Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Review of "Lost Days" (ロスト・デイズ) - Winter 2014

At first sight, "Lost Days" reminded me a little of "Limit" which I reviewed some time earlier. Both dramas had a similar setting where a group of friends was stuck somewhere and the so-called friendships began to unravel with each exposed truth. There was also a murder involved so there would be a witch hunt to find the killer. The key difference between these two dramas were that the characters in "Lost Days" never really got into a life-and-death situation (except for the one who was killed) while those in "Limit" were the survivors of a traffic accident and had to survive before they were found by the rescuers.

Nonetheless, what got me started to watch this drama was the lure of a murder mystery and how the relationships of this group of buddies would change due to the truths they were hiding from one another. However, the level of suspense never met my expectations and it was quite easy to guess the progression of the story where even the identity of the killer was a giveaway. To put it simply, the suspense element of this story was a disappointment. The character development and acting were also pretty uneven thus making it even more difficult for me to like this drama.

Before I begin sharing my views, please be warned that there will be spoilers in this review so please skip this review if you haven't watched the drama.

A group of six friends from an university's tennis club decide to go on a 10-day skiing trip to mark their graduation. Shino Yuta (Seto Koji) is the chairman of this club and has already secured a job before his graduation. Vice-chairman Sakurada Miki (Ishibashi Anna) is from a rich family and is currently dating fellow member Takano Natsu (Yoshizawa Ryo) who will be repeating a year and had been romantically-linked to many other women before he began dating Miki. Sasaki Rika (Triendl Reina) is known for being stylish and smart but had previously been rejected by Shino when she confessed her feelings for him. Fueki Mana (Kojima Fujiko) is Miki's childhood friend while Tachibana Satsuki (Miyoshi Ayaka) is a second-year student who likes to tag along with her seniors.

When the group heads to the bungalow owned by Miki's family which is near the ski resort, they are surprised to see Miki's elder brother Wataru (Kiriyama Ren) there. Miki is unhappy to see him as she doesn't want her friends to feel uncomfortable around him and not enjoy their holiday but the rest reassure her that they are OK with Wataru's presence. Although it appears on the surface that the group are good friends with one another, they actually have secrets which they are hiding from one another.

Rika is envious of Miki who has everything in life and tries her best to keep up with the latter's lifestyle so as to be "accepted" into the circle of friends. However, Rika is not as financially well-off and resorts to working part-time as a hostess but lies to her friends that she is working as a tutor at a cram school. At the same time, she seems envious that Miki is dating Natsu and even seduces him with a kiss which sort of sets things spiralling out of control later. It is later revealed in the story that Rika doesn't have any interest in Natsu although he seems a bit besotted with her compared to how he feels towards Miki. Rika had previously confessed her feelings to Shino but since he's been holding a torch for Miki, he rejected Rika and assumed that she had gotten over this.

On the other hand, Miki has never looked down on Rika and instead holds her in high regard because Rika is always sure of what she wants to do in future and takes concrete steps to realise her dreams. As such, she doesn't have the intention of befriending Rika just because she is stylish or pretty. However, Miki's goody-two-shoes nature does get on the nerves of her friends especially Mana who reveals her true feelings about Miki later and how much she detests Miki for trying to be nice all the time which ends up hurting those around her even more. Miki never realises that by hiding her true self behind that nice facade makes her appear as a fake hypocrite and is truly shocked by how others really view her.

At the same time, all is not well between Shino and Natsu too. Shino is unhappy about Natsu getting romantically involved with Rika despite already dating Miki. Especially since Shino likes Miki and can't even bring himself to say it, the frustration of having to keep the situation under wraps to protect Miki and wanting to get his friend back on the right track makes Shino a bit jumpy at times. On the other hand, Shino is like a replica of Miki in the sense that he appears to be so good and perfect with no temper that Natsu may have felt inferior to him at one point or another especially when he has to repeat a year in university but Shino is already assured of a place in the corporate world. Moreover, Rika is still in love with Shino and just uses Natsu as a tool to get back at Miki. As such, besides the messy state of relationships between these four people, Shino and Natsu too have problems with each other which are sort of hidden until this trip and it forces them to be frank with one another about their true thoughts.

