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Puzzle Review
17 June 2008

Of late I've found myself watching a lot of live-action Japanese dramas (or J-dramas). This may partially be because they are excellent vehicles for practicing one's Japanese, but I expect it is mostly because I love how they use awkward silences. Nothing uses awkward silence quite as effectively as J-dramas.

To this end, I thought I'd extend my usual habit of reviewing to include some J-dramas. This blog has pretty much just become a celebration of my fascination with all things Japanese anyway, might as well continue the theme. The inaugural review of this type will be 'Puzzle'.

'Puzzle' was only four episodes long, so all up it was about the length of your average movie. This is the 2007 version, not to be confused with (the purportedly better and longer) 2008 version.

The story is set in an elite school. 'Class A' - the best of the best - are put in a special intensive class over the summer holidays. It's during this exercise that the school is invaded by terrorists who take one of the students and the teacher hostage, and demand that the class solve a 2,000 piece jigsaw puzzle in 24 hours, or the hostages will be killed. The catch: they have to FIND the puzzle pieces first, which have been scattered all over the school. Seriously everywhere: taped under the legs of chairs, in test tubes, inside books... EVERYWHERE.

Played by Yanagi Kotarou, who may be better known as the lead in 'Tadashii Ouji Tsukurikata' or 'How to Create the Ideal Prince'
The student at the top of the class and the show's protagonist. Please excuse the hard subs - unable to take screencaps myself, I had to turn to the internet to show you. You can reach the source site by clicking on the picture.

The story goes back and forth between the private interviews where the characters are being interviewed by an unseen investigator after the incident, and to flashbacks of the story unfolding. This probably removed a bit of the suspense, but that was made up for in the interesting juxtaposition such an editing style created - for example, one character explaining that he was rivals with the lead character, and then cutting to said character explaining to the interviewer that he'd never really considered it.

The ending is slightly disappointing, as even though there were a few wonderfully executed twists, it didn't really follow-through - it didn't feel like there was any real consequence to the story. It was something of an anti-climax, even. That said, it was a pretty fun ride throughout, it did a lot in just four episodes, and the mood was just great.

Everyone has dreamed of this happening to their teacher at least once, admit it.

The soundtrack was very sparse, and mostly piano. It enhanced the whole quiet, thinking, ominous vibe the show carried quite well, but probably isn't a soundtrack you'd buy. The performances were decent, but also not exactly award winning.

It�s actually difficult to explain what was so compelling about the show in retrospect. Honestly, it was mostly the premise and the editing that made the mini-drama so interesting. It felt almost art house, which was a bit of a breath of fresh air in regards to a television show. It made you think, and even if perhaps it didn't go the full distance plot-wise, it did deliver some real seat-gripping moments.

Given that it was only four episodes, not much more can be said without spoiling everything. Should you find yourself with some free time and a thirst for a slightly tame yet mildly enjoyable suspense story, it�s worth tracking down.

Overall score: 680,000/1,000,000