Review: Last Friends

Last Friends (ラスト・フレンズ) is probably the most gripping Japanese drama of last year. It deals with the stories of 5 people who interact around a shared house in Tokyo: an air stewardess losing her faith in love (Eri), a woman with a troubled self-identity (Ruka), another (Michiru) with an abusive boyfriend (Sousuke), and a stylist with a traumatic past (Takeru). Each of these fire represents a different problem faced by the current generation: Love – Michiru; Liberation – Ruka; Agony – Takeru; Solitue – Eri; and Contradiction – Sousuke. These are the kinds of stories where, especially in Japan, the people experiencing them might just bury their problems and bear them as well as they can. However, the these issues are slowly drawn out into the open through Sousuke’s altercations with the rest.

Last Friends was the only drama I watched on TV last year. I first read of it on another blog, and Ueno Juri was probably the main reason I started watching, if only because Ruka is incredibly different from her other memorable character (Nodame). And then Eita drew me in too, for his sensitive portrayal of Takeru. Being able to discuss the last few episodes with a friend as they were aired also made it Thursday the most anticipated night of each week. There are some things that could have been improved, but for the most part, I was hooked.

DV was probably the most discussed issue through the course of the show, as the cycle of Sousuke hitting Michiru for almost no reason, driving her away before she returns out of concern for his self-abusive tendencies, continued week after week. Many people became exceedingly irritated with Michiru for not leaving him, especially as his possessiveness escalated to the point where he basically controlled everything she did. Research points out that the cycle depicted in Last Friends is quite true to real life cases. Most victims of DV have great difficulty breaking out of it, largely due to their own histories and personalities. However, it was also incredibly surprising that not one of the housemates informed the police, even when Sousuke directing his violence at them.

Michiru’s reluctance to leave Sousuke is, I feel, easily understandable, considering what she knew of Sousuke’s character. The flashbacks that showed his gentleness in the first days of their relationship, the way he cared for the children he encountered as a social service worker, and the hints about his own history of abuse and/or neglect indicate a person to whom the idea of a secure family is incredibly important. Unfortunately, his idea of a secure family was incredibly skewed – I personally don’t understand why they act the way they do, but it seems like many DV perpetrators see violence and possessiveness as the only ways in which they can keep their partner with them. Personally, I would have run the minute he started standing outside my workplace every day, waiting for me to finish. However, Michiru herself is constructed as a person in search of a caring partner who devotes everything to her, as her mother seems to treat her as nothing more than a source of income, even forgetting her birthday. The pair of them would have been perfect for each other…if Sousuke had been able to overcome his problems. Whilst the flashbacks may have seemed like last minute solicitations for sympathy, it fit with the flow of the story. Perhaps it might have worked better if they’d somehow demonstrated why Michiru responded the way she did to Sousuke’s desperate need for the certainty that she would always stay with him.

Ruka’s problem, centered around her gender identity disorder and her feelings for Michiru, was also interesting. GID is actually quite controversial – it was introduced as a mental disorder in the "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders" in 1980, seven years after homosexuality was removed from it. Whether one believes that psychiatric disorders actually exist, or are mostly fabricated so that people can be exploited, it is true that there are people who feel uncomfortable with their own bodies. But as discomfort is something that is generally felt in the mind, how much of the problem is linked to the social expectations about how people should look and behave? In Japan, where short skirts, frills and excessively girly flirting are the norm, it’s easy to imagine how incredibly frustrating and challenging it can be for someone with the problem. And Ueno Juri really was excellent in showing the frustration and fear that Ruka lives with.

Something that got shafted towards the end was Ruka and Michiru’s relationship, for which there was very little resolution. Apparently, Sousuke was meant to be gone mid-way through the series, leaving room for their relationship to develop. I’m not sure it would have been a romantic relationship, given Michiru’s character and the fact that she is generally attracted to men, but I can’t imagine them living in shared house again with the issue unresolved. Takeru’s trauma was also treated somewhat cursorily, with him talking about it only in the final episode. On the other hand, his personality is such that sharing his it would have been very difficult for him, and I don’t imagine he would have let it out if he hadn’t met Ruka. Takeru was actually the last addition to the cast or characters, but I can’t imagine Last Friends without him, if only because Ogurin really was just part of Eri’s story, even if he did live in the shared house as well. The word is that a movie has been commissioned…so I’m probably going to be revisiting this sometime soon.
 

About karice
MAG fan, freelance translator and political scientist-in-training. I also love musicals, travel and figure skating!

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