Arama They Didn't

10:00 pm - 05/19/2013

Kazoku Game: Family drama is reimagined for today’s Japan

by Philip Brasor
“Kazoku Game (The Family Game),” directed by the late Yoshimitsu Morita and released in 1983, remains a movie milestone. A cynical black comedy, it presented to the world a distillation of the less edifying social outcomes of Japan’s postwar economic miracle. The Numata family are invaded by a private tutor named Yoshimoto (Yusaku Matsuda), who reveals the mendacity undergirding their idealized middle-class existence. He has been hired to get the younger of the two Numata boys, Shigeyuki, into a good high school, which he does through intimidation and coercion, and in the process shows how conventional scholastic endeavor merely prepares students for the conformity of the salaryman life embodied by their father (Juzo Itami), who is too involved with work to understand his sons much less his distracted, oblivious stay-at-home wife (Saori Yuki).

Yoshimoto succeeds and the family celebrate with an elaborate meal at their iconic designer dining table, refusing to acknowledge the spiritual rot eating away at the household while the tutor literally makes a mess of the ritual. This is where the movie veered most dramatically from its source material, a 1981 novel by Yohei Honma that was also adapted numerous times for TV, first as a two-hour TV Asahi drama in late 1982, and second as a six-part TBS series in late summer 1983. In the latter the Numatas live in a public-housing block and the father is a self-employed mechanic who has worked his way up in the world. He wants his sons to have what he couldn’t have, which is why he hires Yoshimoto, played by rocker Tsuyoshi Nagabuchi. It’s less caustic than Morita’s movie but delivers the same message.
Apparently that message is still relevant, because Fuji TV is currently broadcasting a new version of “Family Game” (Wed., 10 p.m.) set in the present and starring Sho Sakurai (from boy band Arashi) as Yoshimoto. What made Morita’s vision affecting was his recognition that the hypocrisy on display was inherent in the culture at large and thus implacable. The new version takes that hypocrisy for granted, but uses it to titillate. It exaggerates the elements that made the movie shocking. The characters aren’t just deluded, they’re twisted. Matsuda’s tutor was an antisocial loser with a streak of cruelty. Sakurai’s is a full-blown sociopath. Matsuda struck Shigeyuki just to get a rise out of him. Sakurai not only strikes Shigeyuki (Seishu Uragami), he practically destroys the Numata home on a weekly basis, cackling all the while like the Wicked Witch of the West. Matsuda’s power over the Numata household came from the force of his personality. Sakurai’s power is of the purely calculating kind, as is the writing in general.

Here, both Japan’s miracle and the resulting bubble era that Morita heralded are distant memories. The 1983 Numatas may have thought they’d arrived, but they still lived in cramped quarters. Two of the better jokes in the film was the adolescent brothers’ inability to walk through their shared room without crawling all over each other, and their father’s use of the family car for intimate conversations because there was no privacy in their condo. In the new “Family Game” the Numatas live in a palatial suburban house paid for by the parents of the mother (Honami Suzuki), complete with sauna and private bedrooms for everyone, an aspect that’s important to the story since everyone has a secret that Yoshimoto exploits for his own ends.

As to what those ends are, it still isn’t clear almost halfway through the series. We already know that Yoshimoto is not who he initially claimed to be. It’s suggested that he’s responsible for the death of at least one former student. Like Matsuda’s tutor, Sakurai’s uses gamesmanship instead of pedagogy to get results, but his methodology is more sadistic. After tricking the lazy and self-important father (Itsuji Itao) into signing a contract with a ¥10 million penalty if the tutor is dismissed, Yoshimoto uses threats to compel Shigeyuki, who has stopped going to school because of bullying, to return to class.

Naturally, he is subjected to even more abuse, which Yoshimoto encourages on the sly, supposedly to toughen Shigeyuki up. “Real life is even meaner than you think,” he tells the boy, though not as mean as Yoshimoto, who at one point assembles his tormentors and tells them that if Shigeyuki commits suicide they will all be complicit because Yoshimoto has their bullying on video. But it’s just part of a strategy to fill Shigeyuki with a false sense of well-being before Yoshimoto pulls the rug out from under him again. In time, he does the same to every other member of the family.

Sakurai’s Yoshimoto is like a villain in a superhero comic, but he’s never funny, even when he has a steel door installed at the entrance of Shigeyuki’s room to prevent him from leaving. He has the magical ability to be everywhere at once so that he can clandestinely photograph individuals during vulnerable or embarrassing moments. And he seems to have unlimited resources to carry out these elaborate, ridiculous schemes.

