Monday, August 25, 2014

Higashino Keigo SP: Brutus no Shinzou

Credited for producing gripping, unforgettable tales and commercially viable serials that translate well to mainstream media, Higashino Keigo's stories seem to be considered by television and movie execs as a safe bet. It's the only explanation why numerous adaptations of mystery novels have been made-- no doubt in the hopes of amassing the same viewership as its reader-fan base, leveled only against the off chance of screening to less critical acclaim. And though much can be said about the relative popularity and success of certain drama adaptations, this only serves to prove that all are not created equal, as poor casting choices and inconsistencies in quality, and possibly an inherent weakness in the story, continue to plague such feature presentations.

In 2011, Fuji TV increased its stockpile of the above author's work, commissioning three drama specials as a precursor to the anthology series (a.k.a. the poorly received drama entitled Higashino Keigo Mysteries), that was released a year later. The triumvirate made up of 11 Moji no Satsujin, Brutus no Shinzou and Kairoutei Satsujin Jiken proved to be an interesting selection---for though based on early material, each special managed to distinguish itself from the rest by drawing different scenarios and motives for murder.

Essentially stripped down and traditional representations of the genre, each one had something different to offer, though certainly, the appreciation of each would depend on one's literary and cinematic predisposition. 

Front act, 11 Moji no Satsujin  was the equivalent of a paint by numbers thriller about a writer that sets out to investigate the sudden death of her lover. The most cohesive of the three, it had a story that was easy to follow, marred only by the weak depiction of the relationship between the victim and the protagonist, making the whole investigation more of a dangerous past time than a quest for justice. 

On the opposite side of the spectrum, revenge thriller Kairoutei Satsujin Jiken ran high on intrigue and personal drama from the get-go but played out like a convoluted excursion into a jilted lover's demand for retribution. Heavily atmospheric and set in a different time period, this special had in its center a warped romance with a psychological twist brought to a head by a scenario which could have been drawn from cluedo. 

And so, between the banality of the former and the soap operatic tendencies of the latter, if I were to recommend viewing only one of the three, my personal pick would be Brutus no Shinzou. Deriving inspiration from the adage that "the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry", this special managed to mesh elementary story-telling with Hitchcockian sensibilities.

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Software designer Suenuga Takuya (Fujiwara Tatsuya) will do anything to rise up the ranks of an industrial company and further his robotics design research with the latest prototype, Brutus. He's managed to gain recognition for his work and present himself as a viable match to the CEO's daughter (Ashina Sei). But when his intermittent trysts with a secretary (Uchiyama Rina) threaten to derail his ascent to the top, he resorts to drastic measures to ensure his bright future. Along with two colleagues who share the same dirty secret, they plot to commit the perfect crime only to find themselves as the target of an unknown enemy.

The first hour of the special beautifully sets up the dilemma of the characters and ratchets the tension with the planning and the commission of an ingenious crime. The second half, however, was not that strong as things slowed down to a snail's pace with the subsequent elimination of  would-be suspects. What many might find issue with is the forced manner in which two seemingly unrelated events are sewn together to explain the flow of events but to be fair, this is a common device used by the genre.

Side characters and tangential storylines can be expected to comprise a bigger piece of the puzzle and whether or not they fit in perfectly can be attributed to how well or how little is revealed. In this case, the denouement was an awkward affair due to the heightened attention bestowed upon the main character and the consequences of his actions.

Delivering yet again, a ruthless tenacity to a character that is broken and morally corrupt, Fujiwara Tatsuya managed to effectively convey the arrogance and desperation of a man driven to succeed at all costs. Since the special is told from the point of view of Suenuga, it was important to get an actor who can be intense and emphatic, vile and resolute; and for this purpose, Fujiwara's repertoire of roles is of great service. The only drawback to this approach was that the revelation of the identity of the killer was ultimately sidelined by the more pressing question of what would await such a man who had such a low regard for the life of others. 

As a mystery thriller, it had pacing issues and took on an overt moralistic tone. The portrayal of Suenuga's skewed sense of morality and purpose tend to dominate the story but further reflection would reveal the absolute brilliance of the drama's title in capturing its beginning, middle and end. The primary strength of Brutus no Shinzou can be found in its thematic consistency---it's a tale about a friend's betrayal and of one man's cold and traitorous heart; moreso, it's about the folly of committing one's self to another who is incapable of reciprocating the same love and devotion.    


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