Drama Review: Byakuyakou / Journey Under a Midnight Sun (TBS, 2006)
Road to Perdition
by Ender’s Girl
Yamada Takayuki, Ayase Haruka, Takeda Tetsuya, Watabe Atsuro, Yo Kimiko, Yachigusa Kaoru, Kashiwabara Takashi, Izumisawa Yuki, Fukuda Mayuko
In a Nutshell:
Two children commit the unthinkable but manage to deceive the police — except for one homicide detective who stays doggedly on their trail. But old sins cast long shadows, and their original crime inevitably leads to the next, and to the next, and to the next…
(SpoilLert: Spoilers right off the bat! Tread carefully.)
[Recommended companion tracks: “Black Hole Sun” by Soundgarden; “Eclipse” by Pink Floyd]
“Long is the way
And hard, that out of Hell leads up to light;”
– John Milton, “Paradise Lost”
These two kids, how they break my heart.
What makes a murderer? Does it really boil down to personal choice? Or is it when circumstances beyond one’s control present both the means and the opportunity to make that choice in the first place? And when a person takes the life of another, what does it do to them? What if this person were just a child?
When a grownup commits murder, it seems almost ordinary by society’s standards, and perhaps the more sensational ones (like crimes of passion) will merit a passing mention in the local news. But when a child commits murder, why do we feel so shaken right down to our very core? We often overlook the fact that children are capable of doing a lot more than we give them credit for. They can fight, they can hurt each other, they can defend themselves or those whom they love, they can think and feel and react, they can lie and steal — they can make moral choices. It is modern society that blithely looks away from this reality, choosing instead to view children with rosy-tinted innocence while denying them any smidgen of personal accountability.
When an eleven-year-old boy sticks a knife in his own father’s chest, when a girl of the same age plots to gas her own mother to death — what does this do to them? And what does this do to us, as viewers? How do these young killers live with the implications of their crimes? What do they do to survive, and how do they deal with potential obstacles to their freedom?
Byakuyakou is the journey that these two children, Kirihara Ryouji and Nishimoto Yukiho, undertake together as they carry their burden of guilt and fear and shame through uncharted territory, hacking out their own road in this wilderness while leaving a trail of blood and lies and tears. For the story of Byakuyakou is also a journey deep into the human heart, this no man’s land of hidden valleys and dark, endless tunnels. There are more secrets to bury, more crimes to cover up before the statute of limitations expires — and beyond this, freedom.
The drama starts at the very end: a strange young man in a Santa Claus suit lies bleeding on the sidewalk, watching a young woman in evening finery walk toward him with a stricken face. The young man’s eyes film over while his life flashes before him — and so our story begins. Byakuyakou is this life told in flashbacks, as well as a whodunit told in reverse: it’s like looking at a murder mystery through the negative prints. The crimes that are committed remain a puzzle to be figured out by everyone else in the story — except the two protagonists, and the viewer. For it is the two kids who are the perpetrators of the crimes in this tale, both the old ones as well as the new. This is their story, their true thoughts and actions known to no one but the viewer, who must silently bear their secrets until the very end. But even as Ryouji and Yukiho keep commiting more crimes in their bid for self-preservation, how can the viewer judge them of their wrongdoings, knowing very well that these children were the original victims in the first place? When they scheme and manipulate and murder, when they willfully destroy lives to serve their own purposes, are they not merely fighting for their own survival? After Life has dealt them a most cruel blow, are they not simply making the most of the circumstances given them? But the drama offers no quick and painless answers, no easy way out of the moral quandary it has so cunningly thrust on the viewer.
