Vengeance is mine, and Imma make those bastards pay: Hanzawa Naoki Eps 1-8

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Oooh…kinky

If you’ve been following the J-ent scene recently, you might have heard of Hanzawa Naoki, this summer’s most talked-about drama (in Japan, at least. The international blogosphere is another matter altogether.) Ratings are at an all-time high, with the last two episodes (i.e. eps 7 and 8) recording numbers in the 30th percentile. Not since the golden days of the KimuTaku era has a J-drama performed this well (even last year’s surprise hit, Kaseifu no Mita, didn’t surpass the 30 percent mark till the last episode.) So widespread is its popularity in the country that even the Wall Street Journal has written about it. When was the last time they wrote about a KimuTaku drama?

Naturally, I had to find out what all the fuss was about, especially given that this is a drama about fraud and corruption, not exactly topics to set most pulses racing.

First things first: if you’re coming into this expecting a cerebral thriller, please dial down your expectations. Hanzawa Naoki is a J-drama fantasy for disgruntled office workers who have wet dreams about running their boss over in a trailer truck.

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Forget about things like subtlety and complex characters — they are of secondary importance here. This is about living vicariously through the hero and wishing you had the brains and the guts to do half the things he does (without getting fired).

The Story So Far

This is our hero, Hanzawa Naoki (Sakai Masato): banker, loving brother husband, and champion of the little guy. (Yes, I know there’s probably an oxymoron in there somewhere.)

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How old is your wife, Hanzawa? Five?

Lurking behind this mild-mannered façade is a man who is biding his time to exact revenge on the person responsible for his father’s death. Hanzawa gets an unexpected hand from his immediate superior when the latter waves aside his misgivings and forces him to approve a 500 million yen loan application made by a dodgy company.

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responsibility

Dude, are you wearing circle lenses? XD

You don’t need an MBA to figure out what happens next. (Well, of course the company goes under and of course Hanzawa has to shoulder all the blame. Like duh.)

If he was expecting his subordinate to roll over and hand in his resignation letter, he should have chosen another scapegoat. The injustice of this entire situation unleashes Hanzawa’s Righteous Fury™…

pursue

And as he uncovers more of his company’s nefarious misdeeds, you get the feeling that Hanzawa is just one popped vein away from initiating a HULK SMASH. RAWR!!!!!!!

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Speaking of which, I am a little concerned about the mental health of the characters in this drama. Some of them, like this guy below, look like they could be escapees from an asylum:

insane

Word of advice, kids: If you’re considering a career in banking, better think carefully about it.

At any rate, Hanzawa’s handling of the case attracts the attention of this drama’s Final Boss: Executive Director Ohwada Akira (Kagawa Teruyuki), a man who obviously recognises talent when he see it. He tries to cajole Hanzawa into joining his faction at the bank. Unfortunately, there’s just one tiny little detail that he’s overlooked: he’s the reason that Hanzawa’s father committed suicide. (Highlight for the obvious)

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You’d think the fact that Hanzawa looks like he has a case of IBS would tip him off but perhaps having a spastic colon is par for the course for most bankers.

constipated

Ohkawa is in a different league compared to Hanzawa’s earlier adversaries (in terms of intelligence and Kagawa’s acting abilities), and it’s for this reason that I’m enjoying the second half of this drama more than the first one. Watching Hanzawa take his enemies down is fun but I do wish this show had a better writer and director because there is a compelling story at the heart of this drama and in the hands of the right team, it could have been a gripping conspiracy thriller. However what we get instead is a story that preaches about the moral responsibility of bankers.

The acting here is also strangely cartoony. Dramawiki tells me it’s supposed to be a suspense drama but I get the feeling that it doesn’t quite know what it wants to be. If Hanzawa Naoki were a live-action video game or manga adaptation like Ace Attorney or Nodame Cantabile, the OTT performances would not seem so incongruous but it isn’t, and you are left scratching your head and wondering why everyone is overacting like their lives depended on it. Why, for example, do all the villains behave as if they’re having a sudden attack of diarrhoea or about to get a heart attack every time Hanzawa gets the better of them?

tear

Hanzawa-san, could you excuse me, please? I need to make a quick dash to the toilet.

And I don’t know about you but I think Kurosaki the tax inspector missed his real calling. He should have been the papa-san of a cabaret club instead.

kurosaki

Er, not exactly but I do believe you’re in the wrong profession

Apart from the hammy acting, this drama also suffers from some curious casting choices: Ueto Aya is not convincing as Hana, Hanzawa’s spunky wife. I like the character and I can see where the drama is going with her but Ueto is just playing it cute and it sometimes feels like you’re watching Hanzawa interact with his sister more than his spouse. (They should have tried getting Kanno Miho i.e. Sakai’s real life wife to cameo as Hana instead.) Nakajima Yuto is another one who’s miscast here. He’s supposed to play a junior banker but watching him, you’d think he was just some random office boy instead.

This isn’t to say that Hanzawa Naoki is without any bright spots. If you can close an eye to the cartoony acting and treat this drama as escapist entertainment, it does get better as it moves into the second arc. I know many people are watching this for Sakai but for me, this series really picks up once the focus shifts to Ohwada. I enjoy watching Kagawa act (if you want to know, I liked his portrayal of the yakuza mole in the Japanese remake of Infernal Affairs more than Andy Lau’s, but I digress) and even though he’s hamming it up along with his colleagues in this drama, there’s a degree of depth to his character, which keeps him from being a one-dimensional villain. The exchange between Ohwada and Hanzawa at the end of episode 6 is one of the best scenes in this drama and imo, Kagawa totally owns it. If anything, Hanzawa’s preachiness does him a disservice and makes him appear one-dimensional. Again, I wish this drama had a better writer because there’s so much more they could have done with the conflict between these two characters instead of reducing it to a black and white moral argument.

constipated

FIGHT!

