This is how much I love bad hair.

5 03 2012

[ Spoileralert! Spoileralert! I am withholding nuttin’. Be warned, but be open-hearted. Watch this series with an open mind. It will do your soul great favours <3 ] 

There is not a single thing I would change about this series. Not even Eita‘s hair.

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Soredemo, Ikite Yuku ( FujiTV, 2011) is the most beautiful series I have ever seen, and trying to put together a post that would even come somewhat close to matching its flawless sensitivity, is a mission near impossible. This is my third attempt from scratch. And to be honest, I still don’t entirely know what I am doing.

While many a J-doramas that portray such heavy subjects tend to end up getting preachy and/or a little blahblah corny, Soredemo, Ikite Yuku never, ever came close to even going down that route. The story existed but it merely served as a backdrop to the characters. From beginning to end, the focus was on the two families and how each and everyone of them were dealing with the tragedy of their past, and the repercussions of everybody’s choices and actions. What was it that they were feeling today and what would they become tomorrow? What would tomorrow bring Soredemo really was the ultimate study of character and life.

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The year is 1996 and a young girl’s body is found murdered, dead, floating in the middle of a lake in a rural town in Japan. Fifteen years onwards, the brother of this little girl runs into the sister of the murderer… a chance meeting…  was it for the better?

The power of this drama would not have reached us had it not been for the glorious acting from the super stellar cast. My personal surprise was Mitsushima Hikari, who in my opinion should’ve reaped home a whole bunch of awards and accolades for her performance as the quietly unbreakable Futaba. My previous encounter with the actress was in Bloody Monday, so, acting-wise, I wasn’t so sure what to expect. But in Soredemo, she was quite simply breathtaking. From the end of episode two, where she broke down on her knees in the poppy field, wailing, the hail stabbing down on her back, she had me breathless. Her emotions were so raw, I felt like I was watching someone I love in front of me crying. I wanted to help so badly but I did not know what it was that I could do.

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Her brother, the gutless, stone-hearted Kenji, played chillingly by Kazama Shunsuke, was nothing short of a hollow shell failing to dig up any speckle of life. It was tormenting trying to work out how I felt about his character, someone who didn’t see any hope, someone who had absolutely nothing to look forward to. There was no light in Kenji‘s life. Fifteen years onwards, he was still that same ruthless teenager who had casually put an end to another child’s life. He had not learned any remorse, any regret. He had not progressed, not moved on, not looked at anything any differently. Yet it was damningly evident he was petrified of facing the past. We saw this black and blue in episode 5 during the heart-pounding scene when Aki‘s mother confronts him about Aki‘s death, physically beating Kenji down to the ground. On any other occasion, Kenji probably would’ve retaliated, but in this moment, it’s as if all he wanted to do was run away. This was a guy with a traumatised childhood but the writers never moulded it into an excuse for his sins. As you watched Kenji, you learned he was plain and simply, a chicken sh*t, soulless beast. His life served no purpose. It saddened me to see him so helpless as I realised it was unbendingly obvious Kenji would be forever stuck within his futureless self. Forever a murderer. That was what he was. What I struggled with most was this thought exactly— was it right that I felt sorry for such an animal?

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On the other hand, I had no trouble acknowledging my burning sorrow for the father, Mizaki Shunsuke. As a parent, I’d imagine that there couldn’t be too many things worse than seeing your child sick or unwell. Perhaps seeing your sick child take away another child’s life? Seeing another parent have a chunk of their heart ripped out because of your child? Waking up every day knowing clear and well it was your son’s crime that shred another family’s life apart? Waking up every day realising that it was not all a dream? It’s unfair to even have to imagine surviving like this but this was Mizaki san‘s living hell. It didn’t matter that he was his own good person, it didn’t matter how different he was to his son, it didn’t matter where he was or what he did, he could not escape from it. He would always and forever be perceived as a murderer’s father.

