Boss (2009) is a very slick eleven episode police procedural which addresses three fairly common themes in Japanese television. The first and most obvious is the desire of senior management, whenever possible, to finish off an upwardly mobile woman’s career. Five years before the show starts, Eriko Osawa (Yuki Amami) was sent to America to hide her away, but now she’s back and the knives are out. Thanks to the machinations of Shinjiro Nodate (Yutaka Takenouchi) she’s not only been brought back to head up a redundant division of detectives but, with a couple of exceptions, she’s been given a team of eccentric deadbeats. So we’re in the misogynistic vein again as patronising contempt gushes down on her from her seniors and peers. At least no-one physically hits her during the series. The second theme is the misfits making good. In each episode after they have all been introduced, they are on track for redemption. It may be one of television’s ultimate clichés but it’s actually carried off quite well here. Mami Kimoto (Erika Toda) is the CSI officer from Hell who has no interest in people and is more than happy to spend her time asleep at her desk. This contrasts sharply with the head of CSI, Reiko Narahashi (Michiko Kichise) who’s obsessively hard-working and full of useful tips. Ippei Hanagata (Junpei Mizobata) is terminally young, inexperienced and naive. Keisuke Yamamura (Yoichi Nukumizu) is old, rather stupid, intensely naive, and physically incompetent even in his own defence. Takuma Katagiri (Tetsuji Tamayama) is the ultimate clock-watching drop-out who shows no real commitment to the notion of policing. And then we have Zenji Iwai (Kendo Kobayashi), a fairly overtly gay officer. This is the first time I’ve encountered a Japanese television series with explicit reference to homosexuality. Sadly some aspects of the performance are intended to raise a smile, but he’a actually allowed to begin taking his role in the police more seriously. Finally, there’s considerable institutional contempt for the use of profiling. I’m not quite sure why the culture is so strongly against this. Perhaps in Japanese society it’s considered rude to use psychological analysis to invade any individual’s personality.
All this would be quite encouraging if the team was consistently given interesting crimes to investigate. The first episode has a serial killer on the loose. The titular boss is fractionally behind her rivals in identifying the probable criminal, but there’s a pleasing session in the interview room where she shows how devious she can be when it comes to getting a confession. This sets the pattern with Hirohisa Iida the first week’s guest star villain — he also reappears in the final episode for another interesting confrontation with the Boss. Unfortunately, this star wattage and script brio does not carry into the second episode where we have a thin and incoherent story about a man who jump starts a murder on request website, leaving it to the Boss to hold herself out as bait. Frankly this is poor. With hundreds writing in to nominate hated family members and friends for death, the police team put in multiple requests for our heroine to be the next victim. Needless to say, the killer comes, there’s a chase, a completely ludicrous explosion to throw the chasing officers off the scent, and a very tame ending. The third episode is saved by the rather amusing way in which Keisuke Yamamura, our cowardly old officer with the environmental streak, finally avoids making a fool of himself as a detective. His role proves pivotal in producing the evidence to put the killer away. That said, the confrontation eliciting the confession is not staged in the police station. I hope the police had hidden recorders going because it might be difficult to get a conviction if the confession is subsequently denied.
We then get into familiar plot territory with the school bullying that went too far in the past and a victim now back to take revenge. All this is a vehicle for showing the “arrival” of Mami Kimoto, our CSI, in the ranks of the detectives. We start with a note of affectionate humour as our heroes are enlisted in the anti-crime drive. They are to act out scenes to show school children the need to take care. It seems there are criminals about who must be defended against. Particularly those who are zombies — the cast gets carried away in improvising dangers. Ironically, the team fail to notice their CSI has been kidnapped and are then embarrassed into having to track her down with all Tokyo watching through an internet live feed. This two episode element is too long and the resolution depends on inspired guesswork, but it does prove to be a useful team-building exercise and, despite her ordeal, Mami Kimoto emerges a more integrated member.
The sixth episode is what we all wait for. It’s Japanese television doing everything absolutely right. This is a wonderful battle between the sixteen year old prodigy at an elite school played by Mai Nakahara and the Boss who affects middle-aged brainlessness to lure our young criminal into supplying the evidence of her crime. It’s al contrived to come out right but it does it so well, we can forgive it everything. The seventh episode tries to do the same thing, this time with Rei Okamoto as a highly competent television reporter and presenter. It’s not a complete success but it does show the development of the team. Whereas they began by being a worthless collections of individuals, the crisis provoked by the death of a suspect while under interrogation by her team requires them to take sides. Either they are going to remain a pack of individuals or they are going to rally round the Boss and continue the investigation despite the attempts to sideline them. The murder method is reasonably ingenious, but the way the police find and reinterpret the video evidence is too convenient and unconvincing. Again we have this silly confrontation outside the police station without any obvious recording of the confession.
We now get into the backstory of Takuma Katagiri, the second-in-command, as a sniper begins to pick off police officers. It’s obviously personal but because Takuma Katagiri will not trust anyone, it’s not clear how it can be cleared up. However, the Boss is able to break through the mistrust and Keisuke Yamamura inadvertently stumbles on evidence so it all works out well in a rather silly shoot-out at a stadium. We then have a serial killer on the loose or perhaps there are two of them: one crazed and disorganised, the other obsessional and highly organised. Yes, the profile turns out to be right and, yes, we have seen it before in Western shows. This time, the reason for suspecting the right answer is even more contrived than usual making this only moderately successful. The final two-episode resolution gives us the Boss’s backstory, explaining exactly what went wrong five years earlier and what happened to the relationship she had with the man she was was then involved with. This proves to be very clever, carefully playing a series of reveals to resolve a kidnapping by terrorists. It represents a fitting conclusion to an above average police procedural show with, in the end, three strong women emerging from pack to keep the men on the straight and narrow.
For a review of the second season, see Boss: Season 2 or シーズン (2011).