What’s the first thing you think of when you hear about a show set in a lingerie store? If you’re like most Americans, you’re thinking of scantily-clad models showcasing off-the-rack (no pun intended) product for a famous chain, angel wings, and a televised advertisement billed as a fashion show. You might think of seduction, flirtation, and liasons with paramours. Throw all that thinking away right now, because Fuji Television’s ‘Atelier’ focuses almost solely on the design and production side of the spectrum, emphasizing feminity, and what a woman’s intimate wear means to her, regardless of who may want to see or remove it. It’s about the intimacy and honesty of the tailoring craft, juxtaposed against the rather sketchy trade practices of a major department store chain. And for one exceptionally lovely young woman, it’s about the shedding of youthful naivete and learning that one’s career, like one’s life, has a process of growth and maturity.
Mirei Kiritani was remarkable as Tokita Mayuko, a country girl from Nagano, fresh out of college and starting work in the luxurious Ginza shopping district in Tokyo. Her seemingly effortless portrayal of a character that goes from a green and eager cute girl in a suit to a capable, confident and stylish young woman was a genuine pleasure to behold. Whether it’s gullible faith in an old man’s mean-spirited flattery, the nearly compulsive need for organization, or stubborn contention with her boss about the meaning of beauty, Ms. Kiritani was simply flawless throughout the series.
Mayuko’s boss, mentor, and sometime verbal sparring partner is Nanjo Mayumi, played by the elegant and graceful Mao Daichi. An otaku with a singular perfectionistic obsession with making her wares as beautiful as humanly possible, she is the owner, proprietor, and chief designer at Emotion, a lingerie shop like no other. Her extravagant custom-made creations run as high as $800 for a single matched bra and panties set. Yes, Ginza really is that hoity-toity. Despite the meticulous attention to detail, the obsession with beauty, and the use of expensive fabrics, president Nanjo is a remarkably kind and humble person, if a little more outspoken than the average Japanese citizen. Then again, a woman doesn’t often go into the lingerie business because she’s shy.
I could easily fill 2,000 words with praises on the writing alone. The plot is as tight and intricate as a critic could hope for. Using very few cliches, and those only for comedic effect, the plot moves along at a brisk, yet enjoyable pace, exploring facets of the fashion world and the human soul in the sensitive, intelligent way that ‘Fashion King’ failed to. The script draws in the viewer by piquing your curiosity. It leaves the audience with questions they’re hungry to have answered, without revealing much to indicate what those answers could be. It’s subtly enchanting from episode 1 and leaves you with a sense of wonder that a script could be as finely crafted as any of Ms. Nanjo’s brassieres.
If I had any complaint to offer, it would be in the music department. Throughout the series, only five pieces of music are ever used. That’s it. There’s no variations on the themes, no change in the orchestration, no rearrangements to fit other moods, nothing. It’s the one part of the series that feels dreadfully predictable and repetitive, especially the cheesy 80’s-style power ballad that plays with every roll of the end credits. It’s this unfortunate flaw that holds the show back from earning a perfect rating.
Thankfully, ‘Atelier’ has much, much more that’s done right than is done wrong. The end result is satisfying, quietly joyous, and slightly bittersweet. Watch it alone or with friends, regardless of what sex you are. Ultimately, the beauty of this show is meant for all to enjoy.
Watch it exclusively on Netflix.