Saturday, November 22, 2014

Olympic no Minoshirokin

Set against a backdrop of rapid urban development and socio-political upheaval, Olympic no Minoshirokin is a fictional account of the metropolitan police department's efforts to stop a dissident from sabotaging the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.

Based on a novel by Okuda Hideo, the drama special is basically a systematic chronicle of the 56-day investigation conducted by its lead detective which spares no effort in recounting how events and characters directly and/or indirectly contributed to the efforts of one man to hold an international sporting event hostage.

Olympic no Minoshirokin benefits from the sheer draw of its star-studded cast but is nevertheless bogged down by its slow depiction of events which is an unavoidable result of its attempt to give justice to the source material. And while its period setting may provide fertile ground to thresh out back stories and exhibit scenic vistas in contrast to civic growth and development, the main premise carries with it a primary weakness in that the declared threat that would fuel the suspense and mystery is actually inconsequential and fruitless. It does eventually give chase and provide a modicum of action, but it seems more interested in being a meditation on progress and the inequitable distribution of wealth in post-war Japan.

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The year is 1964, the whole nation waits in anticipation of an international event that would show off Japan as a modern industrialized country to the world, having proudly risen from the ashes of war to emerge as a superpower. However, in the midst of preparations for the upcoming Olympics, two explosions rock the capital and place the metropolitan police on high alert.

The two incidents are claimed to be the act of terrorist bomber, Soka Jiro, but forensic analysis of the ransom notes left at the scene reveal it to have been done by a different perpetrator. In order not to alarm the public, the bombings are declared to be unrelated accidents caused by a gas leak. When the culprit declares his intention to disrupt the opening ceremony for the Olympics, Detective Ochiai Masao (Takenouchi Yutaka) and his squad are called upon to attend to the case discreetly.

From hereon, the drama special follows the pattern of a typical detective story wherein Ochiai gathers individual testimonies and conducts background checks in order to establish the means, motive and opportunity for the commission of the crime. The results of the initial inquiry identifies three suspects---the rakish son (Hayami Mokomichi) of the Police Commissioner whom eye-witness reports have placed to be in the vicinity of the first explosion; a leftist student leader activist (Kiritani Kenta) who's had his own brush with the law; and an unassuming student (Kenichi Matsuyama) serving as a blue-collar worker at a gunpowder factory, where 25 sticks of dynamite used for construction were reported missing. To further complicate matters, the detective's sister, Yumi (Kuroki Meisa), is not only connected to all three, but likewise appears to be personally involved with the primary suspect.

Of course, it doesn't take the viewers long to figure out who's behind the bombings. The drama special is not so much concerned with identifying who the perpetrator is, but instead spends considerable time explaining how the infractions were committed and why. As such, the show's strong suit can be summed up to include the methodical way in which the elements of the crime are presented and the compelling interplay of characters that brought about the situation at hand. The production can also boast of  excellent set designs and bucolic shooting locales on top of having a constellation of actors in '60s period garb to replicate the mood and mindset of the nation.

But looking past its aesthetic components, Olympic no Minoshirokin is impaired by its own plot. For instance, it doesn't make sense for Ochiai to let his sister cavort with a known fugitive. His stubborn refusal to consider Yumi a lead when the stakes are high and the danger imminent just served to prolong the manhunt when the show could have done away with a little less than its 4-hour runtime. What's more, since the incendiary device used is so rudimentary, the scenes to deactivate the same turned out to be so unimpressive and clumsy that any person could have dispatched it. But what really hampers the enjoyment of this drama special is that the bomber, which is painted as an anti-hero, is rightfully given sufficient reason to rebel but the scheme employed to express his dissatisfaction with the system is something which is difficult to empathize with. No amount of emotional or moral persuasion will allow viewers to condone it. It is destined to fail. So while the cause is just and the perpetrator resolute---the plan to hold the summer Olympics for ransom makes this show's ending a foregone conclusion.

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Saturday, November 08, 2014


Winner of the 6th WOWOW Scenario Grand Prix, Kousaka Takahashi's Umoreru is a multi-layered drama examining the intrinsic value of one man's pursuit of the truth and the cost of exposing it. Packaged as a nifty character study flanked by a commentary on public trust and corporate responsibility, the story in itself is deceptively simple, but truly, it is bursting at the seams. Behind every incident and commonplace utterance is a mystery waiting to be unearthed, and it's up to the viewer to decide who is in the wrong and who's right. And at best, it's an evenly composed special that speaks of personal regret and corruption.

Umoreru finds its protagonist, Kitami Toru (Kiritani Kenta) settling into his new job at a ward office following a corporate misconduct exposé where he figured prominently as the whistleblower. Dubbed as a local hero but despised by his former co-workers, he's now ruminating the merits of what he thought at the time was a righteous act. His first assignment as a city official is to check up on a condemned house owned by an elderly woman named Kayoko (Midori Mako) who is said to have suffered a tragedy. For some unknown reason, Kayoko refuses to speak but has decided to hoard garbage on her property. After an ocular inspection, Toru is surprised to learn that his first love, Asao Yoko (Kuninaka Ryoko), is now a single mother who lives next door with a 13-year old son (Mochitzuki Ayumo). 

For its overall theme, the drama special challenges the wisdom behind the belief of the truth as a liberating force that brings about positive change. It essentially questions the value accorded to its pursuit and exposition as a necessary extension of what is deemed to be just by presenting viewers different instances that may argue for its suppression.

The story actually comes in two tiers, and as a springboard to the above premise, a scenario is offered---the most apparent one being a story of a man who has yet to come to terms with the consequences of his decision. Here, the writer levels good intentions and wide-eyed idealism against bitter pragmatism and harsh reality; first, in depicting the painful aftermath of the consumer scandal in which Toru was involved in and second, in reiterating that sometimes, there are just things that one is better off not knowing.

Toru is shown to be a man looking for ways and means to assuage his personal guilt and self-doubt. He's placed in a position where he's asked to make the same choice at work---when confronted by corruption in the selection of contractors---and his personal affairs---when indirectly asked to turn a blind eye to the commission of an unspeakable horror. Everything that he's lost and everything that he stands to gain boils down to a solitary plea to leave well enough alone. What makes this conflict particularly interesting is that the choice to be made will ultimately determine his true nature. This, after the fact that events have demonstrated that his moral compass has failed him before.

The second tier is slightly more elaborate than the first. It's the culmination of random images, seemingly unrelated events and offhand statements scattered all over this slow-simmering production. Umoreru for its first few minutes takes on the complexion of a political drama but while it has elements that refer to social issues, it's really more about the characters, their contrary point of views and individual motivations. 

The drama special takes on a cool, calculated visage. And although it carries a lot of weight, viewers that are used to fast-paced and stirring exchanges might find the show's slow countenance not much to their liking. Another thing to consider is that viewers are not made privy of its strong undercurrent until the last section of the show when the pieces fall together to reveal a story of two women and an ongoing conspiracy to cover up a crime. 

The understated performances of its cast match the overall tone of the drama, adding a malignant air to an otherwise abnormally languid atmosphere. A single look or a few choice words, carry such great import to the extent that the central mystery is made out to be more chilling if given further thought. As a whole, the writer's main gambit of confining the screenplay to a question of what lies beneath works, even though it's mockingly too literal in some respects. Nevertheless, still waters do run deep---don't let its placid exterior fool you. 
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