Saturday, December 28, 2013

Jdrama Review: Last Friends (2008)

Last Friends

There are days where I'm in the mood to watch something absolutely miserable, where I need to put the woes of my life into deep perspective and focus on other peoples' fictional problems - and sit in wonder that there are actually people in this world whose lives do mirror what I see onscreen. Then I cry and sob for a good while, stifle the urge to throw something, and reinforce my willingness to keep watching. Why? Because in adversity, people shine through. Or they are vanquished, and I wasn't certain what the result would be for these last of friends.

The Cast

In a role that will absolutely terrify you, Nishikido Ryo is Sosuke, by day a child welfare social worker, by night an attentive boyfriend - and by attentive we mean the emotionally and physically abusive kind of boyfriend. Nagasawa Masami plays Michiru, a girl victimized not just by her boyfriend but also by a childhood worldview she believes in where life is cruel and you just have to get used to it. Enter a cluster of friends old and new to her rescue, including Ruka (Ueno Juri), a motor-cross racer devoted to Michuru's protection; and Takeru (Eita), a hair stylist and kind friend, with a deeply troubling past.

Creeper Alert.
At its ugliest, Last Friends explores the day to day consequences and psychological effects of domestic violence, gender identity crisis, and sexual abuse. "Lesser" hit topics include suicide, adultery, and plain old sexual harassment. Could this drama have been any more emotionally involving? It's from Japan- in a society that apparently doesn't care to whitewash such issues on national television. More power to them because, Last Friends is a hard-hitting depiction of equally traumatizing existences; more importantly though- how the relationships of its characters are pulled to and fro, towards the light and back towards the darkness. 

Best of friends?

Is it Watchable? 

YES. Because unlike other misery-laden dramas I've had the misfortune to sit through (both Korean and Japanese), Last Friends deals with this horror in a fashion more situated to real life than dramaland-ish antics. Bad things don't just happen for the sake of it, to the point where you sit around imagining a writers' brainstorming session: "And what shocking plot device should we insert in this week's episode?" Instead, we see our characters reacting is familiar, humanly ways. It's that much more stressful because of this fact - but not every battered girlfriend makes one clean dramatic break, without ever falling and returning to the scene of abuse; deep revelations between friends don't always make everything right; and not every person can completely overcome childhood trauma. Which makes their compromises ever more understandable, and their friendship that much stronger for it. 

Bonus points because after Ryo scarred me for life, I still understood his character. Try making that happen again, dramaland. I'm going to go now and pick out a nice bubbly drama of his to make me forget it ever happened.  

More up on Last Friends, the strength and bonds of friendship, and a how a home sets the difference. No Spoilers

The Saddest Victim

Michiru is the catalyst around whom the characters gather - not exactly innocent and not completely naive, Michiru is a hard heroine to route for. Showing progress and then backsliding, she wavers between the comfortable world her friends are trying to create for her, and the cold austerity of her boyfriend's. Want the proof in visual form? Note the not-so-subtle difference in sets:

Sosuke's apartment

The Share House

I don't know about you, but I know which loving home I'd prefer to live in.  The problem here is that Michiru has had it so ingrained in her head about what her life ought to be like, and that is - not being a burden to others. She'd rather keep the burden of her deeply troubled boyfriend. It's up to her friends to persuade her otherwise, but it's no one-way deal.  Michiru's choices don't affect just herself and Sosuke, but her friends old and new in the Share house, and  particularly  Ruka.  In true real-life scenario, the offer of a house full of warm, supporting friends isn't always open to the end. You build your bridges, and you break them with every choice in life, and it's up to everyone - whether or not these friendships can be maintained.


  1. This has GOT to be my favorite review of yours thus far. You said it so well, why Last Friends is tonally poignant and bittersweet and why the characters are humanly flawed yet watchable. Time for a rewatch now I think...

    1. Thank you! It's been sitting in draft mode for over a month now, unfinished. Today I got the urge to add the final touches.
      Rewatch it though? I am not ready. Nowhere near ready!

  2. I haven't seen this but it sounds interesting. It's concerning that the child welfare worker is an abusive boyfriend, lol. Nice contradiction there. I like Nishikido Ryo to be the good guy though!

    1. I was a little traumatized by Ryo - however I'm now of the opinion he is a tremendous actor. But yes, I prefer him to be a good guy too. :'(

  3. Sosuke scared the hell out of me whenever he appeared. I watched this in 2011 but I cant still remember the rain scene where he waited for michiru outside the house.He's damn creepy.

    but still i like ryo:)

  4. That just proves he's an amazing actor.