Before I begin with the summary of the storyline, please be reminded that there will be spoilers ahead so you may wish to skip this review if you don't wish to know what's going to happen.
The lead character Oda Naomi (Hirosue Ryoko) is a career woman working in the institutional sales department of Aoi Departmental Store. As Naomi has a curator's licence, she had joined Aoi because she wanted to work in its affiliated art museum. However, as Naomi is so good at her sales job, her transfer application has not been accepted thus she is frustrated at work. When Naomi was a child, she witnessed how her father was violent towards her mother which led her to leave her hometown in Niigata as soon as she could. As such, Naomi has very strong feelings against abusive men.
Hattori Kanako (Uchida Yuki) who is Naomi's best friend during their university days, is married to an elite salaryman Tatsuro (Sato Ryuta) and appears to be leading a very happy life. However, the truth is that Tatsuro has been abusive towards Kanako and she does not dare to leave him for fear that he might harm the people around her. Since Tatsuro flares up at the smallest thing and sometimes for no reason, Kanako lives on tenterhooks and can't even talk to Naomi about it. At the same time, Tatsuro's elder sister Yoko (Yoshida Yo) also thinks little of Kanako and has no qualms criticising Kanako in front of her brother who already thinks that his wife is having it easy at home as a housewife while he slogs in the bank and faces immense pressure.
Things do not go according to plan for the buddies as issues crop up time and again. Nonetheless, they manage to pull things off in each time and heave a sigh of relief as they look forward to the happy days ahead. However, happiness is short-lived as Tatsuro's colleagues, Yoko, the police and even Li suspect that things are fishy and start investigations into Tatsuro's disappearance. Naomi and Kanako try their best to deflect the mounting suspicion towards them especially from Yoko who refuses to believe that her brother would commit a crime and disappear just like that. Just when the situation is slowly getting out of control, Lin returns to Japan because he has fallen in love with Kanako who showered him with kindness which further jeopardises the buddies' position. Naomi and Kananko are at their wits' end as Yoko finds out the truth so they have to seek help from Li who make arrangements for them to skip town...
Although this drama is based on a novel, there are some key differences in the drama version:
- Naomi is the younger sister in her family but in the drama, she is the elder sister. As the elder sister, the drama describes how she feels guilty about not being able to protect her mother and younger sister from her father's abuse and leaving them to fend for themselves when she left home for university. In addition, she has mixed feelings when seeing that her younger sister is able to get married and have kids but she is so badly traumatised by the domestic violence that she seems to have little faith in love and marriage.
- Naomi's father was still alive in the novel but had already passed away in the drama.
- Yoko was Tatsuro's younger sister in the novel but she became the elder sister in the drama. Perhaps this change in the setting could explain why Yoko had such an overbearing air and was very assertive when she was investigating what happened to Tatsuro.
- Although the drama hinted at romantic feelings between Lin and Kanako, there was no such development in the novel. If Lin had not returned for Kanako, the situation might not have deteriorated so quickly for the buddies. On the other hand, if he had not returned, he might not have helped the women to run away in the last episode.
- In the novel, Naomi and Yoko were not acquainted but in the drama, Yoko met Naomi during the party held at Kanako's place and even worked together later though this was largely due to Yoko's insistence.
- Yoko set up a bug at Naomi's place in the drama but the bug was actually placed at Kanako's place in the novel. I thought it was a bit odd that Naomi let down her guard too much and she could have chased Yoko away for trespassing.
- In the drama, Yoko came to know about Tatsuro's abusive character when she was attacked by his former girlfriend after he disappeared. In the novel, Yoko was already aware of Tatsuro's behaviour before he got married to Kanako as his former girlfriend wanted to report him to the police for domestic violence. Yoko became aware of Tatsuro's abuse towards Kanako when she saw the bruises on Kanako's body during a family onsen trip.
- The method used to kill Tatsuro was too risky as he could have easily woken up at the slightest sound. I found it odd that the ladies did not put him to sleep using drugs before strangling him. Perhaps they could have used some other method which didn't require so much energy and effort?
