Sora Kara Furu Ichioku no Hoshi (English review)

An (updated) English review for Sora Kara. I know this is random. I just have writer block right now. I can’t write anything in Vietnamese without scratching my head and jumping around like a monkey.

Sora Kara Furu Ichioku no Hoshi (A Million Stars Falling from the Sky) is a 2002 Japanese TV production directed by Nakae Izamu (and Hirano Shin). It boasts a star-studded cast with Kimura Takuya (a.k.a. the man of rating, sexiest Japanese man on screen), Akashiya Sanma, and Fukatsu Eri. The twisted plot centers around a murder case and two men- an apprentice chef (Takuya) and a detective (Sanma)- whose fates intertwine far more than they know it. You can find a good summary of the drama here.

I just finished re-watching this show, all thanks to my two dearest blogger friends Ginko and Ohanami. I watched it slowly this time, without all the fuss about plot and excessive Kimura’s fangirlism (which is chronic, but can be managed with strong will). This gave the benefit of new revelations; many nuances of the drama that were missed on the first watch now emerged.

To be honest, I’m not a fan of dark crime stories. Pretty much like Korean dramas, they must have a certain set of tropes, often so abused that they become cliches. Revenges, past secrets, mental illness, switched births, you name it. Back then, when I was one innocent drama watcher who did not know who the hell Kimutaku was, and what that thing called SPOILER meant, I peeped around forums and blogs “just to find out more”. The first watch was boring because of all the spoilers. You know who kills whom and who dies in the end, what else is there?

It turns out plenty of things are there. I was impressed. As a TV show, Sora Kara has a pretty talented director. The film is overall well-made. Few shots are redundant. The music is prudently used to serve as an important plot device. Unlike their Korean counterparts, Japanese dramas often have fewer soundtracks, so the music could easily be either over- or under-used. Each scene unfolds multiple layers of meanings. My favorite  are the juxtapositions of Ryo-the chef- and Kanzo-the detective. In one instance, Ryo sits in his dungeon-like home eating an apple while Kanzo is eating a bowl of udong in his office. The mysterious Ryo slowly peels the apple with a knife, while the lone detective gulps in the soup. Lights and shadows fills the space. Eating means many things in many cultures, but here it connotes morbidity, danger and a sense of destructive consumption. The cuts of the knife is sharp, and so are those of the scenes. It can’t get any creepier.

The plot is secondary to the experience that Sora Kara delivers. The drama is neither a tale of redemption nor one of revenge. Ryo is not your average villain. His character defies the conventions of “Disney evilness”, or perhaps, defies evilness altogether. What does evil even mean? What is right and what is wrong? Ryo is amoral rather than immoral. He does not commit crimes with a meaningful purpose. “It’s a game,” he often says. Even when back story is revealed, the show does not assert any justification for his wrongdoings. Nor does it ask for our sympathy. The dichotomy of good and evil constructed in our collective social consciousness is therefore broken down. The show gives us a unique, thought-provoking character who we care for as his fellow human beings yet can’t figure out a resolution for his existence as a human beings.

 The redemption theme is less interesting in the character of Kanzo, Ryo’s nemesis. Kanzo is our conventional good guy; he tries damn hard to manage the things that he values: his sister, his job, his identity. A detective, he is absorbed in uncovering truths. A brother, he loves and takes care of his sister. He makes sure she grows up, gets married well, and is happy. As a fellow human being, he’s concerned for Ryo and his associates (the creepy girl whose name I forgot). Nothing is wrong with Kanzo except for his one dark, and oh-so-cliche, past secret. I think Kanzo appears more real and interesting in person than in the script because of veteran actor Akashiya Sanma. I can’t forget the sorrowful eyes and sightly-tilted mouth on his pensive face. Good writing and directing help elevate the mind battle between Ryo and Kanzo. The criminal psychology is explored  at many levels, with my favorite being Ryo and Kanzo’s “bonding experiences” in front of the convenience store at night. Tensed, but deeply humane, I’d like to call it.

Despite and because of its ending, Sora Kara is essentially optimistic. The characters find themselves trapped in unwanted situations, striving against fate, and eventually doomed. So what’s the point of living on?

Smile though your heart is aching
Smile even though it’s breaking
When there are clouds in the sky
You’ll get by

The transcending ending scene features Kanzo driving alone on the road, alluding to Ryo at the beginning of the story. Elvis Castello’s ‘Smile’ plays in the background. It adds a much needed tint of hope for the viewers. Ryo and Kanzo are indeed redeemed. They don’t know how to find salvation for their sins but the attachment they form with other people salvages them all in the process. Unaffected in his murderous game, Ryo suddenly becomes so real whenever he eats in the restaurant with Yuko or sits on the bench outside of the convenient store with Kanzo.  I feel like he shares with us the fluttery feeling of going on a date with a sweetheart, and the newfound sense of accompany with his enemy. Just the fact that Ryo can feel emotions, and nothing else, makes me feel pity for him. The same goes to Kanzo, who is so likeable I wish he found a Disney princess and lived in Neverland forever after.

Whenever there is feelings, there is love and hope. It’d be very sad if we think otherwise.