So, going into Soredemo, Ikite Yuku (Even so, we will live on) I thought it would be a sad, yet uplifting story about two families trying to overcome grief. Something mellow to contrast with the usual bout of rom-coms I watch, but nothing to write home about. After watching the first eight episodes though, I was surprised by how gripping it was and how much I felt for these characters. It hurts to watch sometimes, but in a good way. Still, the drama’s definitely not for everyone, so mentally prepare yourself before watching.
Episode 1: The forbidden encounter
It is the summer of 1996. We see a little girl, happily flying a kite. A boy is with her who pulls out a hammer. A woman goes to work at a salon. Two boys go to a video store to rent a porn tape. An old man is at a pachinko parlor, talking about his daughter. A girl comes home to see the two boys from the video store, looking for her brother, hoping to find a place to secretly watch the tape.
The boy is slowly approaching the girl with the kite, blissfully unaware of the approaching danger. He calls out her name. The girl from before goes into her brother’s room, looking for him, but he’s not there. Mischievously, she approaches the tower of cards in her brother’s room as far away the boy is still coming towards the girl, hammer in hand. The boy and girl’s images are reflected in the water of the lake. The trees rustle in the wind as the kite falls slowly to the ground. The girl touches the cards which collapse. The kite is seen in the water, floating sadly.
One of the boys from the video store returns home and his parents inquire about his sister’s whereabouts. He was supposed to be watching her, but he hasn’t seen her. The father, the man from the pachinko parlor, has bought a new pair of red shoes for her.
The next morning, the parents are seen in the living room, obviously worried and sleep-deprived. The doorbell rings and we see the room of the daughter has been untouched since the day before. The other children come downstairs as their parents open the door. It’s the police; they have found a girl’s body with their daughter’s belongings at Mikazuki Lake. The mother collapses, screaming, “Liar!” repeatedly as the ticking of a clock grows louder. The camera zooms away from the door so we can see the picture of the family’s now lost daughter, Fukami Aki.
We skip ahead to 2011. Fukami Katsuhiko and his oldest son, Fukami Hiroki (Eita) run a fishing/boating shop on a lake. Hiroki, the youth who had been buying porn fifteen years ago, is now a shaggy-haired, disheveled 29-year-old. His father reminds him that Aki’s birthday is tomorrow and is about to detail his plans for the event over lunch, but Hiroki leaves before he can say anything further. He sits outside with his lunch and remembers his sister. She had asked him once what was the point in the story “A Dog of Flanders.” The main character, Nello, has no parents, is bullied, and in the end dies with his dog. Aki wonders what the point of such a sad story is. She wonders if it would have been better if Nello wasn’t born in the first place and asks Hiroki his opinion.
At a restaurant, Toyama Futaba (Mitsushima Hikari) is dumped by her boyfriend. She walks home, upset, and runs into her father, Misaki Shunsuke, who has just lost his job. At dinner, their family discusses these things, which seem to happen frequently. Both Mr. Misaki’s company and Futaba’s boyfriend received anonymous calls, which surprises no one. The family decides to move before Akari, the youngest daughter, is bullied at school, like her sister before her. Mr. Misaki wonders if it would be easier if he and his mother didn’t live with the family, since his wife and daughters are not on his family register. It seems that Mr. Misaki and the mother, Toyama Takami, divorced so their daughters could take their mother’s maiden name and escape harassment. Ms. Toyama dismisses the idea, saying they swore to be together when they divorced. Mr. Misaki decides to put his mother in a nursing home since moving around with her would be too difficult, to Futaba’s distress. She promises her grandmother later that she’ll do something to prevent her from being separated from the rest of the family. This is the life the Misaki family has been forced to live for fifteen years after Misaki Fumiya murdered Aki fifteen years ago.
Hiroki and his dad are at the hospital after Mr. Fukami had a heart attack that morning. Apparently Hiroki’s dad doesn’t have too much time left. Hiroki asks why his dad is relieved and he replies that he’ll finally be able to see Aki.
