Bunshin or 分身 (2012)
Bunshin or 分身 (2012) is a five one-hour episode serial based on Keigo Higashino‘s novel “Bunshin” published September 20, 1996. To give you the theme, “Bunshin” literally means “Doppleganger”. Over the course of the first two episodes, we meet two women, Mariko Ujiie and Futaba Kobayashi. They are played by played by Moka Kamishiraishi as children, and by Masami Nagasawa as adults. This is mystery meets near future science fiction. We’ll leave all questions surrounding the precise mechanisms involved before and during the birth of the children to one side and focus on the early life of Mariko Ujiie. She’s deeply concerned because she looks nothing like either parent: Kiyoshi Ujiie (Shiro Sano) and Shizue Ujiie (Sawa Suzuki). Yet when she gets a copy of her birth record, it shows her as the natural child of her parents, not adopted as she had assumed. To make the parent-child relationship even more distant, they send her off to a covent boarding school. When she comes home for the Christmas break, there’s a fire at her home. Her mother is killed and her father is injured. When she recovers consciousness, she’s outside the burning building. When she analyses her memories, she thinks both she and her father were drugged by her mother, who then turned on the gas and used a cigarette lighter to commit suicide. She assumes her father rescued her first, and was then injured by trying to rescue his wife. Now she’s grown up and has begun to specialise in child welfare.
Futaba Kobayashi was brought up in Tokyo by a single mother, Shiho Kobayashi (Satomi Tezuka). Although there have been times when she felt in social difficulties because she did not have a father, her mother always explained this as an advantage. Fathers, it seems, are constantly telling their daughters what not to do, whereas single mothers are benign and encourage their daughters to be positive and world-beating at whatever they do. Yet when she thinks back, she also remembers her mother sitting quietly in her bedroom weeping. In fact, Futaba Kobayashi is the trigger for the the modern sequence of events because she’s interviewed as a student in a television news item on the reaction to the latest earthquake (curiously, a government minister, Shunsaku Ihara (Masato Ibu), is deeply shocked when he sees the television program). In fact she’s pretty well known around Tokyo because she fronts a band popular on the university circuit, so she’s very surprised when her mother tells her she must never appear on television again. This instruction comes at entirely the wrong time because the band is approached by a television producer who wants them to appear in a series of Battle of the Bands. Mother and daughter have a big argument. The daughter goes off and, after getting drunk, sleeps with Yusuke Takizawa (Ryo Katsuji) one of the band members. That night her mother is killed in a road accident as she’s cycling home. Mariko Ujiie also comes to Tokyo and with the help of her friend, Megumi Shimojo (Asami Usuda) who’s studying medicine, begins to track down the story of her father at university. They are lucky enough to find two professors who remember him and one promises to dig out old photographs from their days in the hiking club. But things start to heat up when several students “recognise” her as the singer. Now she knows the “twin” is real (down to having a mole on her shoulder), she’s out to find out the truth.
The explanation for the police believing Shiho Kobayashi’s accident to be murder is simple and elegant, but none of the obvious people would have had either motive or opportunity. At the funeral, we get some information of the circumstances in which Futaba Kobayashi’s mother briefly came home to the family farm and then disappeared. Later she came back for a quick visit with a baby in her arms. When Mariko Ujiie looks through an album of photographs of the hiking club, a number of the photographs have been removed. Studying the notes beside the empty slots shows all the missing photographs feature one particular woman. Now things heat up as Mariko Ujiie overhears her father talking on the phone and distancing himself from the “murder” in Tokyo. When Mariko Ujiie discovers Shiho Kobayashi has died, she goes to the flat where she meets Futaba Kobayashi’s boyfriend. When they look around the home, they find out she cannot be an identical twin because the evidence on display suggests there’s one year between the girls. That means they must be the result of in vitro fertilisation with donor eggs from the woman missing from the photographic album. Meanwhile Futaba Kobayashi has agreed to go to Hokkeido to meet with a professor who knew her mother. It’s only when Mariko Ujiie finally tracks down a photograph of the missing woman that the identity of her mother becomes clear.
The story now morphs into a gentle political thriller, i.e. it’s a rather poor melodrama, and a quietly sensitive meditation on what it means to have a different form of conception and birth. I confess I’d assumed the basic plot mechanism from the outset, but made a number of critical errors in predicting how the plot would be worked out. The explanation of Mariko Ujiie’s mother’s death proves genuinely more tragic than I had expected. The reason for killing Futaba Kobayashi’s mother is also more interesting. All in all it boils up into a good climax which is mostly talk and all the better for it. Too often shows which have deaths and some political overtones become fixated on the need for some “adventure” or just general violence. Although this does have a little chasing around, it’s most a question of our two young women deciding how they are going to adjust to their new understanding of how they came to be born. This is made all the more difficult by their meeting with their “mother”. In the end, single mother Shiho Kobayashi and married parents, Kiyoshi and Shizue Ujiie, come out of it quite well. The situation in which everyone found themselves produced pressures difficult to resist. That the same pressures reassert themselves at the end is somewhat ironic, but no less dangerous. When you put all this together, Bunshin or 分身 is an impressive attempt to deal with a difficult emotional and ethical issue, and well worth watching.
For other work based on Keigo Higashino’s writing, see:
11 Moji no Satsujin or 11文字の殺人 (2011)
Broken or The Hovering Blade or Banghwanghaneun Kalnal or 방황하는 칼날 (2014)
Galileo or Garireo or ガリレオ
Galileo 2 or ガリレオ (第2期) (2013) episodes 1 and 2
Galileo 2 or ガリレオ (第2期) (2013) episodes 3 and 4
Galileo 2 or ガリレオ (第2期) (2013) episodes 5 and 6
Galileo 2 or ガリレオ (第2期) (2013) episodes 7, 8 and 9
Galileo 2 or ガリレオ (第2期) (2013) episodes 10 and 11
Galileo: The Sacrifice of Suspect X or Yôgisha X no kenshin (2008)
Midsummer Formula or Manatsu no Houteishiki or 真夏の方程式 (2013)
The Murder in Kairotei or Kairoutei Satsujin Jiken or 回廊亭殺人事件 (2011)
Naniwa Junior Detectives or Naniwa Shonen Tanteida or 浪花少年探偵団 (2012) episodes 1 to 4
Naniwa Junior Detectives or Naniwa Shonen Tanteida or 浪花少年探偵団 (2012) episodes 5 to 8
Naniwa Junior Detectives or Naniwa Shonen Tanteida or 浪花少年探偵団 (2012) episodes 9 to 12
Platinum Data or プラチナデータ (2013)
Thursday Theatre Keigo Higashino Mystery or 東野圭吾ミステリーズ (2012) episodes 1 to 5
Thursday Theatre Keigo Higashino Mystery or 東野圭吾ミステリーズ (2012) episodes 6 to 11
White Night or Baekyahaeng or 백야행 : 하얀 어둠 속을 걷다 (2009)
The Wings of the Kirin or Kirin no Tsubasa: Gekijoban Shinzanmono or 麒麟の翼 ～劇場版・新参者～ (2012)
For a Galileo novel, see Salvation of a Saint.