HigurashiTomohiro WakiTomohiro KakuRei Yoshii
Higurashi When They Cry: the 2016 live-action TV series
Also known as: Higurashi no Naku Koro ni: the 2016 live-action TV series
Medium: TV, series
Year: 2016
Keywords: Higurashi, horror
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Actor: Yu Inaba, Yuma Ishigaki, Rie Kitahara, Tomohiro Kaku, Shinobu Tsuruta, Tomohiro Waki, Toshiki Seto, Rei Yoshii, Norihito Kaneko
Format: 10 hour-long episodes across two seasons (May-June, November-December)
Website category: J-horror
Review date: 22 November 2019
Higurashi
Sometimes you can understand opinions that differ from your own. You disagree, but you can understand how others might think that.
I can't understand people who prefer this TV series to the 2008-09 Ataru Oikawa films. I know they exist. I've seen them online. However I think they're mad.
THINGS THAT YOU MIGHT THINK ARE BETTER IN THE 2016 TV SERIES:
1. It's a more complete adaptation, covering almost all the first anime series. That's five arcs instead of two, although there's still no equivalent of anime eps.14-15 (Time Wasting) or of later seasons.
2. Some of the casting is better. I particularly love Shinobu Tsuruta as Ooishi, while the two younger girls (Satoko and Rika) are interesting and get plenty to do.
3. It's more faithful than the Oikawa films, sticking closely to huge chunks of the original.
THINGS THAT ARE WORSE IN THE 2016 TV SERIES:
...where do I start?
Actually, no. That's a silly question. It's the acting, isn't it? (It's less bad than a lot of Japanese live-action TV, but that's like saying you've been crippled rather than decapitated.) Almost all this show's problems come from the acting. The male actors are fine-to-good, with the worst unfortunately being Keiichi and his occasionally sub-standard reaction shots. The girls, though, all come from Japanese idol girl group NGT48. Yup, that's right. They sing in a band. Look them up and you'll see that they spend most of their time releasing songs and appearing on variety shows. Some of them also have acting careers, but they're in the minority. Oh, and this means that Rika and Satoko are a good four or five years older than they should be, because almost all the girls are roughly the same age.
It's noticeable that several of the show's strongest lines are played with the actress facing away from the camera. Had everyone been a real actor, you'd have been getting the camera in there as close as you could.
Arguably, though, it's impressive that they're as good as they are. They're mostly sort of okay, unless the scene requires depth or power. They interact likeably with each other. They're watchable and pretty. However... well, let's go through in order.
BEST TO WORST, OMITTING THE BOYS:
1st = RIKA (Hinata Honma) - is a masterpiece of casting. She's perfect. It's as if Rika stepped out of the anime and came alive. She can't always pull off saying "nipaa" and she doesn't have the greatest depth, but the nature of the role means that's only a problem briefly, in one episode.
2nd = MIYO TAKANO (Rie Kitahara) - is actually a decent actress. She's also 24 years old, compared with 15-18 for all the others. Her performance choices are logical and defensible, but I'm getting a bit annoyed that every single sodding live-action adaptation lays it on too thick it with Takano.
3rd = SATOKO (Reina Seiji) - is actually an improvement on the anime's Satoko. She has a bad attitude, but that fits her trap-making habits and makes her feel like much more of a real person than anime-Satoko ever did. It's capable of making her look like an obnoxious bitch, but hey. What's more, she's the best actress of the main four. She's still extremely limited (e.g. can't cry convincingly in ep.7), but there's a reason why Satoko episodes work better than everyone else's.
Unfortunately her age breaks the character. She's introduced as an in-your-face, aggressive tomboy in short shorts, when all the other girls wear skirts. She's also obviously about to jump into bed with Keiichi, with the two of them being in each other's faces and getting in their personal space. Then, though, a Satoko story arc begins ("Killed by the Curse") and the script hasn't been updated at all for Seiji's Satoko. The dialogue and actions are all for little, helpless anime-Satoko. Thus Rika's "explanation" of her behaviour in ep.5 is no kind of explanation at all. It would fit the character's pre-pubescent canonical age, but not the character who's on-screen unless she's subnormal. Keiichi's overplayed disbelief at the idea of Satoko's cooking looks stupid.
This segues into Keiichi patting her head and saying dialogue that treats her as a small child, to which she responds by calling him her "nii-nii" ("brothery-wothery"?). This is a bad fit with the earlier sexual tension between them, not to mention him rescuing her in the bath in ep.6. After that, she's wearing a towel.
4th = HANYUU (Moeka Takakura) - has no presence and no personality, but that's what she's been given to play.
5th = RENA (Minami Katou) - oh, good grief. Other girls might have no depth, but can at least be cute and fun. Katou can't even do that. When she tries to be cute, she's liable to seem simpering and insipid. She's got a great horror face, mind you, and you can see why they cast her. She looks like a deep sea fish. You expect her to catch food by flicking her tongue across the room. However she's got no more acting depth than anyone else.
In fairness, though, she improves. They all do, really. Some of the classroom scenes in ep.1 left me feeling as if I was watching a nativity play. I was bored. By the time we reach ep.10, though, everyone's more competent.
6th = MION (Rika Nakai) - is super-pretty, vivacious and extremely watchable. She's fun. You'll like her.
However she's absolutely not Mion. The character she's playing is forceful, strong and a natural leader. She's as tall as Keiichi and not someone to be messed with, no matter that she's always laughing and easy-going. She tells everyone what to do.
