Friday, December 30, 2016

Fragile (2016)

Japanese medical dramas are often an indictment of the country's health care system and in this particular case, Fragile does not veer away from the norm. It's not about medical marvels or unusual cases, it doesn't focus on one person's acquired skill or acuity but instead prefers to emphasize the need for data collection and analysis. It does take a page off the Doctor X playbook in terms of throwing shade at the apparent incompetence of health workers who either cut corners or get too complacent with their work, but it also shares the same flaw as its popular counterpart in the sense that its main character is not half as interesting as the other characters around him.

Fragile adds a curmudgeonly pathologist to what appears to be a growing roster of ace doctors who could do no wrong. Kishii Keichitaro (Nagase Tomoya), is the lone pathologist in a university hospital full of doctors in a rush to treat patients without obtaining a conclusive diagnosis. He defies convention by refusing to don a white coat and foregoing idle pleasantries, thus drawing the ire of medical practitioners with his arrogant, holier than thou attitude of declaring his findings to be 100% correct and unimpeachable. Such assertion, though closer to the truth than, say, a surgeon that never fails, does very little of convincing his colleagues to heed his advice and exercise caution, resulting in a number of mishandled medical cases exhibited in the show's 10-episode run. 

The series delves into the unacceptable occasion of having doctors dismiss serious medical conditions as minor ailments, erstwhile prescribing the wrong medication for ordinary ailments and diseases. Just about every doctor in the show gets it wrong, except of course, for the maverick pathologist who insists on finding the underlying cause of the patient's condition.  It's not exactly House M.D. but it is a medical show that champions clinical pathology and its role in medical diagnosis and treatment.

Personality quirks and righteous speech aside, Kiishi, as played by a dour Nagase Tomoya, does not make for a compelling lead character. The show extols the commitment of Kiishi to his profession but the jdrama simply gets more mileage when the story is told from the perspective of the patients who fall victim to the system. Very little is said or known about the man that heads the said pathology department aside from the given information that he was an attending physician  prior to being mentored by a naughty senior pathologist (Kitaoji Kinya) and that he once had a physical relationship with his former classmate (Koyuki), with whom he has forged a friendship. 

Far from being the voice of reason or the heart of the show, the series conveniently wanders away from Kiishi and rests it sights on his young team composed of an efficient lab technician named Morii (Nomura Shuhei) and a trainee doctor named Miyazaki (Takei Emi). They're the ones that have sufficient story arcs wherein the former is faced with the opportunity to abandon his present station in pursuit of a lost dream, while the latter is forced to reassess and shed old habits to suit her chosen discipline. Furthermore, it's their exposure to the patients that taps into the emotional core of these harrowing stories of negligence and lack of empathy in the medical field. 

Fragile hits its sweet spot when it manages to convey the human interest story within its quasi-medical procedural shell. The most memorable cases are the ones that hew close to reality and played less for dramatic effect but more for their honesty. The most powerful scenes involve---a quiet moment that passes between two young men contemplating their respective fates; a young woman frantically flipping through a notebook trying to offer information on procedures performed on a baby in need of medical attention; and a medical representative privy to the fact that the trial drug she's been peddling is not a miracle cure. 

The show doesn't skirt around the fact that patients die and doctors who are at fault do not get demoted or get slapped with malpractice suits. It doesn't delve into the science of pathology but the concept and principles behind it, which makes the series easy to watch but hardly essential viewing. Kiishi's platitudes are kept to a minimum and the show pretty much does away with saves or surgeries akin to a Hail Mary pass. Miyazaki ends up doing way too much work for a trainee to the point of interfering with protocol but accuracy and realism rarely go hand in hand with these type of shows anyway. 



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