Sunday, July 06, 2014

Review of "MOZU Season 1 - Mozu no Sakebu Yoru" (MOZU ~ 百舌の叫ぶ夜)

Before the spring season started, MOZU stood out for being clearly different from its competition. I don't mean this in the sense that it appeared to be way superior than the other offerings but the very fact that a drama was made collaboratively by two different TV stations (one a terrestrial station and the other cable TV) was a very new concept. TBS and WOWOW did work together to make the Double Face SPs previously but doing it in a larger scale in the form of the MOZU series would be a different game altogether.

TBS hasn't been going through a good patch in recent years with many of its drama offerings slammed for low ratings or poor quality while WOWOW is like a rising star in the TV drama genre with its short and often refreshing offerings which would challenge convention by using actors rarely seen as leads in the terrestrial dramas or talk about taboo topics such as corruption, cloning and the dark side of humans. Frankly speaking, even though both parties are working together on the same series, they are effectively rivals as well because seasons 1 and 2 would no doubt be compared by viewers at the end of the day. TBS should count its lucky stars that WOWOW doesn't publish its ratings information or else the comparison would be even less forgiving. However, it's not an even playing field for both though because TBS produced 10 episodes while WOWOW only did 5. In addition, since there is Season 2, Season 1 would never be able to give a satisfactory and conclusive ending which is precisely what is needed to get viewers to continue watching the next season. In this regard, TBS can afford to breathe a little easier due to these factors.

As I have not read the original novels, my review is based solely on the drama. Nonetheless, I would just like to talk a little bit about them. In the Mozu novel series, there are six books i.e. Uragiri no Hibi (The Days of Betrayal), Mozu no Sakebu Yoru (The Night when the Mozu cries), Maboroshi no Tsubasa (The Illusionary Wing), Kudakareta Kagi (The Shattered Key), Yomigaeru Mozu (The Resurrected Mozu), Nozuri no Su (The Buzzard's Nest) which were published between 1981 and 2002. Of these, Mozu no Sakebu Yoru forms the basis of Season 1 while Season 2 is based on Maboroshi no Tsubasa. However, besides these two volumes which were reprinted this March with Nishijima Hidetoshi and Kagawa Teruyuki on the covers to coincide with the drama's OA, the fourth volume was also reprinted with Maki Youko on the cover which seems to suggest that this book might be used for future sequels of the MOZU series.

From this point onwards, there will be lots of spoilers about the story so if you haven't watched this drama and do not wish to know the developments, please skip this review.

The story begins with an explosion taking place in a busy street within the city where many people were killed or seriously injured. Of those in the casualty list is Chihiro (Ishida Yuriko), the wife of Public Security chief inspector Kuraki Naotake (Nishijima) who was also from Public Security. While trying to find out why his wife was being implicated in the explosion case, Kuraki comes into contact with Public Security sergeant Akeboshi Miki (Maki) and Metropolitan Police Department inspector Osugi Ryota (Kagawa) who are also investigating this case from different angles. However, as the investigation progresses, it appears that the trio are not getting anywhere near the truth with the appearance of various parties such as professional killer Shingai Kazuhiko (Ikematsu Sousuke) and Athena Security's senior advisor Higashi Kazuo (Hasegawa Hiroki) who make the explosion case look more complicated than it looks on the surface.

The biggest selling point of this drama, other than its star-studded cast, should have been the suspense element in the story. With a popular novel series to form the backbone of the story, there would have been little likelihood for the scriptwriters to screw up big time if they follow the original to closely. Of course, for dramatization purposes, there's got to be some changes made but there have been too many examples of dramas or movies being too ambitious with the changes that it totally killed the appeal and selling point of the original work. If something is not broken, don't try to be a smart aleck and fix it.