Matsuda’s Yoshimoto was a dramatic construct, too, but the objective was satire. Morita inflated Honma’s basic premise and eliminated anything that might be mistaken for hope, a theme that is treated irreverently in the Fuji series, at least in the beginning. The motto of the electronics company where the father works is “Hope for the future,” a good joke considering that his job is laying off redundant workers, one of whom is played by Ichirota Miyagawa, Shigeyuki in the 1983 film. However, there are indications that Yoshimoto is being cruel to be kind, that he wants to save the Numatas from their worst natures. If that’s true and the series’ intentions turn out to be didactic it would subvert the entire meaning of Morita’s movie, which was to show Japanese society how much it had compromised in its rush to material comfort. The new “Family Game” shows Japanese society how to live with that compromise.

Source: Japan Times

I think the writer of this article made this article after watching episodes 1 and 2, only. Because  the development has gone beyond what he's conveying in the article.  But I do share his worry that the show will somehow ended to be didactic. While I do enjoy the new Yoshimoto's strange ways of "fixing" Numata's problem, I'm also hoping that the end would be kind of ...extraordinary or even revolutionary. After all, they already touch the issue of conventional-industrialized education system and conformity. So, I hope the scripwriters will continue to do good and not give us a cliche ending.
asth77 19th-May-2013 05:10 pm (UTC)
So, I hope the scripwriters will continue to do good and not give us a cliche ending.
this so much.
I didn't see the movie yet so can't relate...
I'm just saying, that the character of Yoshimoto is absolutely great and unconventional in the drama. I need him to keep being that way and I hope we'll have an interesting end.
inachan89 19th-May-2013 05:12 pm (UTC)
Thanks for sharing =)
diale11 19th-May-2013 05:29 pm (UTC)
this drama is not getting the ratings it deserves
dyan1219 19th-May-2013 06:33 pm (UTC)

It needs to be higher than Nazotoki's ratings. It just needs to be.
___varying 19th-May-2013 05:37 pm (UTC)
there are indications that Yoshimoto is being cruel to be kind, that he wants to save the Numatas from their worst natures

Idk anymore. The ~anguished~ abandoned classroom scenes/flashbacks do point in that direction but Yoshimoto's interactions with the family haven't really reached a point where you can tell where he's going with all this? Right now it's sort of all gungho 'yo let's break down the façade of a perfect family'-type stuff, without actually putting the pieces back together? IA OP I hope they end it intelligently. xD

But I'm glad the drama's not just a rehash (though the original film sounds pretty great). Unhinged!Yoshimoto is part of why it's so fascinating tbh, bc I'm all WHAT WILL HE DO NEXT THIS IS A WRECK ASDLIFVIJ.
katzsong 19th-May-2013 05:47 pm (UTC)
Well, now that Shigeyuki's life is already in order (he got a real friend/reconcile with his friend, a lot less bullied + being able to stand for himself, increased grades, etc), I think Yoshimoto is going to finish the job with Shinichi, the mother and the father. He's in the process of breaking down Shinichi, from a cold-calculated-model-student, to a normal-feeling-big brother like he supposed to be. And I have a hunch that the shares that mother bought will cause a turmoil in Numata's financial security + a great test for the parents relationship with each other.
The breaking process is still on its way. While putting the pieces back together is not up to Yoshimoto, but to the Numata.
atelierlune 19th-May-2013 06:33 pm (UTC)
I can speak on the original movie at least, and I don't know if the reviewer got it? I felt like the tutor's big issue with the family was that the things that they weren't living for weren't worth living for and they couldn't see what they were doing to themselves and to each other as people who need connections and intimacy first. The original tutor wasn't such a bully.
katzsong 19th-May-2013 06:50 pm (UTC)
I've seen the original movie once, with subtitle. I haven't quite grasp the idea and I think I need several re-watches to really get it. Though I agree that the old Yoshimoto wasn't as extreme as the new one.

The reviewer, Mr. Brasor, do have a cynical approach on things (as I've read several of his article), so he might be seeing the movie from a different point of view (probably more close to his own ideal rather than what the movie actually trying to convey).
dyan1219 19th-May-2013 06:38 pm (UTC)
I need to watch the movie first before I comment on this properly though.

There are quite a lot of Japanese dramas that lose their spark after the first or second episode, but Kazoku Game's different and continues to be intriguing. I can only hope for a wonderful finish this drama deserves. And it deserves higher ratings ugh.
45s 19th-May-2013 07:46 pm (UTC)
This is really the only interesting drama this season and I usually avoid johnnys as a lead dramas.

