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Monday, August 18, 2014

Review of "Kami no Tsuki" (drama) - Winter 2014

To make it clear, this review is about the drama version of "Kami no Tsuki" (Paper Moon) starring Harada Tomoyo, not the movie version starring Miyazawa Rie which will be shown in cinemas from 15 November. I would assume that the storyline for both versions would be largely the same since they are based on the same novel by Kakuta Mitsuyo.

To begin with, here is a summary of the storyline. As usual, if you do not wish to know the developments nor ending of this drama, please skip this review.

Umezawa Rika (Harada Tomoyo), an ordinary housewife becomes the centre of media attention as she is the suspect in an embezzlement case involving a huge sum of JPY 100m and has skipped town before the police arrested her. The story shows Rika having escaped to a Southeast Asian country (location shooting in Chiangmai, Thailand) as details of what happened to her prior to her escape get disclosed through her reflections and the recollections of her best friends from senior high school i.e. Chujo Aki (Nishida Naomi) and Okazaki Yuko (Mizuno Maki).

Rika came from a very wealthy family and was studying in a private girls' high school when she met Aki and Yuko. Even at this young age, Rika had a strong opinion of her own and would not hesitate to make her point known e.g. object to the school imposing a limit on how much money the students could donate to charity but not on contributing money to the school's expansion. However, Rika's family underwent an upheaval later on, causing them to sell off their assets to pay off their debts. After graduating from college, Rika worked briefly at a credit card company before she met her husband Masafumi (Mitsuishi Ken) and became a housewife. At the suggestion of Aki, Rika later began working part-time at a bank.

On the surface, all seemed fine between Rika and Masafumi. However, Masafumi would from time to time ignore or hurt Rika's feelings by putting her down and emphasizing that her part-time job was nothing compared to his career or avoiding the issue of having children. As time went by, Rika realised that Masafumi would never change his ways and gave up on having children. She also decided to switch to full-time work at the bank since Masafumi had no objections nor supported her decision.

One day, while at a house visit to one of the bank's important customers named Hirabayashi Kozo, Rika meets his grandson Kota. The relationship between Kozo and Kota is far from rosy as Kozo thinks that his family members are just eyeing his fortune. This encounter turns out to be the turning point in Rika's life as she and Kota start to meet up and later develops a relationship. Kota misunderstands that Rika is a rich man's wife and starts to depend on her financially as well. In a bid to keep up appearances and continue supporting Kota's needs, Rika starts to embezzle money from her clients' accounts by forging deposit receipts and tricking them into buying fictitious financial investment products.

When Masafumi gets transferred to Shanghai for work, he automatically assumes that Rika will follow him there. However, Rika's reluctance to give up her job as well as her relationship with Kota makes her say no. By the time Masafumi returns to Japan after his Shanghai stint, he seems to have undergone a change and has become more understanding towards Rika. However, Rika's relationship with Kota has hit the rocks and she has sunk too deep into the financial trap she created for herself that the only way out for her is to go on the run. In a bid to spend time with Masafumi before she does that, Rika agrees to going on a short trip with him and later disappears under the pretext of heading overseas for a friend's wedding.

After Rika's escape, the media goes wild about her case especially how she embezzled money seemingly for the sake of Kota. Surprisingly, Masafumi expresses faith in his wife and even apologises to those affected by what Rika did. Meanwhile, Rika's buddies Aki and Yuko who are concerned about Rika's case and her whereabouts, have their own issues to contend with as well. Aki who appears to be a successful career woman on the surface, suffers from a shopping addiction which led to near bankruptcy for her ex-husband, the breakdown of their marriage and the loss of her daughter's custody to her ex-husband. Years later, Aki tries to reach out to her daughter again but ends up using money to buy the latter whatever she wants in a bid to compensate for the years of neglect and inability to stay with her daughter. However, Aki realises that she is merely repeating the same mistake as she did in the past by spending beyond her means to buy her daughter's love and decides to stop doing it which makes her daughter very angry. On the other hand, Yuko appears to be a happily-married housewife but her obsession with saving money for the family's future, alienates her from her husband and daughter who think that she is going overboard. This makes Yuko feel indignant that her efforts are not appreciated by the people who she is doing all these things for.

Rika is faced with the dilemma of having to extend her visa by crossing over to another country but she is scared of being nabbed if she is flagged as a wanted person at the customs. On the other hand, the toll of being on the run makes Rika toy with the idea of going to the customs anyway since she should be repatriated. At the end of the drama, Rika is shown walking towards the customs checkpoint but it is not stated specifically if she's caught by the authorities or allowed to cross the border without any problems.

