Title: A Sleeping Forest aka Nemureru Mori
Director: Nakae Isamu, Sawada Kensaku
Format: 12 episodes
Dates: 8 Oct 1998 – 24 Dec 1998
Synopsis: Although she has no memory of her past, Minako is happily preparing for her upcoming marriage. But a 15-year-old letter leads her into meeting a strange man who knows everything about her. Soon she finds that beneath the pleasant surface of her life is a terrible darkness, and, as the lies come to the surface, Minako’s world will be shattered.
Mystery: Comes to an obvious conclusion, but there are surprises along the way.
Characters: Complex and twisted.
Ending: One of the most frustrating endings you will ever see.
This mysterious drama series is unique in a genre where the usual mystery is who the main character will end up falling in love with. The main focus of A Sleeping Forest is Minako’s search for the answers in connection to the murder of her family. This is the darkest Japanese drama series I have seen to date. But as a mystery, it is lacking. There are plenty of surprising twists and turns to the plot of A Sleeping Forest. However, as an average viewer who can recognize the typical progression of events and the conventions of mystery movies and TV series, I had the main overarching mystery solved straight from the first episode.
So in a way, the most interesting thing about this story is not the mystery itself; it is the darkness of the characters. Each character is twisted in some way. Minako’s past is haunted by trauma that affects her future. Ito Naoki, the strange man from her past who stalks her current life, has sacrificed his own life and happiness in order to protect hers, which seems just a bit like an unhealthy obsession. Her fiance, Hamazaki Kiichirou, has his own issues from the past, as does the man convicted of murdering Minako’s family, who was recently released from prison on early parole. All of these characters and their own pasts and problems weave together to form a tight web of conflicting motives and desires, which definitely adds to the complexity of A Sleeping Forest and makes the mystery interesting even if it is not surprising.
Minako, played by Nakayama Miho, is the strongest character throughout the series. Despite being tortured with confusing flashbacks from a traumatizing past she might not even want to remember again, she remains undeterred in her search for her past and her determination to live a new life in the future. Nakayama Miho gives the most impressive performance in this drama. Her portrayal of Minako expresses the right level of fear and confusion, but also the unshakeable will to find out the truth. Kimura Takuya, the actor behind Naoki, gives a startlingly believable turn as the slightly off-kilter stalker.
A Sleeping Forest is an engaging and involving mystery, but it is plagued with a handful of flaws. The pace of the story is plodding. Each episode seems to take twice as long to get through than it actually does. Episodes do not get boring per se, but they do take their time to get where they’re going, which might turn some viewers off. Also, there are a few shocking side stories that seem to be there only to torture the main characters, rather than to add to the mystery in any way, particularly towards the end of the series. These stories have no connection to the main mystery; while they contribute to the heavy and depressing mood, they seem out-of-place and almost unnecessary to the storyline.
The largest flaw, however, is that the ending is extremely frustrating. After solving the mystery and coming to an equilibrium of sorts, you might expect that things will end, if not happily, then at least with a completion that is satisfying. However, the ending is very tragic, and the circumstances feel too forced and unnatural. The last few minutes are well-performed and well-directed, but the events themselves feel completely unnecessary, leading the story to finish off on a much more depressing note than perhaps it should have.
However, despite these flaws, this is an above average drama that will definitely keep you glued to the screen for all twelve episodes.
The Rating: 7
Reviewed by: dheu