleeping face, while gulping down her drool. He stirs awake and she literally flies off the bed, back first.
He’s all smiley, with the bright sunlight behind his back, and she’s fidgety on the ground with a thin blanket covering the, er, girlie parts. She asks him what happened last night and in his matter-of-fact tone, he replies, “You asked me to sleep with you so I got into bed…” She yelps a cry, wondering whether or not they did the deed. If they did, she regrets not remembering anything about it.
Hiroto: “I’m kidding!”
Me: “ROFL. She actually perks up at his suggestion!”
Hiroto introduces himself, and crawls towards her, murmuring, “Sakura-san, please…go out with me. I’ve come to like you.” Shocked, her head falls back, as the sakura outside the window bloom.
Kappy: I adore Sakura already. Mostly because the writer didn’t write her out to be a pathetic older woman, who wallows in self-pity all because she doesn’t have a man in her life. Yep, I’m looking at you Drama Go Go Go. Sakura has a spine (wonderful addition, don’t ya think?) and loves her job. She enjoys being single. But her circle of friends and the physical changes to her body are implanting fear into her head. No woman wants to wake up as a man. Silly idea but the fear is not groundless. You can see her wall of self-assurance breaking down, showing glimpses of her vulnerabilities.
Sakura’s decision is one I can understand. Personality matters most in the long run, but there’s always an element of physical attraction involved. First off, Sakura is not an unattractive woman, she’s just easy-going and lacks the keen concern for fashion and make-up. Gotta give it to Jdramas for the honest display of a bare face. The actress looks so plain, as opposed to the poster shot of her glamorous face and assets.
I love Sakura and Rintaro’s bickering already. Could watch them interact all day. Despite the harsh things he says, it was delivered free of animosity. More like he wants to provoke her enough so she begins to live a more colorful life. As for him, underneath all the bright smiles and crude jokes, there underlies an unmistakable loneliness, as suggested by the bartender friend of theirs. He likes Sakura but is too prideful to admit it.
This basic of this drama is not new. It’s been done before in the likes of Dalja’s Spring (my fav), Drama Go Go Go, & I Do I Do. An older woman meeting two different men at the same time. If you like any of the above shows, I’m sure you’ll enjoy this one. Hopefully, this writer can construct the much-needed tugging romance I crave so much to see in a Japanese drama!
I also love the cute computer-generated letters inserted on the window and ground. Creative.