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J-Drama Review: Shokuzai

Shokuzai (贖罪, penance) is a Japanese thriller series, which contains five episodes. In theory it’s actually a really long movie and was even shown in cinema’s, including cinema’s in the Netherlands, in two parts of each about 2 hours long.

That this series is a thriller is immediately noticeable in the way the first episode begins. At first sight it seems to be a happy and fun series with playing children on the playground in their break, after a new student is introduced to the class, Emilie Adachi. The next scene shows Emilie becoming friends with four other girls, Akiko, Sae, Maki and Yuka. They’re playing when a man asks if one of them can help him with a chore in the gym.

Then the thriller actually begins; Emilie goes with him and is sexually assaulted and then killed. The four girls claim to not have seen his face, even though Emilie’s mom, Asako, urging them to say the truth. They’re cursed by Emilie’s mom with ‘the penalty’ and they have to live with that from that day forward for the rest of their lives, unless they redeem their debt to her mom by finding Emilie’s killer or at least help find him.

hen chapter 1: The French Doll begins, which is set fifteen years later. The series is divided in chapters of which there’s a total of five, equal to the amount of episodes.
The first four chapters are each about a different girl, who all went their own separate ways. It’s clear that none of the girls have forgotten the incident and they find it hard to live with for themselves and their environment. Their ‘penalty’ makes sure of that. Every girl then tries to help Emilie’s mom and the fifth chapter is all about Emilie’s mom and the biggest questions are finally answered.

Every chapter thus has its own story that’s all connected by a common thread; repaying their debt of the penalty and living with their trauma of the incident.
Every story is tense and keeps your eyes locked on the screen. It isn’t boring to watch because every story has action and events that make you think.

I do find the acting a bit weak and the script disappointing at times. Mainly because of some dialogues that comes off as weird for the viewer. The montaging is also not very strong. There are a lot of irrelevant shots shown and they’re also a tad long at times causing the tension to actually go away. The camerawork however is beautiful. De shots are thoroughly thought through and by using the lighting in the right way the scenes become a lot scarier. The timing and use of the appropriate music is also working in favour of building up the tension. Therefore there’s definitely not a shortage of tension. The psychological aspect of the movie is very well portrayed by the lead actors and actually only the supporting roles are a bit weak in their acting.

This series is definitely worth watching, especially if you don’t have the time or don’t feel like putting in an effort of watching a series that’s 6 seasons long. It’s better to view Shokuzai as a series and not as a movie though, because otherwise it’s easy to think it’s too long of a watch. And a big pro: it’s really easy accessible for the ones with Netflix!

Date of release: 8th of January – 5th of February 2012
Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Score: 80/100

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