Byakuyakou may be a riveting suspense drama, but it also presents an excellent character study — in fact one of the best that I’ve seen — of Yukiho (Izumisawa Yuki/Ayase Haruka) and Ryouji (Fukuda Mayuko/Yamada Takayuki). The screenplay (adapted from the bestselling Higashino Keigo novel) is by Morishita Yoshiko, who also penned Yamada Takayuki and Ayase Haruka’s 2004 TBS drama Crying Out Love in the Center of the World. The writing of Byakuyakou delves into Yukiho and Ryouji’s characters with such an acute understanding of the human mind and heart. There are few dramas out there that are as psychologically rich as Byakuyakou, or as thematically provocative. From the start you can already distinguish the divergence in the personalities of the young Ryouji and the young Yukiho: Ryouji kills his father without premeditation, acting entirely on his protective instincts toward Yukiho as he walks in on this perversion caused by his own flesh and blood. Whereas Yukiho approaches the aftermath of Ryouji’s crime (and later, her own as well) more calculatingly, and right away thinks of a plan to turn this situation to their advantage. With this, the victim becomes the mastermind, and the rescued becomes the protector. Yukiho saves Ryouji’s life, but she never ever lets him forget it. Guilt can be a powerful weapon and Yukiho wields it with punitive resolve — on Ryouji as well as the other people she encounters along the way — while feeding off her own persecution complex.
Ryouji and Yukiho’s relationship, which starts out with all the fresh innocence of pre-adolescent friendship, gradually morphs into this sick symbiosis of indebtedness, of ground-in guilt and codependency. And oh, how this destroys them in the end. They really have nobody else to cling to but each other, and you can only watch as they drag each other down through the mire, spiraling deeper and deeper into their own duplicity and despair. Ryouji and Yukiho have vowed to be each other’s sun, a guiding light in a world that has taken away everything and left them nothing. Two killers cast out of Paradise and cursed to wander for all time, denied peace and forgiveness, denied their own place in the sun. Images of this sun are used liberally throughout the drama (though too liberally, I must say; the director didn’t have to overdo the metaphor — more on this later). But instead of a warm, life-giving force, the sun is depicted as this terrible, almost deific presence (like the Egyptian god Ra) who watches Ryouji and Yukiho’s every move, waiting to expose their dark little secrets and burn away all their lies into dust. It’s easy to be haunted by the grimy bleakness of Ryouji and Yukiho’s industrial hometown, with the factory towers belching forth thick black fumes. And above it all, the indelible image of the turgid sun hanging in its blood-red sky, merciless and damning.
But there is a third major player in this story, the drama’s linchpin whose very presence ups the ante almost exponentially. Tirelessly tracking Ryouji and Yukiho is Sasagaki Junzo (Takeda Tetsuya), the veteran homicide detective who picks up their scent even when the trail has long gone cold. Most of the drama’s eleven episodes revolve around The Hunt that takes place after Sasagaki uncovers a fresh lead that puts Ryouji and Yukiho’s exculpation in jeopardy. It’s a deadly cat-and-mouse game fourteen years in the making, and one whose ending can only claim more victims.
As a viewer, part of you wants Ryouji and Yukiho to keep getting away with their crimes even as Sasagaki steadily closes in on them; after all that these two have gone through, they deserve to be happy once the statute of limitations expires. But another part of you wants justice to be served: people’s lives have been destroyed by Ryouji and Yukiho’s schemes, and no matter how extenuating the circumstances of the first two killings, their subsequent crimes — multiple rape and blackmail, prostitution and necrophilia, the credit card fraud and the sending of the bank teller to her death, the killing of Matsuura, the murder of Yukiho’s adoptive mother — are simply indefensible. And so that part of you wishes SO BADLY for Ryouji and Yukiho to finally get caught, if only to stop this descent into utter madness, if only to salvage what little redeemable scrap their souls still possess.
You also find yourself rooting for Sasagaki despite his slightly menacing quality (kindly old gramps he ain’t!), because you understand the paradox of his relationship with Ryouji and Yukiho, acting as both their pursuer and their savior. It is the character of Sasagaki whom I love the most, this aging bloodhound with the doleful face and the bassoon voice. He is no Inspector Javert of Hugo’s “Les Misérables,” whose own misguided convictions and fanatical sense of duty to the law reduce his world to black and white. On the contrary, Sasagaki’s unerring sense of justice is tempered by his immense compassion for Ryouji and Yukiho; he truly wishes to help these young, damaged individuals, and save them from their worst enemies: themselves.