Hiroki goes home and finds a car he doesn’t recognize. Futaba is standing out on the deck by the lake. Hiroki sees her and asks if that’s her car. She goes to move it, but he says it’s fine. The two have an awkward conversation with lots of ums before Futaba says she’s hungry. Hiroki offers her the best he has, free of charge, which is just some instant ramen. Heh. They stumble around, trying to find a suitable place to make the ramen when something catches Hiroki’s eye. He asks Futaba if she’s from Tokyo, to which she replies yes. They find a plug and Hiroki hooks up the boiler as Futaba prepares the ramen, which she messes up by first adding the seasoning. Hiroki offers to get her onigiri when a car is heard coming.
Hiroki’s younger brother Kouhei (Tanaka Kei) has come to drop off their dad. He showed up at Kouhei’s house, asking to see his ex-wife of ten years, Nomoto Kyoko, wanting to talk about Aki. He even brought a cake for Aki’s birthday. However, Ms. Nomoto pretended to not be home. Hiroki seems to think about telling Kouhei that their father is sick, but decides not to. Kouhei doesn’t seem to have a good opinion of their dad, complaining about him coming over so suddenly and bothering his new family that gave him a good job and even takes good care of his mother. Futaba comes out to listen as Kouhei throws out all of his dad’s things and Hiroki carries Mr. Fukami inside.
Futaba helps lay out the bedding for Hiroki’s dad, knocking over a box. As she puts the contents back inside, she discovers the porn tape Hiroki rented fifteen years earlier, which he snatches away. Mr. Fukami wakes up and Futaba takes that as a sign to leave the two alone. Hiroki asks why he went to see his mother. A flashback shows Mr. Fukami burning all of Aki’s pictures and possessions outside. The young Hiroki and Kouhei watch as their mother comes out and tries to stop him. Mr. Fukami holds her back, telling her that they should just forget Aki; they can just have another child. She finally stops fighting against him and just watches the pictures burn.
In the dining room, Futaba sees the birthday cake Hiroki’s dad bought when Hiroki comes into the room. They go eat at a restaurant where they quickly order food. Having skipped introductions earlier, they give their names, with Futaba noticeably hesitant about giving hers. Their conversation is just small talk at first. Then Hiroki asks if Futaba thinks he’s creepy. She replies not at all. But Hiroki’s 29 years old and has never dated a girl. Surely that’s strange, but Futaba says there are lots of people like that. He mentions the tape she saw earlier and he says that his sister was murdered when he rented it. There is an uncomfortable pause as Futaba doesn’t know what to say. Hiroki is about to go into the story when he asks if she’s interested. Futaba wants to know why he even wants to talk about such a thing, finding it suspicious that he would even bring up such a topic. Hiroki agrees with her, assuring Futaba that he is still unaware of who she really is, so she tells him to talk about whatever he wants. He tries to change the topic, but Futaba presses the subject. Hiroki draws a picture of their old neighborhood and indicates where Aki died. He says that the last time he saw her, Aki wanted to fly a kite with him, but he wanted to watch the tape and told her if she followed him, he’d never play with her again. Hiroki asks if Futaba wonders why Aki was with the criminal that day. The boy was a friend of Hiroki’s so Aki knew him. Futaba becomes increasingly uncomfortable as Hiroki describes the murder. In a completely calm voice, he says the criminal hit Aki five, six, or seven times with a hammer before throwing her body into the water. Finally Futaba interrupts, but their food comes at that moment. Futaba gives Hiroki money for the food and excuses herself, running out of the restaurant.
Hiroki follows her, but Futaba runs away when she sees him. He easily catches up and she shakes him off and turns on him angrily. What’s wrong with him, telling her a story like that? Does he really think she can sit and eat after being told something like that? He replies it’s because he’s not normal. His sister was murdered, so that’s why. They sit outside the restaurant and Hiroki says he can’t remember Aki’s face, especially since all her photos are gone. He was always cold towards her, but she still called him onii-chan affectionately. Even so, he says regretfully, he can’t recall her face. The two stand up to leave and Futaba asks why he told her these things. He says that he feels that she’s the same as him, a victim.