What really got on my nerves was that the story threw up so many questions and a lot of them were not explained clearly nor convincingly. For example, it was hinted that Chihiro had killed her daughter Shizuku because Kuraki had found out that the child was not his. However, it was not clear why Chihiro had to hide Shizuku's parentage or whether she had given birth to the Shizuku while knowing about the parentage issue. Miki's father's disappearance was another issue that was never fully explained and it irritated me to hell when I heard Tsuki (Kohinata Fumio) tell her that she's still not in a position to know about it. Meaning that she has to climb up the ranks in order to get information she wants? Or how about Chihiro having a hand in Muroi's plot? Just the fact that she and Muroi were former lovers was enough to make her agree to helping? That sounds rather far-fetched to me though. Maybe these questions will get resolved in Season 2 but I wonder if 5 episodes from WOWOW is enough to tie up those loose ends when they have new characters and a supposedly new and slightly different storyline involving the same main characters. Besides, Season 2 is supposed to be based on another novel in the Mozu series so technically, it is not meant to be a resolution sequel for Season 1.

In addition, it took a long time before the viewers were offered some answers so it will take a lot of patience for those who are watching this to wait for the answers. I almost gave up after watching episode 5 because things were moving too slowly (at least to me) and I was becoming increasingly frustrated with Kuraki wanting to seek the truth but it being so elusive that there was no resolution in sight. I do not know if this was how the novel was written or the scriptwriter had to prolong the "suspense" so that the story could last for one entire season but I think there is a need to balance the need to turn up the suspense factor and not turn off viewers by keeping your cards too close to your chest that they can't guess anything or see where the story is heading. That I felt was what contributed to this drama losing steam towards the end even though the first two episodes were quite impressive visually and the quality of the production was clearly more of a movie's standard rather than regular TV dramas. Most viewers probably didn't have the patience to wait (since they didn't know how long they had to wait for answers) so that's why they jumped ship to watch BORDER in the same timeslot.

The pacing of the drama only picked up towards the end of Episode 5 when Higashi and his crony Nakagami tried to abduct Nakajima Ami (Arimura Kasumi) in order to make Shingai Kazuhiko reveal the location of the IC chip stolen from them. The fighting scene between Kuraki and Nakagami was quite intense that it made me sit up and take notice again. In Episode 6, it got even better now that the truth behind the Shingai siblings was revealed and viewers were finally told that the elusive Shingai Kazumi was actually a man and the guy behind caught by Higashi & Co. who thought that they had Kazuhiko instead. With the resurrection of Kazumi's memory and regaining of his title as the Mozu killer, that sort of changed the tide and pacing in the story. Another very memorable scene was when Shingai had tailed Higashi in a bid to take revenge and had a very intense and engaging conversation with Kuraki at the restaurant. I was convinced that the story would be headed towards a good direction but too bad for the rest of the episodes which were kinda predictable and did not offer as much excitement as these scenes I highlighted below. Of course, the climax scene in the final scene is definitely of blockbuster movie-level (in terms of scale, budget and intensity) but with all action and a comparatively sluggish story, the satisfaction derived is somewhat lacking.

Despite the fact that this drama had a star-studded cast, I thought that it did not allow most of them to perform to their full potential. There was too much going on and due to the time spent on unravelling the truth, character development was pretty limited. The biggest wastage of talent should be Kagawa Teruyuki who can excel in supporting roles no matter how big or small they are. The issue here is, he's considered as one of the three leads in this drama and yet his importance in the story is at best a supporter or helper of Kuraki. Kagawa's character Osugi wants to find out the truth about the explosion case as much as Kuraki does but due to the fact that the Public Security people are hiding key facts from the police in the MPD, his hands are pretty much tied.. That partly explains why Osugi detests the Public Security people so much and he didn't have a good impression of Kuraki and Miki at the beginning. Later on in the story, viewers were allowed a small and quick look into Osugi's private life and his tense relationship with his daughter but that's pretty much about it. As such, at the end of the series, I still can't say that I know much about Osugi or have any information to form an opinion about Kagawa's acting. That I think, is a true waste of someone like him. Then again, it may be that the focus of Season 1 is on Kuraki so the attention on Osugi is very minimal. He appears to have a meatier role in Season 2 though which I'm eagerly awaiting to see. Maki Youko also has the same problem i.e. her appearance is limited and merely serves as the bridge between Tsuki and Kuraki.