The collective level of talent brought to the table by the Byakuyakou cast is simply tremendous. Fine acting is the keystone of any ensemble drama, and when it comes to this particular company of players, their cup runneth over. The old geinoukai warhorse Takeda Tetsuya (best known for playing the quintessential anti-leading man on the classic 1991 Fuji TV drama, 101st Marriage Proposal) leads this diverse pack of industry veterans, character actors, and new blood — wonderful performers all.
As Kirihara Ryouji. Yamada Takayuki (H2, Waterboys) gives the performance of his life. My goodness, what an actor — possibly the finest of his generation. He could retire tomorrow and go live as a cobbler on the Shiretoko Peninsula or something, and his role on Byakuyakou will stand the test of time. And judging from his diverse film and TV work, Yamada Takayuki seems to enjoy the best of both worlds: star power and bankability on one hand, and a character actor’s range and dramatic chops on the other. He may not have the looks or charisma of a leading man (the thick brows and heavy-lidded almond eyes set in those broad features make up a face that is sometimes attractive and sometimes grotesque, but always arresting). But what’s so mesmerizing about him is the sheer intensity he brings to this role, and that rare ability to dissolve into his character: a true thespian hungry for his Next Big Challenge. You look into Ryouji’s eyes and recoil from what you see: the anguish, the horror, the self-recrimination, the unbearable sadness eating up his soul.
It is Ryouji who’s the more emotionally vulnerable one of the two, although it is he who ends up committing the crimes at Yukiho’s behest. For he belongs to her and no one else — body, mind, heart and soul, and you see how it tortures him beyond relief, how this devotion eventually makes a monster out of him. In the first few years following their reunion as high school students you can still see how the guilt gnaws at Ryouji, you can still sense his ambivalence as he perpetrates these acts for Yukiho. Being the less damaged one of the pair, Ryouji at first serves as the voice of reason and restraint, still not fully convinced that this path is the only one for them. A few times he broaches the idea of the two of them coming clean, if only to stop hiding, to stop running. But as Ryouji’s voice continues to get drowned out by the vindictive squall raging underneath Yukiho’s tranquil exterior, so do his personal convictions change bit by bit, until they are reduced to this desensitized heap of ruthless pragmatism. Ryouji’s own point of no return is his act of intercourse with a dead woman — all being part of Yukiho’s sick game plan — and it is into that corpse that he pours the last drop of his conscience. (And ZOMG Yamada Takayuki, your eyes in that scene, your eyes…….. *shivers*)
So the only way for Ryouji to be truly free of Yukiho is through death. And death is what he finds at the end of this madness. But even with his passing, his bloodline lives on in his son from a brief liaison with the pharmacist, Noriko (Nishida Naomi). In the drama’s heartrending epilogue, we see Yukiho watching the boy from her park bench, while the child and his mother romp on the grass. Yukiho beckons to the boy and he toddles over on his stubby legs and puts his tiny hand in Yukiho’s tapered fingers, while Noriko watches with a quizzical expression — and you realize that even this child belongs to Yukiho still, and will always be hers. In this strange little way, Ryouji and Yukiho get their lifelong wish: to walk hand in hand at last under sun and sky.
Ayase Haruka rises to the challenge of her bloodless character, proving that with a substantially written role and proper direction, she can truly shine. I’m really happy that she holds her own against that bundle of crazy-a$$ talent that is her co-star Yamada Takayuki. But oh, Yukiho. It is a terrible, terrible thing to be emotionally and sexually abused, to be pimped off by your own mother — a thousand times more if it’s done to a child. It is also a terrible thing to kill another human being — a thousand times more if that person is your own family. But what if both the victim and the transgressor were one and the same? And what if this person were a mere child? Byakuyakou takes this unthinkable, unconscionable scenario and flings it in the viewer’s face: you’re thrown into Yukiho’s shoes and made to see her life through her own eyes. So the broken, homeless, motherless girl grows up into this frozen young woman unable to love and receive love, who blames everything from God to her own family to life in general, so embittered by her past and resentful of others who are happy in their own right. And though you cannot hate her, you grieve for her, and for this soulless, conscience-free life that she has chosen. To be this pale and beautiful flower with “grotesque roots,” as Detective Sasagaki describes her… such is her fate. But she’s a born survivor till the very end, and if there’s anything one can admire about her, it’s her persistence, and her willingness to fight tooth and French-manicured nail to stay alive.
