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Saturday, June 09, 2012

Review of Bunshin

After watching Shokuzai, I dived straight into Bunshin which promised to be as controversial as its predecessor in the same timeslot. Clearly, this wasn't going to be a simple tale of twins being separated at birth as most dramas would have you believe. Seriously, this concept is already over-used so whenever you have a story that has two people looking exactly the same, there needs to be a fresh idea to explain why instead of relying on that old trick. There was a hint that something scandalous was lurking in the truth surrounding the key characters' births so that got me interested in checking this out despite the fact that I've never been a big fan of Nagasawa Masami. Not that I dislike her though but I'm pretty neutral towards her these days. Before I continue further, if you haven't watched this drama and would prefer not to know the story beforehand, I would suggest that you skip this review.

We have two characters who may look the same but have vastly different characters and backgrounds. The story begins with Ujiie Mariko (Nagasawa) from Sapporo, Hokkaido, who has all along doubted that she isn't the child of her parents because people would always remark that she didn't look like her mother Shizue. On the surface, Shizue pretended that she wasn't bothered by these comments but Mariko could sense otherwise. Mariko was later sent to a boarding school which she attributed to the fact that Shizue wanted to send her away. As a result, Mariko has always been wary about showing her true self and puts on her best behaviour especially in front of her mother. During a vacation stay back home, Mariko and her father Ujiie Kiyoshi (Sano Shiro) were drugged by Shizue who set fire to the house in a bid to commit suicide. Fortunately, Mariko and her father were saved but Shizue perished as a result. Since then, Mariko lives with her uncle's family (mother's younger brother), while her father resides in Hakodate.

Far away in Tokyo, Kobayashi Futaba (Nagasawa), a repeat student in university, lives alone with her mother who works as a nurse on night shift. Unlike Mariko, she has not doubted anything about her background and leads a relatively carefree life compared to Mariko who seems to be stifled by the nagging thought of not being her parents' child. Futaba's mother Shiho (Tezuka Satomi) gives her a free hand to do anything quite literally although she's concerned about Futaba not wanting to find a job yet and being more interested in making her debut with her band. The only thing which Shiho makes Futaba promise not to do is appearing on TV. Shiho never explains the rationale behind this and Futaba, while puzzled by this demand, doesn't seem to question the need for Shiho to be so insistent on this.

While performing at an event on campus, Futaba's interview on TV unwittingly sets off a series of events which lead to the revelation of Mariko's and Futaba's birth secrets. Mariko has people coming up to her saying that she was on TV but she never did that. Later, she found out about Futaba's TV appearance and is amazed that someone could resemble her so much. Her curiousity is aroused as she also finds something among Shizue's belongings which indicate that she had been to Tokyo before her death. This makes Mariko determined to find out the truth and meet Futaba herself. However, as fate would have it, Mariko and Futaba always miss each other whenever they are about to meet and it is only until the last episode when they come face to face with each other.

Following Futaba's TV appearance, Shiho gets really upset at Futaba for breaking her promise while the latter doesn't see where the problem lies. On Mariko's end, her father gets so uptight and insists on sending her overseas immediately for further studies even though she is close to graduating from university. It makes Mariko suspect that something is amiss because Ujiie had strongly objected to the idea of going overseas to study years ago. When Shiho gets killed in an apparent hit-and-run, Futaba then starts her own investigation into Shiho's past and that's when her path would cross with Mariko.

As the girls investigate their births from different angles, they slowly come to the realisation that their arrivals to this world were not as simple as it seemed...

Back when Ujiie (Mariko's father) was an university student, he was in love with a female student Akiko (Nagasawa) but she ended up marrying someone else. However, Akiko was later found to be infertile and sought Ujiie's help in artifical insemination. Alas, this didn't work out as well so Akiko and her husband gave up on having their own children. Unknown to them, Ujiie actually made use of the remaining eggs from Akiko for a cloning experiment which led to one of the eggs being implanted in Shiho's womb as she was one of the members in the research team. The cloning experiment had been meant as a method to help a politician Ihara in saving his sick son.

The original plan was for Shiho to abort the baby after a few months of observation but after carrying the child for a period of time, she became reluctant to kill the child and ran away from the research team. After Futaba was born, Shiho kept a low profile in order to prevent anyone from knowing about Futaba's birth secret. And that is why she stopped Futaba from going on TV because the truth would be exposed once those involved in the cloning experiment saw Futaba's face.

On the other hand, Ujiie who was still very much besotted with Akiko despite being married, decided to implant her egg into his wife's body who happened to be going through artificial insemination as well. As a result, Mariko was born to the couple. All was fine until Ujiie's wife Shizue noticed that Mariko looked very different from her. At the same time, Ujiie was finding it extremely difficult to bear with his inner thoughts of viewing Mariko as someone other than his daughter especially as she grew to resemble Akiko. Fearing that he might not be able to restrain his feelings toward Mariko or rather Akiko, he had to send her away to boarding school despite Shizue's reluctance. Shizue then found out the truth and confronted Ujiie about it. Devastated by her husband's deed, Shizue tried to commit suicide by drugging her family members and setting fire to their house but saved Mariko at the last minute because she couldn't bear to kill her daughter.