Technically, this drama is all about Rika's downward spiral in life. Much of what we know about Rika actually comes from her own narrative and the missing bits and pieces are filled in by those who know her i.e. her husband, close friends and colleagues. To everyone who knows Rika, they cannot understand why she would embezzle so much money and what she had used it on. It may be easy to blame Kota entirely for what happened to Rika but the very first time that Rika used a client's money for her own benefit (although she did put the money back later) was when she bought a range of skincare products for herself. All along, Rika probably wasn't too concerned with her appearance and seemed to be content with being a good wife to Masafumi and wishing to be a mother one day. However, Masafumi's attitude towards her especially when he kept undermining her importance and value in life made her give up in the end and that's when Rika started to do things for her own sake. It's true that Rika subsequently had the need to keep up pretenses to play a rich man's wife in front of Kota and continue earning his respect and admiration and she needed to help him financially as well but I think the awakening of Rika's self-awareness thanks to Masafumi and the subsequent desire to be needed by someone i.e. Kota were the two key factors that led to Rika going out of control. Back then in school, Aki and Yuko already revealed the fact that Rika had the desire to be needed and be important to someone. That trait has never changed over the years thus Kota's appearance was the catalyst that led to this trait being resurrected.

Honestly speaking, I do not think that Rika really loves Kota. She probably wasn't attracted to his looks nor personality in the first place. However, Kota's need for her and her money was what Rika was drawn to. Since Masafumi didn't seem to think of her as being important to him, Rika found her desire to be needed in Kota. That's why she didn't seem overly upset when Kota was seeing another woman later. If she had been truly in love with him, she would have reacted more strongly instead of letting him go so easily.

What I found really surprising was Masafumi's attitude towards Rika after the case came to light and she had skipped town. Going by his obnoxious attitude towards her in the past, I would have expected him to express rage at his wife's affair with Kota and draw a clear line between him and her actions. However, seeing him apologise in public for what she did and him obviously being willing to wait for Rika to come back just seems to suggest that he still had some feelings for her and was ready to reconcile with her if she did come back. Perhaps the time they spent apart did good after all as it made Masafumi see how Rika mattered to him?

Harada Tomoyo who has this air of elegance and pure image all along, was clearly suited for the role of Rika. Just like Rika who was seen to be someone who would stand up for noble causes and didn't look like she had a lot of material desires, Harada had the same type of image. That is why when the case came out into the open, it took many people by surprise because they wouldn't have associated Rika as someone who could commit such an embezzlement case and used that money to support the guy she was having an affair with. She managed to show the fact that Rika probably was more obsessed with being needed rather than having a need for all that money so it did help to push up the sympathy factor for Rika's circumstances. Then again, Rika also needed to be blamed for her obsession in giving to others what they may or may not have wanted. Kota probably didn't expect right from the start that Rika would give him money or meet his needs. However, when that started, Kota got too used to taking while Rika was too hung up over giving until it reached the point of no return. On the other hand, I thought that her chemistry with Mitsushima Shinosuke was a bit lacking which I attributed partly due to the fact that she had to show that love was probably not a key factor in what led to Rika's actions. There was something obviously missing especially in the scene where they slept together for the first time which I think Miyazawa Rie and Ikematsu Sousuke might be able to do better in the movie version.

As for the supporting cast, due to the limited airtime given to them, it was hard for them to make a deep impression since the story is all about Rika. Nonetheless, I thought Aki's story was more interesting compared to Yuko's which was a bit too cliche.

If I am to judge this story solely as a narrative about Rika's downward spiral in life, I think it is quite complete and offers you slightly different perspectives about Rika. However, being too intensive on one person's development gives the impression that the rest of the characters are simply not important and it sort of upsets the balance in the story. For example, Masafumi's change of mind after returning from Shanghai may seem a bit abrupt while Aki and Yuko don't seem too emotionally involved in what happened to Rika and seem to be talking about it as if it was about someone unrelated to them. Before the drama started, it was said that what Rika did was supposed to affect them or change their mindset in a way or another but this was somewhat not so obvious. In this sense, I didn't enjoy this drama too much because it was too heavily skewed towards one person and neglected the developments of the supporting characters too much.

And my ratings for this drama...

Story: 6 out of 10 (There were times when I wished that the pacing would pick up and more attention given to Aki's and Yuko's character developments which would make the story more interesting.)

Acting: 6.5 out of 10 (Harada Tomoyo does a credible job as Rika but too bad the story didn't allow the other actors to have a chance to shine.)

Theme song/BGM: 5 out of 10 (The ending theme did not leave much of an impression on me.)

Visual effects / Scenery: 5 out 10 (Other than the scenes shot in Thailand, and some random outdoor scenes in Japan, there really wasn't much scenery to talk about.)

Teamwork / Chemistry: 5 out of 10 (I don't know if the lack of chemistry between Harada and Mitsushima was on purpose. In addition, due to Rika not having met her friends for most of this drama, there really wasn't much chemistry to speak of.)

Total: 27.5 out of 50

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