本気のしるし 「Honki no Shirushi」
Release Date: October 09th, 2020
Duration: 232 mins.
Director: Koji Fukada
Writer: Shintaro Mitani, Koji Fukada (Script), Mochiru Hoshisato (Original Novel)
Starring: Win Morisaki, Kaho Tsuchimura, Kei Ishibashi, Akari Fukunaga, Yukiya Kitamura, Shohei Uno, Shugo Oshinari, Masaki Naito,
The Real Thing is a 10-episode TV drama adapted from a manga originally created by Mochiru Hoshisato. It was first aired by Nagoya Broadcasting Network in 2020 and later edited into a theatrical version. This appears to be only the second time that writer/director Koji Fukada (reviews of his films) has adapted someone else’s work for the screen as he tells the romantic drama surrounding a successful salaryman who throws his life away after he meets a mystery woman and pursues her, driven on by an emotion new to him even if it promises his own destruction.
The story follows Kazumichi Tsuji (Win Morisaki), the handsome and self-assured rising star of the sales department of a small toy company in Tokyo. He has cultivated a good reputation with his colleagues and clients and he lives a relatively straight-forward life that is only spiced up by him being secretly involved with two women in his workplace, the older and more mature Naoko (Kei Ishibashi – At the Terrace) and the younger and more wild Minako (Akari Fukunaga). Both are quietly pushing to make their relationship more serious with Tsuji but he’s just happy stringing them along.
Tsuji’s days of plain sailing enter choppy waters when he meets and saves Ukiyo Hayama (Kaho Tsuchimura) in a dramatic late-night rescue from the approach of an oncoming train after her car stalls at a crossing. When the police show up, Tsuji finds the woman he just saved first blaming him for this near-disaster then apologising and professing her helplessness to him before pulling a disappearing act. Confused, Tsuji tries to resume his normal routine but he has been shaken out of his existence by Ukiyo and a new sensation that has awakened inside of him. This sensation is love. This love is the titular “real thing.”
Attaining it isn’t easy. Their first meeting sets the template for their interactions throughout the series. Ukiyo’s waifish persona places her in constant peril, thus giving her a siren-like quality that lures the calm and composed Tsuji deeper into an ocean of trouble that includes a huge debt, loan sharks, and more, all of which he takes on to find this mystery lady.
The story doesn’t spell out why Tsuji is driven to embark on an increasingly obsessive and dangerous search. Instead, it plunges us into his confusion and taps into our desire to know more about Tsuji’s reasoning and also more about Ukiyo’s background. It is slow but very addictive as we learn more about their psychologies while seeing the scale of her troubles grow, each new revelation acting as cliff-hangers that cap each of the episodes to create a propulsive narrative that begs us to binge-watch the entire show in one sitting.
Fukada, whose film Harmonium won the Jury Prize in the Un Certain Regard section at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival, may be working on someone else’s story but the material is very much what he specialises in, the stripping away of false masks to reveal the authenticity of a person. As such, this mystery romance done for a TV format plays out in a much more long-winded but just as satisfying way as his films. Long takes, static camerawork and acting that has the air of artificiality define proceedings as we observe Tsuji gradually shakes himself loose from his humdrum existence, uncover a love that drives him to do dangerous things and, ultimately, also his more authentic self.
If you think I have given the game away, fear not. The story features some hairpin plot twists that will leave you gasping and wondering how much more outrageous things can get. While the early mystery surrounding Ukiyo has a supernatural quality to it that builds a sense of dread – fateful meetings, portentous warnings from bystanders, and the odd-acting Ukiyo coming off as a Junji Ito-esque creature that corrodes Tsuji’s existence like an apology-giving parasite – the drama is firmly rooted in real life. Indeed, I was reminded a little of Zashiki Onna but it resists going the horror route. As the story progresses, it critiques real-life misogyny in how the men treat women through revealing the reasons why Ukiyo is constantly on the run, by showing how she and the other female characters are treated or forced to adopt roles by society, and what Tsuji’s lovers Naoko and Minako reveal about their own frustrating lives and desperate expectations when his duplicity is exposed.
While criticism of a patriarchal society that still disregards the feelings of women entails The Real Thing is full of #MeToo moments, what the series is really about is the impact of love on two very different people. We see how the effects shape the lives of Tsuji and Ukiyo in such dramatic ways that, from the first episode to the last, we simply have to find out if they will be together.
The Real Thing was shown as part of the San Diego Asian Film Festival Spring Showcase 2021 which ran from April 23 to May 2.
My review was first published on V-Cinema on April 29th.