Soredemo Ikite Yuku (I Will Still Live On)
(Viewed One Time)
A man is walking through a wooded area with a young woman. They seem ill at ease. Conversation is guarded and tense; and for a good reason. They are going to a very special place for both of them. The man, Hiroki, was the oldest brother to his younger sister, Aki, who was brutally murdered 15 years ago at this very location at the age of seven. The young woman, Futaba, is a younger sister of the murderer. The first meeting between these two had been serendipitous. She had been thinking of committing suicide by drowning herself in a lake a few days earlier, when he came upon her by accident. He had no idea who she was. She became aware of who he was almost immediately as the death of his little sister came up during their conversation; it would have been the little girl’s birthday. At this point in our story, she has revealed who she is, and after Hiroki had initially angrily declared her to be the enemy, he contacted her again, and they have decided to talk it out while going to the place where the murder occurred. She trips over a tree root. He offers her his hand but she is too fearful to take it. As she gets up she nervously prattles on about how good and kind her brother was and the wonderful things they did together. She clearly doesn’t want to believe the truth about what her brother did. Hiroki finally cannot stand it any more and screams at her “Hitting a 7 year old girl in the head with a hammer . . . and grabbing her limbs and throwing her into the lake like garbage and leaving her alone in that cold lake. That’s a homicidal maniac.” In desperation she interrupts him. “It could have been a false charge.” In a rage he throws her to the ground screaming at her about a Christmas cake his family had seen her family buying on Christmas Eve just four months after his sister’s death. “Did you enjoy yours? Was the Christmas cake delicious? We didn’t celebrate Christmas, or New Years, or . . . anything for the past 15 years”. He leaps on top of her and presses his hands on her throat, attempting to strangle her. “I want you to feel what Aki felt”. Surprisingly she offers no resistance . . . and he stops. Gasping for air she sobs, “Please. . . . Please continue [and kill me]. I understand. All my family understands it. We’ve been told from all over the country that the murderer’s family must apologize by killing themselves; the only way to repent is a family suicide. . . . Please, I can take it.” With an almost primal scream he repeatedly pounds the ground in frustration and starts to walk away but stops when he hears her voice. “We didn’t eat the cake. The chef of the bakery gave it to me, but my father forbade it. Probably what you saw was not us shopping for a cake together, but returning it. My father knew it was unacceptable.” For the first time, the young man has learned that his family is not the only one haunted by this great tragedy. The family of the perpetrator has had to live with it for the past 15 years as well.
This brilliantly conceived show is not your ordinary J-Drama. In fact, it is not your ordinary Asian drama or for that matter any other drama that I have ever seen. Soredemo Ikite Yuku first aired in Japan in 2011 to only a very modest viewing audience; and that is understandable. It is an incredibly intense experience, filled with pain and raw emotion like the above, and performed by an outstanding cast who do the story justice. In typical J-Drama fashion, it is only 11 episodes long, which is a good thing. Any longer would be too much.
At the beginning of episode one, the year is 1996 and we are no more than 3½ minutes into the story and the premise of the show has been laid out. A little seven year old girl, Aki, out flying her kite on a summer day, is brutally murdered with repeated blows of a hammer once to the front of the head and a number of times in the back of the head. Her body is found floating in the lake. The perpetrator of this horrendous deed is known to the little girl. The murder’s name is Fuyima, and he was the best friend of the little girl’s oldest brother, the man attempting to exact revenge in the paragraph above.
The great Japanese film maker, Yasujiro Ozu, knew that the real story lies not in the great climactic moment, but rather the effects such a moment has on the people around it. The event is important, but the effect on others is where the story lies. Soredemo Ikite Yuku spends very little time on the moments directly before and after the murder. However, the effects 15 years later still resonate with both families, tearing the victim’s family asunder and making the offender’s family virtual outcasts, forced to relocate countless times and practically go into hiding to escape the wrath of the public at large.
The story immediately moves forward 15 years. Every member of the two families has tried to deal with the horror of the act in their own way. In the Fukami family (the family of the victim), the life of the oldest brother, Hiroki, has simply stopped. In 15 years he has not dated. He exists, but only marginally so. His clothes are old and no longer fit him. He has no social graces at all. He lives with his father who passes away early on in the show, but not before revealing how possessed he has been by the death of his daughter. His closet is filled with shoes that he has bought for her each of the 15 years on her birthday. He has a backpack and drawing she made in a box in his closet. On this anniversary of her birth, he has bought a cake and attempted to take it to the home of his former wife and his other son. He and Hiroki’s mother divorced ten years earlier after he tried to burn all of the pictures of Aki that were in their home and told his wife they could make another child. That statement has haunted him for the rest of his life. Hiroki’s mother has shut down completely. She never makes any reference to the event, as if it never occurred. As she points out to Hiroki, there are no more tears to shed. She even refuses to attend the funeral of her former husband. She lives with her younger son, her son’s wife and daughter, and the father of his son’s wife, and her attitude has become the attitude of the entire house. It is never spoken of.
