Murder she solved: Rakuen & Cold Case

I’m back in business! Well, on the drama-watching front that is, since I’ve finally got a new computer and can watch stuff properly again. Recently cleared two dramas featuring ladies whose characters flexed some crime-solving muscles, so it was nice to see women take charge when usually this is a male-dominated genre. Coincidentally, both are WOWOW dramas, so quality was definitely assured.

I. Rakuen

I’d not really given Rakuen much thought because Nakama Yukie does nothing for me as an actress (even though I did like her in G@me with Fujiki Naohito), but seeing Kobayashi Kaoru among the cast elevated it to the “watch” list for me. WOWOW tends to produce solid crime thrillers and Rakuen, based on a novel of the same name by Miyabe Miyuki, is no exception.

When an elderly couple’s house burns down, the father, Doizaki Gen (Kobayashi Kaoru), confesses he had killed his elder daughter Akane 16 years ago and buried her under the floor boards. The Doizakis’ younger daughter, Seiko (Kaho), faces discrimination as a result of this. Meanwhile, crime reporter Maehata Shigeko (Nakama Yukie) is approached by the mother of a boy who supposedly has ESP – the boy, Hitoshi, had drawn a picture of the fire at the Doizaki house before the event happened, and the mother begs Shigeko to find out what is really going on.

Rakuen is a tale of collateral damage, the paying of one’s sins and that of others (ironic, therefore, that the title means “paradise”). We don’t always consider how our actions may affect others, and Rakuen depicts how this can continue to haunt innocent parties for years on end. Akane’s wayward behaviour is a blight on her parents and sister, and the ripple effect doesn’t end with her death as she and her family are still the talk of town years after that. While Seiko gets the brunt of society’s mockery and ignorance even if she’s not involved, the guilt that eats away at her parents is no less devastating. Shigeko herself is not without inner demons, for her coverage of a case nine years ago caused her to question her own journalism ethics and withdraw from writing – her long-suffering husband remains supportive, but he can’t help but worry when she decides to get to the bottom of the Doizaki incident and goes all out.

Kobayashi Kaoru gave a fine, nuanced performance as the father suffering in silence yet has to maintain a quiet dignity that the supposed crime does not seem to allow him. You truly feel for his character and want things to improve for him just so he would be able to live out the rest of his years with a semblance of peace of mind. I also enjoyed Kaho’s portrayal of Seiko and thought she did very well with the character’s struggle through various stages of acceptance of the secret behind her sister’s death. So it’s a pity that I couldn’t quite connect with Nakama Yukie’s Shigeko and felt very little for her trauma – she came across as rather stilted and I admit my interest waned a little whenever she was on screen. Shigeko’s persistence to get to the truth of the matter was admirable, but I wish there had been a bit more altruism on her part. Kuroki Hitomi was a commanding presence as the Doizakis’ lawyer and Kaneko Nobuaki gave a suitably creepy performance as a psychopath, although his arc ended on a rather unsatisfactory note.

A solid watch overall, although be warned that some scenes may be disturbing.


II. Cold Case

Cold Case is a remake of the American series of the same name, and features a strong ensemble cast. Yoshida Yo is Ishikawa Yuri, who is part of a team of detectives in the Kanagawa police force with a particular focus on cracking unresolved cold cases. She is ably assisted by her team members Takagi Shinjiro (Nagayama Kento), Tachikawa Daisuke (Takito Kenichi), Kaneko Toru (Mitsuishi Ken) and Motoki Hidetoshi (Miura Tomokazu). The cases can be as “recent” as a year ago or spanning decades back to post-war Japan.

If you’ve read this blog often enough, you’ll know I have a very low opinion of remakes that think too highly of themselves. I have zero patience for remakes that lack the basic respect for the essence of the source material. So it came as a relief that the Japanese Cold Case seemed to have adhered to the spirit of the original and even retained touches found in the American series, while adapting the cases to fit Japanese sensibilities. Reviews of this drama were positive, and it was always nice to read about fans of the original giving the remake the stamp of approval.

