When nostalgia comes knocking, you’ve got to answer it. So it was that after coming across an MV of Koori no Sekai, I decided it was time for a proper rewatch. It’s been years since I first watched it, and except for the occasional revisit of certain memorable scenes, it was like approaching the drama again on a relatively clean slate. It was also a good opportunity to see if it has held up well over the years.
Investigations into what seems to be an unfortunate death of a teacher and possible insurance fraud lead detective Ujou Takeshi (Nakamura Toru) and insurance investigator Hirokawa Eiki (Takenouchi Yutaka) to Eiwa Girls School and its earth sciences teacher Egi Toko (Matsushima Nanako). Eiki’s suspicions are raised when he discovers that Toko had three fiancés who died soon after cancelling their life insurance policies that had listed her as a beneficiary…
Koori no Sekai is one of my favourite J-dramas and has a permanent spot on my list of recommendations. It had everything going for it – romance, mystery, action, and a solid eye-candy cast to boot. It was also probably the only drama where Matsushima Nanako and Takenouchi Yutaka played lovers – golden pairings are hard to come by in dramaland, and they rank right up there among my favourite onscreen couples. I was pleased to note that after I finished episode 1 of the rewatch, I was keen to move on to the next episode. That could only bode good things and I was done with the rewatch in no time. Although I knew the general scheme of things, it’d been so long since the first viewing that I was hazy on the details and in a way, I was kept guessing a little on the hows and whys.
I’ve always liked Nanako as an actress, though it’s a shame I haven’t seen many of her works and the ones I’ve seen all had her in more serious stuff. Still, it is as Toko that I remember her best, and she was luminous as the supposed black widow who was alleged to have murdered her fiancés for insurance money. Nanako had the right mix of steel and vulnerability, and she played it such that even if Toko turned out to be the murderer, it would still have been entirely believable – it was a fine balance, but she managed it with aplomb. For example, I thought Nanako was superb in the scene where Eiki confronts Toko with a life insurance policy taken it out in her name and she snaps, holding a chisel at him at neck-point. She had great chemistry with Yutaka and I loved their scenes – whether they were being antagonistic or making love, they sold the romance of a couple who loved despite the odds. I paid greater attention this time to the development of the romance, and fortunately still found it progressed at a good, believable pace. And yes, there was a love-making scene! 90s J-dramas rock.
Yutaka was his cool self and I liked his turn as Eiki. I have to say I was surprised by just how steadfast Eiki was once he decided Toko was worth his going the distance for, but I love how he was there for her and believed in her when nobody else would. Even when he had doubts, he chose to put his faith in her and press her for the entire truth. If there was one nitpick, it would be that I didn’t like his hairstyle (Nanako’s hair, however, was worthy of a shampoo commercial). I also enjoyed Nakamura Toru’s hard-nosed detective character, although he was pretty off-putting in the first few episodes, being so bull-headed about the case and trying to patch up with his estranged wife. There was also a scene which I’d forgotten – that Ujou had been so frustrated with Masako wanting to leave him, and not giving a proper explanation for doing so, that in trying to stop her from going, he forced himself on her and she ended up getting pregnant. That sort of dampened my liking for Ujou a little, since it’s hard to justify something like that. What made it slightly easier to stomach (but not condone) was Ujou’s obvious love for his wife and his genuine desire in wanting to make the marriage work again. Truth be told, Nakamura made it very difficult for me to dislike Ujou, even with his no-nonsense and unvarnished ways, especially when our detective started teaming up with Eiki to help Toko get her life back. The cops are pretty incompetent in this drama, so it was just as well Eiki and Ujou put their heads together for the case. That was a bromance I enjoyed and would be happy to see more of in other dramas (which would also explain why I was so tickled to see Nakamura appear in Suteki na Sen Taxi).
The whodunnit felt fresh when I first watched it, and it still feels like a crazy, far-fetched plot after all these years, thankfully made more realistic and anchored by strong, grounded performances. The roots of life insurance are not as romantic as Eiki made them out to be, and it is almost unbelievable that there would be people stupid enough to think a life insurance policy is the best way to demonstrate eternal love, or to tie one’s partner to oneself forever, but the drama managed to present this as some sort of desperate last resort by each man to ensure Toko would remain his for life. When you’re at your wits’ end, you tend to grab onto the first thing that would remotely make sense, although in the cold light of day the logic is kinda stretching it. The drama kept viewers guessing by not revealing a single clue about the murderer’s identity until the last episode, and although I picked up a few things with the rewatch, I still don’t feel Masako was the right choice for the murderer. Perhaps it was the actress’ small stature – Nakajima Tomoko looked so slight and frail that she just didn’t seem capable of offing an ant. I guess the drama made it relatively easy for her by giving her prey who were so stupid.
At its core, the drama was was about love, what it means to different people and how they express it. The drama title translates to “world of ice”, and Eiki references this in the first episode when he reminisces (in a bar called Ice Storm, haha) about ice floes in Hokkaido – that they are standing on ice that’s about to break. And also that Toko’s aura was so icy he could feel it as soon as he met her. Indeed, Toko would probably break down completely should a fourth lover die on her, hence her desperate plea to Eiki that he must live so that he would be able to love her like he promised he would. Many scenes were shot in limited or extreme light to emphasise the bleakness of Toko’s situation, for example the bar she frequents, and when she tells Eiki about her exes and the deaths of her parents. I’d wondered about the “inanimate” part of the English title, but figured that might also be appropriate in a way given Toko’s withdrawn personality and her unwillingness to change herself for her lovers, reflected in part in her interest in geology.
I also found a few familiar names during the rewatch that I’d not remembered at first viewing. Endo Kenichi (omg, he looked so young!) played Ujou’s ex-colleague now turned superior, who had apparently stepped over Ujou for a promotion – he is back to help Ujou with the case, but both men had apparently parted on not so great terms and relations are thorny. Tanihara Shosuke was actually Hiyama, Toko’s first love who was an ass and made a show of his death to torment her – I’d not been able to place him even years after, so this was a bit of an aha! moment. Tanihara has yet to play a character I can get behind even for 50% of the time, so it was just as well Hiyama only appeared in flashbacks and was an asshole to boot. Kuriyama Chiaki, if I’m not mistaken, played the younger Toko, though she appeared in blurry flashbacks and her face was never clearly shown. I remember disliking Uchida Yuki’s character Shono Tsukiko quite a bit initially, but now I can better appreciate that Tsukiko did what she had to do even if her approach was wrong – I liked that upon realising Eiki had fallen for Toko, Tsukiko decided it was best to break up with him and try to move on (although her idea of moving on was to nail Toko for her crimes). The break-up was sans histrionics, for which I was grateful. And at the end, Tsukiko understood that Toko loved Eiki too, and that made it easier for her to finally let go.
The OST for the drama is excellent. One of the best instrumentals is The Colour of Eternal Love, while the theme song, Diamond Dust by Himuro Kyosuke, is soulful and mesmerising. It’s still one of the best J-drama theme songs I’ve had the pleasure of listening to, and suits the drama wonderfully.
It’s always pleasant to revisit old loves and even better to find that the rewatch has been worth my time. Even with a few hiccups and benefit of hindsight, the drama has stood the test of time for me and I have really enjoyed watching Nanako and Yutaka “reunite” onscreen. Hopefully they’ll do a drama again in the near future!