The Japanese drama Million Yen Women is easy to watch, but hard to make sense of
A struggling novelist (Yojiro Noda) has no recollection of registering his house with Airbnb or any rental service. But five women turn up one day, as if in a reality television show, making him an offer he can't resist.
All of them mention mysterious invitations they received to move in with him and each of them puts down the rent for the first month, one million yen (S$12,450), on the spot.
Suddenly five million yen richer, he is less frightened of his visitors than he was moments ago and decides not to call the police, though he is still puzzled by the unexpected turn his life has taken. Who are the women, who are all rather attractive, and why him?
This is the intriguing hook the Japanese drama Million Yen Women starts with, and no wonder it is trending on Netflix.
The show is beguilingly watchable, perhaps in the way a Haruki Murakami novel is readable. It has a surreal blandness that tilts towards fantasy, mild titillation and suspense - after all, the tenants include a high-school girl (Rena Takeda), a charmer who turns out to be a famous recluse (Yuko Araki) and a nudist with the air of a dominatrix (Rila Fukushima).
But it also has a seriousness that leads you to expect real answers and concrete insights.
Some of the women have secrets - a job at the high end of the sex industry, a lottery windfall - which the show reveals at fairly regular intervals to push the story forward.
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But the man at the centre of the show, whose inner life may be a key piece of the puzzle, is the most mysterious of them all.
His back story rears its ugly head in an early episode, when a death threat is sent to the house by fax. Later, a tenant takes a pointed interest in the case of the landlord's father, who is on death row after committing a triple murder.
The dreadful incident must have left a crater in the novelist's life and the show offers a few glimpses of this: How carefully compartmentalised his daily routine is, as he takes care of his tenants' breakfasts and dinners, and slips out for an appointment with his regular prostitute in between.
How politely he tiptoes around his father's crime, as well as the mother of one of the murder victims. How he writes novels in which no one dies.
However, he remains a cipher and the show becomes ominous and hollow as characters are killed and sacrifices are made for him.
What do the women see in him, and why him?
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 30, 2017, with the headline 'Five women and a mystery man'. Print Edition | Subscribe
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