[Posting this first because it’s gotten so long even before i start commenting on other things like the finale or overall impression. You can safely skip this if you’ve finished the drama unless you don’t mind reading fleshed-out plot points that are full of my tattly notes and ‘analyses’. It’s kinda spoilerish too, i guess?]
The Numatas is an epitome of society’s dream family: successful father working in a prestigious company, caring mother getting along well with the neighbors, compliant kid(s) excelling in study and sports, and a lavish property to be called home. They say it’s impossible to get the best of both worlds, but The Numatas seem to deviate that rule.
No, there’s a speck on that perfectly white surface: the younger son fares poorly academically and recently stops going to school for no clear reason. Soon enough, bits by bits we could see that he isn’t the only problematic member.
We could tell that something’s amiss with the family, and the exceedingly observant sensei summarizes it well: father who doesn’t care about Shige at all, elder brother who pretends to care about him, and mother who’s in between — she cares but cannot fully bring herself to face him. In my eyes, they function the way society expects them to.
(1) Father is the breadwinner. Kazushige (Itao Itsuji) finances his family until they live in abundance and can afford a two-storey home and a private family car none of them ever uses it. (The house doesn’t seem that big or wow-worthy to me, but probably to Japanese standard it is.) He does what he’s capable of to curb second child Shige’s rebellion: bringing in home tutor to get the kid back to school and hopefully be admitted to a top institution.
(2) Mother is the family carer. Kayoko (Suzuki Honami) looks after the household perfectly – she does cleaning as well as overloading the table with artfully plated and decorated dishes eaten by none. (My heart breaks a little every time she sits in the dining room alone and stares blankly before the extravagant dinner spread, while my mouth waters.) A loving stay-home mother on paper who never sees things to completion. She cooks, but doesn’t ensure the food gets eaten by the family. She doesn’t know Shige was bullied – or what his likes/dislikes are – and turns to father to handle the touchy situation after she sees the injuries. She comes across Shinichi’s misdeeds but says nothing to no one.
(3) Children is to obey parents and do well in study. Firstborn Shinichi (Kamiki Ryunosuke) brings home trophies and plaques displayed in the living room to prove his excellency and make mommy and daddy proud. Since Kayoko is no trophy wife, let’s transfer the status to Shinichi instead: trophy kid/son? He knew of the bullying but doesn’t tell his parents about it. Neither does he care to help Shige cope with it.
Each assumes their respective role so well that the surface water is unruffled. There is visibly no friction between the members, but there is no communication either. Each has a secured and well-drawn space boxing them from meddling into the other’s affairs (there are two beds in the master bedroom! Is it a common practice in Japan?) So when poor Shigeyuki (Uragami Seishuu) trails behind and couldn’t keep up to the standard, no one is there to support him – not even to offer comfort.
Whenever a problem arises, they don’t buckle up and face it but turn their backs at one another instead. Father provides roof without assurance, mother lights the inside without warmth, the kids grow up nicely-clothed and well-fed but unguided. The Numatas is at this state when someone by the name of Yoshimoto Kouya comes into picture.
He (Sakurai Sho) is the sixth tutor summoned to handle Shige after finding out over the net that he’s boasting 100% admission rate to Toudai (Tokyo University). Father makes a deal: makes Shige re-attend class in a week – 100K yen bonus, fails to do so – fired without a penny. Yoshimoto accepts the challenge and say he’ll make him willingly go back to school in 5 days under one condition: the family won’t interfere whatsoever.
That will happen only after the whole family passes his interview to determine if Shige worth his teaching. He turns to Shige and asks bluntly, “Do you want to improve your grades?” and slaps him hard when he stands behind computerized responses of “no comment” and “computer overloaded.”
Everyone freezes at the sight, but Yoshimoto-sensei managed to get Shige’s attention. I don’t think I’ll hire someone who lays a hand at my kid within minutes of first meeting, let alone when the tutor-to-be has made it clear to let him teach his way without interference, at which they should at least do a doubletake, but well he’s hired. Does father believe sensei would fail like the previous five? Or does he think Shige is a helpless case? Regardless, that slap is a mere fraction of unsolicited harsh teachings the quirky sensei has in store for Shige and eventually the Numata family ahead.
Although he has promised not to use physical force to get a hold of Shige, that doesn’t mean his future methods would be any less unconventional. What follows is a series of twisted forging lessons for Shige to become stronger and hold up against the world that’s much crueler than he could’ve imagined. Sensei gives tests first, then the lessons. Imagine him taking you on a boat ride to an island across the straits… only to have him pushed you to the water halfway through and watched you struggling to stay afloat. He then saves you justbefore you’re drown and tell you smilingly, “See? That’s why you need to learn swimming.” Dang, that’s radical! Yet, I like this quote:
“Sometimes we need to be hurt in order to grow. We must fail in order to know.
We must lose in order to gain. Some lessons are learned best through pain.” (author unknown)
Sensei doesn’t stroke his hair, consoling, “they’re the bad guys, worry not, everything will be okay.” Probably he also believes that kindness doesn’t always trump evil – sometimes poison can only be counteracted by a stronger poison. Yes, the bullying needs to stop, but it won’t happen until the target fights back and everyone’s involved stops turning a blind eye to this issue. Even then, Shige won’t immediately win friends over. Etc etc.
Kazoku Game is not only about bullying, and Shige isn’t the center — since the beginning, I’ve always felt that Shinichi is the core. As the title implies, it’s a family game so every family member takes part in it. Initially in charge of Shige, sensei slowly shifts his attention to the other members as well. Father who’s rarely at home and spends his nights out with younger prettier female juniors, mother who feels caged at home and unequippedly ventures into online stock trading then incurs massive losses in the process, and honor-student Shinichi who basks in shoplifting and puncturing teachers’ bike’s tires.
Shinichi particularly finds sensei’s nosy presence a nuisance, the more when the latter starts poking his nose into the former’s bubble little space and is able to see through his cool façade. Well, he de-masks everybody, but Shinichi gets worked up to cognize what he really is and reveal what his underlying motive is after discovering that Yoshimoto Kouya ain’t sensei’s really name or identity and hearing that he’s killed someone…
until he stumbles into a mysterious website whose administrator’s family (played by Kutsuna Shiori) was allegedly ruined by Yoshimoto Kouya. Bingo! From this point onwards, the journey towards unraveling the labyrinth of sensei’s dark past begins…
p.s.: i deliberately use pronouns like ‘mother’, ‘father’, and ‘sensei’ here. I know it’s so much easier and faster to use abbreviated yet friendlier terms like ‘mom’ and ‘dad’ but to me this parents don’t go beyond being a mother/father to their kids. It takes more than that to become ma/pa, if you get what i mean. And i’ve stated that i couldn’t call Sho’s character Yoshimoto anymore, yet going by his real name would defeat the purpose of writing a relatively spoiler-free plot. “Yeah, whatever…“ *rolling eyes* dunno why i’m explaining this either.
~stills captured from the video uploaded at plotbox~