Have you read the novel Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro? If you think it’s tedious to buy/borrow the book and you’re not the reading type, then I’d suggest you to at least watch the movie adapted from it in year 2010 starring Carrey Mulligan, Keira Knightley and Andrew Garfield. Personally, I’ve not read the novel which is the source material but I’ve watched the movie only recently in the wake of this drama adaptation. I will probably get the book soon. In fact, there was also a Japanese stage play in 2014 – Mikako Tabe, Miura Ryosuke and Kimura Fumino. However, I don’t think it was ever released in DVD form so there’s no way of watching it now.
As for the movie, I thought it was brilliant. I’m not sure how closely it followed the novel but the movie effectively captured the ambiance very much needed for this type of plot, the unsettling nature of the setting, ‘doomed from the beginning’ hints and I have to add, that damp, murky cold British weather was indeed very fitting. I thought all the 3 main cast did an excellent portrayal of their respective characters so I’m really curious how this Japanese drama will fare because they’ve gathered quite a cast here. Ayase Haruka, Miura Haruma and Mizukawa Asami.
Unfortunately, the pilot only featured 5-10% of their total screentime, mostly Ayase and few glimpses of Miura in surgical room with Asami in the final scene montage. If you come in wanting to see the cast, you will be disappointed with the pilot. Nevertheless, the flashback is actually a pivotal part of the plot. It is necessary to lay down the foundations for the plot to progress and also needed to let viewers grasp the identities of these characters, where they come from and finally, the reason of their living (assuming you watch this without any further knowledge of the plot, those of you who haven’t touched the novel or the movie).
I will not spoil it for now but discuss briefly what they’ve basically shown us in the pilot.
Kyouko (Ayase) is seen watching an operation where organs were taken out one by one. After it ended, they passed the patient to him who is still clearly breathing.
She then pushes him to an incinerator room. She injected something into him, probably to let him die. After his final breath, which comes quite swiftly, she pushes him inside the incinerator and turn it on.
Back at her apartment, she picks up an empty CD case somebody put in the trash. In her room, she opens a little basket box, which she calls her ‘treasure box’. She takes out a CD and narrates how back then, when they are younger, the period when they still don’t know anything.
So flashback begins.
20 years ago, at a secluded place deep inside the mountains and forests, there is a boarding school where all three of them, Kyouko (Ayase), Miwa (Asami) and Doi (Miura) are studying. Kyouko is a chirpy girl who’s good in arts and friends with Miwa.
Doi on the other hand is often bullied by his friends and labeled as odd etc. He’s socially awkward and will go into a tantrum fit when his fellow pals abandon him (the kid in the movie did a better job for the tantrum scene though). Kyouko being a kind hearted girl, will sometimes console him as Miwa and her other friends just look on and make fun of Doi.
If you’ve read the novel or watched the movie, you’ll know that Miwa is trouble down the line. But for now, she’s still very much Kyouko’s friend. There’s a slight hint of her attention-seeking attitude in the first episode when the arts teacher explains something to Kyouko and Miwa comes over to drag him away.
A new teacher, Horie, arrives and notices several odd things. The school seems to put a lot of emphasis on arts but not the other subjects. The school is also very strict about their health (regular health checkups and blood tests) and reminds their students relentlessly that smoking is a taboo.
Initially, she doesn’t think much of it but later on when she meets Doi who gets laughed at for being bad in arts, confides in her about the principle of the school – students who are bad in arts is equivalent to being worthless in the society, the teacher is surprised. So she tells Doi that not everyone is good in arts but they can be good in other things like sports. Doi likes soccer and actually quite good in it. Doi regains some confidence later on that arts is not everything.
Meanwhile, Kyouko who has made a rapport with Doi starts communicating more and more. Having seen how Doi loses his chopsticks and made a laughing stock at his attempt to chow down on his meal, she buys him a pair of new chopsticks. They have sales where they can use tokens to purchase items. Doi, on the other hand, also buys her a gift – an English CD.
Horie takes the bullying case for consultation and wonders why are the students told that arts is everything. The arts teacher tells her that it is necessary that the students are well behaved and follow orders obediently without questioning. The other subjects will make them prone to disobedience. The headmistress, Kamikawa then tells her to understand that these students have a special duty. So the next day, the headmistress holds an assembly to gather students who still don’t know their real purpose.
She tells them they are special and different from others. They have a duty to offer.
They will offer parts of their own body to those who are ill and in need of organs. This is their purpose of living. She tells them it’s like an angel. They are specially chosen. That is the reason for them to be raised preciously there. She hopes they will have pride in their duty.
Back in the present time, Kyouko receives a message that she will be in charge of a new patient or Donor as they call it in the novel. Donor is someone who gives their organs to others. Carer is like Kyouko who takes care of Donors during their time until they Complete (meaning die).
Will we see a reunion in the second episode? There will still be quite a lot of flashbacks in the next episode I assume.
I think it follows the movie quite faithfully. I see a lot of similar scenes which I can still recall. I can’t judge from the novel point of view since I haven’t read it but I’m glad they didn’t steer very far from the movie at least. They also did a good job in copying the grey sweaters 😄
Apart from that, I feel the pilot is alright but slightly disappointed only because I haven’t seen a lot of the main cast, I really have no idea how they will portray their characters. Having watched the movie where the cast did a wonderful job, the bar is high here. It’s also been a while since I watched Ayase in anything solemn (Umimachi Diary is the most recent movie where she plays a serious character) but Byakuyako quickly comes to mind as her darkest role. To be honest, I watched it very long ago that I have already forgotten how it went. I’m still searching for it now.
The kids…well so far, they’ve been good but I still very much prefer the movie ones. I also prefer how Kathy (Kyouko) in the movie version is quieter, slightly anxious about life, uncertain and a bit of a loner (not very but you can tell she doesn’t quite belong to Ruth’s gang). The drama, while it has parts where there are subtle dark hints dropped every now and then, the overall atmosphere is brighter. I prefer the gloomier version, yes, I’m such a pessimist.
Obviously having seen a great adaptation come to life, there’s a lot this drama will have to overcome. They can always make light changes to the story since this is set in Japan and not Britain anymore but I will appreciate it if they follow the source material closely all the way. Let’s hope the cast will shine in here too and it’ll be a tough job to compete with Carrey Mulligan but I think Ayase has the potential. Though I can’t seem to read her yet in this pilot because of the really minimal screentime.
Oh yes, this character is intriguing. I think she’s older than Kyouko and her friends but studied in the same class. She looks mature anyway to be 10. That’s not the point. I’m intrigued by her because she seems to have an inkling about the dark nature of their roles even before the headmistress makes the announcement. I hope they develop her a bit more.