BORDER – the spring season J-drama starring Oguri Shun whereby he is a cop who gained the ability to see ghosts. I remembered giving it a negative in the first impression post, but change my mind when I tried episode 2. I then decided to trial a few more to be sure I’m not missing out on a good drama.
Title: BORDER (ボーダー)
Genre: Mystery, Suspense
Broadcast Network: TV Asahi
Broadcast Date: 10th April to 5th June 2014
Director: Hashimoto Hajime, Hatano Takafumi
Script Writer: Kaneshiro Kazuki
Official website: http://www.tv-asahi.co.jp/border
Ishikawa Ango (Oguri Shun) is a police detective. During a crime scene investigation late at night, he is shot in the head and hovers between life and death. Miraculously, he survives with the bullet in his head, and since then he is able to communicate and see the dead. He uses this newly gained ability to solve all cases. He also seeks assistance from informant, hackers and a general pro (see above chart – 4 men at the bottom) to help him crack these cases.
I nearly drop this drama, but then I couldn’t believe Oguri Shun would choose a drama that would disappoint right at the beginning, so I decided to stick around for a few more episodes. As I go on I see that even though the story is limit to be written inside the set frame (i.e. the story has to revolve around Ishikawa Ando’s ability to communicate with the dead), the writer manages to convey the story or case from different angles. Thus this approach help me digest the limitation of the drama better, and made sure the story-telling is not as plain as having the dead tells Ishikawa (and us) straight out who the murderer is, and thus, giving the investigation a mild injection of mystery. In general though, I still think Ishikawa is able to solve the cases a little too easy with the help of those sidekicks.
For BORDER, each episode has a new case – this is actually the norm of story-telling for almost all Japanese mystery dramas for the past few years. But what surprises me most is this ‘ordinary’ way of story-telling becomes an advantage in beating out the opposing TV station in ratings and the big production drama MOZU. At the beginning MOZU was doing better in TV rating, but situation started to change, and I do comprehend why in the long run of 9 weeks BORDER manages to beat MOZU.
BORDER is the type of drama that can be picked up from any episodes because each episode gets a new case, and at the beginning of each episode, Ishikawa Ando will narrate a short summary of what happened to him and how he started seeing dead people. So technically his own story has nothing to do with the case. By this, viewers can jump in any time, and still be able to connect with the main story and characters. On the contrary, MOZU’s story is on-going, so in order to have a better understanding of what is going on; one must watch from start to end, and as a viewer who watches live, I find it difficult to connect with the show as it only airs once a week. MOZU is the type of drama that works better if the viewers watch all episodes in one go rather than once per week, for the course of over 10-12 long weeks. P.S. Don’t get me wrong, MOZU is a better drama on a whole as compared to BORDER, and I actually prefer MOZU’s in-depth storyline, acting performances and cinematic effects.
Back to BORDER, I didn’t enjoy episode 1 since the suspense/mystery was ruined immediately when the dead told Ishikawa the killer’s identity, but I found episode 2 better as Ishikawa has to race against time to save the victim because the dead person is the killer, so he wouldn’t make Ishikawa’s life so easy by telling him directly about anything. Then there is episode 5, which is the most memorable for me, as the story takes on a different approach as the dead stalks Ishikawa to help him solve his mystery death. The story was incorporated with a little bit of comedy and ended with a sad but heart-warming tone. As Ishikawa insists to see the dead, and tries to solve their murder cases; he is affected by the victim’s pain and that gradually chewed on his soul – draining him and leaving him traumatised.
I am satisfied that the show gave me an explanation and round up the story of the why, how and who shot Ishikawa in the head, but I am extremely dissatisfied with the finale! 😡 Why? I had thought that the ending I would get is:
(1) Ishikawa confesses to coroner Mika about his ‘I see dead people’ experience.
(2) Ishikawa eventually gets the bullet out of his head.
(3) Ishikawa stops seeing dead people.
But none of that happen. The writer tries to explore the meaning behind the drama title ‘BORDER’ – focusing on the topic between absolute evil vs absolute justice. In the finale, Ishikawa meets a mysterious killer who kills without motif, and just simply believing in being the absolute evil that the world needs – he wants to act as a form of reminder i.e. with him being evil, thus, people will be aware of the existence of evil. He challenges Ishikawa, and leaves him (and us) something behind to ponder about: how to defeat evil if we can’t fight the evil by playing dirty like the evil?
I am dissatisfied with the finale because I got an Ishikawa that seems to have join the dark side, and what seems like an ending to a beginning of a new chapter! I can’t be sure what I see is indeed what happen because the ending gets cut off quite bluntly, and it can be interpreted literally as I see it, or as Ishikawa’s hallucinations since he is getting really affected by the case he was handling. Either way, this is hardly a satisfying finale because it seems like the drama ran out of time, and gave me an open ending which can only means the TV station is planning for either (1) a Special episode (2) or is continuing on to season 2, but I hardly think this drama is worthy to make a season 2.
Overall, I give the writer some credit for the creative writings; however, I think the story itself is mediocre with an easy to understand and an extremely easy to follow through plot. Personally I would have liked it more if the writer would give some life into the characters instead of just present each case through Ishikawa. I would also like it if the writer introduces more interactions and development / growth into the main characters while presenting a new case in each episode. The drama doesn’t captivate me, and it lacks not only the horror factor, but also mystery, although I don’t think they are trying to go with scary or mysterious at all. It also lacks that ‘Omph’ factor when detectives uses their wit to face off with the killers, and most importantly, I don’t think this drama challenges Oguri Shun’s acting ability at all.