This drama has turned out to be a surprise, a pleasant one luckily in more ways than one.
I was approaching this drama with a bit of trepidation because Sakurai is hardly known to have a sporty side to him that could allow him to take on an action/suspense drama like this. And to play a police officer who has to save the hostages against 10 intruders does seem like a tall order if physical combat is required. Surely you can't go around firing guns in a hospital and he's probably not supposed to be doing that considering that the character Musashi Saburo is traumatised by a shooting incident. Although Sakurai had revealed before in variety shows and interviews that he goes to the gym regularly and does winter sports like skiing (or was it snowboarding?) , he probably hasn't had that much "physical activity" nowadays as compared to when ARASHI was still going on their group activities and doing live concerts.
As such, you can just imagine my amazement that he seemed to be way more nimble and sleek in his movements than I thought. Of course, granted that he hasn't had a physical fight with the 10 demons yet, it still remains to be seen if his fight sequences will be up to standard. However, his ability or rather Saburo's ability to evade detection by the intruders so far until the end of this episode was still decent and believable enough for a police officer out of action for one year.
The episode begins by showing what happened to the lead character Saburo (Sakurai) a year ago that led to his suspension from work and having to seek therapy for the emotional trauma that causes his hands to shake uncontrollably. Frankly speaking, he did what he had to do during the hostage crisis at the gas station but it was just unfortunate that an accident led to the death of the criminal. Much as he knows that he has a psychological issue, he probably wasn't really doing enough to solve the problem and taking it out on his family. That's why I see his wife Yuko (Higa Manami) "walking out on him" as an extreme measure on her part to force him to seek treatment if he wants her and their daughter Emiri back home again. She is obviously very concerned about his condition and even arranged for him to see a psychologist at the hospital she works in but keeps him at a distance so that he can be kept on his toes to continue with the treatment.
Meanwhile, Yuko also has issues of her own at work because as a young and capable doctor like her who also happens to be a woman, she faces slights and discrimination from older and more experienced colleagues who probably feel threatened by her capability. Even before Saburo started having this emotional issue since a year ago, it already looks like Yuko was juggling work and family demands pretty much on her own and had to deal with the disappointment felt by Emiri and her whenever Saburo was uncontactable and broke his promises to them. And now that Saburo is not in the state to care for others, all the more that she cannot confide in him about her work problems. Perhaps through this hostage crisis at the hospital, Saburo will come to understand what he had done to and not done for his family.
Coming to the main theme of this drama i.e. the hostage crisis, here are my observations and hunches based on what was shown in Ep 1:
- The way Hyakki Yakou i.e. the group of 10 demons infiltrated the hospital reminds me of "Money Heist" - the Spanish original version where they hijacked a truck delivering the paper used for printing money. Here, it seemed like Hyakki Yakou had the ambulance at their disposal - did they buy or steal one for this purpose? So is this going to be the Japanese version of "Money Heist" set in a hospital? Then again, what's there to gain financially by taking over a hospital? Trying to make a political statement? Getting back at someone in power? Or trying to push forward some ideal or campaign against social injustice?
- As pictured above, there were only 8 demons who entered the hospital via this ambulance. For the other two "missing demons", it looks like the cleaning guy who planted the bombs in the hospital should be one of them, going by how he was limping in one leg. My guess for the remaining demon is Saburo's psychiatrist i.e. Hitachi who got shot by Blue Demon when he confronted Hyakki Yakou about their motive. His suspicious behaviour and the fact that he was never shown as dead just reeks of an act out to deceive everyone. Given that the group definitely needed "insiders" to facilitate this entire operation, it makes sense for the psychiatrist to be part of them and this leads me to my next point.
- Saburo's presence in the hospital during the hostage crisis would most likely not have been a coincidence. If the psychiatrist Hitachi was in cahoots with Hyakki Yakou, he would have been able to facilitate the infiltration by providing insider information. And I guess that Saburo is their target or one of their targets because of the case one year ago. Remember that the process of how Saburo shot the criminal before the fire happened was recorded on video by someone among the onlookers whose face we didn't get to see? Just based on that video alone, it could appear that Saburo caused the death of the criminal but the reason why the fire happened would most likely be missed by people who were not directly in front of the gas station's store. As such, if someone among the members of Hyakki Yakou was personally related to that criminal and wanted to take revenge, it would make sense for Saburo to be their target.
As such, if Hitachi was indeed an accomplice or a member of the group, he would be aware of when Saburo shows up for his appointments and could then have planned the operation to coincide with his visit and make sure that he would be trapped inside when the security system was triggered to shut down the hospital after the first explosion.
- The counter argument though would be that Saburo was a miscalculation for Hyakki Yakou. Under normal circumstances, you would expect a patient to leave the hospital soon after he/she is done with a medical appointment. The thing is, Saburo was lingering around because he wanted to meet Yuko who was doing a surgery in the same hospital. And when he failed to get in touch with her, he could have left then but he made the choice of heading into the washroom to take his medication when he chanced upon the ticking bomb in one of the cubicles. As such, you can think of his atypical choices as pure coincidence or that he's destined to be caught inside the hospital when the security system shut the whole place down like a defence fortress. Otherwise, it would not have made sense for them to have a police officer among the hostages which could jeopardise their operation if he contacted the authorities stationed outside.
For now, I am more inclined towards the theory that Saburo is a target of Hyakki Yakou.
- Hyakki Yakou's operation seems to be very well planned especially if you consider the likelihood that the Kanagawa governor Nagato is one of their targets. It would not be that difficult to hold the operation on the day Saburo comes for his appointment but to make sure that this coincides with Nagato's visit would probably be very challenging. As such, I think the people currently entrapped in the hospital are not exactly there by chance and there must be reasons as to why they were kept behind by the Blue Demon while the other patients and staff members got to leave at Yuko's plea. Maybe everyone in Hyakki Yakou has a bone to pick with one or more of the hostages which will be revealed in time to come?
Part of the fun about this drama will be guessing the identities of the cast members playing the 10 demons. In the ending credits of Ep 1, their names are indicated there in the respective colours but of course, the names have been covered in mosaic. Gradually, we should be able to see the names being revealed as the story progresses.
The whole world probably already knows who plays the Blue Demon.
I doubt that NTV would have wanted this to happen because being the leader of the group, his identity would probably be the last to be revealed. However, they either underestimated how distinctive Kikuchi Fuuma's looks are or how well Johnny's artists' fans can identify their favourites even with a mask or overestimated the demon mask's ability to cover up his face to the point of beyond recognition. Personally, I can't really guess the identities of the other 9 demons from the fleeting shots in Ep 1 but the numerous close-up shots for the Blue Demon certainly made it a lot easier for everyone.
So what's going to happen next? Are we going to pretend that Fuuma isn't the Blue Demon until Ep 9 or 10? Or will NTV be able to pull a reversal trick on everyone by showing that this person who looks so much like Fuuma actually isn't him after all?
Well, if it is Fuuma as the Blue Demon, I'm actually quite happy for him because he's a member of the Aniki-kai i.e. the juniors of Sakurai in his agency who look up to him and get together frequently. So if he's able to play such an important role with his respected senior, I can imagine his joy and think it will be fun to see their interactions on screen.
For now, I think this drama looks pretty promising, at least in the suspense department. I hope the action is of a certain standard though. Then again, I'm also quite wary of this becoming yet another entry in the list of "dramas which were brilliant until the lousy last episode". Especially if the motive of Hyakki Yakou turns out to be very anti-climatic or boring, it is very likely that this drama won't be able to live up to expectations. Fingers crossed that this won't happen!