As usual, I make sure I receive good recommendations on Jdramas before I watch them – and supposedly Kazoku Game, or The Family Game, is one of the year’s best? I think can understand why now this drama was winning awards left and right, particularly with respect to its casting and the myriad of complex characters.
I looked into the plot as little as I could before diving straight into this, but it might be worth knowing that Kazoku Game is no easy breezy drama. At its heart is the character building, or un-building, of those who would be bullied, and those who would be bullies. Granted, the theme of school bullying is hardly unheard of in Asian drama (it’s basically got its own genre), but what sets this apart is in the unique perspective of family life and how it effects not only the children but the parents themselves.
Meet the ‘home tutor’ of a lifetime, Yoshimoto Koya (Arashi’s Sakurai Sho) and his charges.
Welcome to the mystery, and the ride – whatever it is.
What’s crazy about Kazoku Game is that we really have no idea what’s going on, or what’s going to happen from minute 1:00 to the ending scene. What’s real, who’s genuine? Starting with Yoshimoto, the biggest creeper of the entire drama – I should admit that he scared the shit out of me. What’s his story and what’s his game? No one knows, and no manner of digging ever seems to unearth the real personality underneath. It’s a great thriller. Is he a psycho teacher/tutor or just a really unconventional do-gooder? And just how much will he push his charges until they become just as psycho as he is (if they weren’t already before?)
Spoilers Beyond + Thoughts on Character Relationships
Kazoku Game features large range of complex relationships – none as simple as most dramas would make them out to be. In order, here the ones I found the most compelling:
Shinichi is the earliest character to peel away at the tutor’s steely exterior. That this intruder is not a real teacher anymore, and that he’s using another teacher’s name comes as the first real twist in the drama. Similarly, Koya knows at first glance that Shinichi is no perfect honor student, but a habitual thief, liar, and generally unsympathetic to all those around him, including his bullied little brother. What makes these two great together is that every scene brings out their raw emotions: screeching, brawling, and a scary knife-fighter instinct. To say the two have chemistry onscreen is an understatement. As much as two characters can sizzle without actual sexual tension, these two have it.
When he’s not physically shoving his youngest charge into glass furniture and pounding the floor in abject terror, I’d say these two had a sweet relationship. It’s less father-son or mentor-student and more man to man despite their age difference. More than any other character, Yoshimoto seems to care more about Shigeyuki than anyone else in the family, including the boys’ parents. Shigeyuki grows under his teacher’s tutelage from a bullied reclusive child into someone who actually cares about life, thanks in part the harsh lessons Yoshimoto throws at him. In some ways though this was the hardest relationship to watch. For a drama that explores the horrid realities of adult-child bullying, the depictions of Shigeyuki’s trauma were anything but stressful.
These two had great rapport. Not a single episode passed when these two didn’t share the close-spaced in house sauna, and yet despite their seemingly earnest discussions (about dad’s cheatings ways most usually), did the two ever really bond? The sauna was their shared spot, but ever symbolic of their tense and crackling relationship. Yoshimoto privately mocks Kazushige, as he single handedly acts like a better father and even husband-mentor figure to Kazushige’s wife. Without overstepping his boundaries, Yoshimoto is the replacement man of the house, orchestrating the family game to his tune.
In a role that is simultaneously sympathetic and frustrating to watch, Suzuki Honami plays a mother who loved her children until they grew up and become too difficult to understand. Now she plays at being a housewife, more concerned with appearances’ sake than her actual family. It takes Yoshimoto to draw her out and face up the real world – that her husband is cheating on her, that her oldest son is a delinquent, and that her youngest needs more love than anyone knows. What she needs most is confidence in herself, but even the terse friendship and support offered by Yoshimoto could become disastrous. Mom is more a time bomb than anyone. It’s just a matter if anyone will stop her in time, because I was never sure if I wanted to just give the woman a big hug, or slap her silly.
The girl gets around – but just who is she? Major props to Kutsuna Shiori for not one, not two, but three well acted roles. Her character is basically a prop, but what her motivations are and just who she works for or likes is anyone’s guess. I loved the progression of layers though, as each façade revealed and more and more genuine person underneath. Funny how the most down to the earth role reveals her to just be just an actress with tragic past and sympathetic ties. Only now that the tragedy has passed, she’s the most normal of them all.
The Family Game
So it is all just a game?
|Ask this poor house if it was all just a game..|
At its heart, Kazoku Game is the story of human beings set adrift in a world where cruelty is rampant and apathy is the norm. For the Numata family it took a cruel and harsh reality check, close on the dissolution of the entire family to recreate a bond that strengthens and supports. Call it a cheesy moral if you like, but there’s nothing comic about a society that promotes such a reality where people are allowed to flounder aimlessly and destructively. I’m just impressed such a story was made for TV, and with such finesse. If you can stomach it, it's probably one of the greatest Jdramas out there.