Futaba stays over and she asks if Hiroki still hates the criminal and his family. Hiroki says he has no idea what Fumiya is doing now or why he killed Aki. Anyway, he feels that the person who killed Aki was himself. He brings up “A Dog of Flanders” and poses the same question to Futaba that Aki had asked him. Futaba asks if he feels that way about Aki, that it would have been better if she wasn’t born. Hiroki dismisses the subject and leaves.
The next morning, Hiroki’s dad is missing. He gets a phone call before they can search for him. His dad got a knife and was heading Tokyo on a train before being detained by the police. The two pick him up from the police station where he tells Hiroki that he found out about Boy A, the name they called Fumiya after the murder. He wants to go to their old home, so Hiroki takes him there. The house is dilapidated and abandoned with trees growing over the front. The three of them go inside and Hiroki’s dad lies on the stairs. Hiroki wants to leave quickly, but his dad doesn’t move. He says he feels as if he could meet Aki when he comes here. He starts reminiscing about Aki, but Hiroki interrupts angrily, pointing out that he was the one that wanted to forget about Aki. Mr. Fukami agrees, but says it was impossible. He remembers the day Aki died. He had seen the kite Aki was flying that day and had seen it fall. As he watched it dropped, his heart had started racing. He had thought about going out there, but he didn’t because of the heat. When Aki didn’t come home that day, he knew something had happened. He blames himself for Aki’s death. Hiroki says he should be blamed too then, but his dad maintains it was his fault. He feels that his life has been very short, but that day when Aki died was long so very long. Now that he doesn’t have long to live, he can finally meet Aki.
Still, there is something he needs to do before he dies. He goes into Aki’s old room and says that he wants to know what Fumiya is doing now. He wants to meet him and ask him why he killed Aki. He found a nurse that had worked at the juvenile correction center that Fumiya was sent to. He found out that Fumiya was released eight years ago. The nurse also gave Hiroki’s dad a drawing Fumiya made while in the institution. It’s a beautiful picture, with the sun shining down on a lake. There are ripples in one spot on the lake and a body is floating. They both realize it’s a picture of the murder. He hasn’t reflected at all, Mr. Fukami rages. That murder was merely a nice memory to him. “Why?” he asks. “Why is he allowed to go free while Aki is gone?” Aki will never get to come home or grow up. Why, after only seven years is he allowed to walk freely? He didn’t reflect or repent and he has no criminal record. Is that fair? He knows that Fumiya will kill again and he has to stop him. Hiroki realizes that his father took the knife to go kill Fumiya. Fumiya’s former probation officer had passed away and the funeral was being held in Tokyo. He begs Hiroki to take him there, unable to make it there in his condition. “It’s frustrating! I have to avenge Aki! It’s so frustrating that even if I die I won’t be able to close my eyes!” Mr. Fukami hits Hiroki repeatedly, screaming this over and over until he bowls over in pain. Futaba, who has been listening from the stairs, leaves, unable to bear anymore.
Hiroki takes his dad to the hospital and then goes home. Cleaning up, he finds the red shoes his father bought for Aki that day. But there are more shoes, boxes and boxes, years worth of shoes for Aki to have grown into. Hiroki also finds Aki’s old bookbag and two pictures Aki drew of herself. Looking at all of these things, he recalls her asking him to play with her and the question she asked him about “A Dog of Flanders.” He sees her turning towards him and he remembers her face. He goes into the dining room and sees the birthday cake his dad had bought. He remembers celebrating Aki’s birthday with his family and pictures her blowing out the candles, her face no longer a blur. Quickly, he gathers some materials to make a kite while scenes of him and Aki playing together intercut the scene.
He drives out to the woods and screaming, runs with the kite until its flying. He hears Aki’s voice as he flies the kite and then she’s next to him, watching the kite and smiling. She tells him he’s amazing and that the kite is high. Hiroki stares at her for a long time before calling her name repeatedly. He forgets about the kite, letting it fall as he drops to his knees in tears, still calling out to Aki, but she is already gone.
Hiroki swims through the lake that night and mentally asks Aki, “Was it cold? Was it painful?” He tells her to wait for him.
