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Naniwa Junior Detectives or Naniwa Shonen Tanteida or 浪花少年探偵団 (2012) episodes 9 to 12

Naniwa_Shonen_Tanteidan-p1

Naniwa Junior Detectives or Naniwa Shonen Tanteida or 浪花少年探偵団 (2012) continues the story from the Keigo Higashino novels Naniwa Shonen Tanteida (1988) and its sequel Shinobu Senseni Sayonara (1996). Episode 9 sees us in full teacher mode as our doughty hero, Shinobu Takeuchi (Mikako Tabe), has some of the girls over to her apartment for study. Except, of course, they are far more interested in using her make-up and machines for a facial than actual studying. The studying gets even more remote when the boys turn up with pork skewers to eat, closely followed by Taeko Takeuchi (Keiko Matsuzaka) with other goodies to snack on. Meanwhile Shuhei Shindo (Teppei Koike) and Susumu Urushizaki (Yasunori Danta), our two detectives, have been called to what could be a burglary gone wrong. An elderly lady, about to move into an old folks home, has withdrawn a large sum of cash from the bank to pay the first year’s fees. That night, a man enters her home and she kills him by bashing him with a mallet (the sporting variety or unsporting since she may have hit him from behind). What follows is outstanding as our hero’s neighbours, a single mother and her young daughter, get sucked into the investigation. It’s the balance between the mystery and the social pressures that produced this particular situation that makes this such a perfect episode. Perhaps if the neighbour’s parent’s had not so strongly disapproved of her marriage, or if her first husband had not died in an accident, or if the little girl had not broken her arm. Life is full of these what-ifs and, for once, everyone on the system proves to be full of understanding. At first it looks as though our hero has opened her mouth and will cause great problems for everyone but, albeit in a sad way, it all comes out right in the end.

The teacher and the cohort of detectives

The teacher and the cohort of detectives

 

Episode 10 is another of these very ingenious mysteries in which we have a young woman found dead. There are drugs in her system and her wrist was slashed with a knife. She bled out in the shower-room of her apartment. Remarkably the knife turns up in one of these quite exotic fresh fruit and cream cakes the Japanese so love. It’s a unique way of disposing of the weapon used to cause death (to prove the point, the local CSI units confirms the blood on the blade is indeed the victim’s so there’s no cheating). But why would anyone put the knife in such a place? Then there are the stories going round the neighbourhood of a UFO. This is not just one person making a sighting. There’s a pattern to people reporting something strange in the sky.

Yoichi Nukumizu and Yuki Saito running their BBQ pork shop

Yoichi Nukumizu and Yuki Saito running their pork skewer shop

 

The last two episodes run together to make the grand climax to this serial. There are three parts to the ending. Obviously, there’s a mystery, we need some resolution for our hero and guidance on what the future holds for her, and there’s a general paean to the profession of teaching and this teacher in particular. For the final case, there’s a murder and one of the mothers who has a child in the hero’s class has a very odd accident. The Japanese culture comes very much into focus with an interesting insight into the attitudes both of the “elite”, i.e. those who have been to the top universities and so command the maximum respect in whatever professions they choose to enter, and of those lucky enough to work for or with these elite individuals.

Shinobu Takeuchi (Mikako Tabe) and Shuhei Shindo (Teppei Koike) walk beside each other

Shinobu Takeuchi (Mikako Tabe) and Shuhei Shindo (Teppei Koike) walk beside each other

 

There’s also a fascinating discussion of how best to air a futon. Although this thread in the plot is not without interest, the solution ultimately depends on the coincidence of our hero happening to have the girl in her class. There’s also a chance for the junior detectives to get into the action as we have an overly long confrontation with the killer about two-thirds of the way through. The romantic climax plays absolutely fair as one of the two suitors makes a proposal and the other decides not to make a fool of himself — I leave it to you to guess whether Yoshihiko Honma (Koji Yamamoto) makes the proposal. Her answer is predictable even though you can see she’s tempted to give a different answer. It’s the element dealing with the teaching profession that emerges as the most problematic. I don’t in principle object to a series deciding to make such a feature of the role of teachers, but this is excessively sentimental and goes on far too long. No matter how interesting a character, and this teacher is certainly interesting, there comes a point when you just wish the end had come, but see there’s still ten minutes to go. This is a shame because the serial almost manages to go out on a high, but this two hour finale overruns by thirty minutes.

