I’m back with another addition to my “Pimp That Drama” series – not a recap or a review, but rather my musings on why I love a certain drama. I love distinct seasons – the crisp Autumn air, the muggy Summer heat, the damp Spring scent, and the dry Winter chill. Just like some foods are best consumed at a certain temperature, certain dramas are also naturally suitable for certain seasonal viewings. While Korea has the seasons dramas, which I’ve seen them all, none of them really are the perfect balance of seasonal backdrop paired with a season-specific story.
I noticed that J-doramas have done it much better, without even having to resort to calling their dramas seasonally influenced. Two of my favorite J-doramas fit that bill, and today I’m here to talk about one of them – the ultimate Summer drama is Buzzer Beat with Tomohisa Yamashita (Yamapi) and Kitagawa Keiko. It’s perfect to watch outside on the porch, nursing a bottle of ice-cold Sauvignon Blanc, with a silly happy grin on your face as the sun gradually sets and the Summer crickets start to chirp.
‘Twas a neigh unforgettable Summer romance
Summer means a lot of things to me growing up. It typically meant lazy days, long dusk hours, muggy heat, lots of time for daydreaming, and generally an aura of thrumming excitement in the air mixed with a sensation that everything moves at a slower pace. Everything about BB captures the very mood and sensation of Summer, from the story, to the locales, to the outfits, this drama visually transports Summer right onto the screen before you.
BB is such a simple love story, but oh so satisfying. Shirakawa Riko (with an earnest and luminous performance by Keiko) is an aspiring violinist, with talent but not much success. She’s a cheerful girl who loves her chosen profession and works diligently to hit that breakthrough in her career. Her best friend Mai is also a fellow musician, a flute player who is already a step ahead of Riko, having been selected to perform with an orchestra.
On a hot Summer day, Riko meets Kamiya Naoki, a point guard for the JC Arcs, a professional basketball team in Japan, on the bus. Let me amend that, they don’t really meet other than a few passing glances, but Riko finds Naoki’s cell phone left on the bus and therein starts their intertwined fates.
Riko calls a number on the phone and reaches Naoki’s basketball coach Kawasaki-san. Riko meets with Coach Kawasaki to deliver the phone, and the man is instantly smitten with her. While Coach Kawasaki pursues Riko, she continues to run into Naoki. Riko and Naoki discover that they live in the same neighborhood, and both often go to the nearby playground (Naoki to practice hoops, Riko to practice her violin).
As Naoki finds his basketball career hitting a brick wall with his seeming inability to hit the big shots, always choking on a buzzer beater, similarly Riko sees her violin career just puttering along unable to secure any greater opportunities. Naoki has a bitchy girlfriend who is about to cheat on him with his high school nemesis, and Riko is open to giving Coach Kawasaki a chance.
These two youngsters find a kindred spirit in each other, someone who is non-judgmental and can be supportive without any added expectations. In the midst of their own emotional and career concerns, Naoki and Riko become friends. Their friendship has no underlying requirements other than Riko is taken with Naoki’s basketball skills on the court and Naoki finds Riko a calming presence to occasionally hang around with. There is initially no romantic chemistry other than a comforting presence around each other. I loved this twist on the romance meet-cute staple.
Nothing about BB is refreshingly new or innovative, cobbling together all the essential elements of a success story with smatterings of the sports dorama. While the plot trajectory might unfold exactly as predicted, what BB does so well is deliver the satisfaction. What elevates BB even more is that it completely captures the evocative mood of Summer in Japan, bathing the love story in the heady fragrance of muggy Summer days and hot Summer nights.
Ignore the fact that the stylist planted an orange fried poodle on Yamapi’s head, and concentrate on his bball boy outfits and his giant purple backpack, a kid at heart who loves basketball but can’t quite find the drive to take his talent to the next level. Riko, with her casual long hair and t-shirt and jeans attire, looks more like a college kid rather than an aspiring professional violinist.
