Posts Tagged ‘Ryoko Hirosue’

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


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.


Departures or Okuribito (2008)

September 19, 2011 Leave a comment

I want to start this review of Departures or Okuribito (2008) by remembering two very different written works, both of which have remained with me for decades albeit for entirely different reasons. The first is a novel, The Loved One by Evelyn Waugh. Even after sixty years, I can remember the detail of the funeral parlor in LA where they prepare the dead for burial in the Whispering Glades, the fictionalised version of Forest Lawn. I don’t think anyone has beaten this satire on the American way of death. It’s pitilessly vicious and occasionally hilarious. What makes this book particularly relevant to this film is that it skewers the inherent dishonesty of the West in cloaking most of the events surrounding death with pointless euphemisms that deny the reality of death. The idea we should openly treat the corpses with respect has long ago disappeared as has the practice of laying out at home before being taken off for burial or cremation.


The second was a short story and, as I recall from distant memory, it was called The Sin Eater. Sadly, I can’t remember the author. It described the Welsh practice of laying out food on the chest of the deceased. A priest prayed over the food. The family then paid someone to eat it and thereby assume the sins of the deceased. This was a real practice, but caught in a beautifully atmospheric story. At least this ritual required the family and friends to visit with the departed one last time to honour his or her memory, and satisfy themselves he or she would arrive at Heaven’s Gate without sin. However you look at it, this was more useful than a wake after burial or cremation when everyone comes to eat (and drink) for quite different reasons.

Masahiro Motoki and Ryoko Hirosue find stones a good way of talking


Departures or Okuribito deals with the inherent contradiction in Japnese culture when it comes to death. It was a complete surprise to me as an outsider. Frankly, it had never occurred to me that such a ceremony would ever take place. So it requires several different layers of comment. Essentially, the ritual is that the deceased is laid out in the family home as rigor is passing. A Nokanshi then publicly undresses the body, washes and prepares it for burial, and redresses it. Men are shaved. Women receive make-up. The family and friends say good-bye and the body is then placed in the coffin, ready for transport to the crematorium.


To describe the process in such banal terms is deliberately to hide the gentle beauty of the ceremony. In some ways, the Nokanshi is dispassionate, folding and unfolding the clothing in a mannered and unflustered style. But the underlying reality are final acts of dignity and respect to the person who has died. No matter what his or her religion, he or she deserves to go through to whatever waits “on the other side” looking their best. This is the least friends and relatives can do for those who have died. It’s partly done out of affection and partly out of a sense that the family and friends who have lost a loved or valued person should always receive closure. That we might find it strange a husband willingly accepts a male Nokanshi washing his wife does not change the fact that the whole is a work of performance art. The profession has arisen from an aversion to touching the dead, it being something of a cultural reversal because, originally, the family used to wash and prepare their own dead before they were placed in the coffin. When they found it too repugnant, they paid someone else to do it for them. Consequently, a Nokanshi is viewed as something of a social pariah because of the work. He may be functionally necessary, but his profession makes him untouchable.

Tsutomu Yamazaki as the Boss with Masahiro Motoki as his young apprentice


Daigo Kobayashi (Masahiro Motoki) comes from a broken family. His father left home when he was young. He was always reasonably gifted as a cellist and, as soon as he was old enough, he left the small town and, for a while, made a living as a professional musician. But, when his orchestra can no longer pay the bills, it’s perfunctorily disbanded — ironically, immediately after performing Ode to Joy Beethoven style — and, in a somewhat depressed state, he sells his top-of-the-range cello, and retires to his home town with his young wife Mika (Ryôko Hirosue) in tow. As a result of a misprint, he’s tempted to apply for a job only to find himself immediately accepted for work as a trainee Nokanshi. The owner, Ikuei Sasaki (Tsutomu Yamazaki) uses a mixture of bribery, pleading and bullying to capture the only applicant for the job. There are some very amusing moments in the early part of the film. But, as always, there are problems brewing. The town turns against Daigo with even his best friend abandoning him. Trying to hide the terrible secret of his job from his wife only makes her discovery of the truth all the more devastating. When he will not give it up, she leaves him. This leaves three allied issues for resolution. Daigo has never really forgiven his father for leaving home. His wife was resentful at being made to leave Tokyo and feels further betrayed in her husband’s choice of new career. And then there’s the town itself.


After some months, his wife returns. She has discovered her pregnancy and comes back in the hope of persuading Daigo to leave with her. On the evening of her return, the owner of the town’s baths, Tsuyako (Kazuko Yoshiyuki) dies. She had been a pillar of the community, briefly a friend to Mika, and the mother of Daigo’s best friend. Mika attends the ritual which Daigo performs. After months of practice, he has mastered the art and even a sceptical Mika is moved by what she sees. Daigo has always been a performer albeit he’s finally stopped hiding as one of many in the orchestra. Now she sees a true professional. Even without a musical instrument, he can still “sell” a performance to an audience. His best friend is also more forgiving. When his own father dies, Daigo performs the ritual for himself as the sole grieving family member. Through this, he finds some reconciliation in his heart, particularly when he finds a small, smooth stone in his father’s dead hand.


Although this is, in many ways, an ensemble piece, it’s the performance of Masahiro Motoki that holds it altogether. Daigo has always been an introvert, holding his emotions inside. This has made him an indifferent husband, the marriage being held together rather more by Ryôko Hirosue’s love for him. Overcoming the bitterness he feels towards his father for abandoning them and achieving peace of mind through both music and work, is elegantly choreographed by director Yôjirô Takita, working from a script by Kundô Koyama. It’s a journey of redemption, at times sad, then humourous and finally modestly triumphant. In a sense, he heals his relationships with the living through his ability to treat the dead with such reverent respect.


Let’s conclude with a simple question: what’s the point of a ritual? In a way, the tradition behind the activity gives it meaning, in this case, as a way of showing reverence. It shows deep respect and is one of the possible ways in which we, as a group or society, may say something profound through practical engagement — by providing a gateway through which the dead may pass into whatever awaits them while the onlookers say a proper farewell. Overall, Departures or Okuribito is a remarkably moving film and it’s no surprise that it won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film 2009 and divers prizes as best film with the best performance by Masahiro Motoki in festivals and awards around the world. You should make every effort to see it.


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