In the case of Nishijima Hidetoshi, the character development or rather the lack of it was what made Kuraki a less memorable character than he should have been. Like I said earlier, much of the attention was on the story developments so the characters were not really that endearing or relatable to viewers because we hardly know anything about them to form opinions. In Kuraki's case, it was tough to tell how he felt about his marriage being on the rocks due to the death of Shizuku and his wife's mental health. How did he feel when he knew that Shizuku wasn't his child? How did he feel when there was a likelihood that Chihiro could have helped Muroi do something bad on the basis of their past relationship as lovers or he could have been Shizuku's birth father? All we see from Kuraki is mostly his insistence on knowing the truth but exactly why he is doing so and what he wants to see from the discovery of the truth are not exactly known to the viewers. Is he doing it for himself or Chihiro? At least to me, it makes me wonder if he realises that at the end of the day, knowing the truth would not necessarily make him happier or bring about better days ahead for him. He might discover in the end that his quest for the truth might lead him to nothing.

Luckily, there is a gem in this star-studded cast i.e. Ikematsu Sosuke who plays the Shingai siblings. This guy really nailed it as the blood-thirsty Mozu who kills out of impulse and the action scenes featuring him showing of his "killing skills" using his signature weapon i.e. a knife are really sleek and exciting to watch. Especially in the last episode when he was hunting for Muroi, you wonder how Shingai never seems to die as he seems to come back from the dead time and again despite being presumed dead. After what happened, he still appears in Season 2 which I find it hard to believe but there might be a likelihood that Ikematsu is back as the elder brother Kazuhiko rather than the real Mozu Kazumi. Disregarding the fact that he looks quite scary in make-up and dressed up as a woman, I still think Ikematsu did very well for this role. TBS could have jolly well selected another actor who looks good when dressed as a woman but that aspect of the role is not that significant so it was great that they got someone who could pull off the blood-thirsty side of Kazumi rather than be concerned about the cross-dressing part.

In conclusion, I have to say that although this drama impressed me in terms of its sleek production quality and star-studded cast of able actors, the story suffered from an inconsistency in pacing and dishing out many questions but taking too long to answer them or failing to answer them in a satisfactory manner. It was a pity because this drama had the potential to be a game changer in the drama landscape but became the victim of the overly-high expectations it had set for itself.

And my ratings for this drama...

Story: 5 out of 10 (There were some memorable points but alas, they were not enough to save the story from losing its direction)

Acting: 6 out of 10 (Due to the lack of character development, some of the actors did not have the chance to show off their acting chops which was a waste of talent)

Theme song/BGM: 5 out of 10 (The BGM was quite nicely done for scenes where there was action and tension but for the emotional scenes, the music didn't seem as memorable or engaging)

Visual effects / Scenery: 7 out 10 (Some of the action sequences were very well-done. Due to the nature of the story, a lot of the outdoor scenes tend to be at night or at dark places so there wasn't much scenery to see)

Teamwork / Chemistry: 5 out of 10 (The three main characters did establish a relationship based on trust towards the end but chemistry-wise, I think that's still a bit lacking. Perhaps Season 2 will show some changes in the dynamics of their relationships?)

Total: 28 out of 50

1 comment:

gaijin mark said...

Have to agree. Overall, not as good as I expected. Maki and Kagawa pretty much wasted. Some of the blood and violence was too much over the top for me and I was about to give up until we found out Shingai was he/she and yes, Ikematsu was the one big positive of this drama. Think I'll wait for the 2nd season to end and see what other people say before watching it.