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Boss: Season 2 or シーズン (2011)

February 23, 2013 Leave a comment

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Well here we are with Season 2 of Boss シーズン (2011) and we kick off with a flashback showing how the Black Moon terrorist leader escaped, and snipers killed key members of their organisation under arrest. The only minor success was due to Eriko Osawa (Yuki Amami) and her team who saved the Police Chief from assassination. Although the team was distracted by a fake bomb, the Boss pulled the Chief down and saved him from “certain death”. He was merely wounded. But with the Japanese press looking on, this “success” was branded a highly embarrassing failure by the Police so the team was disbanded and Boss returned to America. Having allowed two years to pass, Shinjiro Nodate (Yutaka Takenouchi) decides it’s time to pull the team back together except there are two issues to resolve. As the one perceived to be most at fault, Mami Kimoto (Erika Toda) has been banished to the wilderness and seems reluctant to rejoin the team. Reiko Narahashi (Michiko Kichise) is leaving to get married so someone new has to be found to run the CSI department. As an informal new recruit Rika Kurohara (Riko Narumi), the Police Chief’s slightly wayward daughter and a powerful computer white hat, is drafted in to help the team.

We now have a kind of rerun of episode 4 in the first series. An extremely well-informed criminal kidnaps Mami Kimoto and sets up a slow-motion death scenario. Frankly this is absurd. The kidnapper shoots the victim in the chest but the bullet only slowly moves towards the heart. Yet again, it’s down to the team to work out who the criminal must be and find their team member before she expires. The solution wins a prize as the most contrived so far. I don’t mind an occasional episode where our heroine has a flash of inspiration, gives secret instructions, catches the criminal and then explains exactly how the “trick” was done. But this is in a class of its own. Now don’t get me wrong. It’s actually rather impressive as a piece of plotting. Someone very clever sat down to reverse engineer the capture. But the result is completely divorced from reality. This is like one of the episodes from the original television series of Mission Impossible where the team comes through against the odds to convince the dictator of Mickleagua he’s been abducted by aliens and the only way to get back from the Moon is to spill the beans about his American spy network. Obviously Mami Kimoto survives and is able to look the Boss in the eye and say, “I knew you would find me.” She sobs with relief and pain as the bullet moves one millimetre closer to her heart and hospital staff whisk her away for surgery. The guest star is Yumiko Shaku who rather wickedly sends up Yuki Amami’s mannerisms as the Boss. It’s quite good fun as a mirror image. Also entering the action is Hiroshi Morioka (Nao Omori). He was originally a police officer working with Eriko Osawa and Shinjiro Nodate, but now works in a political capacity. He’s obviously introduced to look suspicious.

The team gathered for a briefing

The team gathered for a briefing

The next episode is equally silly. Well that needs a word of qualification. The psychology of the mastermind is interesting and put together in a clever way, but the process of investigation and the manner in which the evidence of guilt is elicited are unconvincing. Even with our wise-after-the-event approach to revealing how Boss deduced X was the killer, this ranks as pretty pathetic. However, Episode 4 proves to be a good balance between characters and plot. Although the set-up is hopelessly contrived, the emerging relationship between Ikko Furuya and our heroine is first class. This is a really pleasing story of revenge which should have all viewers firmly on the side of the killer and his helpers. Indeed, the way the description of the killer emerges is great fun and the reason they are able to entrap him is a moment of sadness. It wins a prize for ingenuity in the cause of the sympathy vote.

Episode 5 is another example of the Boss deciding she knows who has done it upon their first meeting. The problem therefore is to elicit sufficient evidence. Having watched with my usual concentration, I admit to being completely baffled as to how the team knew where the bodies were buried. Although there are some nice jokes about blogging and how to live a frugal lifestyle, the scientific analysis of soil samples makes no sense. The only triumphant moment comes in a particularly nice irony about one of the victims. The motive for killing her was jealousy of the lifestyle but, in reality, the victim was almost penniless and putting on an act.

Episode 6 is the first sign of life with what looks like a bank robbery. At least one armed man takes hostages and begins to negotiate with the Boss. However, there are shots fired, smoke is suddenly detected and the hostages come running out. When the police enter, one of the hostages is dead but there’s no sign of the robber(s). When the bank counts its cash, no money is missing. This is a genuinely good bait-and-switch story with the chance given to new recruit Sachiko Tadokoro (Kyoko Hasegawa) to earn a little self-confidence both in the job and at home.

