Weekend Pick: Border (2014)

border poster Genre: Detective, Thriller, Psychological
Episode count: 9
Duration: 54 minutes

Synopsis: It’s another night of homicide investigation for ambitious detective Ishikawa Ango (Oguri Shun), but events soon take a deadly turn. As he wanders off to check the perimeter, he is shot in the head by an unknown perpetrator. “Where do people go when they die?” It’s a question meant to be answered for a different day, however. Ishikawa survives, but with the bullet lodged inside his brain. Although it may pose later health crises, to remove it requires a risky operation—not only would Ishikawa’s life once more be at stake, so would his newfound ability: to see the dead. Whether his sixth sense is a result of coming into contact with death—or is a side effect of the bullet’s location—remains a mystery. But for someone like Ishikawa, immersed in his work so completely that he has no life beyond it, this ability is a gift that he cannot risk losing.

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Why you should watch it: Border is aptly titled for obvious reasons upon first glance, but it holds double meaning. For as much as Ishikawa steps on that threshold between life and death, he treads a fine line between law-abiding and corrupt. The deceased victims often point him in the direction of the culprit, and if not, they at least supply Ishikawa with ample clues—and this is what I love about the show. It’s quick to engage its audience, so rather than dwelling on a stuck point, it starts off with a bang (sometimes literally) and runs upholding its pace. But what’s a plus for viewers is a double-edged sword for Ishikawa. The dead can directly point out the murderer, and yet there’s no use without evidence—not unless you have the city’s underground backing you up, and Ishikawa does.

One of Ishikawa’s selling points lies in his ability to preserve this clean-cop, morally righteous mentality all the while using illegal methods as a basis to find legal means that pin culprits down. Early on, Ishikawa holds clear ideas on right and wrong, or Good versus Evil—and to pull a quote directly, he states in episode three, “Real heroes don’t need to take lives.” What a statement! Much can be discussed and debated on philosophical grounds, but I find it refreshing to see a character whose well-defined principles don’t allow him to stray too far off. There is a nice, kept balance between how “dirtied” Ishikawa becomes and maintaining his sense of justice. But even Ishikawa’s ‘criminal’ acquaintances can’t always ensure a culprit’s downfall, and it becomes that much more painful for him to accept facts: “justice” cannot always trump evil deeds, and it becomes his undoing. His comment from episode three is wholly forgotten, and it’s equally distressing as it is worrisome to watch his descent. It’s only a matter of how far Ishikawa falls, and will he be able to bounce back?

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In its finale, Border shows how far Ishikawa will go in the name of justice—but it’s a decision that permanently alters his fundamental person, and the ethics of his actions are left open for discussion. (Do I see a season two in the near future? No? Ah, I can dream.) This complete transformation owes much credit not only to the script, but to the actor. J-dramas are not my territory, but Oguri Shun impressed me enough that I’m now tempted to stalk his filmography. He took on a character who could have been undoubtedly bland—especially in the drama’s first half—and colored him with an emotionally-nuanced performance.

The catch: One of my bigger disappointments lies with the show’s failure to utilize side characters. With the exception of a few, the cast is largely forgettable—and if not for the acting, characters like Ishikawa’s partner (yeah, okay, but his name is what again? It’s Tachibana, not that I’ll remember later on), a pair of computer geeks, and Higa Mika—the coroner, played by Haru—would be lost to me. Ishikawa aside, Higa is the one other consistent character to stand out, but her personal development is shafted. Instead, all we see is the potential of what could have been. Likewise, Tachibana never expands outside of comic relief, and Border only hints at a different side to Ishikawa’s boss. The way these characters play off each other is lovely to watch, but it’s a downright shame when the script hands all but one such little range to work with.

And then, of course, there is the final episode. Everything about it cries for a season two, but the existence of one seems unlikely. Depending on the person, this can be considered as either good or bad, but I’m a viewer on the fence. Ishikawa’s transformation wins me over—it’s not just watching the process of his unraveling, but seeing the result in action, and I find something appealing in the way Border leaves us to ponder. But then it feels extremely lacking, and—ultimately—incomplete. What of the aftermath? We’ll never know…

Weekend Pick features binge-worthy entertainment that can be marathoned during your work-week break. Think you have a good suggestion? Drop a comment below or send a message


3 thoughts on “Weekend Pick: Border (2014)

  1. lillianccc

    I really like Oguri Shun and have liked him since Hana Yori Dango. Even with his infidelity rumors (sigh, always such a turn off) I still like him as an actor. I haven’t been following him in recent years though so this was a pleasant surprise to know about!

    1. Raya Post author

      infidelity rumors, really?! aahhh, that’s a big disappointment.

      it’s funny, because I think I watched Hana Yori Dango in 2011-ish after I binge-watched BoF. at the time I had no idea who Oguri Shun was, so I was shocked to learn he played Hanazawa. (even more shocked to learn Matsuda was also in HYD, because I was crushing all over him in Liar Game! ha ha.)

      Oguri is also playing in Ouroboros right now, too. I’ve no idea what it’s like, but I’m stacking up on episodes until it’s finished so I can marathon it. I’ve also got Crows Zero ready to watch. it sounds a little ridiculous, but if Oguri Shun is in it… I’ll watch it…

      1. lillianccc

        Way ahead of you, sister. I watched it a while back despite my general disinterest in that sort of genre but I fully admit to watching Crows Zero just for him hahaha.

        Sorry about disillusioning you a bit though… I mean it could all just be baseless talk but apparently they’ve been flying around quite a bit. 😦

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