Byakuyako [drama/novel review]


*spoilers will appear so be cautious if you’ve never watched/read this*

I recommend watching the drama/movie or read the novel. It’s spine-chilling and should satisfy your cravings for a good mystery thriller.

Anyone remember Byakuyako? Based on Keigo Higashino’s Journey Under the Midnight Sun novel, it was adapted into drama and movie. The drama (2006) has Yamada Takayuki and Ayase Haruka as the main characters, while the movie (2011) stars Horikita Maki and Kora Kengo. I’ve watched both adaptations ages ago so I can’t really recall much of it, just fragments of certain scenes. Hence, having just finished the novel itself, I knew it’s time to revisit the drama/movie. Movie will have to wait but since I’ve just binge watched the drama, I decided to whip up a post about it.

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Let’s begin with the major differences between the drama and novel. I always like to compare between the original material and their adaptations. Often times, the original is always better and such is the case with this novel. However, I do like several things they’ve done with the drama as well.

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Firstly, the novel doesn’t depict the main characters’ lives from their point of view. All we ever get are the impressions and personal opinions of other characters about the two main characters. There are tons of side characters and this can make the novel rather confusing at first because you need to remember some of these names, they’re recurring and potentially crucial in certain parts of the story. That said, the leads don’t feel like leads at all in the novel, they’re always behind a blanket of fog and we never get to read their own opinions. They stay behind the scenes and don’t appear much. They pop out sometimes whenever the other characters think of them or interact with them and so the two leads are very mysterious, we don’t know what they think, what they’re really doing, or their connection.

The novel also gave us an impression that the two leads are complete strangers as they never interact with each other. But we know this is purely because the side characters never actually witness their secret meetings, so it’s all very clever. This creates a very unsettling atmosphere throughout the novel because from time to time, their names will come out and hints are given to readers. We know they’re the masterminds behind all the evil things going on to the side characters and slowly, things are unraveling in front of your eyes as you realize just how cunning the main characters are and pulling strings here and there, messing up these side characters’ lives without them having the slightest ideas at all.

It gets so enigmatic reading the novel and so puzzling that I practically chased after the story. Though I’ve watched the adaptations but that was maybe 8-10 years ago (drama) so I can’t remember the true connection between the two leads and their original motive. But as I read the novel, certain things begin to flash across my mind, so vividly, like the scene at the hotel where Ryo practically had intercourse with a dead woman just to help his friend but also to keep Yukiho and his dark secret buried forever. That was sick.

So the novel only reveals what really happened between the two leads in the third act, which is also only based on this Detective Sasagaki’s own conjectures as he chases after them two decades ago. We never have any confessions from either Ryo or Yukiho about their crimes, but we know they did them. As for how they met and the reason behind all their wrongdoings, it’s up to our imagination and Sasagaki’s deductions. In fact, the ending is rather abrupt but I like it. Ryo dies as he runs away from Sasagaki and Yukiho walks away pretending she doesn’t know Ryo.

We know from the beginning this pairing is doomed. They’re destined to walk under a path with no sun, no light, just darkness as they roam, clinging unto each other, working together as they keep their promise.

Byakuyakou Ep. 1.mp4_snapshot_00.26.29_[2016.04.11_18.38.08]

The drama however, shifts the entire point of view to focus on the two main characters, especially Ryo as he narrates throughout the show. Here, they’re really the core of the show. We’re not kept in the dark like how the novel does, we see their actions, read Ryo’s minds and this takes most of the thrill away but it makes them more human in this case. Why? Because when I read the novel, having so little information on the leads, I just think of them as despicable beings and pure evil for ruining other peoples’ lives. The drama lets us venture deep into their past, I thought the first episode is incredible and touching. The two kids, their young versions, do such a great job to plant these solid memories of their innocent selves and also the not-so-innocent parts in your mind that they keep reminding you that these two are just human, trying to survive and find meaning in their forsaken lives.

Byakuyakou Ep. 1.mp4_snapshot_00.19.24_[2016.04.11_01.32.03]

It’s quite amazing how different adaptations can give different impressions on the same characters. I dislike both Ryo and Yukiho a lot while reading the novel but I pity them in the drama.

Ryo Kirihara (Yamada Takayuki) plays the son of a murdered pawnshop owner, though he is later revealed not being the birth child. His life gets entangled with a girl he accidentally meets from time to time at the library named Yukiho Nishimoto. He kinda likes her and wants to befriend Yukiho but there’s obviously something very distant about her. Later, we know that Yukiho’s mother has been doing business with Ryo’s father, who has a fetish for young girls. He would often pay her mother and then take Yukiho to an abandoned building for explicit photos and perhaps more.

One day, he sees his father leading Yukiho into the abandoned building where he’d often play with friends, and follows him. What he sees soon would define his entire life. He ends up killing his father out of disbelief and shock. The calmer Yukiho then tells him to keep it a secret and that ‘she is now the killer’. Her mother becomes a prime suspect as police is convinced she’s having some illicit affair with Ryo’s father. Afterwards, taking this opportunity, Yukiho carries out a plan to fake a double suicide with her own mother. Problem is, she survived.