The other characters on Byakuyakou are an interesting assemblage of sinners and saints, each one acting out their role in this twisted morality play. The inimitable Watabe Atsuro (Beautiful Life) astounds us once again with his portrayal of the oily scuzzbag Matsuura Isamu, the Kirihara pawnshop’s employee whose sordid affair with Ryouji’s mother is more out of opportunism than anything else. After the death of Ryouji’s father, Matsuura continues to sponge off their family, and (unsurprisingly) runs the pawnshop business aground within a few years. After sucking the Kirihara finances dry, Matsuura moves on to more ambitious undertakings, using his connections as a petty criminal to expand his operations to credit card fraud and male prostitution. And he takes the now-teenage Ryouji along for the ride, using blackmail as leverage. Matsuura may be a smooth-talking, money-grubbing, bottom-feeding parasite, but dumb he ain’t, having cleverly sussed out right from the start that Ryouji somehow had a hand in his employer’s mysterious death. Matsuura reminds me of Dickens’ Fagin from “Oliver Twist” — well maybe not physically, but in the way they’d both run their rackets while exploiting youths — in the case of Matsuura, Ryouji and his friend Sonomura. Both Fagin and Matsuura are exactly the type of villain you just LOVE to hate: cowardly, contemptible, rotten to the core — the very dregs of the underworld that leech off the weak while truckling to the strong. But Matsuura in a way becomes Ryouji’s surrogate father, his padrone throughout this dark picaresque. It is a strange relationship, for even as Ryouji both hates and fears this man, he realizes that there is much to learn from their illicit exploits. Watabe Atsuro plays Matsuura to smarmy perfection (with the fur coats and rock star glasses!!!). What an actor. So Matsuura later meets a fitting end — “Live by the sword, die by the sword” — but not before giving you a glimpse into his humanness, as all great portrayals of villainy ought to do.
One character that especially tugged at my heartstrings is that of Sonomura Tomohiko (Koide Keisuke, a darn good actor who always gives me something to rave about), the male hooker who becomes Ryouji’s sidekick/gofer/accomplice during their grifter days under Matsuura. Sonomura is the Jiminy Cricket to Ryouji’s Pinocchio, a personification of the conscience. It is Sonomura’s lighthearted optimism and uncomplicated (if simpleminded) nature that moved me so, being one of the few people who still had faith in Ryouji’s innate goodness. Echoing this unstinting trust is another player in the story — Tanigushi Mafumi (Yo Kimiko), the kind librarian who provides the moral core to Ryouji and Yukiho’s story, as well as the nurturing presence that these two children never received at home. To them she acts as lighthouse, repository of their secrets, and (in the more humorous moments) dispenser of love advice — all rolled into one affectionate package. These children have practically grown to be her own flesh and blood, and she loves them with a mother’s unconditional love — even though she is to realize much later how far they have truly strayed. Assuming a less pivotal role is Yukiho’s adoptive mother Karasawa Reiko (Yachigusa Kaoru), the elderly ikebana teacher who, despite her misgivings, chooses in good faith to love this strange, secretive daughter of hers — but later pays for it with her own life.