In the Mizaki family (the family of the offender), mother was pregnant with their youngest daughter, Akari, when the murder occurred, so at the age of 14 she is an onlooker who only occasionally expresses her opinions on what is happening. Mother has urged the father that he must look out for his remaining family, which has not been an easy task as everywhere they move, within a short period of time, people discover who they are, the father loses his job and the youngest girl is taunted at school. The oldest daughter, Futaba, described in the opening paragraph, is a mere shell of herself. She walks with a slight stoop to her posture, as if perpetually apologizing to the world. She was very close to her older brother, and 15 years later she still has great difficulty in believing that her older brother, who she loved so much, could commit such a heinous crime. Her big, beautiful eyes are frequently unseeing and it is painful to watch her as she almost silently begs for forgiveness from people she meets. She is a tortured soul. Father is terribly conflicted. He has not contacted his son since the murder, and feels that he should, but his wife feels that he should not. Within days of moving to a new location, phone calls with no one on the other end of the line begin, and continue constantly every half hour. Circulars suddenly appear, exposing the horrible family secret to the neighbors, and the family is forced to relocate again. What we and they will learn later on is that the caller is the mother of the Fumika family, who has devoted her entire existence for the rest of her life to making the life of the Mizaki family as miserable as possible. The girls have even changed their last name to their mother’s name to attempt to keep their real identity hidden.
The only two members of the two families who appear at all interested in trying to move forward and resolve their painful issues are the two mentioned in the first paragraph. Moving forward is not easy. Old wounds, long covered over, are reopened. For the next ten episodes, raw emotions are laid bare, especially when the families learn that Fumiya, the murderer, had actually been released from the psychiatric detention center eight years earlier. Now the families not only have to deal with the old wounds, but must also keep a close eye out for any appearance of Fumiya. After talking to a nurse who worked with him at the detention center and also read his diary after his release, the victim’s family realizes that Fumiya is psychopathic and has not been cured. He could strike again at any time.
There is no weak member of this cast. The two principals around whom the story is told create three dimensional characters. This is not the first time I have seen Eita in a show, but this is certainly his greatest performance. He creates a character of great depth and credibility, as he moves from stumbling awkwardness in most social situations to one who finally takes control of his own life. Hikari Mitsushima’s portrayal of an absolutely haunted soul is probably the greatest performance in her relatively short career. Agony and apology are written all over her face. Her slender, almost emaciated body tells us that she has wished she were dead many times, as life has become too painful for her. This is the role of a lifetime and she invests her character with great credibility.
All four actors performing the parents are very impressive in their portrayals, each of them attempting to deal with unbearable guilt in their own way, sometimes refusing to acknowledge the pain, sometimes going into a rage, other times into almost total breakdown.
The theme song over the opening credits apparently translates to “Even So, We Will Be Living On”. Again I have no English translation, but the song is very appropriate over the images of the present day two principals intermixed with flashbacks to a simpler time before the tragedy. Chopin’s hypnotic Prelude Opus 28, Number 15, known as the “Raindrop” prelude shows up in the background as does the uber-romantic but mysterious slow movement from the Rachmaninoff Second Piano Concerto. As is frequently the case, neither one is something I would have expected to hear in a drama of this nature, but they work very well.
Soredemo Ikite Yuku is only 11 episodes long but the pace is leisurely, allowing the drama to unfold naturally. There are no gimmicks, no melodramatic machinations; simply human beings in the most agonizing situation imaginable, trying to make sense of life and trying their best to rediscover what it means to be alive.
At the end, the separation of the two principals is painful, but it is opened ended and filled with hope. This real world we live in doesn’t just wrap up in tidy little packages where everyone lives happily ever after. This is a drama about real life and real people. But first and foremost, it is a drama about the indefatigability of the human spirit. Choosing to move forward can be agonizing, but to those who persevere the rewards can be great. For those who stay in place, not moving forward is a guaranty that you will never live again. Soredemo Ikite Yuku is true to life; it is true to itself, and is the most intense, compelling Asian drama I have ever seen. Highest recommendations.