Strawberry Night or Sutoroberi Naito or ストロベリーナイト (2010) — episodes 1 to 5
Strawberry Night or Sutoroberi Naito or ストロベリーナイト (2010) is based on the novel by Tetsuya Honda. It introduces us to Assistant Inspector Himekawa Reiko (Takeuchi Yuko) of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police’s First Investigative Division, another of these tough women cops who are surrounded by dinosaur patriarchs, many of whom want to see her fail. We start off with a gruesome death on the railway track as a body is literally cut in half by a passing train — it’s laid out like a piece of filleted fish. Our lady is in charge of one investigating team at headquarters and, almost immediately, the victim is recognised. He killed and injured many people by pushing his vehicle on to the line, so causing the crash. That was ten years ago and he’s one year out of jail. He owes a large amount in unpaid compensation but, with a low-paid job, there’s no way he will ever be able to pay it off. As they investigate, they discover that the chairman of the crash victims’ representative group was also murdered some four days before the death of the man directly responsible for the crash. This episode is a good way to begin meeting the team and to see them at work. There’s a good blend of experienced older officers and newly qualified detectives. The second-in-command is Kikuta Kazuo (Nishijima Hidetoshi) with Otsuka Shinji (Kiritani Kenta), Ishikura Tamotsu (Ukaji Takashi), Kitami Noboru (Hyashi Kento) and Tashiro Tomohiko (Suzuki Kosuke). Her senior officer is the sometimes protective Imaizumi Haruo (Takashima Masahiro). We also see that our heroine has left home despite her mother’s (Tezuka Satomi) emotionally violent objections. The pleasing thing about the investigation is the balance between shoes-on-the-streets and intuition. They piece together what happened ten years earlier and this gives them the motive for both deaths. Then it’s just a case of tracking down the murderer.
In the next episode, a friendly coroner tips off our heroine that there are three deaths due to liver disease induced by contaminated drugs. This may just be an accidental contamination or it may be an act of terrorism. She’s put in charge of a task force based at headquarters but including officers from the three different jurisdictions where the bodies were found. Unfortunately, Katsumata Kensaku (Takeda Tetsuya), nicknamed “Gantetsu” and one of the detectives with whom she feuds, decides to conceal evidence that might show how the drugs are being distributed. He’s an old-style, violent and, perhaps, corrupt cop. As the investigation proceeds, he tries to provoke two drug gangs into fighting, while good police work narrows down the field of suspects to a political advisor with medical qualifications as the possible terrorist. Except he was out of the country when the distribution took place. Despite the fact his credit card was being used, they are forced to let him go with an apology to the Prime Minister’s office. Then Katsumata Kensaku ‘s gang war begins and is immediately extinguished when a policeman is killed. Katsumata Kensaku makes arrests, plants evidence and blames the deaths on the gang leader said to be distributing. The question is whether this frame will stand up to examination.
The answer is no. The chemical composition of the drugs causing the deaths is not the same as the drugs planted by Katsumata Kensaku. This puts them back on the original trail and, by finding the man who clones the credit cards, they find the common denominator between the victims. Then there’s a tough confrontation in the interview room to force a confession. It’s all rather impressive as our female cop shows herself to be fearless. She’s a one-woman army in pursuit of justice no matter what the risks to her reputation within the police force or from political quarters.
We now move around in time. It’s becoming increasingly clear that our woman was assaulted, possibly raped as a young woman. This can lead to her freezing slightly in physical confrontations with men. We also see her interested in an old case in which young women were abducted and sexually abused. Some three months before the series started, another senior officer suggested it was not coincidence that three of the young men involved have died shortly after being released from detention. The team is now called out to a murder robbery and it looks as if a gang of youths is responsible. This leads to a more general discussion about the effectiveness of the juvenile system and our heroine is tempted to go back to the deaths. The amount of drug taken in the overdose case is excessive. One man had immediately resumed attacking little girls and the third had begun an intensive study of how to pass himself off as mentally disordered. They conclude there’s a prima facie case of a vigilante killing off young offenders who are inadequately punished. They begin looking for a pattern. Meanwhile we also learn that the new recruit to the team failed to act as a student to protect a woman being attacked. That’s why he gave up his private school to university career path and entered the police force. He feels driven to protect women.
Back on the investigation, they find the same police officer, Kurata Shuji (Sugimoto Tetta), made the arrests but his records are locked. Her supervisor, Imaizumi Haruo, tells her to back off. Interestingly, she goes to Katsumata Kensaku and he tells her this investigator was a righteous extremist and she should not get involved with him. Indeed, he quit the police force because his son, Kurata Hideki (Ishiguro Hideo) committed a murder. In a revenge attack, the victim’s father murdered Shuji’s wife. So, at a stroke, this policeman lost his son to prison and his wife to revenge. When Himekawa Reiko confronts Kurata Shuji outside the prison, she speculates he has killed the others to reinforce his will to kill his own son when he’s released. Unfortunately, she has no evidence and so, after an exchange of view, they part. There’s then an extended flashback to show Kurata Shuji at work almost executing a murder suspect instead of arresting him. He’s a firm believer in a life for a life. That night he gets word his son is also accused of murder and quarrels with his wife for failing to foresee problems and prevent the killing. He storms out of the house. When he returns, he finds the police present. His wife is dead. The girlfriend’s father arrested. Indeed, when Himekawa Reiko interviews the defence lawyer for Kurata Hideki, it seems his client refused to say anything in mitigation. They speculate he knew his father would be angry if he did not get a severe sentence.
When Kurata Hideki is due to be released, she persuades Imaizumi Haruo to permit an investigation. He gives her a day. The team swing into action but find nothing. Imaizumi Haruo takes Himekawa Reiko out for a drink and suggests how she might persuade the son to talk to her. It does no good but she’s motivated to go on to talk to mother of the girl he killed. The cell phone has an old text message suggesting her daughter might have been stalked and blackmailed by Ishizawa Takuto, the son of the man employing her father. Fear and threats may have led her to break up with the boy who killed her. Under interrogation, the boy admits the stalking and a sexual assault. She now speculates that Kurata Hideki was so deeply ashamed by the assault that she asked for death at the hands of her boyfriend. That’s why he refused to speak in mitigation. He was protecting his girlfriend’s reputation.
This is a rounded show. We see Takeuchi Yuko as Himekawa Reiko struggling with her own family relationships because her parents blame themselves for somehow failing to protect their daughter. In particular, her mother refuses to surrender in the lost battle over whether her daughter should live at home. How can parents forgive themselves? How can a daughter overcome her trauma at a sexual assault? Now scale this up to society. How can a society forgive those who attack the weak and vulnerable? Does government not have a duty to protect its weaker members by using deterrent punishments, locking away killers and predators until they can no longer be a danger? It’s rather curious to see this theme represented in the attitudes of the police who think women should stay at home and be protected by them. Women should not be in the police force. It’s their role to be weak and vulnerable. Kurata Shuji is a powerful symbol of right wing political self-righteousness. In Western terms, he’s an eye for an eye enforcer until it hits his own family. The hypocrisy in apparently forgiving his son is the reason for the final catastrophe. The forgiveness is passive and does nothing to touch the son’s sense of guilt. He should confront his son and persuade him to accept redemption. Although the moralising gets a little heavy-handed, the message that everyone deserves a second chance is well-made. More importantly, it’s good to see Japan actually having this debate.
For the review of the final episodes, see Strawberry Night or Sutoroberi Naito or ストロベリーナイト (2010) — episodes 6 to end