The subplot that I enjoyed the most (well, as much as you can ever “enjoy” anything about Byakuyakou, lol) is the one involving the cute eligible bachelor Shinozuka Kazunari (Kashiwabara Takashi) who starts dating Yukiho in her college freshman year. Yukiho is flattered by his attention and a part of her (understandably) yearns for a normal relationship outside of this hermetic world she has shared with Ryouji for so long. This new development obviously does not sit well with Ryouiji, and soon it is his turn to fly into a jealous rage. But in a most unusual twist, it is Yukiho’s dumpy, myopic friend Eriko (Otsuka Chihiro) who unintentionally replaces Yukiho in Shinozuka’s budding affections. (I love how Shinozuka is not just another playboy cliché, but can see past appearances and really like Eriko for the warmhearted soul that she is.) This throws a monkey wrench into Yukiho’s mercenary designs (i.e. she needs to hook somebody rich so she can open her boutique, and what better catch than Shinozuka), and soon enough, her spiteful alter ego Psycho Yukiho strikes again. (Oh, Eriko.) I LOVE that Shinozuka begins to sense something off about Yukiho, a niggling suspicion that grows into full-blown distrust over the years — although (as with Detective Sasagaki) it is never fully confirmed until much later. And I love how Shinozuka later joins forces with Sasagaki in the final act of the drama, when they both uncover a telling pattern in the rape+blackmail cases and soon trace the common denominator to Yukiho and Ryouji. Kashiwabara Takashi (Love Letter) has dreamy good looks, and I’d put him in my top 5 classically handsome J-actors — if it weren’t for those snaggy little teeth of his, which could be used to fell a pine tree. (Ever heard of dentists, Kashiwabara my sweet? *nasty grin*)
I could go on and on about the wellspring of talent that is the Byakuyakou cast: Don’t you just love Sasagaki’s junior partner Koga Higashi (Tanaka Koutaro), the stouthearted family man with the chili powder addiction? Granted — he’s a bit of a cliché, the token “Brave Young Lawman Who Dies!” of many a crime thriller, and as soon as I noticed the father-son affection between Sasagaki and Koga, as soon as I saw Koga’s loving young wife and cute little kiddo, I had a baaaad, baaaaad feeling he wasn’t going to survive the story, tsk. But even clichés become real people you can root for when they’re written and portrayed well. After Koga’s death you can see how it devastates Sasagaki to the brink of giving up (that breakdown scene where he dumps chili powder into his ramen in the empty precinct corridor — aaaaahrhghghghgh), how Koga’s memory (OMG that framed family photo — aaaaarghhherhgrhgh) gives Sasagaki the inspiration, the burning drive to soldier on alone and get to the bottom of this deep-rooted mystery that has claimed his young partner’s life. Then there’s Hirata Misturu as Ryouji’s pedophile of a father (hey it’s Teppei’s boss from Love Generation! hehe); and Yukiho’s boozy pimp of a mother (Kawai Michiko); and Ryouji’s emotionally crippled mother (Aso Yumi), who utters what has to the most shattering line of the entire drama before she takes her own life: “The boy is still in the air duct…” And it kills you to know that had she waited a bit longer, she would’ve at least found something to live for — in Ryouji’s son. And I must mention Matoba Koji who cameos as Enomoto, the Yakuza boss who realizes Ryouji’s potential value to his own operations — with or without Matsuura acting as their broker, and even better without.
And then we have those two kids, Izumisawa Yuki (as Young Ryouji), and Fukuda Mayuko (as Young Yukiho). My goodness. WHERE did they find these little marvels??? I’ve seen dramas with child actors ranging from the insufferably hammy to the insufferably adorable, but never before have I encountered a drama where kids have had to play individuals so damaged, so psychologically f**ked-up, killers for Pete’s sake! The first episode of Byakuyakou is so critical to the rest of the drama: if you don’t root for the characters as kids, you’ll never root for them as adults. And correspondingly, if you can’t see the continuity in the portrayal of the characters from childhood to adulthood, if there’s a disconnect in physical appearance and behavior from the child to the adult, then you won’t find yourself believing in the characters, either. These child actors playing Ryouji and Yukiho winningly provide that character continuity, and never once do they make you feel like they’re acting at all. Such naturally gifted performers are so hard to come by, and I sincerely hope we see more of these two in the coming years.