Byakuyakou Ep. 2.mkv_snapshot_08.29_[2016.04.11_02.59.18]

Yamada Takayuki is so young back then

(Novel: She didn’t actually try to commit suicide in the novel, she arrives home one evening and finds her mother dead from gas poisoning. Nothing is confirmed but we’re to guess she plans the whole thing and for alibi, she pretends to forget her house keys and asks her landlord to open the apartment.)

Drama version obviously tries to make us sympathize the characters and justify their actions. It’s working because we understand where they come from. If there’s any gripe to the drama, I’d say some editing feels very cheesy but since it’s 2006, literally 10 years ago, they’ve since improved. Acting wise, Yamada Takayuki has always strike me as a good actor, especially when it involves a very conflicted character like this, someone being pushed to the edge with no other choice and guilt-ridden. Remember Crying Out Love, in the Center of the World? Heartbreaking. And Ayase Haruka being paired with him again.

Byakuyakou Ep. 2.mkv_snapshot_23.27_[2016.04.11_03.25.03]

He has since ventured into other things, movies etc, so we now see less of him. But this guy, he can act for sure.

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It’s also kinda funny to see how some actors look like back in 2006 lol

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Watabe Atsuro hasn’t changed much except for more white hairs now and maybe wrinkles

Ayase Haruka looks so young back then too and it kinda shows. Her acting at times still feels slightly amateurish but at least she shines in critical scenes especially when she lashes out on poor Ryo or exposing her vulnerable self in front of him.

Byakuyakou Ep. 5.mkv_snapshot_34.55_[2016.04.11_13.41.01]

Takeda Tetsuya plays Detective Sasagaki who never gives up on finding the real murderer of Ryo’s father. He isn’t convinced that Yukiho’s mother killed him and has a nagging gut feeling that both kids have a very dark secret. So he spends the next 20 years chasing after them, following them as they grow up and continue to dig for information.

(Novel: Sasagaki appears in the first and final act. Unlike the drama, he doesn’t appear frequently in the novel. Along the way, there’s another private investigator Imaeda who sniffs around and ends up being killed by Ryo)

Byakuyakou Ep. 10.mkv_snapshot_11.16_[2016.04.11_19.17.36]

For the most part, I have mixed feelings about the two main characters. I probably can understand what Ryo needs to do when he kills his step father, that is to save Yukiho and Yukiho’s mother doesn’t sound like she deserves to live anyway. What kind of mother would sell her own daughter for prostitution? So there’s that. And it’d have been great if that’s all they ever have to do and continue their lives peacefully. But Ryo gets himself involved in dirty works, being blackmailed constantly by Matsuura and chased after by Sasagaki. Things get more complicated when Yukiho meets him again and everything just starts to derail from there.

They get deeper and deeper with more lives being ruined. Ryo himself killed several people along the way, partly because of his conviction to make sure Yukiho lives a happy life. I do pity him for being the one to bear everything for Yukiho. Of course, Yukiho is also scarred for life after being defiled at the age of 11. There’s so much grey area in this show that at the end of the day, I’m standing on the fence.

I think I really hated the part where they decided to kill Yukiho’s step mother. That was just appalling.

(Novel: The final act is slightly different. Yukiho got married for the second time with another wealthy guy who had 2 children from his previous marriage. One of them is a daughter, Mika who despises Yukiho. Knowing that she has little chance of winning her heart the natural way, Yukiho asks Ryo to commit another crime. He rapes Mika at the house when she’s alone. Yukiho pretends to come home early to find her, thus making her the only one to know that secret. Yukiho uses this advantage to sooth Mika and one night, she told her that she understands just how Mika feels because she has been violated before when she was young. This information eventually pieces some of the puzzles together, especially about Yukiho’s past and the motive of Ryo’s father’s murder. The novel never revealed the truth as how the drama does so readers are left to their own imaginations. Also, Ryo doesn’t have a child with Noriko. Yukiho never confesses anything at the police station, the novel ended with Ryo dying and her walking away, as Sasagaki looks on.)

The novel really makes Ryo and Yukiho detestable hence, I never once felt sorry for both of them. The drama however makes me sympathize them but still, no excuses for all the murders.

Which ending do I prefer?
I’ll say the novel. I know it doesn’t have a proper closure and it literally shows Yukiho walking away, meaning she gets to live on like whatever Ryo did has nothing to do with her. So that’s unfair. But I still like this open ending, in a way, it’s similar to the drama anyway. Yukiho is still free in the end, though she lost everything.

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4 thoughts on “Byakuyako [drama/novel review]

  1. I remember watching the drama some years ago and loving it, despite its harrowing themes. I didn’t know the book had been translated to English, but I will definitely seek it out. Thank you for this comparative review 🙂

  2. I highly recommend the book, it’s got very different perspectives compared to the drama and really engaging ^^

  3. just finished reading the book myself. watched the drama like what, 9 years ago? Did not realised it was the same story until Ryo “did” the corpse. Novel was good. Can’t bring myself to rewatch the drama, this is one heavy story. Do you know whether the movie adaptation is good?

  4. I don’t remember much about the movie adaptation, it was pretty long ago. I still think the novel is best though.

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