 

Looking back, Naniwa Junior Detectives or Naniwa Shonen Tanteida is a very pleasing ensemble piece with the community strongly represented through the children and their parents. It’s been good to see Yoichi Nukumizu and Yuki Saito as the semi-comic relief. They run the pork skewer bar and represent a social hub through which all the main characters pass. With their older son off fighting crime alongside his teacher instead of going to the graduation ceremony, they have a chance to shine in straight drama terms in the last two episodes. Put all this together and this serial emerges as fairly undemanding in mystery terms but a nevertheless enjoyable set of twelve episodes with Mikako Tabe as Shinobu Takeuchi creating a memorable character on screen.

 

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
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.

 

Naniwa Junior Detectives or Naniwa Shonen Tanteida or 浪花少年探偵団 (2012) episodes 5 to 8

July 22, 2014 20 comments

Naniwa_Shonen_Tanteidan-p1

Naniwa Junior Detectives or Naniwa Shonen Tanteida or 浪花少年探偵団 (2012) continues the story from the Keigo Higashino novels Naniwa Shonen Tanteida (1988) and its sequel Shinobu Senseni Sayonara (1996). Episode 5 sees the serial shift to a more personal and less investigative mode with our hero, Shinobu Takeuchi (Mikako Tabe), sidelined from the main action by an attack of appendicitis. Naturally both Shuhei Shindo (Teppei Koike) and Yoshihiko Honma (Koji Yamamoto) are dancing attendance in the hospital ward. The only result of their competition is to annoy our patient who prefers peace and quiet. After all, she’s due to go before the school board to see whether her position can be made permanent. That’s why she’s delaying the operation. But, of course, the old woman in the bed opposite behaves in a way that attracts interest. She and her husband run the tobacconist shop in her neighbourhood. They are known as solid and reliable people (and sharp traders). Yet there’s something distinctly odd when her husband comes to deliver a change of clothing. When he returns to the shop that night, he’s tied up and the shop searched. This brings Shuhei Shindo and Susumu Urushizaki (Yasunori Danta) into play, but the old man offers no explanation for this attack and search. The next night, someone breaks into the hospital ward and tries to attack the old woman but, despite the pain, our hero chases him away. One of the schoolboys in the junior detectives’ class is also acting oddly and the detectives are on the job to find out what’s wrong. In the end, they follow him to a police station where he drops off some banknotes. In due course these are shown to be forgeries. Now it’s just a case of getting a confession out of the boy, persuading the old woman to tell the truth, and extracting the appendix from our teacher.

 

Pursuing this rather quieter theme, the next episode gives us a little history as to how our hero came to fill a vacancy in this school. A slightly overweight boy was injured when trying to use a vault. No-one is entirely clear how the vault could have become so unstable, but one thing is clear. The teacher was not properly supervising the pupils in his class. The parents complain and he’s moved to another school. This leaves a minor mystery and, when our hero thinks one of her students is bullying another, she intervenes in the family situation and, by accident, solves the mystery of the unstable vault. It’s not a great episode in amateur detective mode, but it has a heart-warming quality as difficult emotional relationships are managed and improved.

Shinobu Takeuchi (Mikako Tabe) and  Taeko Takeuchi (Keiko Matsuzaka)

Shinobu Takeuchi (Mikako Tabe) and Taeko Takeuchi (Keiko Matsuzaka)

 

The next episode begins with a not untypical argument between our hero and Taeko Takeuchi (Keiko Matsuzaka), her mother who accidentally breaks the softball trophy most prized by her daughter. In the heat of the moment, the daughter throws her mother out. This sets the theme as the need for all children to have an adult to depend on. The meat of the story is that the stepfather of one of the girls in our teacher’s class lets out a rundown building to an unemployed man who can’t afford to pay. They get into an argument and a pushing-match sends the stepfather into the wall and unconsciousness. When he wakes up, he has a knife in his hand and the man is dead. The key to understanding what happened is the unemployed man’s son who has gone missing. The teacher and her detectives organise a sweep of all the streets and eventually track him down. She takes him home and cooks him a meal, thus releasing the inner parent. Now all she has to do is solve the problem of how the stabbing occurred and make up with her mother.