For all its excellent qualities, Byakuyakou is not without its flaws. Probably the most glaring one of all is the drama’s excessive indulgence in visual symbolism. The “Gone With the Wind” paperbacks and Scarlett O’Hara fixation… The single white snowflake, the single white flower… The ever-watchful sun. These images have immense poetic potential (e.g. the single white snowflake/flower represents the moral purity that Yukiho inwardly yearns for but cannot attain, etc.). But imagery and symbolism work best with subtlety: a few allusions per image ought to be enough for one drama. But when the writer/directors jackhammer them into the viewer’s consciousness every bleeping chance they can use, when they have to spell it out that They! Are! Meaningful! Very! Very! Meaningful! To! The! Story! And! The! Characters!!! — then the constant references become stale right off the bat, not to mention counterproductive as hell. This isn’t emotional spoon-feeding, this is emotional shoveling-down-your-gullet-and-forcing-you-to-swallow (say “ahhh!”). Just let me make those mental linkages on my own, dammit. Case in point: Okay, so Yukiho feels this strange affinity to Scarlett O’Hara, I get it. But to set up a scene where she sees Shinozuka reading the same book at a sidewalk café? Coincidence — or plot contrivance? What — so she wouldn’t be attracted to the guy if the book had been a Tom Clancy spy novel, instead? Durrr. (And since we’re on the topic, I also hated how Ryouji and Yukiho would communicate via letters inserted in copies of “Gone With the Wind” at their hometown library — OH COME ON. It’s a public library. You don’t leave self-incriminating messages (e.g. “Dear Ryo, I killed Mummy. XOXO Yukiho”) when you’re supposedly doing all that you can to stay under the radar and — oh, I don’t know, maybe NOT GET CAUGHT BY THE POLIZEI??? Durrrrrr.) Why do you DO this to us, Jdoramas???? Can you not trust the viewers to think for themselves??!?1!!??#$^$#@?#@??# Don’t treat us like we’re stoooopid, for fraaaak’s sake.
Rant over. But wait — I have another bone to pick with this drama!!! And this time, it’s the direction that’s mostly to blame. I hated the overwrought treatment of two pivotal scenes that could have been brilliantly executed but ended up failing miserably. Scene 1: Yukiho’s iconoclastic hissy fit in the little chapel with a stricken Ryouji looking on, helpless to stop the uncontrollable madness surging through her as she trashes the church interiors while cursing God and the angels and the saints in heaven and organized religion in general. This scene marks a crucial moment for Ryouji, because it’s what finally impels him to go over to the dark side. But aaaaaahhaarghhghgh the scene was just too bloody loooong, and despite the sheer racket it must have made, the guards sure took their sweet time in “rushing over” to accost the two intruders/vandals. So there was no one else in the vicinity (roving guards or priests or churchgoers or passers-by?), no one at all who heard the commotion from outside? COME ON. And there were just too many shots of Ayase Haruka screaming at the stained glass and the giant crucifix, too many shots of her smashing up the religious paraphernalia. The first few seconds of the scene gave me goosebumps, and the expressions on the faces of Ayase and Yamada were spot-on, but apparently the director(s) wanted to spin out the scene to five times longer than it should have been. Stupid, stupid.
Scene 2: This is the most crucial moment of all, but the director(s) messed it up just the same. I’m talking about Ryouji’s death scene at the start and close of the drama. The build-up to his death was terrific, though: Sasagaki finally confronts Ryouji and shows him the way out his personal hell, like a father entreating his prodigal son to come home. This scene breaks your heart because at the end of it all, the prodigal son rejects his last chance at redemption. So Ryouji falls from the bridge, the knife he has used again and again embedded deep in its final resting place: its master’s body (poetic justice, perhaps?). It also happens to be Yukiho’s Big Night, the opening of her R&Y boutique. She sees him gasping on the sidewalk, his lifeblood seeping through his Santa Claus suit. What to do, what to do? Should she go over and try to save him, but risk exposing their closely guarded relationship? Or should she walk away without looking back, knowing that this is exactly what he wants her to do? Now, it is Ryouji’s turn to raise that finger and point the opposite way, towards safety and freedom. This scene could have been great, really it could, but the direction was a disaster. Again, the scene was just so emotionally manipulative and long-drawn-out. Cut to Ryouji’s face as he smiles bravely at Yukiho, willing her to sever their last remaining bond. Cut to Yukiho frozen in her spot, indecision all over her face. (I have to say that Ayase came up wanting in this climactic moment. The only person you’ve ever loved is dying out there in the freezing cold, and you’ll never see him again, and he’s telling you to save yourself instead of trying to help him. What are you going to DO? Ayase’s expression lacked the agonized spasms that should have overlain her incertitude. I felt she should’ve given more.) Cut to Ryouji. Cut to Yukiho. Cut to Ryouji. Cut to Yukiho. Cut to the USELESS PEDESTRIANS who don’t lift a finger to help Ryouji or at least call for an ambulance. — Bad, bad direction, argggh!!!! It just wasn’t believable for the passers-by to look on stupidly while Ryouji lay bleeding on the street, a knife sticking out of his body. But the directors in their infinite wisdom apparently believed that more is more, hence their wonderfully astute decision to milk Ryouji’s protracted death scene of its last drop of sentimentality. Thanks for the melodrama overkill. Not.
