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January 23, 2009


JDrama – Bloody Monday (2008) Review

by Master Pillow

There was a point during the first season of Keifer Sutherland’s 24 where I remembered thinking to myself, “Okay, this is about to jump the shark.” After merrily buzzing along at warp speed the story suddenly seemed to run out of ideas when Jack Bauer’s (Keifer Sutherland) wife suddenly developed a severe case of amnesia which is one of the most ridiculously overwrought and overused plot devices imaginable.  To its credit, the inclusion of such a silly soap opera subplot didn’t torpedo the show as it managed to right itself and keep going with a wonderful marriage of tense situations and compelling action.

In short, although a concept such as 24 is contrived and almost totally lacking in any sort of reality it still manages to succeed because: 1) The performances are genuinely affecting 2) The actions scenes are mostly believable in that they don’t usually break the laws of physics 3) The direction is spot on especially when it comes time to ratchet up the suspense 4) The included twists are well integrated into the story 5) As farfetched as it seems the overall narrative still relies on simple logically structure.

Bloody Monday, the Japanese drama that wants to mimic 24, flubs every single one of these rules and does so in spectacularly ludicrous fashion. There’s no point beating around the bush here as audiences are going to be totally flabbergasted by the bevy of outlandish plot devices, illogical decisions, totally unsympathetic characters, generic action set pieces and a total lack of polish that leaves the show a flaming wreck of cinematic bile. I rarely lurch into such abject invectives but this is one of those shows that I couldn’t help but constantly shake my head in pure horror at some of the inherently broken logic that permeates each and every frame.

On paper Bloody Monday sounds as if it could be a winner. A cult organization manages to get its hands on a potent biological weapon called Bloody-X and conspires to release it into the atmosphere thus killing most of Tokyo’s population. In an effort to stop them the secret government organization called Third-I brings in crack hacker Takagi Fujimaru (Miura Haruma) aka Falcon to attempt to break into the cult’s network and discover their ultimate goal. Unfortunately, Falcon has a ton of other issues most pressing being that his father Takagi Ryonosuke (Tanaka Tetsushi), a former member of Third-I, seems to have gone rogue and joined the cultists while his sister Takagi Haruka (Kawashima Umika) is in great need of a kidney transplant. Will Falcon manage to unravel the mysteries behind the cult and his father’s traitorous actions while saving his sister? Take a guess.

Let’s take a look at some of the various issues here. First and foremost are the performances and while you can’t say that everyone involved has just graduated from acting school with a D minus the overriding problem is that the story makes every character undergo tremendous bouts of total stupidity. This unfortunately is no exaggeration as both the heroic members of Third-I and the cult followers routinely engage in a sort of ongoing battle for the award for worst decision making of all time. People who should be smart end up making continuous rookie mistakes that in reality would probably lead to certain death but they are only saved by a script that spares their lives with no rhyme or reason.

Take for example this scene which occurs late in the series where the commander of Third-I Kirishima Goro (Yoshizawa Hisashi) and his best agent Kano Ikuma (Matsushige Yutaka) discover that one of the detectives is a double agent. They track him to his car where he sits in the driver’s seat and instead of following standard police procedure they nonchalantly open the doors, sit down, and verbally confront him with the revelation that he’s a spy. The spy smiles and then laughs maniacally before pulling out his gun in an attempt to shoot while Kano does the same. Now think about that. Why didn’t Kano and Kirishima have their guns out while they entered the car? It would only be prudent to do so as it would have given the spy no time to react. Instead, by just sitting down inside the car without disarming the spy they set up a dangerous scenario which ultimately ends in a shootout for the only reason in making the scene more dramatic.

In another case a Third-I member Minami Kaoru (Ashina Sei) manages to disarm a brutal hitman but then for no apparent reason decides to slowly get so close to him that he in turn disarms her and then beats her into unconsciousness. The hitman in question is the stereotypical cool assassin who wears shades, a long black trench coat and walks in a slow menacing fashion even though the people he is chasing are breaking the 100 meter dash record.

What about our hero Falcon and his relationship with Third-I who even though they know the cult members are after him they still decide to continually send him home or let him out of their sight with no backup? There’s always the head priest of the cult Kamishima Shimon (Shimada Kyusaku) who comes off as a low rent Hannibal Lector who spends the bulk of the show standing erect and glaring through a glassed-windowed cell. That’s not so bad until it’s revealed that by gently moving his fingers he’s sending Morse code. Wait a minute? How are his henchmen getting the code since they haven’t hacked into the prison’s camera system? Easy as pie! He’s barefoot thus the electrical signals from his twitching fingers are being sent into the ground and then travel hundreds of feet through a maximum security prison whereby they are miraculously picked up by a listening device planted across the street. Say what?