Shinobu Takeuchi (Mikako Tabe) and Hiroshi Hatanaka (Akira Takahashi) and Osamu Harada (Oshiro Maeda)

Shinobu Takeuchi (Mikako Tabe) and Hiroshi Hatanaka (Akira Takahashi) and Osamu Harada (Oshiro Maeda)

 

We now have one of these slightly clichéd episodes. The problem is not so much the fact this is less a mystery and more a commentary on the nature of family life in Japan when a working husband moves from a provincial city to Tokyo, it’s that the mechanism involved is obvious from a very early stage. Although there’s one element of uncertainty even that disappears about three-quarters of the way through. So we’re left to reflect on two of the continuing threads. I’m increasingly of the opinion our hero is never going to marry. For all she’s twenty-five and people keep suggesting she could be left on the shelf if she does not take action soon, she’s seems oblivious to the two men so ardently pursuing her. This episode gives her the chance to completely ignore one and treat the other very shabbily (much to the amusement of the junior detectives). The other issue is the realism of the ending. Personally, I would have expected there to be shouting screaming and bloodshed. It’s very disappointing things seem to settle down again so quickly.

 

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 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.

 

Naniwa Junior Detectives or Naniwa Shonen Tanteida or 浪花少年探偵団 (2012) episodes 1 to 4

Naniwa_Shonen_Tanteidan-p1

Naniwa Junior Detectives or Naniwa Shonen Tanteida or 浪花少年探偵団 (2012) is based on the Keigo Higashino novels Naniwa Shonen Tanteida (1988) and its sequel Shinobu Senseni Sayonara (1996). Our first view of Shinobu Takeuchi (Mikako Tabe) comes as she berates a driving instructor for being overly critical of her driving skills. In its own right, this is a bravura performance, inciting fear in all who see her in full flow. However, she’s been lucky enough to land a temporary role as a homeroom teacher at Ooki Elementary School in Osaka, Japan. Her mother Taeko Takeuchi (Keiko Matsuzaka) has begged her to keep her temper in check. Since this is a probationary post, any violent outburst is likely to be her last. Half the fun of watching this serial is waiting for the chance for her to show her volcanic side. Fortunately, the head teacher Yukio Nakata (Fumiyo Kohinata) is one of these world-weary professionals who’s seen everything in a long career and is prepared to see people as a mixture of good and bad. So long as the bad does not dominate, he’s prepared to see only the good. The problem comes with Mika Haruna (Fumino Kimura) who has tenure and strongly disapproves the exuberant enthusiasm of the newcomer.

Shinobu Takeuchi (Mikako Tabe)

Shinobu Takeuchi (Mikako Tabe)

 

On her first day at school, one boy does not appear and she quickly learns his father has been murdered. As a lifelong fan of detective fiction, she can’t resist tuning in to all the gossip about the boy and his family. She’s very quickly as knowledgeable as the two detectives assigned to deal with the case. There’s Shuhei Shindo (Teppei Koike) the good-looking young detective, and Susumu Urushizaki (Yasunori Danta) the seasoned detective who’s most likely to get on the right track. We therefore get a twin-track view of each investigation. In this first case, the detectives go carefully through all the locals who might have had motive and opportunity but can’t find a suspect. The only piece of information that might mean something is an older lady’s assertion she saw a truck being driven by a ghost. From the other side, Shinobu Takeuchi soon crosses swords with Shuhei Shindo and is quicker to understand the significance of where the truck used to be parked when father and son sold hot meals from the back. It’s a really pleasing moment in a completely delightful first episode. Our first view of the titular junior detectives is also encouraging. They are Tetpei Tanaka (Tatsuomi Hamada), Hiroshi Hatanaka (Akira Takahashi) and Ikuo Harada (Koki Maeda) with Osamu Harada (Oshiro Maeda) allowed into the team through the cronyism of his brother. The parents of the latter pair are Masao Harada (Yoichi Nukumizu) and Hideko Harada (Yuki Saito) who run a bar/eatery.

