The darkness of the heart following the murder of an elementary school student. It explores the question, “What is atonement?” and follows the four students that witness the murder, but cannot remember the face of the killer. The fear of the darkness within the heart is what makes this story so unique.
I am glad I am a fan of Mirai Moriyama because without him, I might never see this amazing miniseries. I first saw the title at Jason’s Blog (Genkinahito’s Blog) but at that time I only remember that Mirai-kun was in it. I have forgotten about that post till I watched Shokuzai and asked whether Jason knew about this or not. According to him, this miniseries has been converted into a 270 minute movie and shown at many movie festivals. Mirai-kun is one of my favorite Japanese actors because he is not one of those who rely on good look, he can actually act. However, the reason I mentioned that Shokuzai is one of the best miniseries I have ever seen is not because Mirai-kun is in it…it’s because this is the most daring and different dorama I have ever seen.
Shokuzai feels more like movies rather than typical dorama (Japanese TV drama). Each episode is around 1 hour 14 minute whereas normal dorama is around 40-50 minute. Shokuzai is something I considered as SO JAPANESE because it has everything that defies Japanese cinematography, slow plot but very intriguing, depressing but you can’t help wondering what will happen next, and it shows a lot of how people in Japan behaves daily. The feeling of guilty, the reason for doing suicide, the way teacher-parents behave toward each other, the whole society in this miniseries is truly Japanese.
The story focus around the death of Adachi Emiri. Adachi Emiri (Kimura Hazuki) has just moved in to a new school, she soon becomes friend with Kikuchi Sae, Shinohara Maki, Takano Akiko and Ogawa Yuka. One late afternoon, they are still playing on the school’s yard, a man comes to them and asks one of them to help him with his work at school’s gym. He chooses Emiri to help him. Being children, despite the fact that they suspect something is wrong with the man they don’t follow him. When it is getting late, they think they should pick Emiri…but what they find is Emiri’s dead body.
Maki appoints his friends to do something. Sae stays with Emiri’s body, Maki tries to find the teachers, Akiko goes to Emiri’s house to tell her mother about Emiri, and Yuka goes to the police. Unfortunately, all four girls keep saying to the police that they don’t remember the killer’s face. The police can’t capture the killer because there aren’t enough evident. Adachi Asako (Koizumi Kyoko) tells the girls that she will never forgive the girls until they find the killer, she blames them for being so stupid by saying they can’t remember the killer’s face. They have to atone their sins.
Each episode in this miniseries focuses on one of the girls, 15 years later.
Episode 1: The French doll
This episode focuses on Kikuchi Sae (Aoi Yu). Sae grows up as a woman who is always afraid of men, especially one who tries to touch her. She refuses to grow up and that causes her as a woman who hasn’t yet had her period. Out of nowhere, a man named Otsuki Takahiro (Moriyama Mirai) proposes her through Omiai (an arrange marriage). She declines but he makes her understand the fact that both of them aren’t ‘normal’. Takahiro promises never to touch her, all he wants is for her to act like a French doll every night.
Episode 2: Extraordinary PTA general meeting
This episode focuses on Shinohara Maki (Koike Eiko). Maki-chan is the one who looked for the teachers when Emiri was murdered. She couldn’t find anyone at school because it was already late afternoon. That experience makes her wants to be a teacher. However, she has shaped her into a very strict teacher. She is being protested by parents for her strictness…but when someone attacks the kids in the pool, she calmly takes an iron pipe and beats the man. She iss praised for that but her quilt over Emiri’s death made her realizes the truth behind her action on the pool.
Episode 3: Bear siblings
This episode focuses on Takano Akiko (Ando Sakura), the one who ran into Emiri’s mother. She becomes very introvert and hardly ever leaves her home unless her mother asks her to buy something. One day, her brother returns home bringing wife and a girl, the wife’s daughter. The girl shows reluctance of being touched by her new father (Akiko’s brother). She soon sees what’s wrong with the whole scene. She is so sure that her brother touched Wakaba in a way not a father supposed to be. She does something to atone her sin.
From episode one to three I can’t help feeling hateful toward Asako-san. I really think she has no right to scare those little girls and make them grow up painfully with the feeling of guilty over a murder they couldn’t prevent. Yes they were wrong for unable to remember the killer’s face but they were after all frighten children. I feel sorry for the girls. Fortunately, the next episode shows a girl who fights back.
Episode 4: Nine months
This episode focuses on Ogawa Yuka (Ikewaki Chizuru), the only girl who doesn’t care about Asako-san’s threat. Yuka-chan has a very sad life even on the day Emiri’s dead, Yuka is always being neglected by her mother. Her sister is always sick and needs full attention, not only that the sister is also very manipulative, she wants to take everything from Yuka. Yuka is an empty body with no soul and that’s why she has no regret toward Emiri’s death. When Asako contacts here, she just brushes it away like nothing. As a grown up, Yuka’s sister still does things that can make Yuka jealous…but Yuka is no longer a small girl, she pays it back. All the pain her sister has caused her, she returns it back at her.
Yuka is certainly not the nicest girl in this miniseries, however I admire her strength. She can’t be broken easily. I like the way she handles Asako.
Episode 5: Atonement
The final episode belongs to Adachi Asako (Koizumi Kyoko) herself. She finally gets something that can lead her to the murderer. I can’t say much here because a spoiler will ruin this miniseries. Let’s just say that this is where all the mystery is finally unraveled little by little. It’s like connecting the dots where the past and the present are linked through Emiri’s death.
I try so hard not to write spoilers through this review because this miniseries (or the movie if you can get the 270 minute movie) should stay unspoiled for you to see it at its best. One thing I can say is that if you don’t like dark and depressing movie, you might want to skip this…however, if you want to see a great story despite its darkness then go find it watch it! This miniseries is almost perfect…but I am not blind because I still spot some plot holes, such as why does she die so easily or why is she there so early in the morning or why the miss the DNA, etc (sorry I have to keep this plot holes unclear to avoid spoilers). Despite those plot holes, this miniseries is still amazing.
This is one of those rare occasions where I really want to read the book after seeing the adaptation. Ah…I forgot to mention that Shokuzai is based on a novel written by Minato Kanae. I haven’t read her works yet but I am not deeply curious with her works. I bet when I read the book, the plot holes are explained in the book. The screenwriter and director of this miniseries is the famous Kurosawa Kiyoshi.
Title: 贖罪 (Shokuzai) – Atonement or Penance
Director: Kurosawa Kiyoshi
Screenwriter: Kurosawa Kiyoshi
Based on: Shokuzai by Minato Kanae
Staring: Koizumi Kyoko, Aoi Yu, Koike Eiko, Ando Sakura, Ikewaki Chizuru, Moriyama Mirai, Kase Ryo, Hasegawa Tomoharu, Arai Hirofumi, Tanaka Tetsushi, Ito Ayumi, Mizuhashi
This first trailer has no subtitle but it shows all five episodes (although I think it has spoiler, if you understand Japanese better to skip this trailer)
This trailer has English subtitle and free of spoiler, IMO.