Those familiar with Japanese culture may readily recognize the terms "honne" and "tatemae," clashing concepts which hold enormous importance in that society. These refer to feelings and wishes held privately ("honne") and the often opposing facade shown in public ("tatemae"). For better or for worse, this standard affects how most Japanese behave and interact with one another. Kazoku Game uses its nominal family as an example, jabbing at the hypocrisies of this societal staple with vicious satire. With the addition of bullying as a theme, this drama widens its relatability -- though it is already suitable for an international audience. A difficult yet riveting watch, Kazoku Game turns the family genre on its head. As it adopts an uncanny, dangerous atmosphere, one is often left with the feeling something is not quite right. Even when things appear to be going beautifully, the viewer can never truly settle into a sense of well-being. This unshakable near-paranoia bolsters the mystery presented by the story, begging one to question why the Numata family is in such a state, and what the home tutor hopes to gain from his actions toward them. Because this is clearly a fantasy, issues are relatively negligible with the plot. Despite this, I could not help thinking that if anyone did a quarter of what is seen in this drama, they would be shackled in seconds. Potential viewers beware: triggers abound. Violence toward and between children (including intense bullying), sexual assault, and suicide, are concepts of varying visual importance displayed on screen. Powerful performances from the ensemble must be applauded. Of the actors and actresses which comprise it, none are weak. Few seem to rant about Sakurai Sho as an actor, but his portrayal of the tutor was especially memorable. Whether through his manic cheer or vibrant cruelty, the character springs to (somewhat nightmarish) life with ease. One may never forget the way Sensei swings his arms childishly while walking, or the frozen doll-like smile he offers to others. And his catch-phrase, "Ii, ne!" ("That's good!") is simultaneously menacing and catchy. Young actors Kamiki Ryunosuke and Uragami Seishu are also notable, capably carrying out their roles as the troubled Numata sons. Uragami-san as Shigeyuki has an honesty about his depiction, true awkwardness and immaturity (good and bad) many will see themselves in. Something of a screen veteran despite his young age, Kamiki-san has a meatier, more complex role. His character has less relatability, but remains fascinating and nuanced because of his fine performance. Most tunes heard in Kazoku Game are used to boost its eeriness. Brass instruments and a lone, creepy saxophone lead almost all instrumentals. One particular track stood out, partially because it was played so often and also because it was somewhat sinister. Whenever it marked a scene, something cruel was realized or a strange event had taken place; but the tone was cheerful -- aside from the purposely off-tune lead instrument. I also rather enjoyed the theme "Endless Game," provided by Arashi, and the very suitable introductory piece. My only problem with the soundtrack was that it ultimately felt repetitive, but perhaps that was also intentional.
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