Episode 7 is interesting on two levels. First, it gives substantial backstory on all the main characters and explains more precisely why each of the team was selected. Ippei Hanagata (Junpei Mizobata) was completely honest and naive. Keisuke Yamamura (Yoichi Nukumizu) was twice married and addicted to hostesses, but still offered balance to Hanagata’s inexperience. Zenji Iwai (Kendo Kobayashi) was not only gay but also violent, having attacked a senior officer. Except that officer was corrupt and our man was refusing to be involved. Similarly, Takuma Katagiri (Tetsuji Tamayama) was a man adrift who needed a new boss to give him a new sense of self-worth after the shooting incident. The actual plot involves a form of revenge attack on the Team itself and Hanagata in particular. It works because it explains the relationship between the Boss and Shinjiro Nodate, referring back to the Black Moon case in the last series and to earlier incidents in which they came to trust each other and devised secret signals to indicate danger. The actual plot is even more than usually unbelievable.

Keisuke Yamamura (Yoichi Nukumizu) and Takuma Katagiri (Tetsuji Tamayama)

Keisuke Yamamura (Yoichi Nukumizu) and Takuma Katagiri (Tetsuji Tamayama)

Episode 8 is a serial killer who resumes after a five year gap or are the new killings the work of a copy cat? If this was the case, it would have to be someone with inside knowledge. The subplot is rather silly with the Boss sent on a blind date. Episode 9 is a fairly straightforward story as a police procedural. It’s simply a case of catching the known man, but it does manage to hit the right emotional notes with the girl being the pivotal figure and having a relationship both with the killer and, later, with Zenji Iwai who feels he may have a mothering side to him.

Episode 10 starts the end run with the return of Mami Kimoto. She’s been working out-of-sight to identify who was behind the Black Moon two years ago. But before we finally reveal who the mastermind has been from the first series, Takuma Katagiri must finally get up enough courage to propose marriage to the woman he has not been talking with throughout this season. It should be a moment of rare happiness but the potential father-in-law turns out to have aided and abetted two murders. In a straight choice between continuing in his career as a detective and giving it up to marry, he naturally chooses career which leaves him in place to thwart the terrorists plan to assassinate the Prime Minister, assuming that’s what they actually intend. As a plot from the last episode of the first season to the end of the second, this is actually rather good. If the scriptwriters had taken just a little more care to build the narrative arc and then avoided the illogicalities in the final few minutes, I would be cheering. As it is, I was left with a sense of what might have been. There’s too much attempted humour at the expense of the individual members of the team. This distracts from the seriousness of the individual investigations. The series should either have aimed for stronger individual police procedural episodes or made a real effort to produce a series leading up to the big climax at the end with incidental investigations along the way.

For a review of the first season, see Boss.

Boss (2009)

January 26, 2013 3 comments

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Boss (2009) is a very slick eleven episode police procedural which addresses three fairly common themes in Japanese television. The first and most obvious is the desire of senior management, whenever possible, to finish off an upwardly mobile woman’s career. Five years before the show starts, Eriko Osawa (Yuki Amami) was sent to America to hide her away, but now she’s back and the knives are out. Thanks to the machinations of Shinjiro Nodate (Yutaka Takenouchi) she’s not only been brought back to head up a redundant division of detectives but, with a couple of exceptions, she’s been given a team of eccentric deadbeats. So we’re in the misogynistic vein again as patronising contempt gushes down on her from her seniors and peers. At least no-one physically hits her during the series. The second theme is the misfits making good. In each episode after they have all been introduced, they are on track for redemption. It may be one of television’s ultimate clichés but it’s actually carried off quite well here. Mami Kimoto (Erika Toda) is the CSI officer from Hell who has no interest in people and is more than happy to spend her time asleep at her desk. This contrasts sharply with the head of CSI, Reiko Narahashi (Michiko Kichise) who’s obsessively hard-working and full of useful tips. Ippei Hanagata (Junpei Mizobata) is terminally young, inexperienced and naive. Keisuke Yamamura (Yoichi Nukumizu) is old, rather stupid, intensely naive, and physically incompetent even in his own defence. Takuma Katagiri (Tetsuji Tamayama) is the ultimate clock-watching drop-out who shows no real commitment to the notion of policing. And then we have Zenji Iwai (Kendo Kobayashi), a fairly overtly gay officer. This is the first time I’ve encountered a Japanese television series with explicit reference to homosexuality. Sadly some aspects of the performance are intended to raise a smile, but he’a actually allowed to begin taking his role in the police more seriously. Finally, there’s considerable institutional contempt for the use of profiling. I’m not quite sure why the culture is so strongly against this. Perhaps in Japanese society it’s considered rude to use psychological analysis to invade any individual’s personality.

