Sunday, October 12, 2014


"Is it real or is it counterfeit?"

It's a question asked of museum docent, Osawa Maria (Hirosue Ryoko), by gallery visitors about Vermeer's St. Praxedes shortly before being led away by the police to face criminal charges for the death of three men she's been involved with. It's also the same question that viewers are made to ask through the course of the series as they see lawyer, Nakamura Haruki (Nagayama Kento), struggle to find out whether the accused, Hijii Motoko a.k.a. Osawa Maria is really a sinner or a saint. Is this woman a gold digger? Or is she a victim of circumstances and an unfortunate object of affection of rich and possessive men?  Moreso, is she a cold-hearted murderer with the face of an angel?

The scenario presented is rife with controversy and personal dilemma given that the woman on trial is shown to be Haruki's former tutor and one-time lover who suddenly disappeared from his life. He would still dream of her and often wonder if she meant it when she said that she loved him years ago when he was a teenager. Now that he's tasked to defend her before a court of law, he's faced with the temptation of rekindling an old romance despite already having a fiancée (Renbutso Misako) and risking his professional integrity should it come to light that he knew her intimately. 

Seijo suffers from an asymmetry in purpose and fractured storytelling, leading the viewer to eventually question if it's in fact a love story, a legal drama or simply a pity party of a character study. It provides two different narratives and therefore shifts voices midway. The first thread concerns itself with one man's recollection of his first love and the circumstances that would bring about an awkward reunion years later. The second plays out as a woman's confession---an account of misdeeds and an ardent but foolish declaration to live out a seemingly impossible dream.

The issues that propel the series forward entail viewers to wait for characters to make a decision even though events as depicted suggest a more dramatic or scandalous form of reckoning. The first two episodes do manage to stir up some intrigue, evoking the memory of a bittersweet love affair and the crushing reality that all of it may just be a deception. It has a fair amount of emotionally-charged scenes that are beautifully rendered but a bit too commonplace and predictable to be actually memorable. Its temperate approach, though successful in handling its more cliché elements, serve only to confirm that there is nothing truly radical or surprising about the series as a whole.

Indeed, the more interesting bits of the series involve the defense panel's line of strategy. The only downside to it is that witnesses are discredited rather too swiftly given that the case is built entirely on circumstantial evidence and any uncertainty regarding Motoko's culpability is dampened by an inkling that she will eventually be unmasked as a cold, calculating opportunist. So while it is but natural for the show to play on the idea of giving the touted villain an acceptable back story, the writing is simply unable to wipe out any lingering suspicion to maximize the impact of this revelation.

Furthermore, Seijo takes it sweet time to confirm things that have been alluded to earlier in the show. Despite having only seven episodes, a lot of things are left unresolved till the last minute, to the extent that long anticipated confrontations between characters end up being unnaturally lukewarm and abrupt.

With the exception of the surviving lover (Otani Ryosuke) and his inconsolable wife (Nakada Yoshiko), all the characters are quite subdued in reacting to stimuli. For instance, Haruki is, for the most part, shown to be on the verge of succumbing to Motoko's advances but is held back rather unconvincingly by his principles and his loyalty to an uncomplicated woman with a sunny disposition. He doesn't make a decision until the penultimate episode, and when he does, he does it without hesitation or regret, thus making light of the central dilemma presented in the previous episodes. The same can be said of the motivation and the vindictive act of the spiteful brother (Aoyagi Sho) and the fiancée's harried yet momentary reaction upon learning how Haruki's heart wavered.

Key scenes in the story as well as the performances of the actors would always suggest a looming threat to the protagonist's character or reputation but it never truly delivered. It's like being given a storm signal warning ahead of time and finding out later that it was an inaccurate forecast. The cast is serviceable, in fact, Hirosue Ryoko hasn't done anything quite this interesting in a while--- but the series, while initially engaging, somehow sidestepped into telling a more conventional tale. At the end of it all, no matter how many potential conflict is thrown in, there's somehow an assurance that all the characters in it will get what they deserve, and with that, one can take comfort.  


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