Sho is doing a great job as a sadistic manipulator tho
katzsong 19th-May-2013 07:53 pm (UTC)
Agree. This is Sakurai's best act so far, imho. He's so into the character, which I rarely see in his previous dramas/roles.

Edited at 2013-05-19 07:55 pm (UTC)
lady_mercury 19th-May-2013 10:31 pm (UTC)
I can't take this drama seriously because of Sho's forced acting. I'm just reminded of his Kamiyama.
aibada 20th-May-2013 01:04 am (UTC)
ikr, I can't with his acting O__o
ale_irenear 20th-May-2013 12:14 am (UTC)
well.. if they did the same history as the movie, what would be the fun xD !! ..

besides, time changes... and problems evolve i guess... people this days tend to be even more intense... than before... it happens in my country i bet in japan too...

this drama is great.. not because Sho's there and because he's my ichiban, but because the story is reaally interesting..
dramaticsurgeon 20th-May-2013 02:07 am (UTC)
It's rare that I love an entire cast, but everyone is clearly working hard on this series. They have such good chemistry together. Even the writing is interesting, and except for Galileo 2 I haven't been able to say that about a drama for a long time. The only future problem I see for the show is that, now that it's built up such an intense arc over the past 5 episodes, if it's going to fizzle out or (as others have mentioned) fall into the cliche abyss. Or worse, have the series end like an 80s after-school special with the one-liner "And remember, don't do drugs, kids!"

After watching Sho's other dramas for the past 10 years or so, this is actually the first time I truly forget who he is at times and only see his character. Even TQS2 made me cringe at times because he just seemed so lost, with no idea where to take his character emotionally, but this time he has a remarkable grasp of Yoshimoto.

Also, as I've mentioned before, Uragami Seishu is tiny and adorably squishable, which helps make his character more believable. The fit Shigeyuki threw in episode 5 that even had Yoshimoto apologizing to him only made him more endearing. I really enjoy watching the dynamics between those two, and am secretly (well, not so secret now) hoping the tutor really does end up helping the kid's family. Although I can't help wondering if someone's going to end up dead by the end...

Have to admit, I also loved the story Sho shared about ordering catered lunch for everyone on-set with his favorite but carb-heavy dishes, and how they called it "Sakurai Sho's Murder Scene" when everyone except him ate till they passed out. :P
katzsong 20th-May-2013 07:30 am (UTC)
I have the same worries as well. It's only 5 episodes which has been aired, yet the intensity is already magnificent! I do hope that they can keep up and not sliding down after this. There's still a lot of work that Yoshimoto must do to get this family together. Though by breaking them apart first.
I think I have said this, but Uragami Seishu's act really reminds me of Nino's act. They have similar expressions. Maybe Uragami Seishu will grow up to be a wonderful actor one day? Looking forward to that :D

And yeah that "Sakurai Sho's Murder Scene" is kinda cute. Like, he knew already that the heavy carb meal will make people sleepy, then why the hell he was still ordering the full set (not half) for everybody, except for himself? Maybe he's still in Yoshimoto's mode when ordering it :P
riechanster 20th-May-2013 07:45 pm (UTC)
what is this about "Sakurai Sho's Murder Scene"?? Where did you read/watch that?
tomoxtomo 20th-May-2013 02:16 am (UTC)
Can someone recommend me some iconic dramas & Japanese movies?

I've seen Beautiful Life, Hana Kimi, LIFE and a few others.
risa_kim 20th-May-2013 02:38 am (UTC)
Yes!! say No to cliché ending~~~ I expect something extraordinary from this seriessss~~~
tomoeicemaiden 20th-May-2013 03:28 am (UTC)
Really can't stand the drama. The writing is lazy (guy signs a contract at the beginning OKing EVERYTHING Yoshimoto will do in the drama, get real) and the normalization of abuse logic is triggering as fuck. They use the trope of the neglected wife/mother going mad or doing something drastic(most likely violent) in the end. All of this to show that an upper class family can be broken as well? No thank you.

Sho's acting hasn't improved that much either.
nami 20th-May-2013 03:52 am (UTC)
Haters to the left.

I am now immensely curious as to whether there is any jdrama you enjoy. IMHO, if this one is lazy writing, most others might as well be asleep writing.
fubuki_fan 21st-May-2013 03:00 pm (UTC)
Who is the lady in the light green jumper on the left of the photo please?
katzsong 21st-May-2013 03:45 pm (UTC)
That'll be Suzuki Honami. She's also a co-star in Platina Data and a lead actress in the old drama "Anchor Woman".
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