 

They feature in the second episode. Their marriage has been under strain as she enters a form of midlife crisis, preferring the fantasy of a Korean soap star to the reality of her life in the eatery. She decides to learn to drive as a gesture at establishing her own independence. Unfortunately, the driving instructor is handsome and looks not unlike her star, so she’s tempted into the idea she will stray. Unfortunately, before she can act on this, there’s a serious crash while she’s driving. Her instructor ends up in the ICU. So the problem is to decide who’s responsible for the accident and why dog shit has been appearing outside Shinobu Takeuchi’s home. Yes, unlikely though it is, there’s a connection. Although it’s a slight story, there’s an essential amiability about the emerging sense of community on display as local people wander the streets and keep out an eye for each other. The faintly comic car chase at the end seals an enjoyable episode. To help get everyone involved, Susumu Urushizaki is also smitten by Taeko Takeuchi, offering us the chance for the two police officers to marry into the same family — no wait, Taeko Takeuchi is married, but not averse to feeding the detective his favorite dishes whenever he’s in the area.

Shuhei Shindo (Teppei Koike)

Shuhei Shindo (Teppei Koike)

 

The third episode sees a potential triangle emerging as Yukio Nakata, head teacher, sets up a “blind date”. In Japanese society, he and her mother both go to a neutral venue to meet Yoshihiko Honma (Koji Yamamoto), a potential young man with the right qualifications of status and salary for marriage. Of course, he’s not only completely unsuitable, he also seems to have used this meeting as his alibi to commit a murder. This gives an edge to the investigation as Shuhei Shindo is jealous and has the power to make life for the rival difficult. So this all comes down to a question of opportunity with the three (or possibly four) suspects having an alibi. Naturally, our girl is quick to see the problem with her potential fiancé’s story — it’s all to do with when it started to rain and where he might have been when that happened. This is quite pleasing. Susumu Urushizaki is able to trick the real killer into an admission which is a bit contrived but it does just about tie up the loose ends before it all gets too confusing.

The junior detectives

The junior detectives

 

The fourth episode treads a narrow line between entertainment and a learning opportunity for viewers. We start off watching our heroic teacher team-building through softball. During this happy hour, she impresses both Mika Haruna with a softball through her classroom window as she’s trying to teach music, and Senbai Nishimaru Keizo Kanie http://asianwiki.com/Zen_Kajihara , an old man who allowed his son, Shoichi Nishimaru (Zen Kajihara) to take over the running of the family company. Unfortunately, the son is making a mess of this task and the old man wants to headhunt our teacher to show him how a group should work together to get the best results. Interestingly, the old man is magnificently miserly, but apparently has a heart of gold. Except, when our hero and the three young detectives are in his house, one of his employees dies. This may be a murder, suicide or accident as the man is found dying under a broken fourth storey office window. The old man runs inside the office block while our hero calls for ambulance and police. When she goes into the office block, the old man is just coming out of the lift. Reluctantly, he allows them all up to the office. He unlocks the door and lets them see the office which has the dead man’s shoes in front of the window. When she looks, she sees the man’s keys on his desk. So it seems he locked himself inside the office and then jumped, i.e. it’s a suicide. Our two police officers then arrive and our hero brings them up to speed — she’s now very much a part of their team. Indeed, when she later goes home, she finds them waiting for her eating her mother’s cooking. Susumu Urushizaki is distinctly more interested in her mother than the case. The answer to the case is actually very clever and fits in nicely with the message to give the autocratic son as manager. The other feature of this episode is that Yoshihiko Honma has met Mika Haruna. They share exactly the same interests and would be ideally suited. The problem now is for our hero to realise this is her escape from a marriage fate worse than death. All she has to do is push this pair together.

 

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 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.