Their connection increases and strengthens in the locales that immediately call to mind Summer activities – playing basketball in the neighborhood court, attending a Summer festival, going to the beach. Naoki is frustrated and spends the night on the park bench, which is how Riko secretly snaps a picture of him on her cellphone the next morning when she passes by the park and sees him. They go to the beach to hang out and Riko finds herself uncontrollably drawn to Naoki. Every little scene is just sublime between them.
Even the Summer time weather is perfectly integrated into the drama. The camera captures the oranges of the waning Summer light and the greens of the verdant Summer foliage. I love how the drama takes a Summer downpour and makes our OTP confront their growing attraction and deal with their lingering issues. The violin piece that Riko plays for Naoki when he is at his emotional lowest point is called “彼女の夏” (Her Summer) and is absolutely enchanting. In fact, the BB OST is one of my all-time favorite OSTs. Every track perfectly complements the story and makes the viewer swept away into the mood of a love story tenderly unfolding.
Love makes me strong
I find it hard to describe BB because the formula of friends-to-lovers, however exquisitely executed and complemented with a dazzling mood, is really all in the visual elements. So let’s take a walk down a Summer lane with Naoki and Riko. Below is very spoiler-heavy, so don’t read if you don’t want to know how the story progresses.
You never know if the cute boy on the bus is going to leave his cell phone, and you’ll conveniently pick it up and therein starts the beginning of a Summer romance.
The first time they formally meet, she’s just moved into the neighborhood and is playing the violin on his usual basketball court.
She’s enchanted by the sound his basketball makes, this steady and sure “thump, thump, thump”, her description raises Naoki’s spirit at a moment when he thinks his basketball is uncertain and unreliable.
A conversation is best held outdoors on a beautiful day like that.
It’s tiring after practicing the hoops and the violin, respectively, all evening.
When they pass each other on the street, they stop and go back even but for a minute, just to say hi.
Naoki can only sleep outside because the weather is so warm, and because he’s not afraid of mosquitos. Riko can take a picture of him sleeping because he’s just that adorable.
Neither notices the world’s most obvious billboard next to them, advertising Summer love on the beach.
It’s the boys of Summer.
After a hard day playing basketball and practing the violin, it’s nice to share a beer outside with a friend.
They are listing to classical music, yet the electric surge between them feels like it’s a jolt of heavy metal.
Riko rocking her Summer kimono after attending a Natsu Festival for the JC Arcs.
She takes an overnight bus to go see him because she can hear him crying silently on the phone the night before. She collapses on the parquet floor from running all the way from the bus stop. He hugs her because she’s just so damn sincere in everything she does for him.
She waits for him at their playground, in the rain.
He calls to wish her a happy birthday. She screams out the window to the entire neighborhood that she likes him. He kisses her brains out.
They can’t even get any peace and quiet because the roommates just won’t go to bed. So he pulls her in and spoons her in the most gasp-inducing way, lightly nuzzling her ear as they both fall asleep.
She watches him sleep. He knows she’s watching him. They bid each other farewell the next morning, the giddiness of a new love that makes the day ever so bright and hopeful.
He finally gives her the solitary flower he bought for her when he watched her do a little mall performance, a flower he kept because the Coach gave her an entire bouquet instead.
Their first date as an official couple after Riko tells the Coach she likes Naoki and she’s sorry but it’s not going to work between them. He sits behind her and cradles her. She sweetly asks for a kiss and he gives her one.
Riko tearfully makes a decision – violin or Naoki.
When Naoki needs confidence, he can always count on his Riko to remind him that he has it.
Who says she can’t have both, a career and her man. A kiss for the ages.
You only live once
Summer reminds me the most of the passing seasons, i.e. the passing of time itself. It’s such a beautiful season that we live each day in the fullest rather than waiting for a better day to arrive. It passes in the blink of an eye, and soon Autumn arrives and we’re preparing for yet another Winter to huddle inside.
Buzzer Beat is drama that captures the very essense of Summer in both story and execution, sweeping me away into the sweet love story between Naoki and Riko. While the drama isn’t all that, what it does deliver, it hits a home run. I love BB because it hits all my happy spots, becoming a drama that I first watched in the Summer and want to re-watch every Summer.
MV for Buzzer Beat set to Beyonce’s Halo (up to episode 6 and including all the major characters):