Veteran actor Tokito Saburo more than expressed these gut-wrenching struggles of the character, gradually provoking more and more of our compassion as the days evolved. If there was a way I could’ve helped shed mercy on his soul, without a second thought, I would’ve done it. During episode 8, after failing to capture KenjiMizaki san ends up bleakly wandering along a very busy road. A vehicle almost hits him before Hiroki (Eita‘s character) rushes out to save him. At this point, you could see the desolation in his eyes— he wanted to give everything up. If we were going to talk pain, Mizaki san would not have hurt less than any other person.

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Naturally, you would expect to feel the most sympathy and heartache for Nomoto Kyoko sanAki‘s mother (played movingly by Otake Shinobu,) and I don’t doubt the accuracy of her words at all in epsiode 8: “If a woman has her child taken away, she doesn’t stop being a mother— she stops being a human.” I seriously have no doubt. No doubt at all. But Nomoto san had every prerogative to unleash her grief, to scream out her pain, to cry and to violently protest her disgust at the Mizaki family. Had she perpetrated revenge, nobody probably would’ve passed a single ounce of judgement on her at all— nobody. Rightfully so. This woman had lost something more precious than her own life. It would take more than a lifetime for her to get over it, if she ever could at all.

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But compare this to Mizaki sanwho was there to listen to his cries ?

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This is where the series will grab your heart and leave it crying a river. It will get you wondering, when tragedy befalls, how easy it is for people on the outside to just sit there and form their own judgements, and just how impossibly hard it is for the people involved to go about life as if nothing ever happened. Life really can be cruelly unfair. But do we let it devour us? How far do we let the pain go? Are human beings as resilient as we want them to be?

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Then of course, we have Eita. Oh my darling Eita. His performance as Hiroki in Soredemo left me no doubt that the actor is best when there is no jazz and pizazz around him, no clichéd plot weighing him down— he shines when he is freely allowed to just be. I believed every inch of Hiroki‘s torment severed deeply in his heart, his solitude, his battle to find an outlet for his emotions over the last fifteen years. I believed him. I believed his lust for revenge, I believed the remorse he had for his sister’s death, I believed he truly missed her. I believed if he could go back in time to that afternoon fifteen years ago where his sister begged him to play with her, he would. He would do so much more than that for his family.

But above all, I believe he truly cared for Futaba, and that they were really perfect for one another in the most Romeo and Juliet of ways. They were two broken souls who didn’t need words to understand each other. They helped unbury and conquer each other’s demons and nursed each other’s hurt— meeting each other was by far the best thing that ever happened to them, and the fact that they didn’t end up together does not take away from it. It was inspiring and rejuvenating to watch them work out how to live on, and they will make you realise that love goes far beyond something between a man and a woman. I don’t think I’d be alone when I say the scene after their first and final date together where Hiroki asks Futaba to stay, was quite possibly one of, if not, the best, moment:

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“Maybe you’ll find a Miss Universe one day. You will have to show me her crown,” jokes Futaba. Hiroki replies, “I don’t want a Miss Universe. I have no interest in crowns. I’d be happy with the crownless Toyama san.”

She goes to wave goodbye but he is just standing there, dead still, looking at her as if he never wanted to forget her face.

While there was an inexplicable amount of the most tender sadness, at the same time, although they were parting, it didn’t feel like things were ending. Somehow, things felt like they were beginning for the better. To me, them letting go of each other felt like them letting go of their past, and without a doubt, the new morning would bring new hope. It was the most surging sense of renewal.

Futaba‘s decision to become Yuri‘s guardian after her brother viciously sent Yuri‘s mother into a permanent coma forced Hiroki and Futaba apart but whether it was an attempt to repent her brother’s sins, or a form of redemption for her family’s name, or even to satisfy other people by seeing her make the sacrifice, it was something Futaba felt like she needed to do. Whatever your opinion was didn’t matter.

Soredemo gave you every freedom to form your own judgements, if you wanted to at all, but it never set out to shape any character to be the good guy, and while Kenji was indefensibly the criminal, the writers also never really inflicted the typical dorama villain complexion on him either. The series simply portrayed human beings the way we are. The storyline, the precise fact that Aki chan was murdered by Kenji fifteen years ago, was essentially irrelevant. What was most important was watching these human beings deal with the heartache, and the shame. It wasn’t about who was right or who was wrong, or even what was right or what was wrong, but ultimately it was about figuring out a way to live with each other’s existence. Wounds can heal and scars do fade, and when everything is said and done, life, still goes on.