What is remarkable about Cold Case is how closely it has stuck to the original. While I’ve never seen the American series, just by reading the Wikipedia entry I could already make the necessary connection to its Japanese remake and discover which particular touches of the original have been retained – for example, Ishikawa sees the souls of the victims after the cases have been solved, something her US counterpart Detective Lilly Rush is also privy to. There was also the distinctive “double casting”, where there would be flashbacks to how the characters looked at the time of the crime and flash-forwards that correspond to how they look in the present day. I found it refreshing when I first saw it in the Japanese version and was pleased to see it was a key feature of the original. The addition of English songs was a bit weird as I’d thought Japanese songs would be featured instead, but some of the English ones were decent fits and I got used to it over time.

The cases in the original examined various issues pertinent to American society, including racism, homophobia, sexism and police brutality. While the remake was not able to deal with as many issues, I was impressed that there was actually a fair attempt at minority and racial representation, something Japanese TV is not known for. doramaticbites has written an excellent, thoughtful piece (with spoilers) on this that I very much agree with and hope that Cold Case has set a precedent for future Japanese procedurals to follow. It is possible to examine such issues without being patronising and condescending, and to acknowledge honestly that even as minorities also have their place in a modern, cosmopolitan world, discrimination continues to exist in no small doses. As doramaticbites pointed out, episode 6 was a brave take on a touchy subject, especially one with such an overt nationalistic tone, and for presenting the characters as they are, raw and vulnerable yet ready to stand up for what they believe in – be it right or wrong – it is commendable (shoutout to Kadowaki Mugi and Fukushi Seiji for their portrayals). The lack of trash-talking and false bravado that pervade Japanese police procedurals was also welcome, as there was none of the annoying bureaucratic red tape, or know-it-all officers spouting rubbish that makes you question their intelligence. Everyone in Ishikawa’s team knew his or her stuff, and incompetence was not a word found in their dictionary. I enjoyed their camaraderie, especially how they rallied around Takagi when he suffered a personal bereavement.

Acting was solid across the board, from the lead characters to the various guest stars for each episode. Yoshida Yo is a capable actress and I’m glad for her that she’s started taking on leading roles because she definitely held her own among a male-dominated cast. Yoshida exudes a strong career woman vibe that reminds me of Amami Yuki, but whereas Amami generally leaves me cold, Yoshida comes across as more personable even when she’s all business-like or crossing verbal swords with Takagi. Also, how much do I love that Ishikawa has a black cat that she adores? That’s another win because black cats are often seen as the least adoptable. I have enjoyed Yoshida’s chemistry with Nagayama Kento and liked their detective pairing – while he was introduced as the newbie in episode 1, by the time jump in episode 2 they were working well as a team and there was thankfully none of the obligatory “guiding clueless rookie cop” trope here.  Nagayama grew on me as the drama progressed and I really liked how his character developed and fit into the team (doesn’t hurt that he’s a sight for sore eyes!).

It’s always nice to see Miura Tomokazu, and here he’s the steadying force who never lets his experience browbeat his colleagues. That scene where Motoki asked Takagi thrice whether he’s okay was a perfect example of his leadership style and the dynamics of the team (it also just felt very Japanese). Mitsuishi Ken, who I thought was rather miscast in Ouroboros, is also solid here as a veteran cop and I liked his “Neko-san” (short for Kaneko). Takito Kenichi was annoying in Ouroboros, but being smirky and a bit of a smart-mouth worked for his character here, and I liked his partnership with Neko-san. This isn’t the drama for character growth, but I’ve enjoyed the minimalistic look into the characters’ lives outside of work – there’s almost no crazy drama and relationship issues are handled with a deft, sometimes sympathetic touch, and integrate well into, but don’t overwhelm, the main crime-solving storyline.

I don’t always hope for a season 2 of dramas if I feel the original has ended on a good note and needs no further expansion, but here’s hoping for another round of Cold Case, preferably with the same cast and continued focus on issues that deserve highlighting. And yes, a better chick for Takagi would be very welcome.


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