 

Jiu – Special Investigation Team or Jiu: Keishichou Tokushuhan Sousakei or ジウ (2011)

January 24, 2013 Leave a comment

Jiu

Jiu – Special Investigation Team or Jiu: Keishichou Tokushuhan Sousakei or ジウ (2011) is a nine episode serial adapting the novel by Tetsuya Honda (as an aside, he also wrote the novel adapted as Strawberry Night or Sutoroberi Naito or ストロベリーナイト). This starts off as one of the better Japanese police procedurals, continuing the theme of women in roles potentially considered gender inappropriate by the majority of Japanese men. This time, we have a very different pair of women working in SIT, the Special Investigation Team, of the Tokyo Police Force. The Team has a fairly specific function in dealing with the response to armed crime, i.e. it blends both the negotiation and the SWAT-type responses. The story starts off with Hiroki Azuma (Yukiya Kitamura) who is caught up in a child kidnapping. Sadly, he’s easily outwitted by Jiu (“L” aka Kim Myung-Soo, a member of the boy band Infinite) who escapes with the money. This leaves Hiroki Azume obsessed by the need to capture the blond young man who outwitted him.

Meisa Kuroki and Mikako Tabe as the odd couple

Meisa Kuroki and Mikako Tabe as the odd couple

Our two heroines are Motoko Isaki (Meisa Kuroki) and Misaki Kadokura (Mikako Tabe). Motoko Isaki is a tough, no-nonsense woman who can and does beat all her male colleagues black and blue in the training rooms. She’s universally disliked within the force but, outside, she makes friends in a slightly unconventional way. Because she feels fighting in a training situation does not equip her to fight in the real world, she goes into clubs known to have gang connections which either deal in drugs or guns or both. She then provokes a fight but never seriously damages any of the gang members. She earns their respect and co-operation since she never turns them in. They become an informal intelligence network telling her what’s going on. As an aside, she’s estranged from her family. On the other hand, Misaki Kadokura is a stereotypical baby doll. She’s supposedly working her way up the promotion ladder, being second-in-command in the negotiating team, but this leaves her making tea for everyone and being the object of male sexual fantasies. In fact, she’s portrayed as intensely naive and not very competent. As we first see her, it’s inconceivable she would have any seniority in the department. She has loving parents who run a small food takeaway shop. She lies to them about the dangerous nature of her work so they will not worry. In fact, they should worry because, in a hostage situation, her senior officers send her into the building to deliver food to the villain. He strips her down to her underwear, ties her up and tries to use her as a human shield to escape. Motoko Isaki has no hesitation in shooting him — naturally, she only shoots to wound. This nicely defines the difference between the two woman. Motoko Isaki is more macho than any of her male colleagues and Misaki Kadokura gets to be humiliated with her photograph in the papers. Fortunately, her parents do not see it.

While the hostage situation is being resolved, Hiroki Azume sees the blond man as the television camera pans round the crowd watching the stand-off. He’s later able to confirm a financial link between the hostage taker and the original kidnapping gang, and requests Misaki Kadokura be transferred to help his overstretched department with the case. In fact, Hiroki Azume has estranged his team of detectives by his obsession with Jiu. They are deeply resentful that all other cases have been subordinated to this one case. Misaki Kadokura proves a bridge-maker and slowly persuades them all to rally round in tracking down this criminal. In Mandarin, Jiu’s name means dove and he routinely kills pigeons and doves, roasting them over fires in abandoned buildings where he seems to live. This gives the detectives something to track when they search buildings.

