Strawberry Night or Sutoroberi Naito or ストロベリーナイト (2010) — episodes 6 to end
Another murder in Strawberry Night or Sutoroberi Naito or ストロベリーナイト by Tetsuya Honda interrupts Kikuta Kazuo (Nishijima Hidetoshi) as he’s about to offer advice to Hayama Noriyuki (Koide Keisuke), the newbie on the Team. He’s struggling to come to terms with his failure as a schoolboy to intervene in a random knife attack on a young woman who acted as his tutor. What made it all the worse was his refusal even to come forward as a witness. He was afraid the killer would hunt him down if he volunteered any kind of description. This has led to a seriously sexist view that women should stay at home and be defended by men, and a profound weakness when having to deal with knife crimes as a detective. Himekawa Reiko (Takeuchi Yuko) is forced to buy a new pair of shoes and, annoyingly, is instructed to work with another woman who’s in the violent crime division of the jurisdiction where the murder occurs. The victim seems generally to be well-liked and there’s no obvious motive, but Himekawa Reiko is able to deduce that, in the heavy rain, the attacker mistook the victim for his father. They then begin researching those with a motive to kill the father. When an attempt is subsequently made on the father, Hayama Noriyuki freezes in exactly the same way he did as a schoolboy but, even though she’s wounded, Himekawa Reiko forgives him without apparent thought. She understands his problem.
We now have the shooting of a gang boss given to Kusaka Mamoru (Endo Kenichi) the leader of the other Team in the Tokyo Metropolitan Police’s First Investigative Division, while Himekawa Reiko is directed to an autopsy with Kunioku Sadanosuke (Tsugawa Masahiko) her friendly coroner where it’s not clear whether the death of Kishitani Seiji (Matsuda Kenji) is murder or suicide. A woman telephoned in the fact of death but was not present when police arrived. It’s strangulation but one side of the body has been chilled. This makes it an unusual death. With Kikuta Kazuo in tow, Himekawa Reiko sets off to investigate. There seems to be a problem about identity. He paid cash and did not produce ID documents. There was also a woman around but he threw her out four or five days before he died. A key for a post office box leads Himekawa Reiko to a number of photographs. Meanwhile the other Team finds the body of a second crime boss, killed with the same gun.
We see Kusaka Mamoru as being meticulous in his attention to detail and he finds evidence the two victims were actually secret friends and used to meet regularly for drinks. Himekawa Reiko now identifies two of the men in her photographs as being the dead gang bosses. Further research shows the thirteen shown in her photographs are all gang leaders or associates who have all been shot to death in the last five years and, where the possible suicide occurred, there were thirteen oddly-shaped pieces of wood. When she tries to link the two investigations, Kusaka Mamoru points out all she does not know and her proposal is rejected. It’s a battle between intuition and methodical fact-shifting and, to keep the peace, her boss allows her to search a specific fishing village she thinks may hold a clue. It gets her out of the way. They find Harukawa Mitsuyo (Kimura Tae), the woman who telephoned in the death and she admits “killing” the potential suicide. Except, this is not what happened. The extended flashback is an immensely sad story of guilt and a failed attempt at redemption through love that actually made things worse because the love became a weapon to be used against them.
In the final story element, it’s coming to that time of year when Himekawa Reiko was raped and her mother Himekawa Rue (Tezuka Satomi) is trying to act as matchmaker. To make her mood worse, she’s ordered to work with Kusaka Mamoru on what may be a murder case. They have a severed hand and a lot of blood. Also back in her squad is the lecherous Ioka Hiromitsu (Namase Katsuhisa). Then her mother has a heart attack. She tries to act tough, like she doesn’t care. When she comes back to the hotel where she stays, Kikuta Kazuo is waiting for her and gives her a hug. It’s good to see him getting a little more active on the romantic front. As the story emerges, Mishima Kosuke (Hamada Gaku) grew up under the protection of the supposed deceased, Takaoka Kenichi (Ishiguro Ken). A flashback shows us that this man failed to prevent the boy’s father from committing suicide. He knew the man failed to give his boy proper care and then raised the boy as his own. For the time when the murder was most likely committed, Mishima Kosuke’s alibi is Nakagawa Michiko (Renbutsu Misako), a waitress who’s obviously very frightened. Then Himekawa Reiko discovers the deceased was using another’s name. Kusaka Mamoru thinks there may be an insurance scam with a loan shark killing people who owe money and making it look like suicide.
The last three episodes explore what it means to be a parent in Japan. In the surrogate role, Katsumata Kensaku (Takeda Tetsuya) was like a father to Kusaka Mamoru and so brutally suppressed his creativity and imagination that he turned into this stickler for detail, always afraid to commit himself until all doubt has been eliminated. Despite this, Kusaka Mamoru is actually a caring father to his own son who’s being bullied at school and ends up defending Himekawa Reiko who has the inspiration to see past the immediate facts and make interesting deductions. For reasons not made clear, Katsumata Kensaku also knows about Hayama Noriyuki’s past but, in this series, nothing is made of it.
Within her own family, we get to see Himekawa Reiko reach an accommodation with her mother. Flashbacks show it was her father Himekawa Tadayuki (Owada Baku) who inadvertently helped her through the worst of the emotional fallout from the rape. He mother had tiptoed around her as if she was a breakable doll who would fall to pieces at the first sign of trouble, hence the overprotectiveness. But the hand under investigation turns out to be a remarkable story about Takaoka Kenichi, his own son and the boy he brings up as his adopted son. The relationship between Mishima Kosuke and Nakagawa Michiko also proves to be a catalyst for more honest emotions in those they meet. Curiously, Nakagawa Michiko brings out a maternal response from Himekawa Reiko, while Kusaka Mamoru explains what it means to be a father to Mishima Kosuke. It’s powerful.
So there we have eleven episodes of genuinely entertaining police procedural. Although the aggressive sexism of senior management is perhaps slightly overdone, the general atmosphere in the police force is shown as the usual depressing patriarchy. Playing Reiko, Takeuchi Yuko strikes a good balance between the frustration she so obviously feels when her character does not get the respect deserved, and the tenuous grip she maintains on her own confidence. Were it not for the emotional support of her Team, she would have given up and left the police. Despite appearances, she also gets support from her immediate boos Imaizumi Haruo (Takashima Masahiro) and, less overtly from Katsumata Kensaku and, eventually, Kusaka Mamoru who proves scrupulously fair in giving credit where it’s due. For the record, there’s to be a film version of Strawberry Night or Sutoroberi Naito or ストロベリーナイト although it’s not clear whether this will be a new story or just one of these stories packaged for the big screen. That’s something worth watching out for.
For a review of the first episodes, see Strawberry Night or Sutoroberi Naito or ストロベリーナイト (2010) — episodes 1 to 5.