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Sunday, August 03, 2014

Review of "BORDER" (ボーダー) - Spring 2014

Before the season began, I admit that I had no intention of checking this drama out because the premise didn't seem too appealing. A police officer gains the power to communicate with the dead after sustaining a serious injury? Meaning this is going to be an episodic drama with different cases each week? I have an aversion towards episodic dramas these days because they usually fail to keep me interested throughout the whole season. Besides, the hinting of a supernatural touch to this story just didn't seem too appealing. I won't call myself a fan of Oguri Shun but I think he can act pretty well when he first caught my eye in "Summer Snow". Then again, I don't like all his roles in recent years so the plot of the drama has a lot to do with how much I like his performance.

So what changed my mind in the end? It had to do with a lot of the positive media reports after the season started when BORDER started off losing to MOZU which felt like a classy movie but eventually overtaking its competition in terms of critical reviews and ratings. There was so much talk of how BORDER being on par, if not better than MOZU in terms of production quality but with a much more intense and engaging story compared to MOZU which was getting too complicated for its own good. Besides, Oguri's acting was much praised and said to be one of the factors leading to the drama's success. So if a drama gets praised to this extent, it aroused my curiosity so I ended up backtracking on my initial decision to give this a miss.

Before I begin my review of this drama, here's the usual disclaimer. If you do not wish to know the storyline or ending, please skip this review because there will be many spoilers ahead.

Ishikawa Ango (Oguri Shun) is a police officer of the Metropolitan Police Department's First Investigation Division who deliberately chose this occupation to get back at his father who he did not get along well with. During an investigation into a murder case where the victim was a former police officer, Ishikawa who had been walking in the vicinity of the crime scene to look for scenes, gets shot in the head by an unknown person which causes him to end up with serious injuries. Although he was saved from the brink of death, the bullet gets lodged in his brain which will involve a dangerous surgery before it can be removed. As the presence of the bullet doesn't really cause any problems to Ishikawa's health and daily life for the time being, he chooses to delay this operation for the time being and returns to work after he recovers.

However, Ishikawa finds that things are no longer the same when he gets back to work as he discovers that he now has the ability to see the dead and communicate with them. Although this ability doesn't seem to work all the time and has its limitations e.g. the spirit of the dead disappears without prior warning or when the body is cremated, Ishikawa makes use of this power to find out more information from the dead (can be the victim or perpetrator though) in order to solve his cases. Ishikawa also gets acquainted with a mysterious information vendor Akai (Furuta Arata) who further introduces him to experts such as hackers Garfunkel (Nomaguchi Toru) and Simon (Hamano Kenta) as well as multi-talented private investigator Suzuki (Takito Kenichi). Ishikawa's strange behaviour when talking to the dead and ability to get information from unexplainable sources do arouse suspicions of his colleague Tachibana Yuma (Aoki Munetaka) and superior Ichikura Takuji (Endo Kenichi) but they can't really place a finger on how Ishikawa manages to find the clues to solving the cases. Meanwhile, Ishikawa also gets acquainted with Higa Mika (Haru), a young female pathologist, who seems aloof on the surface initially but the two later become good working partners.

With each case Ishikawa solves, he gradually seems to be losing himself as he becomes more haggard and obsessed with exacting justice on those who go against the law. His colleagues also notice the changes in him and want him to consider going for the operation since they are worried about the bullet's long-term effect on Ishikawa if it continues to stay in his brain. However, Ishikawa is reluctant to do so not just because of the high risk involved in the operation. The other issue of concern to him could have been the likelihood that he would lose the power to communicate with the dead once the bullet is removed. Since Ishikawa has become so reliant on this power to solve his cases, that can probably explain why he can't go ahead with the operation.

Things however do not improve especially in episode 7 where he lost the fight against catching a hit-and-run driver after the latter manages to escape overseas with the help of a professional "problem-solver". Ishikawa seems to have lost his faith in the justice system being effective enough to catch and punish those who do wrong. By the time we get to episode 9, it is when Ishikawa finally loses control of himself as he crosses over the boundary between good and evil in order to uphold justice. It is as if he has become a devil in order to do what he thinks God should be doing.

To be perfectly honest, not every single episode in this drama was good. The first episode laid the basic groundwork for the drama so it wasn't that exciting on the whole. Episode 2 was good in the sense that it convinced the viewer that the communication with the dead is not always with the victim so the power that Ishikawa had could be utilised in a different manner after all. Episodes 3 and 4 were a tad boring for me because it was not too challenging to guess who the culprits were or what was the motive behind the crime. Surprisingly in Episode 5, the tone of the drama took a change (be it for the better or worse) with a relatively light-hearted touch since Kudo Kankuro was the guest star. It is only from Episode 6 onwards that the tempo started to pick up and the last three episodes i.e. Episode 7 to 9 were so gripping and exciting to watch. As such, the overall satisfaction I felt about this drama had much to do with the last three episodes but without the build-up in the first 6 episodes, there might not have been such a well-done climax. There were so many dramas in recent years which disappointed me with a great start but lousy ending but I'm glad BORDER was able to do the reverse. No doubt that there was no definitive ending in the last episode after Ishikawa became the devil himself, I think this is a sign that there will be a SP or movie picking up from this ending to explain what happens to Ishikawa in the aftermath. Full credit also goes to Kaneshiro Kazuki who did an amazing job with the scripting.