The Misaki family is preparing to move as Futaba returns home. She tells her grandmother that Hiroki wasn’t the one who told others about Fumiya’s crime. She apologizes for not being able to catch the person who has been informing others about their family and not being able to keep her with the family.
Cut to Hiroki who is finally cutting his hair. He pictures Aki and remembers what his father said about not being able to die peacefully with Fumiya alive . He eats fried rice like his dad used to and we see him looking at a knife when the phone rings.
Hiroki goes to visit his mother, dressed in a black suit. He tells her that his dad died, but she seems unfazed and says she has to go to the store. He stops her, but she only says that he can stop by once in a while for meals, since he now lives alone.
Hiroki: “Is that everything you can do? That person…that person may have been weak-minded, but he was trying , in his own weak-minded way, to protect his family. But that was no good…Full of regrets, he died after saying that even if he died, he wouldn’t be able to die in peace. So what? Is that everything you can do? Even just a little…Even just a little, won’t you cry for him?”
Kyoko: “I’ve lost all my tears. Because in this world, there is no sadder thing than that. Nothing [more] than that.”
She turns to leave, but Hiroki has something else to say. “Even so, I will live on.”
Hiroki heads to the funeral in Tokyo as Mr. Misaki sends his mother to the nursing home. Ms. Toyama tries to comfort him, saying that what he’s doing will help protect the family he has now.
Hiroki looks around at the funeral, but can’t find Fumiya. He’s surprised when he runs into Futaba at the funeral. She asks if he plans to kill Fumiya and he says it has nothing to do with her. But it does; she says that she knew Aki and about how she died. She reminds him of how he said he was his cold towards Aki. However, even if a brother is kind once, the sister will remember that and think he will be kind again. That’s how she feels he is a brother. Hiroki, now suspicious, asks who she is. She starts to answer, but Hiroki’s eyes are diverted to a bridge where a man stands. It’s Fumiya! (Kazama Shunsuke). He takes off running, knife in hand with Futaba behind him, yelling for Fumiya to run. Futaba catches him at the stairs by the ankle and the two wrestle before Hiroki breaks free and reaches the top of the bridge only to see that Fumiya is gone, leaving in a taxi and leaving behind a yellow fruit. Futaba follows behind him and finally tells him that she’s Fumiya’s younger sister.
Fumiya heads to an orchard where he lives and works with an old man, Kusama Goro, his divorced daughter Maki, and her young daughter, Yuri. They call him Ken. He sits outside with Maki as they watch Yuri play. Maki tells him that she read Yuri the book he gave them, “A Dog of Flanders.” Yuri asked the same question as Aki. Why is there such a sad story? Ken, who is drawing the field, supposes that humans are just sad living beings.
Human dramas tend to try too hard to send a life-changing message to the audience so it usually comes off as cheesy and lame. Soredemo, luckily, doesn’t do that, at least not to the extent that it’s aggravating. The best thing about Soredemo is that I don’t feel like I’m being led through the troubles and grief of the characters to find something meaningful. The problems they face that arose from the tragedy fifteen years ago don’t feel contrived, everything seems real.
Not being familiar with Japanese society, the most surprising aspect of the drama, for me at least, is the social status of the Misaki family. They’ve pretty much taken the blame for Fumiya’s crime and are forced to live as social outcasts, even changing their names so no one will know about their past. It sounds pretty crazy to me for the whole family to take responsibility for Fumiya’s crime like they made him do it or something, but it presents a different and far more interesting take on the suffering of the murderer’s family. It makes me wonder what the family’s feelings towards Fumiya are since they’ve been forced to go through so much because of him.
Looking only at this episode, it’s hard to say anything about our OTP, Hiroki and Futaba. They have this strange, awkward charm to them so they’re kind of cute. Still, they’re so weird around each other that you never know what they’re going to say or do next, so you can’t predict how their relationship is going to progress. I’m glad though, that the fact that Futaba is Fumiya’s sister wasn’t dragged out past the first episode to set us up for unnecessary angst later, because there’s already enough angst to go around.