It’s filler… literally.
This week, we continue with Otsuki, one of the foremen of Teiai’s underground prison labor camp. We follow him on three more of his days out. On the first, he instructs one of his fellow debtors how to live life to the fullest on a one day out furlough. The second time around, he teaches the same lesson to one of his black suit handlers. Finally, he goes head to head with Mr. Tonegawa himself at Fried Cutlet Gorge, the site of Tonegawa’s fried cutlet challenge at the beginning of the season. Both men finish their large bowls, but it seems to have been at great personal cost.
Mr. Tonegawa has hit a bit of a stumbling block for me since midseason. Just as I feel that we were finally getting to know our core team, the show refuses to place them in more than a few minutes of the past two episodes. We instead focus on Otsuki who, while more entertaining than he was last week, is still not enough to carry the show in its weird new direction.
It’s definitely not all bad. Giving Otsuki three foils to work with plays much better than anything done last week. In fact, it makes last week’s episode seem completely superfluous, save the background about the one day out system. That, though, could have been covered in this episode and it would not have suffered. Otsuki as a mentor did serve as a sort of sequel to his collegiate encounter last week, but he specifically didn’t learn to appreciate that time at the conclusion of his day with the chef. I feel as if I learned two things during “Going Out”. 1) Days out are rare, but Otsuki gets a lot of them, and 2) Otsuki is a devious bastard.
What I don’t know is what motivates Otsuki, or more importantly, why I should care. He seems to have a very good working knowledge of Japan’s geography and social etiquette which he uses to his advantage in social situations but doesn’t seem to want to use it to get out of the underground. Otsuki seems to be able to compel anyone to do anything but has no interest in anything more than short-term goals. There is value to viewing him as another foil to Tonegawa. While the former achieves much with little effort, the latter achieves little with all of his might. But none of this makes Otsuki interesting.
It feels very much like Mr. Tonegawa is going back to its old tricks. This episode is legitimately funny more than once, and it is doing character work, but in a random direction. I believe that Otsuki might come back at some point for greater plot significance, but it’s just as likely that he doesn’t. Mr. Tonegawa has not earned nearly enough of my trust to think that this is all part of some master plan. It seems to go on these walkabouts where it has an idea of what it wants to be, only to lurch with no warning in a completely opposite direction.
Next week, we seem to have yet another foil for Tonegawa: an executive who is always on the president’s good side. Learning about Tonegawa through a study in contrasts is certainly one way to try to demystify the inscrutable cipher he’s been for most of the series, but why so late in the game? Fifteen episodes in and I only know a few members of his team, despite them being in nearly every show. Yet, there is space for two Otsuki episodes.
If I’m being honest, Endo is enough of a mirror for Tonegawa. One who makes him question his own morality when confronted with someone who flaunts their level of criminality with abandon. I get it; I’m interested. Tonegawa isn’t a character show, and they have yet to build me a convincing world. I’ve learned a lot about Japanese customs and its geography, but presumably, the audience would already know that.
If the show wants to be a series of slapstick-y manners plays, fine. If the show wants to be about the Sisyphean nature of Japanese working culture, that’s fine too. I’ve come away with the feeling that Mr. Tonegawa is some kind of a referendum on modern Japanese life that fires on too many cylinders for its own good. It has some very interesting ideas, but none of them really mesh. This feels like a failure on a show-running level. There’s no direction the show consistently moves in, and with the end in sight, I’m thinking it may never find one.