All in all, Hanzawa Naoki is an entertaining, albeit flawed, drama with some unintentionally hilarious moments. Just don’t let the ratings mislead you into thinking that this show is the J-drama equivalent of Wall Street (or something like that) and you won’t be disappointed.

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9 comments

  1. Loved reading this! Soon as I read Double Face’s Kagawa-san was in this I wanted to snaffle it up, too. But heard stuff about how badly acted and pompous it was…
    Might still consider it your review is pretty encouraging in spite of you highlighting its pitfalls. Just ‘cos that actor is dope, yo!

    1. If you are going to watch this, you definitely need to do it with the right approach XD Treat this as the banking version of Ace Attorney except that instead of “Objection”, Hanzawa says, “Take double the payback.” It’s as the WSJ wrote, this drama is pure escapism for Japanese viewers. The acting can make you roll your eyes (imo, ep 3 deserves a Razzie) but I just regard it as unintentional comedy XD

  2. Where is the LIKE button?! Not the first time I want to word everything you said!

    I am watching along with family mostly to see what all the fuzz is all about (and they are ordering iphone case with Hanzawa’s lines on them) I’m a shameless Masato fangirl and I somehow can tolerate his cartoonish OTT because there are always a few scenes in between when he’s lovely. This is the drama that flips me into missing the old not yet making it ojisanMasato a lot.
    Kagawa is an awesome nemesis and 9 is such a letdown. The writing is just not tight enough even when I’m dialing down my expectation. The drama went up a notch at around 5, but this is basically a show I’m entertained by everyone making FACES kabuki FACES ALL, THE. TIME.

    I do not know why but Oikawa always gives me a very sleazy vibe and I am gearing up for him to be the mole. Doesn’t look like they will do anything twisty for the penultimate .

    1. Awww…thanks, Mookie :DDD

      I opted not to display the ‘like’ button on my posts (I’m weird, I know) but you should be able to access it through your WordPress account.

      I’m a shameless Masato fangirl and I somehow can tolerate his cartoonish OTT because there are always a few scenes in between when he’s lovely.

      Oh, you don’t have to explain yourself. God knows I’ve done my fair share of shameless perving. *Ahem* And Masato is definitely not the worst culprit in this drama. I think Hanzawa’s actually all right when he’s not in his “Rampaging Avenger” mode XD The scene in ep 6 where he helps Kondo after seeing him kneeling on the streets is a really nice one, imo.

      I haven’t watched ep 9 yet but thanks for the heads up! I wasn’t expecting this drama to spring a surprise ending on me but I am (still) hoping it won’t cop out and pull a lame deus ex machina.

      1. Masato is most effective to me when it’s a dramatic scene and the music is so very spoiling us, yet he does not make his RAGE faces yet. That is why I particularly like the long speeches Hanzawa at times engages in, when he can have quieter in between moments of spot on.

        The Tax boss is the worst offender, I know he is a kabuki actor, and he’s contained himself somewhat , in the later episodes, but the fact his minions are also as cartoonish with their hoorahs and yahoos…haha totally snap any credibility out of the scene but I can’t deny it’s hilarious and bizarrely entertaining I can’t peel my eyes off while chuckling.

        It is an entertaining ride, but this is not making it when they can do so so much with the rivalry but it is shaping to be a letdown (and I was hoping for some bromance you know).

      2. I had no idea the guy playing Tax Boss is a kabuki actor…interesting!

        and I was hoping for some bromance you know

        Er…bromance between whom? I have a niggling suspicion that Tax Boss secretly has the hots for Hanzawa. That’s why his face is always thisclose to his. Hahahahaha

      3. haha it was so bizarre tax boss is so obsessed with Hanzawa, it’s almost to the cuteness we see in those bickering couples who ended up being OTP in shoujo.

        We are all rooting for Ohwada to be much more complex than the one note we are getting now. And I adore Kagawa’s chemistry with Masato the most of course. It is not like what he did in the past is absolutely evil, it’s a harsh banker’s world, they are not running an nonprofit. So I was pining for a Ohwada+Hanzawa bromance/seeing eye to eye (really close) hahaha

        The faces tax boss (片岡 愛之助) is making, every one of them can be on a Floating World/Ukiyo-e print. XD

    1. I wasn’t that surprised by the ending actually. It would have been quite unrealistic if Hanzawa had been promoted after flouting protocol and publicly humiliating Ohwada in front of all his superiors despite being told repeatedly to stop. If he had thrashed it out with him in private or exposed his wrongdoings in a far subtler manner, the ending would probably have been quite different. The world that he works in is a v rigid one that does not take kindly to change, much less self-styled vigilantes. (ETA: Also, Hanzawa fails to realise the different hierarchies that exist within the bank. The inner sanctum that Ohwada belongs to is kind of like a gentleman’s club with its own set of rules. So while Hanzawa might have “saved” the chairman, he’s also an outsider who has the potential to disrupt the way things are done at the bank and they can’t have that.)

      I was actually more surprised that Kurosaki was someone’s fiancé. All along I thought that he was batting for the other team, so this, for me, was more WTF? than the ending.

      And yes, I’m pretty sure there’ll be an SP at the very least. I don’t think the network will let the ratings go to waste XD

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