Yuki Amami, Tetsuji Tamayama and Yoichi Nukumizu

Yuki Amami, Tetsuji Tamayama and Yoichi Nukumizu

All this would be quite encouraging if the team was consistently given interesting crimes to investigate. The first episode has a serial killer on the loose. The titular boss is fractionally behind her rivals in identifying the probable criminal, but there’s a pleasing session in the interview room where she shows how devious she can be when it comes to getting a confession. This sets the pattern with Hirohisa Iida the first week’s guest star villain — he also reappears in the final episode for another interesting confrontation with the Boss. Unfortunately, this star wattage and script brio does not carry into the second episode where we have a thin and incoherent story about a man who jump starts a murder on request website, leaving it to the Boss to hold herself out as bait. Frankly this is poor. With hundreds writing in to nominate hated family members and friends for death, the police team put in multiple requests for our heroine to be the next victim. Needless to say, the killer comes, there’s a chase, a completely ludicrous explosion to throw the chasing officers off the scent, and a very tame ending. The third episode is saved by the rather amusing way in which Keisuke Yamamura, our cowardly old officer with the environmental streak, finally avoids making a fool of himself as a detective. His role proves pivotal in producing the evidence to put the killer away. That said, the confrontation eliciting the confession is not staged in the police station. I hope the police had hidden recorders going because it might be difficult to get a conviction if the confession is subsequently denied.

We then get into familiar plot territory with the school bullying that went too far in the past and a victim now back to take revenge. All this is a vehicle for showing the “arrival” of Mami Kimoto, our CSI, in the ranks of the detectives. We start with a note of affectionate humour as our heroes are enlisted in the anti-crime drive. They are to act out scenes to show school children the need to take care. It seems there are criminals about who must be defended against. Particularly those who are zombies — the cast gets carried away in improvising dangers. Ironically, the team fail to notice their CSI has been kidnapped and are then embarrassed into having to track her down with all Tokyo watching through an internet live feed. This two episode element is too long and the resolution depends on inspired guesswork, but it does prove to be a useful team-building exercise and, despite her ordeal, Mami Kimoto emerges a more integrated member.

Erika Toda as the demotivated Mami Kimoto

Erika Toda as the demotivated Mami Kimoto

The sixth episode is what we all wait for. It’s Japanese television doing everything absolutely right. This is a wonderful battle between the sixteen year old prodigy at an elite school played by Mai Nakahara and the Boss who affects middle-aged brainlessness to lure our young criminal into supplying the evidence of her crime. It’s al contrived to come out right but it does it so well, we can forgive it everything. The seventh episode tries to do the same thing, this time with Rei Okamoto as a highly competent television reporter and presenter. It’s not a complete success but it does show the development of the team. Whereas they began by being a worthless collections of individuals, the crisis provoked by the death of a suspect while under interrogation by her team requires them to take sides. Either they are going to remain a pack of individuals or they are going to rally round the Boss and continue the investigation despite the attempts to sideline them. The murder method is reasonably ingenious, but the way the police find and reinterpret the video evidence is too convenient and unconvincing. Again we have this silly confrontation outside the police station without any obvious recording of the confession.

We now get into the backstory of Takuma Katagiri, the second-in-command, as a sniper begins to pick off police officers. It’s obviously personal but because Takuma Katagiri will not trust anyone, it’s not clear how it can be cleared up. However, the Boss is able to break through the mistrust and Keisuke Yamamura inadvertently stumbles on evidence so it all works out well in a rather silly shoot-out at a stadium. We then have a serial killer on the loose or perhaps there are two of them: one crazed and disorganised, the other obsessional and highly organised. Yes, the profile turns out to be right and, yes, we have seen it before in Western shows. This time, the reason for suspecting the right answer is even more contrived than usual making this only moderately successful. The final two-episode resolution gives us the Boss’s backstory, explaining exactly what went wrong five years earlier and what happened to the relationship she had with the man she was was then involved with. This proves to be very clever, carefully playing a series of reveals to resolve a kidnapping by terrorists. It represents a fitting conclusion to an above average police procedural show with, in the end, three strong women emerging from pack to keep the men on the straight and narrow.

For a review of the second season, see Boss: Season 2 or シーズン (2011).

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