Part of getting back into J-dramas is the fun of discovering new stuff and seeing actors in another light. Recently, I had the pleasure of watching Long Goodbye, which is a Japanese adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s novel of the same name. Having never read any of Chandler’s novels, I could only go by word of mouth regarding this adaptation – and the reviews were very good indeed, with some praising it as the drama of the year. I went into the drama completely blind, not even reading the synopsis, and came out of it really liking it.
Long Goodbye – the J-drama version – is about Masuzawa Banji (Asano Tadanobu), a private detective in 1950s Tokyo who gets embroiled in proving the innocence of one Harada Tamotsu (Ayano Go), said to have been accused of killing his actress wife Shizuka. In his investigations, Banji finds himself entangled with another couple – the alcoholic writer Kamiido Joji (Furuta Arata) and his lovely wife Aiko (Koyuki). As the drama only had five episodes, I did wonder if it was able to encapsulate an entire novel in five short hours. I needn’t have worried. The writing was tight and I didn’t feel there was any superfluous scene. Even though it seemed languid at times, it was overall a very compact story.
Asano Tadanobu is fantastic as Masuzawa Banji. Words don’t really do his performance justice, but he exudes that sort of jaded-yet-I-can-give-a-damn-if-I-want-to aura very well. It’s in the way he walks and talks, even in how he makes coffee. He had that debonair air about him that made him a perfect fit for the 1950s setting. Despite seeming disinterested half the time, there is in Banji a determination to unravel the mystery behind Tamotsu’s apparent suicide and Shizuka’s death. I kinda appreciate that he’s not some hot-headed detective who mouths off all the time about seeking justice – that belongs to the reporter who’s determined to bring down Harada Heizo, the big bad tycoon of the times – rather, Banji understands the times he lives in, even if he doesn’t like it. I find that an interesting departure from the usual detective characters in dramas, and that’s also reflected in the tone of the drama towards the end. It was a lovely dose of sobering realism in keeping with the overall mood of the drama.
The other actors also seemed to have raised their game. Ayano Go was suitably emotionally fragile as the guy who was nothing more than a trophy husband and treated like crap by his spoiled, self-absorbed wife. I have to say, though, that I kinda knew something was up with his character the more the story harped on his suicide – the ending, in this sense, did not come as a shock, but I appreciated that they did not give his character a lobotomy. Koyuki was almost luminous in her role as Aiko, giving a very layered performance and keeping me guessing half the time. I’m generally not big on her acting or projects, but here, she elevated her acting a few notches and held her own against Asano and Furuta. There was also a fragility about her (not of the Tamotsu variety), a touch of it here and there, never very overwhelming but enough to hint that something about Aiko was not quite right. I thought Koyuki did a fine job there with the balance of it all.
Cinematography and music were excellent – love the subdued palette and use of the jazz/blues music that helped evoke memories of and nostalgia for a time long gone by. Styling was top-notch – I especially like Banji’s long coats, and Aiko had some lovely, if daring, black dresses (her entire back was exposed in one of them). If I had one nitpick, it’d be that there wasn’t enough of Endo Kenichi as Banji’s police friend Kishida. I always enjoy stories about friendships between ex-cops turned private detectives and their buddies who are still in the force. Banji and Kishida would have made such a great team – maybe it’s time to get those two in a drama of their own.
All in all, recommended!