Especially worth mentioning is Omori Nao's guest star stint in the last episode. He really did such a great job as this extremely smart villain that his confrontation and showdown scenes with Oguri Shun were such a thrill to watch. When you get to the final scene where Omori's character successfully enticed Ishikawa to step over the edge, it was so chilling and yet gratifying at the same. Chilling because of how evil Omori's character  was in anticipating how his actions could tip Ishikawa over since the latter was already at breaking point and strangely gratifying at the same time even though the ending was so sudden because it was obvious to the viewers that Ishikawa had already lost control of himself during his pursuit for justice and it seemed believable that Ishikawa would go to that extent. I might not have liked the ending as much if it showed me that Ishikawa chose to do otherwise.

Oguri Shun finally showed me once again what he could be capable of. As I mentioned above, he first caught my eye in Summer Snow when he was still a teenager and a fresh actor. However, his subsequent roles either failed to leave a strong impression on me or did not impress me. That's not to say that I disliked him since then but it's hard for me to say that I still liked him as an actor when I struggle to come up with examples of which dramas or movies he starred in that I liked. However, BORDER has showed his depth in acting especially since there were only 9 episodes and there were a lot of emotional upheavals in his role towards the end. The last episode was especially impressive. Not only did he look the part of someone lost in his pursuit for justice (the haggard look, dark eye circles, eye bags, hollow expressions), he was able to show the sense of powerlessness in Ishikawa who gradually came to think that the justice system does not really do good for all victims and his increasingly-extreme mindset when it comes to what it means to bring criminals to justice. I hope that he can ride on this wave of success and come up with better performances in time to come. Usually, I don't really like sequels but in this case, I am really dying to know what happened to Ishikawa after the drama's ending.

Besides Oguri's great acting, I thought that his partnership with Haru in this drama was also a great selling point. The interaction between their characters was hardly romantic but it felt so good to see them talk to each other as if they are close friends who know everything about each other and are of the same frequency. Frankly speaking, Haru's role was pretty limited because she usually appeared at the crime scene or autopsy scene only but I thought she was pretty eye-catching in her acting as the aloof Higa who warmed up considerably towards Ishikawa over the course of the story to the extent of becoming a true friend who expressed concern about his health when he seemed to be obsessed with work and disregarding his health. Much as I don't think anything romantic will develop between Ishikawa and Higa, it will be nice to see them together on screen.

In conclusion, I think BORDER surprised me in a good way by performing above expectations and I'm glad that I chose to watch it after all despite my initial reluctance. As to whether this drama is indeed superior to MOZU 1, it depends on how you see it. In terms of production quality, both were pretty much on par. However, BORDER only stepped things up towards the end of the season so you compare episode by episode, MOZU 1 seems like a more polished piece of work. Then again, MOZU 1 couldn't have a satisfactory ending because that needed to be addressed by MOZU 2. In this sense, BORDER could have more room to produce a much more conclusive ending although I think it was deliberately left open-ended to increase the possibility of a sequel.

And my ratings for this drama...

Story: 8.5 out of 10 (The last episode alone deserved a perfect 10 but in the first half of the drama, the quality of the episodes was a bit uneven so the overall score would have to be lower.)

Acting: 8.5 out of 10 (Again, Oguri Shun x Omori Nao deserved a perfect 10. I also think that the supporting cast also did a great job.)

Theme song/BGM: 7 out of 10 (I have to admit that I don't like the theme song at all but the BGM was really good especially in intense scenes.)

Visual effects / Scenery: 7 out 10 (The last three episodes felt more like a movie to me in terms of its production quality and visual effects but in terms of scenery, there wasn't much which caught my eye.)

Teamwork / Chemistry: 8 out of 10 (Besides the fine chemistry displayed by Oguri x Omori and Oguri x Haru, I also think that Oguri and Endo did quite well together as superior and subordinate because of the trust in the relationship between their characters.)

Total: 39 out of 50

1 comment:

Dramarama said...

Thank you so much for the review! I really liked this drama but I was so confused about the ending so I was hoping you would write a review on it. The last episode definitely gave me goosebumps when Omori's character came from behind and patted Ishikawa on the shoulder. I actually got a little scared in a good way! This is definitely one of Oguri Shun's best works for me in terms of acting!