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J-drama ● Review: Burn the House Down

English Title: Burn the House Down

Japanese Title: 御手洗家、炎上する [lit. Mitarai family/home, goes up in flames]

Director(s): Hirakawa Yuichiro

Screenwriter(s): Kaneko Arisa

Studio: Office Crescendo Released: 2023

Runtime: 8 episodes, 41m–54m each.

Starring: Nagano Mei, Suzuki Kyoka, Kudo Asuka, Nakagawa Taishi, Tsunematsu Yuri, Kitano Kie, Kichise Michiko


My Verdict: Tacky soundtrack. Lacks explanations re some plot points. Despite its problems, a tight narrative that is still mostly enjoyable.


Burn the House Down

● Based on the manga of the same name by Fujisawa Moyashi, the story follows Murata Anzu (Nagano Mei) as she tries to infiltrate the Mitarai family home as the housekeeper. Her target is wife and mother Mitarai Makiko (Suzuki Kyoka) who is also a celebrity.


● The house used to be Anzu’s home but it burned down 13 years ago. Although her mother Satsuki (Kichise Michiko) admits to accidentally starting the fire, Anzu and her young sister Yuzu (Tsunematsu Yuri) suspect Makiko to be the arsonist. Back then, Makiko inveigled herself into their lives and imitated Satsuki out of envy. Sometime after the fire, Anzu and Yuzu’s parents divorced, the girls went with their mother and their father eventually married Makiko. The house thus became Makiko’s home.


Anzu (Nagano Mei)
Anzu (Nagano Mei)

● The story is basically a revenge drama and mystery-thriller. Anzu and Yuzu’s mother has also suffered some degree of amnesia due to stress (including from the guilt regarding the fire) and Anzu wishes to free her mother from that. Please note that I have not read the manga so the review is purely of the series.


Mitarai Makiko (Suzuki Kyoka)
Mitarai Makiko (Suzuki Kyoka)

● The plot is tightly woven with generally good pacing. Obvious dramatic events such as Anzu getting busted looking for things when she thinks she is working alone in the house happen early in the series, perhaps earlier than one predicts. These moments have to happen, they are sources of suspense, but they’ve been done so many times that they rightly happen early on to get them out of the way.


● The plot also includes glimpses of the past to provide background. To make things more complicated for Anzu and Yuzu are Makiko’s two sons Kiichi (Kudo Asuka) and Shinji (Nakagawa Taishi) since as children they seemed to be on good terms, particularly Anzu and Kiichi.


● One particular type of plot weakness is that Anzu and Yuzu conveniently get caught off guard for the sake of drama. Anzu is not stupid and it’s not as if she hasn’t thought it through. This should include things like what to say with a straight face if one is busted looking where they supposedly shouldn’t be. The writing can be better in this respect.


Yuzu (Tsunematsu Yuri)
Yuzu (Tsunematsu Yuri)

● The other is that the father has not spoken to both Anzu and Yuzu at all after the divorce. Yet, when Yuzu meets up with him, he seems genuinely happy to see her and continues to meet with her. This is a glaring character inconsistency.


● As is common, some of the “logistics” can be better written. I wouldn’t go as far as to label them as plot holes but they do need to be addressed. For example, how did Yuzu know that Makiko uses a housekeeper and then maneuvered herself into position to get hired? That is part of the premise and either one accepts it or doesn’t, but it should be briefly explained. In the past, Makiko was often invited into Anzu’s home but how did she sneak in at other times? These things are known to happen and it doesn’t take much imagination, but since many lock their front doors it needs to be addressed.


● The performances of the supporting roles are sufficient even if the characters are sometimes too simple (emotionally). This, to a degree, is understandable coming from manga/comics. This is not a criticism of the medium, it is merely the nature of it, that the more abstract the form, the harder it is to convey emotional nuances via facial expressions. Nevertheless, the writing and directing for this live-action adaptation can do more to compensate for this.


● For example, Yuzu is presumably supposed to be the “cute, child-like younger sister” and Tsunematsu plays it as such, overdoing it at times. However, the character does become a little more complex in later episodes. One may be tempted to think Tsunematsu is not a very good actress but she convincingly plays a very different character in Alice in Borderlands so the problem is probably the writing and directing.


● As for the main roles, Makiko is a greedy witch who feigns sophistication and, like some of the other roles, is written quite simply. Suzuki plays that in a somewhat straightforward way. At times, she overdoes it but she can be disturbing.


● Ultimately, the stars are Nagano as Anzu and Kudo as Kiichi. He is probably the most complex character. He is a shut-in who has issues with his mother as well as the world, and Kudo does well with the mystery and the pathos of the character. The character can be more utilized.


Kiichi (Kudo Asuka)
Kiichi (Kudo Asuka)

● As for Nagano, she is not merely a pleasant face. Anzu is a genuinely pleasant person but she also has that practiced politeness and smile. It’s scary that she can put that on for the enemy. But Nagano doesn’t merely play the determined daughter and older sister going after the bitch who burnt down her house. She never becomes one herself, and she also has vulnerability which makes her likable.


● The biggest weakness of the production is the soundtrack. Although some would argue this is a norm in J-dramas, some of the themes are too jarring. Setting composition aside, this could be mitigated by simply lowering the levels in the mix. Thankfully, the plot is more than sufficient to keep one interested. And it is nicely shot and edited, arguably textbook but in a way that is tasteful, unpretentious and it works seamlessly.


● Does it have misdirection and twists as part of the final act? Yes. Is it cheap or stupid? Mostly no. It may be predictable but this is because there aren’t that many possibilities to begin with. It is signposted and although it could be signposted better, it is a satisfying enough conclusion.


● Despite the problems, it is overall a decent production in most respects, except for the soundtrack. It is a tight and well-paced narrative and intriguing enough to keep one watching to the end.

 

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