“L” aka Kim Myung-Soo looking blond

“L” aka Kim Myung-Soo looking blond

As a reward for showing up all the men in her unit, Motoko Isaki is transferred to the elite police commando unit, becoming their only female member. Here she formally meets Takashi Amamiya (Yuu Shirota). She knows she has seen him before but can’t immediately place him. As a flashback, we see him just after she has beaten up a group of gang members. As well as watching her work out in the police gym, he’s well aware of what she does in her spare time. It’s only after they have slept together that Misaki Kadokura uncovers evidence he was following Motoko Isaki before she joined the unit. To say this least, this restores Motoko Isaki’s lack of faith in men. The training is intensive and hard but Motoko Isaki shines. Her position is confirmed even though she seriously injures three unit members who were intent of raping her. When Jiu organises another kidnapping, everything comes together because the kidnappers bring the new victim to the building being staked out by Hiroki Azume and his team. This requires Motoko Isaki’s unit to do what we have seen them training to do, namely infiltrate a building, rescue the hostages and capture the bad guys. During the raid, Hiroki Azume and Misaki Kadokura are injured, two of the bad guys are killed and Motoko Isaki seriously damages the third. During the interview when the survivor is released from hospital, he talks about a cultish group bent on creating a New World Order. They want to throw aside trivial concerns like the sanctity of life, and reform the world by using the binary of life and death to get things done. Love is irrelevant. Social change is the aim.

After the second child hostage is released, Motoko Isaki is appointed team leader and later meets Atsushi Kihara (Mantaro Koichi). He’s a freelance journalist researching Jiu, who may have a powerful backer nicknamed M. There’s also some uncertainty what Jiu’s relationship is with the Yakuza. Taking time off from the unit, Motoko Isaki sets up a surveillance operation. In due course, this means she meets Jiu and everything boils up to a conclusion.

Set out like this, the serial probably sounds great and, to some extent, you would be right. Lurking in the midst of all this is a very strong story. Meisa Kuroki is impressive as Motoko Isaki. She’s violent and not a little sociopathic, but we’re able to watch a slow dawning of a more human side. I think she probably would have slept with Yuu Shirota as Takashi Amamiya. It would have been relatively meaningless to her and, when she discovers he was instructed to watch her, she’s naturally outraged at the senior management’s intrusion into her privacy. The real problem with the serial is the character adopted by Mikako Tabe to play Misaki Kadokura. Physically she looks completely wrong for a role in a specialised police unit which will routinely have to deal with violent criminals. Emotionally she comes over as childlike, an impression reinforced by her schoolgirl crush on the divorced and monomaniacal Hiroki Azuma played by Yukiya Kitamura. They strike me as embarrassingly mismatched. Overall, I think the story would have benefitted by losing an hour of its running time. There’s repetition in all the training scenarios the elite team have to practice and the exploration of this New World Order in the police interviews goes on too long. The political philosophy is all too obscure and ill-defined to be interesting even when NWO emerges from the shadows as a kind of terrorist organisation. But the real problem comes at the end where, in practical terms, the credibility of the story dies in almost all respects. This is not to say that elements in the final two episodes are not interesting, but there’s no coherence to most of what we see. I will not spoil it for you. Suffice it to say that although the first half of the serial is reasonably entertaining, I cannot seriously recommend you watch Jiu – Special Investigation Team or Jiu: Keishichou Tokushuhan Sousakei or ジウ to the end. The book may be better.

From Me To You or Kimi ni Todoke (2010)

October 15, 2011 2 comments

The question of genres flashed to the forefront of my mind as I watched this film. It’s always good when you can pigeonhole a film. That label gives you a yardstick against which to measure how well this latest addition to the canon matches up against those that went before. So I vaguely started off with the notion this is a teen romance. After all, it’s a live action version of Kimi ni Todoke, the prize-winning shōjo manga by Karuho Shiina, later adapted into anime. Here’s a classroom full of fifteen-year olds and, with hormones surging in the blood, they will pair off. Except this is a Japanese film and hormones never surge in that culture. Everything is formal and detached until, with shyness overcome, the young things finally proclaim they “like” each other. Except, if couples are exposed at the end, that’s more a subplot unwinding. There’s a lot more to the forefront as the film unwraps itself. So, I switched the label to a rite-of-passage film where youngsters go through trials and tribulations, and emerge closer to adulthood than before. Sadly, this being modern Japan, there are no lions for them to kill using nothing more than a kitchen knife, but they do have to go through the fire (in Japanese terms). Then I got to think this was a tragedy and was hoping they would all emerge still emotionally alive at the end of it. Finally, I got angry with the parents of the main female character. They have to qualify as the most annoying watch-from-a-distance-but-don’t interfere parents on the planet. It’s good in theory they allow their daughter space to grow up, but they are still supposed to be on the same planet.

