Working through Tamaki Hiroshi’s repertoire of works, I landed on Guilty Akuma to Keiyakushita Onna. This is a revenge drama that’s not quite a whodunnit, but does show the futility of revenge pretty well. I enjoyed the drama generally, so I thought I’d pen some of my thoughts (with spoilers) on this.
Nogami Meiko (Kanno Miho) seems to be an ordinary pet groomer at a dog salon in Shirogane – she is quiet, nice and does her work well. However, Meiko has a dark past. Fifteen years ago, she was convicted of killing her nephew and brother-in-law by feeding them a poisoned chocolate cake, and sentenced to jail, even though she was innocent. Her sister later committed suicide because of this incident. Now that she is out, Meiko is intent on taking revenge on those who had a hand in destroying her family. In the course of her revenge, she encounters Mashima Takuro (Tamaki Hiroshi), a detective who is on the hunt for his missing mentor Miwa Shuhei – coincidentally, Miwa is connected to Meiko’s case…
I’ve liked Kanno Miho since I first saw her in Itoshi Kimi e. She’s a capable actress for whom duality is a piece of cake, and it shows here in Guilty. Meiko is reserved and afraid of deeper connections with people because of her past as an ex-convict, but she also cannot bring herself to trust others after what happened to her. Yet, when she is exacting revenge, she turns into another person – Kanno’s expressions are pretty creepy when she’s in avenger mode, especially if you’re watching this at night. For Meiko, it’s like flipping on a light switch: at work, she’s nice and accommodating, but when faced with her targets, she’s positively chilling.
Meiko takes care to kill only the ones who had a direct hand in sending her to jail – and usually makes it such that the deaths look like suicides. So the police are puzzled because all the signs point to suicide, but the family members of the “victims” insist that couldn’t be so. Some of her methods are rather ingenious, and I had fun trying to figure out what she’d do and who her next target was. Getting to the ultimate mastermind is what drives Meiko, and she has help in the reporter Dojima Kiichi (Karasawa Toshiaki), who 15 years ago had written a series of incriminating articles about Meiko’s case but ended up helping her uncover the truth.
The twist about Dojima was a good one because the drama had made it seem Meiko bore a grudge against Dojima for the stuff he’d written, but in the end he was on her side (and so was Miwa-san, but that’s not as surprising). I had not liked Dojima when he first appeared, because he was so in your face and annoying, but the character grew on me and I give thumbs-up to Karasawa’s portrayal. This was an alliance I enjoyed watching and wish the drama had spent a bit more time on.
The drama’s focus is on Kanno’s Meiko, so it’s natural the rest would get a bit sidelined. This was the case for Tamaki’s Mashima, who began the drama jaded and detached – his appearance is pretty cool, in that he’s walking along the street, jacket slung over one shoulder, when he witnesses a suicide and merely shakes his head, saying “That’s a rough way to handle a life”, and walks on, seemingly unaffected. However, he grows more involved as he and Meiko cross paths. He helps her rescue a pregnant dog (Ann) that belonged to Miwa-san, and they bond over caring for Ann and watching it give birth, which is kind of sweet. Mashima finds himself falling for Meiko and wants to protect her, even though she tries her best to keep him at arm’s length because she doesn’t want to get him into trouble (and also because she knows he’s a detective). He feels he can relate to her because of his own issues – a year ago, he’d unwittingly caused the death of a junior and has been blaming himself ever since, with his career on a downward spiral because of this. He hasn’t been able to catch Mizoguchi, the psycho responsible for the junior’s death, and it’s driving him nuts.
Mashima is a tortured character who keeps losing the ones he cares for, and I do like his brooding scenes – Tamaki in white shirts and wrestling with his pain is pretty hot. So is Tamaki in white shirts and focused on investigations (it all comes back to the white shirts!). The only thing I had major beef with is his hair… goodness, couldn’t they have given him a better hairstyle than that mop? It was only in the last 15 minutes of the drama that his hair miraculously got better. Nevertheless, I could buy him as the once hotshot detective who is now only finding that once again, some things are worth protecting and living for. It’s a pity, therefore, that I find Tamaki and Kanno have very little romantic chemistry – don’t get me wrong, they are great together and individually in the drama, but they don’t inspire the sort of romantic spark or underlying sexual tension that comes from two characters in their situation. It could be the writing, but I found it frustrating that while he started calling her Meiko, she never once called him Takuro. Yes, things like that do get to me.