- The venue where they killed Tatsuro was rather odd. By killing Tatsuro at home, they risked being seen by neighbours, security personnel and caught on CCTV. And it sure proved to be a huge reason leading to their scheme being exposed in the end. I'm surprised that they did not do anything to hide their identities like wearing masks or hats or glasses and didn't think about the security cameras on the highways as they made their way to the place to dump the corpse.
- The fabricated case against Tatsuro was full of too many loopholes given his status as an experienced bank employee so it was no wonder that Yoko and Tatsuro's colleague sensed something fishy.
- Naomi and Kanako were too eager to celebrate the success of their scheme that they went out to have a nice Sunday brunch and enjoy Kanako's new-found freedom. That was too careless of them and Kanako should have put up the pretense a bit longer to deflect the suspicion away from herself.
- Naomi going to meet Lin just outside the bank after he withdrew money from the ATMs was extremely foolish. Wouldn't she know that there are security cameras at banks and ATM lobbies? Couldn't she have gone to meet him at a place where she won't be caught on camera?
- Naomi and Kanako knew very well that Yoko and the police were hot on their heels and waited till it was dawn before making their escape. I thought that was really stupid because they might have been able to escape overseas if they left in the middle of the night after Yoko confronted Kanako.
Naomi: What if your husband was someone who inflicted violence on you?
Li: I would get back at him and will not let it rest like that.
Naomi: But a woman cannot match a man's strength...
Li: If you can't handle him on your own, get your parents and brothers to do it for you.
Naomi: If your family can't save you?
Li: Get your friends to save you. Isn't that what friendship is for?
Li: When you are in trouble and your friend can't lend a helping hand, why would you still be friends with that person?
Naomi goes silent which leads Li to ask what is wrong with her.
Naomi: Actually, I have a friend from my university days who is suffering from domestic violence inflicted by her husband...
Li: Kill him.
Li: That man has no value to continue living. A man who beats a woman should just be killed.
Naomi: But the police will arrest us...
Li: Then think of a way where you won't be caught. Tactics and lies to protect your own life are all considered as justified self-defence.
Naomi: I wish I can be as strong as President Li.
Li: You are the strongest Japanese woman who I've met so far but you just don't have the courage to use your strength.
Sato Ryuta didn't feature very prominently after Tatsuro died and Lin went back to China but he did leave his mark in the beginning and end of the story. My impression of Sato was largely restricted to the honest and goofy roles he used to play so seeing him change into that scary and abusive Tatsuro was an eye-opener. Comparatively, Lin was pretty forgettable in the beginning but he came back to make an impact later as a potentially-troublesome stalker for Kanako and yet helped the ladies to run away in the end instead of creating more trouble. I thought this drama was a good change in Sato's acting career so that he can go beyond the honest guy and goofy roles in future.
Story: 9 out of 10 (Other than the loopholes I highlighted, I think that the presentation of the story and the directing made this into a better production than I expected. At the very least, it kept me on edge so many times and convinced me to keep going on watching each episode just to see how things would turn out. And that's an important achievement because if viewers lose interest halfway, they won't bother checking out the entire series and keep watching.)
Acting: 9.5 out of 10 (The actresses generally did much better here with Takahata Atsuko being fantastic with her portrayal of Li. Sato Ryuta also showed that he can do something different this time.)
Theme song/BGM: 7 out of 10 (In terms of the BGM used in the drama, I thought that it matched the story quite well but the theme song didn't leave much of an impression on me since it was played very briefly towards the end of each episode.)
Visual effects / Scenery: 7 out 10 (There was some nice scenery featured when the ladies went on their little trip and while they were out searching for a place to dump the husband's body.)
Teamwork / Chemistry: 9.5 out of 10 (Among the characters, they interacted very well and helped to push up the tension felt by the viewers e.g. the friendship between Naomi and Kanako, when Naomi and Li were talking and the latter seemed to hint that she knew everything, when Yoko was trying to sound Naomi out for why she was behaving strangely, the showdown between Kanako and Yoko or when Tatsuro was being abusive towards Kanako. In some dramas, the lack of chemistry between actors can sometimes turn viewers off so the cast here should be credited with helping to make this drama a lot more watchable than it could have been.)
Total: 42 out of 50