The scene would have worked much, much better with a more realistic treatment, tighter editing, and yes — better acting from Mlle. Ayase. Just picture this: Ryouji’s fall causes a commotion on the sidewalk, with several good Samaritans stopping to see what’s wrong amid the crush of Christmas shoppers. And through the blur of strangers milling around him and disjointed voices addressing him in urgent tones, through the haze of blood and pain and falling snow, Ryouji catches sight of Yukiho, a vision in her silvery-white gown and fur coat, diamonds dripping from her ears and neck. She’s standing some distance behind the growing crowd of lookers-on, naked anguish on her ashen face. Their eyes meet. He uses his last ounce of strength to lift a blood-soaked finger and point away from himself, away from them, away from this “riotous madness” they have spawned together. Leave, he is telling her. And LIVE. So she turns away, the shame and self-loathing on her face mingled with — relief. For this is what she really desires, to be free of him at last. And he has just shown her the way out. Somewhere in the distance, Ryouji hears the old detective Sasagaki calling out to him in that plaintive bassoon voice, a sound that is soon drowned out by the roaring in his own ears. Ryouji sees his own life flash before him, the same wasted life we as viewers have witnessed through the course of this drama. Ryouji’s last memory is that of Yukiho’s slim form as she walks away — never looking back, a silvery phantasm gliding underneath a snowy, starlit sky, towards the dark side of the moon. The barest whisper of a smile hovers on Ryouji’s bloodless lips, before his own world fades to black.
The Byakuyakou theme song “Kage” (“Shadow”) by Shibasaki Kou, seems tailor-made for the drama. And the music video used in the end credits of the first and last episodes, featuring just the four actors who played Ryouji and Yukiho from childhood to adulthood, will make you weep all over again.
Artistic & technical merit: A-
Entertainment value: B+
“Black Hole Sun” by Soundgarden (Superunknown, 1994)
In my eyes, in disposed,
In disguise, as no one knows
Hides the face, lies the snake
The sun in my disgrace
Boiling heat, summer stench
‘Neath the black the sky looks dead
Call my name through the cream
And I’ll hear you scream again
Black hole sun
Won’t you come
And wash away the rain
Black hole sun
Won’t you come
Won’t you come
Stuttering, cold and damp
Steal the warm wind tired friend
Times are gone for honest men…
“Eclipse” by Pink Floyd (The Dark Side of the Moon, 1973)
All that you touch / All that you see
All that you taste / All you feel.
All that you love / All that you hate
All you distrust / All you save.
All that you give / All that you deal
All that you buy, beg, borrow or steal.
All you create / All you destroy
All that you do / All that you say.
All that you eat / And everyone you meet
All that you slight / And everyone you fight.
All that is now / All that is gone
All that’s to come
And everything under the sun is in tune
But the sun is eclipsed by the moon.
Photo credits: azndream.over-blog.com, dramauniverse.com, dramawiki.com, fizzlex3.wordpress.com, movie.zing.vn, nautiljon.com, vidom.org, sushi-bar-fansub.info, zdoramo.vox.com
Title credit: “Road to Perdition” by M.A. Collins and R.P. Rayner (DC Comics, 1998)