Towards the end, Mashima starts getting a bit high-handed, especially when he learns about Meiko’s revenge. I didn’t quite like that little turn, it somehow felt a bit off. It’s not that Mashima should sympathise or help Meiko’s revenge along, but if he’s learnt anything about this woman, it’s that nothing will stop her and him telling her to do precisely that or keeping her locked up in his apartment/police station just isn’t going to work, even if his primary intention is to keep her safe. Ultimately, since this is all about Meiko’s revenge, Mashima can do little except to play interference (at Miwa’s behest) and finish off Ukita (one of his greatest contributions). I didn’t feel Tamaki had a lot to do in the drama, but he worked fine with what little material he was given.
The romance takes a backseat, naturally, and is low-key, subtle and very restrained. One of my favourite scenes of Mashima and Meiko, which I keep rewatching, is when he saves her from Mizoguchi and gets tased for his efforts. She helps him home and he’s clearly in pain, but all he worries about is her safety. He wants her to stay the night because he doesn’t feel she should go home alone. She insists she’s fine to go home, to which he tries to get up to accompany her home. Meiko realises he’s in no state to move anywhere, so she promises to stay. Mashima then tells her he’s glad he was able to save her, and she’s clearly overwhelmed that he would put himself out for her like that. Later at night, he’s tossing about in bed from the pain and she wakes up from her position by the side of the bed to check on him. She reaches a hand to touch his cheek, but holds back when she remembers Dojima’s words that she’s a woman incapable of love. I felt that was so bittersweet – Mashima has shown through his actions that he cares for her, and Meiko is clearly attracted to him but has to hold back because she can’t bring herself to involve him in her revenge.
Another moving beat is where Mashima breaks down from his stress, rage and grief and Meiko finally allows herself to comfort him and rest a hand on his back (and her head on her hand). She basically tells him he cannot be a criminal like her – Mashima has tried previously to take justice into his own hands and finish off Mizoguchi – and Mashima can barely restrain himself from proving her wrong. I wish they’d prolonged the scene because it’s one of Meiko’s rare moments where she is finally able to reach out and connect with Mashima, and offer him a modicum of comfort. A hug, no matter how tentative, wouldn’t have seemed out of place either.
The ending, however, is a bit mehh for me. Meiko finds the real mastermind and exacts her revenge. She then commits suicide by consuming a vial of poison. By the time Mashima finds her, she is only able to eke out an “I love you” (which I feel is a bit awkward coming from her, since she’s always kept Mashima at arm’s length and he’s been the more vocal one about his feelings) before she dies in his arms. Mashima, devastated, then kisses her – as the credits roll, he noticeably slumps while their lips are still locked. Forum discussions mentioned that the director said it means Mashima also dies after touching the poison on Meiko’s lips – but it begs the question of how much poison Meiko would have consumed for it to kill both of them. And did Mashima know before he kissed her? Considering how he was so focused on trying to keep her alive despite her revenge plans and previous attempts to kill herself, it doesn’t make sense for Mashima follow her in death. Perhaps he really lost it after seeing yet another person he cares for succumb to death. A forumer also said it’s possible someone came along later to rescue Mashima, haha.
The body count is high in the drama, and even though the truth is revealed, one wonders what the purpose of it all really was. Revenge is futile after all if you can’t achieve inner peace and happiness after all that’s said and done. I guess I just didn’t see the point of Mashima dying after all that. Meiko’s death is a logical conclusion, Dojima’s end is also understandable. Mashima’s death, if he really died, is totally unnecessary. I think I would have bought it better if the drama had shown a stronger romantic connection between Mashima and Meiko – as it was, I felt he was doing all the work there and all she could do was give him drips and scraps. That’s not enough to convince me she’s worth him dying for.
But I guess he was smitten from the dog incident, only he didn’t realise it. I mean, just look at the way he’s gazing at her – that’s a smitten man if there ever was one (and how gorgeous are Tamaki’s eyes when he’s looking at her like that?). Well, I can definitely get behind a couple who bonded over animals, heh. I just wish there were more of these little beats, they really do add up to quite a bit in the long run.
A quick note on the music: the ending theme song, Kono yoru wo tomete yo by JUJU, is a really lovely ballad that I thought suited the drama very well, since it’s all so tragic. The opening theme is also pretty cool and a touch suspenseful. I’ve revisited this drama a few times since I first watched it, so I’m glad it bears up to repeated watching, but that’s also probably because I like the two leads and am happy to watch them together. When they’re not angsty, they’re really adorable.