Sunday, May 30, 2010

Saigo no Yakusoku

Five ordinary men summon all their will and courage to set things right in this Arashi-led  New Year's television special designed to round off the group's 10th year anniversary celebration. Tagged as a human suspense story, Saigo no Yakusoku doesn't have the mettle or realism expected of a drama that involves a hostage-taking crisis but having all five Arashi members in one drama SP is as good as any marketing gimmick to get indiscriminate fans and unsuspecting victims to suffer through it once, for the sake of seeing them act together on the small screen.

Let me preface this by saying that I am not an Arashi fan and I doubt that I will ever be one-- and by that, I mean, I do not go out of my way to buy their albums nor do I fly off to Japan just to attend any of their concerts. The only time I get to hear an Arashi song is when it's featured in a drama, which I guess is part of the deal of having at least one of the five members in a starring role. I know of them because of the individual roles they played in dramas and not so much because of their musical talent or lack thereof.  Frankly, I'm still in awe at how Japan's music industry can accommodate so many boy bands, Korean imports included, when clearly, there's no shortage of them. Which gets me to thinking that there must be something in the water that allows such groups to thrive and infiltrate, if not conquer, the small screen. Some kind of mind control might even be at work here, maybe...

If V no Arashi looked like a low budget 6-minute promotional ad to support the women's volleyball team cum idol vehicle to introduce Arashi in 1999, Saigo no Yakusoku stands as a failed attempt at creating commercial material that would suit the group's image and status as adults. Of course, it didn't help that the promotional pictures and OP for this darned thing looked like a [superhero-inspired (think Spiderman+Superman)]  billboard ad for a host club, so better luck next time, boys.

The television special  kicks off with an extravagant opening sequence that has no connection or material value to the drama itself. Picture this, each Arashi member's picture and name is displayed in a fragment of glass that's attached to a red, weblike string which zooms in to reveal the title of the SP, then fades away to a headshot of all five of them, shirtless, in Coppertone glory. And just when enough time has come to past to admire the photo montage of these five JE glitterati, each photo bursts into a ball of light that zings across the screen like a comet only to reveal a close-up shot of each member's eyes, which, by the way, happens in a fraction of a second. Which gets you thinking, what exactly are they peddling here?

Well, it appears that the message is clear---they're out to get you and they're gonna keep singing about rainbows and hope until you submit to them and join the Arashi legion which sways and dances to kindergarten songs. But since backmasking a song in mp3 format might prove difficult, let's just get on to the show.

Saigo no Yakusoku basically starts off as a typical hostage situation drama wherein ordinary civilians are called to perform a heroic deed. It's another day at the office and people are going about their business when armed men in Cobra suits rush in to take control of the Ene Bio Building. Among those trapped inside are a janitor (Ohno Satoshi), an insurance agent (Sakurai Sho), a barrista (Aiba Misaki), a bike messenger (Matsumoto Jun) and a temporary security officer (Ninomiya Kazunari), all of whom are aghast to hear that the hostage takers would blow up the building with everyone in it if the company president (Tsugawa Masahiko) fails to hand-deliver the sum of $3 million dollars within 90 minutes.

It's now a race against time as all five heroes are called to action; each one doing his best to salvage the situation-- the janitor and his elderly co-worker (Kosakai Kazuki) are crawling in the air vents looking for a means of escape; the barrista is hiding in the men's toilet providing the police information on what's going on inside the building; the insurance agent is trying to quell a panic-stricken crowd in the lobby; the bike messenger is assisting the president's daughter in manually shutting down the power supply to the security system; and the security officer and his boss (Fujiki Naohito) are planning to resist the hostage-takers long enough to open the doors to B1 to reduce the number of hostages. They work individually within their respective capabilities and positions to save as many people as possible and then the unexpected happens... 

Not content with just crafting your average weekend special, writer Kaneko Shigeki tries to up the ante by treating viewers to a big reveal while sacrificing a majority of the show's running time trying to work things backward in support of a ludicrous premise. Turning the story on its head resulted in a number of lapses in the story's narrative, furthermore, it in part affected how the actors portrayed certain scenes. It has its share of red herrings but overall, the end product turned out to be less than convincing  because the show took up a serious subject matter and underplayed the consequences of it; more so, the hostage situation itself came with a ridiculous motive and  a foolhardy plan, such that viewers never had any reason to fear for the lives of its humble heroes. It had none of the stuff that made suspense thrillers work-- never was there an instance wherein a viewer would be caught with a gripping sense of danger, there was no sense of urgency to the main characters' actuations, nor was there a clear demonstration of what was at stake despite the obvious gravity of the situation.

In retrospect, all the shortcomings of this 2-hr feature boils down to a poorly-written script, made worse by careless direction and editing. No doubt, it would have been better had the writer and producers opted to take a safer, more predictable approach in doing this SP. They should have focused more on the characters and the drama that naturally came with the given scenario, instead of shooting for the stars and coming off short. A motley crew composed of ordinary men willing to save the day would have sufficed, there was really no need to put a twist to it when the target audience would have been satisfied just to see his/her favorite Arashi member get some screentime. Anyone who was paying enough attention could easily tell that things were amiss. That being said, more effort could have been placed into tying up loose ends and taking care of details such as keeping the right number of armed men; or even cutting out irksome trifles like that part where they have Kuroki Meisa let her hair down and remove her glasses when confronted by the hostage takers as if she were reenacting a scene from Gokusen.

Another problem of this drama special is that all five Arashi members were given the difficult task of carrying his own scenes. They spend a majority of the special apart, which only highlighted the differences in their acting abilities. Perhaps the only good thing about Saigo no Yakusoku is that at least the members were cast in roles that did not require them to go beyond their capabilities-- Nino still proves to be the most versatile of the bunch, delivering a nuanced performance that fit in with the SP's surprise punch; Ohno equally impresses as the calm and steely leader calling the shots; Sho is serviceable as the salary man caught in an unusual situation; Aiba is convincingly fidgety as the inside man; and Jun, while being the weakest, does all right as the guy who's out to impress a girl. However, as decent as the overall turn out might be, it has to be pointed out that all of them turned in performances that held as much surprise as say, a scheduled fire drill. It's quite a shame  really because each had to contend with playing characters that had very little or nothing to do until the special  approached the first hour mark. It's only when all five of them got together that the drama took on a new dimension but by then it's already a case of "too little, too late" because by then the story was already nearing its conclusion. Given the group's history, they might have been better off doing lighter, comic fare, at the risk of doing something in the same vein as the Pikanchi movies. It would've made more sense for the producers to capitalize on their easy banter and amuse people with something that's easier to swallow-- like an over the top bank heist instead of a poorly organized hostage crisis-- if the end goal was for no one to get hurt and for there to be no villain at the end of it.  

Saigo no Yakusoku has its moments but the bad points generally outweigh the good. Its greatest mistake is to take on a larger than life situation without having a clever and well laid out plan to tie things together. As such, this is one Arashi project that's better left to die-hard fans whose love for this group can surmount the biggest of plot holes. Those on the other hand, who are just plain curious, would probably have better luck checking out this group's past cinematic features.
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