Mana may seem like the cool outsider while these conflicts are going on between her friends but her mysterious relationship with Wataru causes her to be his accomplice in spoiling the relationships of her friends. Although she knows very well that Wataru is not mentally sound, she doesn't really stop him and lets him do what he wants. Maybe Mana may not mean to spoil the relationships between her friends but the mounting resentment towards her friends probably made her do what she did. In actual fact, Mana has been hiding her true self all this while so when she finally explodes and shows how she truly feels, it comes as a total surprise to her friends who feel as if they are looking at a different person. Much as Mana appears to be a cool and collected person in the beginning, her feelings for Wataru makes her lose control to a certain extent as she tries her best to defend him even when all odds are against him.

If Wataru is the mastermind behind what happens to this group of friends, Satsuki must be the unwitting assistant who makes things worse. Although it is depicted in the end that Satsuki never meant any ill will with what she did, her actions were precisely what drove some of her seniors to breaking point and what led to her own death. I won't say that she deserves to die but Satsuki can't wriggle her way out of things by saying that she wants things to be fair and square and that nobody should be kept in the dark and deceived by others. Her obsession with Wataru was also a key catalyst in leading to Mana's outburst so it is difficult for most, if not all viewers to sympathise with what happened to Satsuki in the end.

Although I am not intending to reveal the identity of the killer (quite evident from this picture though), my biggest grouse about this story was how they handled the developments after Satsuki's death. After finding her body, Shino and Miki simply left it in the valley which would be tantamount to deserting a corpse in Japanese law. And to make things worse, after the group gathers to pay respects to Satsuki and puts on her jacket for her, they leave her body there again without calling for the authorities to deliver her corpse for an autopsy or send back to her parents and to arrest the killer. No doubt this is a fictional work, I think this deviates too much from reality and is simply illogical. As such, besides the fact that the identity of the killer being a giveaway, I thought this was the worst part of the story.

Towards the end of the drama, I'm not sure if this was a bid to try to turn the tables around because of the potentially anti-climatic ending but the appearance of someone with blood-stained gloves attempting to hitch a ride from the group of friends seemed to hint at two things. It could have been Wataru who supposedly left the bungalow before them but he was seen with these gloves earlier in the drama. Did he come back to take revenge against the group of friends for exposing his secret and making it impossible for Miki to accept his presence? Or was this hitch-rider the serial killer constantly mentioned during the course of the entire drama? If the identity of this person was Wataru, chances are, the group might not stop for him. However, if it was the killer who the group have not seen before, they might stop to help him. Of course, we'll never know the answer to this unless there's a SP or sequel but honestly speaking, I don't think this development alone would warrant a sequel. That's stretching things a bit too thin.

As for the acting of the cast, I thought Seto Koji and Ishibashi Anna were at a huge disadvantage because their roles were so boring and predictable. Yoshizawa Ryo was OK but his character wasn't that exciting to make me remember him. Comparatively, Triendl Reina's portrayal of Rika was rather good because she managed to show different sides to her character eg. when she was worried about blowing her cover as a hostess and how she would try to taunt Miki by seducing Natsu and yet worry about hurting her friend's feelings. Same goes for Kojima Fujiko who left a huge impression on me when Mana showed her true colours and later on when she got deeply affected by Wataru's change of heart. No doubt Miyoshi Ayaka's role of Satsuki was the most obnoxious of the lot, her ability to make the character as detestable as possible is a testimony of her acting potential. Too bad the drama didn't give her enough time to redeem her character and earn the sympathy of the viewers. As for Kiriyama Ren, he looks too much like Saito Takumi from certain angles that I have to keep reminding myself that they are not the same person. Kiriyama did quite well in portraying the creepy side of Wataru but I thought it was a pity that he made a rather wimpy exit in the end which contributed to the anti-climatic ending.

And my ratings for this drama...

Story: 3 out of 10 (Predictable and not very exciting. Seemed like the scriptwriter was holding back and preventing it from being too dark.)

Acting: 7 out of 10 (The female supporting cast performed much better than the leads.)

Theme song/BGM: 1 out of 10 (That theme song must be one of the most jarring ones I've encountered in recent years. Sorry but that's really not my cup of tea)

Visual effects / Scenery: 4 out 10 (I thought these people were supposed to be at a ski resort but there were limited shots of the resort. Instead, most of the action took place inside the bungalow or the woods around it which was a tad boring.)

Teamwork / Chemistry: 4 out of 10 (To be honest, although the actions of the characters are supposed to be interlinked i.e. one leads to another, the issue is that the cast seemed to be doing their own thing and it didn't look like they had much chemistry with one another. Even the confrontation scenes fizzled out quickly.)

Total: 19 out of 50

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