I could drone on and on but these segments do nothing but devalue each character to the point where the audience can’t help but come to the realization that they are all inherently stupid. This does nothing but distance viewers and inevitably shoots holes in the plot that is wholly manufactured to create suspense in all the wrong ways.

Now I’m not a computer hacker but I am a network administrator with a ton of certifications and working experience so what I’m about to say applies not just to Bloody Monday but Hollywood and global cinema in general. Hacking does not make for gripping cinema. Watching someone continually pound away at DOS prompts and Linux Shells might make sense to those who know what hacking entails but visually it’s as impressive as typing a letter to your local politician. However, that’s reality but whenever some filmmakers have to tackle the subject matter they go overboard and attempt to gussy up the act with ridiculous excess. Thus whenever Falcon starts hacking into some system we’re treated with a cheesy CG sequence showing, you guessed it, a digitized falcon flying through hallways or over the Tokyo skyline. I remembered almost falling out of my chair when we finally got to a key moment where Falcon and the cult member hacker were going mano a mano and the audience is treated to a completely laughable CG sequence of two birds banging each other on the head as digitized blood spewed everywhere. Oh please….

I understand Falcon is meant to be an elite hacker but as presented here he’s not only that but basically God as his skills are beyond believable. Things that would take days if not weeks or months to break into like the Tokyo power grid are breached in mere minutes. Even when he’s got no Internet connection either through wireless or LAN access Falcon can conceivably hack just by going through a power cable to basically send an instant message.

Bloody Monday truly wants to be a Japanese 24 right down to Third-I’s command center which bears a remarkable resemblance to the CTU headquarters including a mousy female secretary that pounds away at the keyboard. In actuality there’s nothing wrong in copying or being influenced by other successful shows and at first glance an action suspense thriller with a bioterrorism plot is certainly topical. Yet, the series just doesn’t know when to stop the contrivances even as they reach stratospheric levels of absurdity. Take the core plot which has the cult members trying to unleash the Bloody-X virus onto Tokyo. For almost 95%+ of the series this is the goal but then it’s suddenly revealed that they have a backup plan which includes a neutron bomb. Believing that a terrorist group has copious amounts of bio-weaponry is one thing but where in the world did they manage to get a neutron bomb?

I suppose some drama fans or those young girls who swoon over Miura Haruma or Sato Takeru may still watch purely for eye candy but Bloody Monday is downright laughable in all the wrong ways filled with contrivances that not only make no sense but when revealed show a serious lack of foresight almost as if the script writer was thumbing his nose at the audience at every turn. While many critics of 24 can make light of it for including too much in a supposed 24 hour span of events, Bloody Monday just breaks reality at every turn. It doesn’t help that the direction is decidedly bland and nondescript and remains flatter than a pancake even when it attempts to build tension. At least with 24 there was a element of surprise that sometimes was shocking that kept audiences glued to the TV but Bloody Monday never goes that far and falls back upon conservative values where the good guys always win even if they sometimes seem brain dead. I can applaud those involved for trying to do something a bit different from the regular Japanese comedies or romantic dramas but this is one of those times I can firmly say with conviction — Bloody Monday is just Bloody Awful.

Zero out of ****

2008, Japan, 11 Episodes, Approx 600 Minutes, TBS
Directors: Hirano Shunichi, Hatano Takafumi, Miyashita Kensaku
Original writing (manga): Bloody Monday by Ryumon Ryo
Screenwriters: Makita Mitsuharu, Watanabe Yusuke
Producer: Makita Mitsuharu

Takagi Fujimaru (Falcon): Miura Haruma
Takagi Haruka: Kawashima Umika
Kujo Otoya: Sato Takeru
Asada Aoi: Fujii Mina
Anzai Mako: Tokunaga Eri
Tachikawa Hide: Hisano Masahiro
Takagi Ryonosuke: Tanaka Tetsushi
Kano Ikuma: Matsushige Yutaka
Hosho Sayuri: Katase Nana
Minami Kaoru: Ashina Sei
Kirishima Goro: Yoshizawa Hisashi
Sonoma Takao: Nakahara Fumio
Kudo Akira: Kubota Masashi
Sawakita Miki: Anan Atsuko
Okita Koichi: Kudo Shunsaku
Nakagawa Saori: Harada Kana
Kamata Junichiro: Saito Ayumu
J (Kanzaki Jun): Narimiya Hiroki
Orihara Maya: Kichise Michiko
Kamishima Shimon: Shimada Kyusaku

© 2009 The Galactic Pillow

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