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I was watching Norwegian Wood and a quote came up from Matsuyama Kenichi‘s character Watanabe in the latter half of the film:

“Nothing can treat people who have lost loved ones. Not truth, not sincerity, not power, not mercy. All we can do is continue to live and accept the tragedy. Know that with everything new, the pain will become smaller.” 

For the characters in Soredemo, there sincerely are no better words.

I only hope they live on the best they can.

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In the meantime, please [ CLICK HERE ] for a Soredemo Ikite Yuku video on YouTube, featuring the most gorgeous instrumental from its OST. If you can make it through the whole thing without shedding a single tear, you can have my Yamashita Tomohisa DVD collection~~

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7 responses

18 03 2012
Ellély

LMAO at your header, though I actually kinda liked Eita’s hair o.O

I wasn’t planning on watching this at all but decided to give it a go after coming across three glowing reviews by three people with very different tastes. And even then, it took me forever to get started on it because wall-to-wall, soul-crushing angst just ain’t my thing. So I was very surprised to find out that this wasn’t a depressing drama at all. Sure, there are several moments of extreme sadness but it is ultimately a story about coming to terms with those events and finding the strength to live on.

Soredemo gave you every freedom to form your own judgements, if you wanted to at all, but it never set out to shape any character to be the good guy, and while Kenji was indefensibly the criminal, the writers also never really inflicted the typical dorama villain complexion on him either.

I agree. Soredemo wasn’t a sanctimonious drama and it left you to form your own opinions. I had a different take on Mizaki’s character though and was rather ambivalent about him at first because it felt like he was apologising for his son’s crime out of a sense of socio-cultural responsibility without really attempting to understand why Kenji did what he did, at least not until the second incident happened. But I guess this raises the question about the extent to which parents are responsible for their children’s actions, especially when they are respectable law-abiding people like the Futabas. Having said that, I realise that it’s a question no one can really answer, not least an outsider. I don’t think any couple goes into parenthood preparing for the eventuality that their child will grow up to be a sociopath.

I’ve rambled on long enough but yes, Mitsushima Hikari was simply excellent in her role (as was Eita and everyone else.) I still can’t believe she used to be an idol and I hope to see more good things from her in the years to come!

24 03 2012
jicks

***SPOILERS IN THIS COMMENT***

Sure, there are several moments of extreme sadness but it is ultimately a story about coming to terms with those events and finding the strength to live on.
Agreed. I think at the core of it all, the series really emphasised life and hope, kinda in a way that reaffirms, where there is life there is hope. And yeah, just as you say, finding a way to live on. I know it was only a small scene but I liked the very end where Hiroki returns the porno flick to the video store, 15,, 16 years onwards. A little comedic touch yes, but it was kinda like sending a subliminal message saying that he had finally let go completely of the past and was now ready to face what was ahead of him xDD.

I really like your take on Mizaki san, and would agree on many levels with your view. While I certainly think that he could’ve made a greater attempt at understanding where his son was coming from, I think I drew empathy on him because he was generally a good man himself, and seeing Mizaki san’s internal rue for realising that perhaps he could’ve or should’ve done something sooner after that second incident was the deal-sealer for me. It’s difficult sometimes to judge one parent to another but at the end of the day, while they may not be perfect, I do believe every parent will do the best job they know how to do at that point in time.

Also, yours is not rambling. I love the intelligent discussion! Alas, is your review on Soredemo coming soon, Ellély? (no pressure ;P)

P.S. Wait?! Mitsushima Hikari used to be an idol? Like, one of those gravure idol?? O_o??? Please explain!

