The Negotiator or Koshonin or 交渉人 (2008) — episodes 1 to 4
Imagine a prison with bare corridors, paintwork in need of a little loving care and heavy doors. Now imagine the inside of a building used by an elite reaction police unit, able to deal with all terrorist, hostage and comparable situations in which it may be necessary to negotiate with the criminals. It’s a strange reflection on status that the interiors are similar. It seems the senior police units have little need for comfort or style. It’s all bare and functional with desks clumped together where the unit rests between missions. The conference rooms look like cellars, while the Chief’s office looks much as we would imagine the prison governor occupies. Into both worlds comes Reiko Usagi (Ryoko Yonekura). She makes a weekly visit to a psychopathic prisoner who will soon be put to death. She has just been accepted into the Special Investigation Team despite the fierce opposition of the Chief Shizuo Takabayashi (Ren Osugi). From the outset, he’s determined to throw her out. This reflects the intense and pervasive hostility to women in the force. Although women are trusted to handle the telephone, their only other function is either decorative or to offer massage services to older officers like Kohei Sumida (Takashi Sasano).
On her first day, Reiko Usagi arrives as the Team is being called out to deal with a hostage situation. Without being asked, she sits in the back of the car driven by the Team’s leader Keigo Kirisawa (Takanori Jinnai). A man has taken a woman hostage at gunpoint and is threatening to kill her but, before their arrival, he has made no demands. The Team’s lead negotiator Seiichiro Kizaki (Toshio Kakei) begins talking to the man, but this only provokes threats to start shooting. Reiko Usagi quickly assesses the situation and alerts the room that this is almost certainly a build up to a death-by-police suicide. Keigo Kirisawa is outraged that a junior (and a woman) should pre-empt his judgement and he slaps her face. It’s frankly amazing this should be portrayed as a routine event, not worthy of comment. The idea Western police officers (or indeed any senior managers) could discipline their junior staff by the application of physical force is absurd. Nevertheless, when she volunteers to walk over and talk to the man through the door, he allows her to go. In fact, he’s simply using her to distract the man’s attention. Officers then shoot stun grenades through the window and shoot the man dead. This is a clean rescue of the hostage but, when they examine the man, he had a suicide note and the gun was not real. Second-in-command Kazuyoshi Katayama (Katsumi Takahashi) tries to cover this up but, in an internal enquiry led by Chief Shizuo Takabayashi, it takes lies from Reiko Usagi to save their reputations. This leads to some real discomfort. She’s shown herself to be a potential team player but they prefer not to have a woman in their team. They resent being beholden to her.
Shortly afterwards, the Team is called to another hostage situation in a factory. They are unsure whether this is a copycat suicide attempt or the hostage taker has a different agenda. Reiko Usagi goes in to talk with him face to face and, with direct communications to the Team, she elicits enough information so they can investigate who this man is and what he might want. It’s already apparent that she is on exactly the same wavelength as the leader, Keigo Kirisawa, and between them, they are able to resolve this situation. The fact Reiko Usagi has been successful in two situations is deeply distressing to the men who are used to all the glory for themselves (even when they don’t actually deserve it). The misogynous faction grows increasingly impatient to drive her out, but Keigo Kirisawa is now more clearly sitting on the fence. It’s obvious he’s waiting to see if she can succeed on her own terms rather than as a result of any help he might give.
The third investigation is an apparent terrorist bombing campaign, except that’s not quite how it develops. This is a rather pleasing story idea. On balance, I think it goes on marginally too long but there are two interesting consequences. The first is that the most obviously sexist member of the unit, Kohei Sumida, who’s an inveterate womaniser, actually shifts his ground to covert support for “the” woman. Second, the Chief is now disclosed as continuing to plot her dismissal.
I suppose I should not be surprised that the Japanese police service is shown as so deeply sexist. Institutionalised sexism (and racism) seems to be the norm in the West in both policing and military environments. The Negotiator or Koshonin is not so much a story of a woman bumping up against a glass ceiling as crashing into reinforced concrete. The men are shown using their cell phones to take pictures of our heroine’s rear view on her first mission and later, when she has to take off her clothes during a negotiation, they literally fall over themselves to ogle her. Indeed, pictures from the in-house file leak to the press (nothing unusual about that, of course). However, what makes this serial so interesting is that the hostility is open with the Team leader even prepared to hit her in public (obviously without fear of any sanction). Japan introduced legislation in 1999 intended to move Japan to greater sexual equality. A Minister for State with responsibility for Gender Equality was appointed in 2005. Sadly, this has had little effect. In the latest international rankings, Japan is 94th out of 134 countries with only South Korea matching poor performance in gender equality with high wealth.
So there we have the first four episodes. The Negotiator or Koshonin or 交渉人 (2008) is completely fascinating. As yet, we still don’t know exactly what happened to Reiko Usagi’s father. This obviously gives her an agenda for joining the Team. We’re also left hanging with uncertainty why she should meet regularly with Kyosuke Mariya (Yuu Shirota), the psychopath, in his jail cell. There’s a journalist Mikio Kudoh (Masato Ibu) poking around but it’s not clear exactly why he’s interested in the Team. I’m hooked and want to see how it plays out.
The review of the concluding episodes is The Negotiator or Koshonin or 交渉人 (2008) — episodes 5 to 8.