Given the title of the drama/novel, it would have been too simplistic if the plot had been about twins separated at birth. Futaba was one year older than Mariko thus this would have been out of the question. However, having the same looks and similar interests/tastes e.g. the love for lemons was too much of a coincidence for two people who were living so far away from each other. Thankfully, with a great story from Higashino Keigo, all the loose ends were tied up properly. Nonetheless, I felt that there were certain points where the story could have gone a bit faster especially in episodes 2 and 3 but I guess it can't be helped since the scriptwriter had to pose all these questions which were essential plot developments. This was similar to the problem I found with Shokuzai. The first episode was brilliant, the second and third suffered a dip in consistency and intensiveness while the final episodes rounded up things nicely. It would have been ideal if every episode was equally engaging but the lucky thing is, WOWOW dramas are usually short and wouldn't "torture" people too much even if a couple of episodes fail to meet expectations.

Regarding this topic of cloning, people may have extremely different views which is probably why it's still pretty much taboo to be discussing this so openly. Considering that Higashino Keigo published this novel way back in 1993, it must have caused quite a stir then. The key players who had a part to play in the cloning experiment all had different agendas for being involved. The politician Ihara wanted to create a clone to save his terminally-ill son but failed to succeed. When it was his turn to be sick, he wanted to get Mariko and Futaba to be test subjects in order to save himself. For the research team which did the experiment, their aim was primarily for fame and benefits which would come along with the success of creating a clone. Ujiie failed to marry the woman he loved and resorted to creating a clone of her in order to satisfy his desire. As a result of these people, the clones i.e. Mariko, Futaba and even Mariko's mother Shizue had to suffer the consequences of their actions.

Knowing the truth about their births, it was initially difficult for Mariko and Futaba to accept that they were just copies of Akiko who didn't even know about their existence. When it was time to see Akiko, they must have been taken aback by Akiko showing her disgust at seeing her copies before her. Akiko may have been too straightforward towards the girls but it's also understandable because to her, clones are different from her own offspring and she didn't give permission to create them. Her anger towards being made use of just caused her to vent it on Mariko and Futaba. Luckily, it seems from the ending that the fates of Mariko and Futaba may not be as bleak as what Akiko imagined it to be. As Akiko was unable to get pregnant, she had said that it would be likely that the girls would not pass on their "clone" blood to their offspring since they won't be able to get pregnant. With Futaba's pregnancy, it does look like the "curse" has been broken and the girls can take comfort in the fact that they are living like any other human being with the power to love and be loved.

Having to play two roles with very different characters, I can see that Nagasawa Masami tried her best to make these two girls as distinct as possible. Futaba is lively, has a fiery temper and is not afraid to speak her mind. On the other hand, Mariko is gentle, quiet and restrained because she was deeply affected by her mother's seemingly lack of love towards her. In terms of appearance, Futaba dyed her hair while Mariko's hair was black. Dressing-wise, Mariko was the typical goody-two-shoes who projected a demure and refined image while Futaba was dressed like any other young girl these days, perhaps a bit sexier than what Mariko wore. It's just my personal feeling though but I find that Nagasawa was better in her potrayal of Futaba who showed a variety of emotions throughout the drama. Mariko was simply too subdued and in other words, boring at some points of the story. Futaba had an edge over Mariko because she had to go through the rollercoaster ride of having her mother die suddenly and faced with the truth while Mariko's mother already died years ago and the major thing she had to contend with was the truth only. Nonetheless, it was good that there was a contrast between these characters and they didn't always react in the same manner. For example, when Futaba was first told of the possibility that she was a clone, true to her character, she reacted in a rather agitated manner which showed her disbelief. She was probably expecting that she would have the same set of parents as Mariko and that they were sisters rather than they were copies of Akiko. On the other hand, Mariko was shocked as well but it wasn't obvious that she felt disturbed by the revelation which is in line with her restrained nature. Mariko keeps her emotions deep within so things were not obvious in her case.

As for the supporting cast, I have to say that they didn't get too many chances to shine because the focus of the story was essentially on the girls. Katsuji Ryo who played Yusuke (Futaba's boyfriend) did have a steamy bed scene with Nagasawa but other than that, I don't remember much of his role in this drama. Tezuka Satomi died too prematurely in the story so it limited her character involvement to a certain extent. Suzuki Sawa appeared in flashbacks only but the advantage she had over Tezuka was that these little bits and pieces slowly built up her character which made it easier for the viewers to identify with her anguish and torn mentality when faced with a daughter she gave birth to but was a copy of her husband's first love. Sano Shiro was great in showing the agony Ujiie faced with having his daughter who looked exactly like the woman he loved and how he made use of his wife to achieve that but it took too long before these were shown in the finale so it was a pity after all.

And my ratings for this drama...
Story: 8 out of 10 (Generally good but lacking consistency in quality for episodes 2 and 3)
Acting: 7 out of 10 (It would have been better if the supporting cast had more room to show their talents. Nagasawa fared reasonably well though)
Theme song: 6 out of 10 (I think Futaba's song can be considered as the theme? If so, it didn't leave too much of an impression on me)
Visual effects / Scenery: 7 out of 10 (The scenes in Hokkaido were especially attractive in my opinion)
Teamwork / Chemistry: 5 out of 10 (It might have been better if the story allowed the supporting cast to interact more with the girls to show whether there was chemistry or not)


Total: 33 out of 50

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