「花、一輪」 (Hana, Ichirin)
“Flower, One Wheel”
We’re three episodes in, and I can honestly say I only have one real problem with Kaze ga Tsuyoku Fuiteiru. And I’m not even sure it’s an actual problem or, if it is, what kind of problem it is. That is to say, Haiji. Frankly, I just don’t like the guy. I’ve never liked guys like him either in real life or on the screen – the ones who think other people’s lives are theirs to play with. And convince themselves that their own goals are noble and thus, it’s noble to exploit and manipulate others in order to achieve them.
Am I being presumptive here? No doubt – we’re only two episodes into this series. But I’ve known a few Haijis in my day, and you can spot them a mile (or let’s say 5 KM) away. The thing is, I’m not exactly sure what Miura Shion (the author of the novel) wants me to think about Haiji. Maybe I’m not supposed to like him – maybe I’m reacting exactly as I should be. Maybe I’m supposed to find him charming and funny (no to the former, sort of to the latter) and be swept up in his dedication to the cause (nope, not yet). I guess the answer to that, at least, will become clear over the next few episodes.
That’s definitely a difference between this series and Fune wo Amu, likewise a story about obsessions and those who pursue them. I never resisted getting swept up with those people – maybe in part because their cause connected with me more viscerally, but also because I didn’t find their methods so distasteful. What Kaze ga Tsuyoku is communicating effectively is just how badly Haiji wants this – that he’s desperate to succeed and willing to go to any length to do so is clear. I’m just not convinced yet that I should by sympathetic.
Kakeru, on the other hand, has an arc I’m finding more relatable – even if he’s hardly been Mr. Congeniality himself. Stealing the bread was bad, yes – and kudos to Haiji for handling that situation the right way. But Kakeru is somebody who’s clearly dealing with a lot of personal pain, and he’s not trying to drag anyone into his problems. That’s probably not healthy for him, and ironically for all Haiji’s douchebaggery Kakeru is someone he probably is helping by forcing him to connect with the world. But I’ve been where Kakeru is right here – not as regards running, but in life generally. And it’s not an easy place to be.
The latest twist in Haiji’s chicanery is getting the vegetable seller’s daughter Hanako (Kimura Juri) to act as a lure to motivate the guys to run. I won’t overstate the case by comparing what he’s doing here to prostitution, but it is fundamentally disrespectful to her and frankly kind of gross. In other words par for the course for what we’ve seen of Haiji so far, and – also par – pretty effective. Certainly on the twins anyway, but then even if you pooled their intellects I doubt they’d be bright enough to illuminate a phone booth.
As for the others, Prince continues to struggle badly – to the point where I have doubts whether it’s safe to even force him to run 10 KM at this point (though “run” would be overstating the case). The lawyer-to-be Iwakura Yukihiro (Okitsu Kazuyuki) is the first to stand up for himself – going out clubbing at night and blowing off the morning run. But Haiji basically threatens to destroy his social life if Iwakura doesn’t play along, and that more or less breaks his resistance. Musa continues to deal with casual racism from the others, but at least Miura is pointing it out (through him) – I hope someone else in the cast acknowledges it too at some point.
The crux of all this is that the Ekiden remains a ridiculously difficult hurdle for these noobs to overcome. The race may be 10 months away but even to enter they must pass a qualifier where only the top 20% survive, and to do that each of them must be able to clock a 16:30 5K or 30:00 10K – which, for the record, is damn hard. So it’s not enough for just Haiji and Kakeru to be fast – and now some ugliness from Kakeru’s past seems to have reached out to jab at him again, leaving his own state of mind even more in doubt. I guess, in that context, maybe Haiji’s extreme methods do make more sense – desperate times call for desperate measures, and the task he’s set for himself is full-on desperate…