 

So here’s the set-up for From Me To You or Kimi ni Todoke (2010), the live-action version. Sawako Kuronuma (Mikako Tabe) goes through her formative years with her parents telling her that, to be a good member of society, she must do at least one good deed every day. This works really well in the early years because she’s loving and helpful to everyone. Unfortunately, the Japanese film industry then blights her life. When The Ring or Ringu appears in 1998, there’s an unfortunate transference. Sawako looks exactly like Sadoko and the closeness in the names confirms the general view she’s the human version of the film character and can curse anyone who makes eye contact for more than three seconds. The result? She instantly passes from the most popular girl to a complete outsider, shunned by all as if she was a plague-carrier. At this point, my anger at the parents began to grow. When even the teachers in the school we see, seem to share and potentially encourage this ostracisation, my anger began to include all responsible adults in the town/city. How can everyone stand back and watch this child be reduced to a semi-autistic state by such persistent persecution lasting years? It’s absolutely unconscionable, particularly because Japan ostensibly operates on the basis of Edo Neo-Confuscianism, i.e. there’s supposed to be an essential rationality and mutualism combining to promote social harmony. This group of children and affected adults prove to be worse than Western equivalents who, having no comparable philosophical system to keep them on the straight and narrow, might be expected to act like predatory animals.

Mikado Tabe as Sawaka gets the cherry blossom heart from Haruma Miura as Kazehaya

 

Anyway, at the beginning of the new school year, she meets Shota Kazehaya (Haruma Miura) and, in Japanese terms, a spark flies between them. However, he proves to be outgoing and the most likeable boy in the class (as befits anyone who’s been one of a successful J-pop group). So, if he’s going to break ranks with the peer group, he’s going to have to kill the lion with a kitchen knife. When it comes to crossing the line, he’s joined by two “girls”, Chizuru Yoshida (Misako Renbutsu) and Ayane Yano (Watanabe Natsuna) (it should be said none of these four actually look fifteen-years old, but that’s not really important). In retrospect, the lion proves largely illusory, as we might expect. We then come to the second act as the two girls slowly discover there’s a real person hiding behind the concealing hairstyle. They begin the process of humanising Sawako. Without this emotional support, Sawako could never emerge from her shell and respond to Kazehaya who sweats humble sincerity from every pore (pop stars like Haruma Miura really can act humble when their fans are expecting them to be a “love interest”).

Masako Renbutso as Chizuru

 

There are complications because another girl covets our pop star and resorts to rumour-mongering to drive a wedge between Sawako and her support group. Initially this succeeds, but there comes a point when even someone as withdrawn as Sawako has to open her mouth to defend her friends. With the ice broken, we come into the third act as all the loose ends are tied up. Even the class teacher gets a moment to redeem himself. In the scenes as the credits scroll, Ryu and Chizuru finally exchange bits of their buns (that’s deeply symbolic, of course) and Sawako’s parents celebrate the fact their child did not commit suicide and may have made the match of the century with Golden Boy).

Watanabe Natsuna as Ayane

 

So here’s the best way of looking at this film. It’s a bit of a weepy and, having started off with a cruel premise, then proceeds to allow almost everyone involved to emerge better people. This reflects two notions: that sooner or later, essential goodness will get its own reward, and that friendship is a vital first step to mature long-lasting relationships. From Sawako’s point of view, life was a lion that had her by the throat and was slowly ripping the life out of her. She had a kitchen knife in her hand, but never dared even think of using the knife until she found friends to remind her what knives are for. Some may think the screenplay by Rika Nezu is a little too slow-moving but, when you consider the damage done to Sawako, it’s always going to be a struggle for her to rejoin the human race. Naoto Kumazawa as director captures the world of the school and its casual cruelty well. Yes, From Me To You or Kimi ni Todoke is a tear-jerker, but even a hardened cynic like me found Sawako’s fight for life inspiring.

 

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