Nakai, on the other hand, gives us a tiny, fragile-looking girl who talks a lot. (She's five foot one.) She looks about twelve. She's merely average for forcefulness, thanks to Keiichi and Seiji's Satoko. She's definitely not the tomboy. She doesn't dominate. Nakai also fails to make you notice much difference between Mion and Shion, although the "Eye Opening" arc eventually does that for her.
This breaks her episodes. Words fail me. When Keiichi doesn't give that doll to Mion in ep.3 because she's "unfeminine", please don't die laughing. Nakai's completely failed to create the qualities in the character that would have sold that key moment. She's the most feminine cast member by miles. (I admit that I'm deliberately ignoring the difference between Western and traditional Japanese definitions of femininity here, but that's because a lot of the latter is horse manure.)
That said, though, Nakai's also fun and I'd happily watch her again in a better-chosen role. It's not her fault that she was miscast.
THE INDIVIDUAL STORY ARCS
Eps.1-2 = "Spirited Away by the Demon" (May 2016), anime eps.1-4 and the 2008 film
Ugh. I found it often distracting, dull or annoying, thanks to the cast. The script's impressively faithful, mind you. Yuu Inaba is at his worst as Keiichi, which is disappointing since he's capable of better. Did this show have rehearsals? The reaction shots are risible. The needle scene had me swearing. The scary contact lenses are tiresomely overdone.
There's also an infuriating card game that's full of TV shorthand. When Satoko deals the first hand, she accidentally deals one of the cards face-up and no one notices. They're playing Old Maid and Keiichi gets dealt a four-card hand while everyone else has only one, letting Satoko immediately go out after drawing her first card from Keiichi's hand.
Occasionally this two-parter is effective, though, e.g. shutting the hand in the door. I also loved Ooishi the moment I saw him. They've cast this little, jovial seventy-year-old with a voice like a motorbike.
Eps.3-4 = "Watanagashi" (June 2016), anime eps.5-8
The light-hearted relaxing scenes usually work, but sometimes they push the silliness too far. Here's, that's Keiichi's maid outfit punishment.
This is a Mion two-parter, unfortunately. It self-destructs immediately with the doll scene and then made me hate it with the Keiichi-Shion scene in Angel Mort. That scene can piss right off. It's unwatchable. It turns Keiichi into a hateful sexual harasser, when the scene could actually have been funny had Nakai been capable of playing her character. (Mion's tougher than Keiichi, after all.)
That was a nadir, admittedly, but I found the whole thing painful. The seems-to-be-lying scene is maddeningly bad. Scenes with Shion are all wrong. Talking tough to those bikers... shudder. In the end, when our heroes get die bloodily, that was my happy ending.
Granny Sonozaki looks satisfyingly intimidating, though.
Eps.5-6 = "Killed by the Curse" (June 24, 2016), anime eps.9-13
It's about Satoko, so it's the show's most successful arc. You could fall to your death in the gulf between the actress's age and how the character's being written, but the Keiichi-Satoko relationship works. It's saying something about abuse, denial and irrational behaviour. (Satoko being older makes this stronger, because there's a moment where you start wondering if the uncle's abuse might not also be sexual.)
It also introduces That Ending.
Tomohiro Waki surprised me and perhaps has a slightly comedic air as Teppei Houjou, but you can't say his violence isn't convincing. I didn't care what happened to Keiichi, though.
Eps.7-8 = "Eye Opening" (November-December 2016), anime eps.16-21
It's another Mion/Shion arc, but it works better than the last one. I actually quite enjoyed it, although Nakai is still risible. She can't play agony, grief or being strangled. She can't even convincingly threaten Honma's Rika, which is like losing at arm-wrestling to a kitten.
Ep.7 has a strong Satoshi/Satoko focus, which is a huge plus. (Seto Toshiki is good as Satoshi.) It even manages to get gross with the fingernail scene, although unsurprisingly they don't take that all the way to the end. (Given Nakai, that's probably for the best.)
Ep.8 is funny rather than horrifying, though. I wasn't emotionally engaged, to put it mildly, although it's quite interesting as a view of what it must be like to be a serial killer. I also liked Keiichi here.
Eps.9-10 = "Atonement" (December 2016), anime eps.22-26 and the 2009 film
It's quite good. It also has quite a lot of answers you won't see in the equivalent anime episodes, perhaps because the anime held back some things for Season 2. It fills in gaps. It's downright painstaking with its explanations, although I didn't always buy what it was selling. (Suddenly everyone can remember, eh? Just like that, as if it's routine? Ep.10 also develops a habit of trying to give people cool hero moments, which I think undercuts the horror and weakens the story being told.)
The ending's weak, I think. (It's trying to be positive and happy, but in a Higurashi-ish way. That's understandable for a TV series on its last season, but give me the 2009 film's ending every time.)
OVERALL
There are definitely things to like here. I like the end theme song. Keiichi's embarrassing idiot father is unexpectedly wonderful. I also loved Ooishi.
The production values I'm fine with. You can tell you're watching TV, but it's still fine. At least there's some gore. I can forgive, say, the hilariously bad roof fight in ep.10 and the cawing puppet crow in ep.6. Occasional but unnecessary special effects are more of a problem, e.g. Hanyuu's purple glow and the occasional attempts to be stylish by turning the screen orange.
Also, the script logic works. Puzzles are justified and dodgy plot beats now make sense. It hangs together better than the anime did.
Besides, the acting will probably strike most people as better than I've been implying. The girls are mostly (although not always) capable of line delivery. They're likeable. You can relax and enjoy watching them. It's just that they're a long, long way short of the requirements of the material.
It's my fault for watching another live-action Japanese TV show, really.