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Bunshin or 分身 (2012)

Great Rift - Programme One

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.

Mariko Ujiie (Masami Nagasawa) and Megumi Shimojo (Asami Usuda)

Mariko Ujiie (Masami Nagasawa) and Megumi Shimojo (Asami Usuda)

 

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.

Futaba Kobayashi (Masami Nagasawa) sings with the band

Futaba Kobayashi (Masami Nagasawa) sings with the band

 

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.

Yusuke Takizawa (Ryo Katsuji)

Yusuke Takizawa (Ryo Katsuji)

 

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.

 

Thursday Theatre Keigo Higashino Mystery or 東野圭吾ミステリーズ (2012) episodes 6 to 11

Thursday_Theater_Keigo_Higashino_Mystery-p1

Thursday Theatre Keigo Higashino Mystery or 東野圭吾ミステリーズ (2012) continues with more stories drawn from three novels “Hannin No Inai Satsujin No Yoru”, “Ayashii Hitobito” and “Ano Koro No Dareka” written by Keigo Higashino, the phenomenally successful Japanese author specialising in crime novels and short stories. Episode 6 could have been much better, but it confuses the viewers by failing to clarify questions of identity. When Shigehisa Bitou (Masanobu Ando) first meets Aoyama Yayoi (Masami Nagasawa), he unnecessarily misrepresents himself. I can see no good reason for him not being honest from the outset. Similarly, when the two team up to meet with Kiyomi Hatakeyama (Maiko), they pretend to be brother and sister. This is absurd. Hatakeyama already knows Shigehisa Bitou which is why they are allowed in to see her dying father. She should (a) address him by his real name, thereby alerting Aoyama Yayoi to the deception, and (b) know Shigehisa Bitou does not have a sister. However, the basic plot is actually interesting, depending for its solution on the way the Japanese write their characters. Whether this would have been what the murder victim chose to hint at in his final dying moments is quite a different matter. Some might say the whole episode is woefully contrived in the same spirit as Ellery Queen’s The Scarlett Letters. But I was prepared to overlook the set-up because I was curious to see how the writing would solve the case.

Masami Nagasawa

Masami Nagasawa

 

Episode 7 is another slightly underwhelming whydunnit rather than whodunnit. I’m not against exploring the psychological side of crimes but I was disappointed that the logic of why this particular death was not an accident or suicide was not properly developed. It’s an elegant idea and deserves better but, in the rush to make a point about the dangers of smoking, whether active or passive, everything else is reduced to a rather perfunctory level.

 

Episode 8 does its best to obscure a simple coming-of-age story set in the final year at school. Three students, Ryo Nakaoka (Haruma Miura), Tatsuya Yukihara (Takuro Ohno) and Yoko Saeki (Haru), have been together throughout their school career and then Tatsuya Yukihara “falls” from the top of a school building. It’s fairly obvious what must have happened, but the way the narrative is structured and shot goes above and beyond the call of duty to obscure the precise order of events. That way, we viewers can’t get to see who knew what and when. The outcome is everyone damaged because the culture of young people is often very protective of their emotions. Rather than risk exposure and loss, they prefer to hide their feelings. I suppose you can admire the technique on display, but the story proves uninvolving.

Ryoko Hirosue

Ryoko Hirosue

 

Episode 9 proves to be the most successful of the stories. Tomomi Iida (Ryoko Hirosue) a young woman has lost her fairly prestigious job and is wondering whether to take a drop in status and pay when she receives an unexpected letter from a woman she’d known at college. It seems her friend has married but, when she looks at the photograph, it shows a man and woman, but not the woman she knew. This piques her curiosity so, unannounced, she decides to travel to the sender’s address to explore this minor mystery. Except, it may not be a minor mystery. Her supposed husband, Masaaki Yamashita (Koji Ookura), is very evasive when they speak on the telephone, and refuses to meet with her when she goes to his office. No-one has seen Noriko Yamashita (Sayaka Yamaguchi) for days. Her cellphone is switched off and goes directly to voicemail. While talking with Yuji Sakurai (Takehiro Hira) the next-door neighbour, she gets the feeling she’s being watched. When she runs to the end of the corridor, she sees a figure carrying an oddly-coloured bag running away. When someone pushes her off a cliff, it’s obvious something is seriously wrong. Although it does become somewhat melodramatic, this nicely weaves suspicion and paranoia together to produce an entertaining episode.

 

Episode 10 has us back in a coming-of-age scenario when Asako Yamaoka (Ryoko Shinohara) worries about her relationship with Teruhiko Murakami (Seiichi Tanabe). He has nightmares and, for reasons he will not explain, does not want children. Uncertain whether he has a mistress, she decides to follow him when she sees him buying a big bunch of flowers. What follows is one of these stories of guilt when young boys are their usual selfish selves and may indirectly have been responsible for the death of a young girl who was one of these slightly annoying hangers on. The set-up is reasonable but, even in Japanese culture, I’m not entirely sure it would have worked out like this. In a way, it ends up rather frustrating because we’re only left with an inference. Nothing is properly explained.

Akiko Yada

Akiko Yada

 

Which leaves us with episode 11 as the final contribution to this collection of short stories. This is delightfully macabre and, as with any really good episode, nicely creeps up on the viewer. It all starts off perfectly innocently with a highly reputable doctor, Yumiko Kanzaki (Akiko Yada) who runs a fertility clinic, responding to a couple’s desire for children by finding a baby boy for them to adopt. The baby looks and behaves quite normally. As you would expect, both parents seem delighted. There’s just one oddity. Whereas they were expecting to pay a fee for this service, the woman doctor refuses payment. Uncertain how he’s supposed to react, Minekazu Negishi (Yukiyoshi Ozawa), the husband, contacts the doctor again and is surprised to be invited to a meal at a restaurant he used to visit regularly. She orders the wine and food he likes. It seems her background research into the suitability of this man to be an adoptive parent has been remarkably efficient. Except perhaps she wants something different as payment. Does she want sex with him? The answer to this and other questions is slowly revealed. It’s wonderful and stands alongside episode 9 as the joint best episode.

Kiichi Nakai

Kiichi Nakai

 

This just leaves me to say a few words about the murder investigation which frames each episode. This is inventive and nicely illuminates the themes of the plots from the individual episodes. The victim and editor of the mystery magazine who introduces each episode is played with considerable wit and style by Kiichi Nakai. From the outset, he claims to have been murdered, but no-one else who comes into the room agrees with this diagnosis. They all seem to think it was an accident (or, possibly, a suicide). Only in the last frame of the last episode do we get a clear indication of which way it’s likely to turn out. It was a very pleasing moment. Taken overall, the standard is slightly uneven, but the majority of episodes are very good to excellent.

 

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)
Bunshin or 分身 (2012)
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
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.

 

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