A story involving kids isn’t high on my drama-watching radar, but I felt I had to give Suna no Tou a go when I saw Kanno Miho and Matsushima Nanako on the cast list, more so when the latter was billed as the antagonist. While star power isn’t always a guarantee of quality, I was interested in what I thought would be an acting showdown between the ladies and hoped for the best.
Takano Aki (Kanno Miho) and her family move into a new high-rise condo, hoping that this would be the start of their dreams and a better life. However, she encounters the resident vainglorious housewives who ostracise her and make her life miserable, and only another neighbour, Sasaki Yumiko (Matsushima Nanako) seems to be a friend to Aki. As a series of abductions involving young children unsettles the neighbourhood, someone is also trying to tear Aki’s life and family apart…
It’s always nice to see Kanno Miho back in a drama – she hasn’t been in a leading role since 2012’s Kekkon Shinai, where she was lovely and girlishly charming as a singleton in search of love (and found it in the form of Tamaki Hiroshi, ha!). She didn’t have much to do in that drama, but she’s one of those actresses who are capable of doing more with a role than what is given on paper and I would have pegged her for a meaty role in her comeback drama after marriage and motherhood. So it was a bit of a surprise to find that she has “upgraded” to mother roles now, as has Matsushima Nanako. The “problem” is that these ladies don’t really seem to have aged much, and I admit I had trouble buying that Aki would have a teenage son (Kazuki, played by Sano Hayato) when Kanno herself doesn’t look “old enough”. Of course, this is very subjective, but it was distracting for a bit.
The drama was hard to watch at times, as Aki was portrayed as such a nice person who was so slow on the uptake that she took in all the bullying without fighting back until she realised what was going on – and boy did it take her ages to figure it out. I’d have thought Yumiko’s not-so-subtle remarks about what makes a good mother would have set alarm bells ringing in anyone’s head, but Aki was so blissfully unaware of the danger that it was bordering on stupid. I also didn’t like how Kazuki started being an absolute ass to Aki midway through the drama, and was tired of the recurring plot point about Aki being accused of having an affair with her daughter’s gym coach (Ubukata Kohei, an old acquaintance, played by Iwata Takanori) when it was just her being reluctant to come clean about her own past. The snobbish housewives were one-note and cruel, but while I enjoyed their respective comeuppances (the last involving Hiroko, the ringleader, was rather funny), the bullying made it uncomfortable to watch when it also involved Aki being repeatedly shamed in public. I really wish Aki had at least talked to her husband honestly about Ubukata, among other things, instead of allowing the situation to balloon and be used by Yumiko to sow discord. There was just a lot of unnecessary drama that could have been resolved with a little honesty.
I think the way the characters were written made any sort of acting showdown difficult, and although Kanno was solid throughout, she was much better when Aki grew a spine and started to actively protect her family. Matsushima also did a fine job in episode 8 where she unleashed all and sundry on Aki all the reasons why she would make a better mother to Kazuki. Yumiko’s ideas about what it means to be a good mother are seriously warped and while Aki had her faults, I would think Yumiko needs to shoulder a fair bit of responsibility for not helping to put a stop to Kazuki’s problems. It’s a bit rich of her to blame Aki when she herself has hardly been exemplary in that regard. The drama did a pretty shoddy job of resolving Yumiko’s arc, as I couldn’t buy that she was willing to give Kazuki up after looking at the photos he took of his family. It just felt like the drama needed to redeem her but didn’t quite know how to do it satisfactorily so that everyone had a relatively happy ending that also made sense character-wise. Kazuki had a credible struggle with himself towards the end and I did like how he eventually realised he needed to cherish what he already had but was still grateful to his biological mother for giving birth to him – in that sense, episodes 9 and 10 were quite well-done on the emotional beats.
The cases involving young children who were kidnapped seemed mostly to play out as though in a separate drama and didn’t quite have the desired link I was hoping for. Indeed, the actions of the various mothers portrayed in the drama made it difficult for viewers to relate to them, and I wish this hadn’t been a case of extremes but rather a more balanced, nuanced examination of the difficulties of motherhood. Having a sad backstory doesn’t always help redeem the character in viewers’ eyes, but what might work better would be the presence of just one positive mother character in the drama – as it were, Aki was the only one who was really decent at heart and always doing her best for her family even if she wasn’t perfect.
A decent watch overall and the young actors were pretty okay as well – Inagaki Kurumi, who played Aki’s daughter Sora, was particularly adorable and had lovely chemistry with her onscreen mummy – but despite a smattering of heartwarming family moments, this is not a drama for a rewatch of any sort.