28 03 2012
Ellély

Mitsushima used to be in a (now-defunct?) girl group called Folder or Folder 5. (I wonder what kind of a braniac came up with that name. Idol groups named after stationary are clearly top draws with the Akihabara set.) I think I’ve seen bikini-clad pictures of her floating around. They’re not something I want to remember, just like those Mizukawa Asami swimsuit vids on YouTube. Anyway, I’m glad that her movie career’s taken off so she no longer/rarely has to do those shoots anymore. It’s like Ryoko Hirosue’s character in 11 nin mo Iru said, “Everyone starts out as a gravure idol. And then depending on how your career goes, you either strip some more or put on more clothes.” (I’m paraphrasing, of course, but that was the gist of what she said.)

My Soredemo review is still gathering dust, unfortunately, but I do intend to finish it sometime…uh, this century. -.-;;;;;;

6 04 2012
jicks

I did a quick search and wowsies, there are alot more former gravure idols now A-list actresses than what I would’ve imagined… well, I guess we all have t start somewhere >”< I do wonder if any of these talented actresses, considering their current success, have any regret for their beginnings… if it weren't for the bikini tops and slinky bottoms, would their careers be where they are now?

Btw, please lose some respect for me because I am picturing just how entertaining it would be if someone were to excavate pictures of JE boys in their early days posing in gravure attire ahahahhaa *throws up dinner from three nights ago*

P.S. I know the feeling. Whenever it is though, I will be eager to read your review on Soredemo (no pressure, lol)! :D

23 09 2012
supah

*applause*
You wrote the review I didn’t have the guts to write. *wipes tear* Just superb.

Yes, yes, I love your opening disclaimer about the necessity of an open mind before diving into this drama. One thing I’ve learned with watching this writer’s work is that he IS inspiring, he truly does aim quite loftily to leave that lasting impression through his work to soften your heart and broaden your mind. Really impelling you to… (ugh, cliched as it sounds) ‘think outside of the rigidity of the box’ and judging by the audiences’ reactions to his works — it works. He’s amazing. To think how far he’s come since his ‘Tokyo Robeu Sutori’ days. Not to mention the horrible, horrible Sassy Girl dorama adaptation. But when he’s on form, there are none like him.

26 09 2012
jicks

Dude, apart from sitting through those live concerts by [insert Johnny Entertainment band here], this “review” was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in the Asian media world. Even so, reading over it now, I still feel like there’s so much more I could’ve expressed but I could only type so much before (and I know I’m gunna sound like a cornball) my eyes just brimmed over with tears. I think playing back the soundtrack as I was doing it didn’t help either. Although there was a quiet hopefulness about the songs/scores, the heartache still lulled me down *joins in the sniffing*

Unfortunately, Soredemo is the only drama by Sakamoto Yuji that I’ve seen but quite a few of his works are in my bucket list (I believe he wrote the screenplay for Remote too which Eita was in… drats to the man’s extensively lengthy dramaography!) Watashitachi no Kyokasho and Mother are both high up there as to-be-watched shows for me.

2 10 2012
supah

OMGosh, Kazumasa Oda’s Tokyo no Sora… *tear* It pierces my heart anew everytime I hear it. Such a beautiful fitting condiment to Soredemo.

But you know what? It’s pretty much a given that he lands some great theme songs, for WnK he had Bonnie Pink’s Water Me, which I love to bits and for Mother had Hinaco’s ‘Smile’.
(Hint-hint: Watch theeemmmm!) I would highly recc Mother it was such a masterpiece and there’s nothing quite like it, in any country, and though its hard to work up the courage to watch it, once you start you won’t be able to tear yourself away, it’s so compelling. It’s truly a very beautiful story at its core, I love how its almost a surreal world where only women seem to exist, well, give or take a sexy male reporter. Anyway, be armed with the kleenex.
WnK is a school-based dorama but there is a lot more ground this show actually covers than what it unearths at surface level, very
clever little show. And Kanno Miho is just sublime. I freaking loved her character to bits. So gorgeous and so frail and yet, one tough, ballsy woman who even when cornered and lonely doesn’t give up her battle.
Also, there’s a one-ep special he did; Sayonara Bokutachi no Youchien [Goodbye Kindergarten], once you’ve watched Mother, watch that. Ashida Mana is a little gem, that’s why. And it’s just as mindblowingly brilliant as the writer’s other masterpieces, I adored all the child actors and Hikari’s in it, brilliant as ever.

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