ATARU Episode 1 Recap

I watched this on a whim and am totally glad that I did. This drama is cute, funny, serious, and has a little bit of everything. I have never seen any of Nakai Masahiro’s dramas before [and I have to say that when it comes to Johnny’s group SMAP, I really only know Inagaki, Kimura, and Kusanagi], but I have to say as an actor, the man has skill! It is not easy to play an autistic savant and he does so quite well. The man definitely has a baby face given that he is 40 years old now [and SMAP is still around, Johnny’s groups never die!].

Anywho, the plot revolves around ATARU [whether that is a codename or his real name, I’m not 100% certain] who refers to himself as Chokozai. He is different and extremely intelligent. He wonders away from his handler after arriving in Japan and gets involved with the local police, namely Ebina Maiko who is trying to prove that she is not just a pretty face for the police department.

The episode begins with the arrival of ATARU [Nakai Masahiro] and his handler [Murakami Hiroaki as Larry Inoue] at Narita airport in Japan. He is instructed to use Japanese from now on. Ataru “updates” [he almost seems like a robot in a way with that]. His handler goes off and leaves him alone, instructing him to stay put. Ataru looks around and processes everything while recalling memories from when he was a small boy. He sees a map and takes off. By the time his handler returns, the boy is long gone. At that time, a man in a warehouse makes a phone call and gets blown up.

Chief Sawa Shunichi [Kitamura Kazuki] is enroute to the explosion scene when he hears a sudden, staticy burst of English over the scanner describing the lost Ataru. The people who lost him, some type of organization probably akin to like the CIA or FBI or something like that are looking for him with no luck. How they can’t find a young man wondering around in the middle of busy traffic is beyond me.

Later we meet an annoyed Ebina Maiko [Kuriyama Chiaki] who does not agree with Sawa and the rest of the investigators writing off the explosion as an accident. No one wants to listen to her and let her investigate on her own. Ebina’s main problem is that the material stored in the warehouse was highly combustible and the man who was killed used to be a professional engineer, so how could he make such a mistake? Even his wife didn’t believe that such a thing happened. Sawa won’t listen and still closes the case as an accident. Nozaki Hosue [Chihara Seiji] comes in and concurs with Sawa who then leaves. Ebina is angry, especially when Nozaki says she should just concentrate on what she’s good at – being the face of the department. Ouch. Ebina goes to Sawa again and begs to reinvestigate the case. He says again that the case is officially closed and they need to concentrate on all the other cases. Angry, Ebina stalks off. [I loved how in one part Ebina angrily talks informally to Nozaki whose glare makes her hastily add a –san to the end of his name.]

Meanwhile, Ataru is wondering around still and recalling memories form his childhood. It looks like his mother is making him some onigiri. He arrives at a house and walks in. There is an old couple watching the news. The man wants to divorce and his wife can’t believe he’d say such a thing after this time. Their bickering keeps them from noticing Ataru who has just walked in. He notices the explosion story on the news and “accepts” the mission and walks right on out of the house. This time, the old woman looks behind as the door slams, but Ataru is already gone. Meanwhile, he is still being searched for. The organization has figured out the direction he went after leaving the airport and ask Inoue if the local authorities can be used – he doesn’t think so. Ataru then goes to a convenience store where the cashier asks him to pay in yen and not dollars. After awhile, he finally processes this and pays with the correct currency. Man, the guy is LOADED! I can’t believe they let him carry that much money around on him. I also can’t believe he only but ketchup and mustard for food…blech!

The next morning, Sawa is told that if Ebina blunders the investigation, he will have to take full responsibility and hand in his badge. Harsh. Meanwhile, Ebina has gone to the scene to look around and collect evidence. There she finds an unconscious Ataru. At first she thinks he is hurt and calls for help, only to learn that it is ketchup and not blood when she bends close to check his breathing. Thinking she is pulling a prank, Ebina is hung up on. Ebina then ignores the unconscious man and goes back to gathering evidence. She gets a rude shock when Ataru appears behind her and starts rattling “nonsense” off. He rattles a part number off and also says that one is from Taiwan. Ebina is clueless as to what is going on. She is even more clueless to his name as he keeps referring to himself as “Chokozai” [literally meaning Cheeky Choco]. When she goes to question him further, she finds him back in the heap asleep. Does anyone else find it weird that she jus went on investigating and ignoring him? She should have at least been curious or wondered if he was connected to the case, but I guess she might have thought he was just a homeless bum.

Ebina returns home to find Sawa there talking with her father [Riju Go]. She asks what he is doing there and Sawa reveals that he is going to help with her investigation in order to save his own neck. To summarize, he doesn’t really have faith in her or really support her as an investigator, but he has no choice. Ebina then brings up the bag of evidence taken from the scene which earns her a scolding for removing it. She ignores this and asks if there’s anything related to Taiwan there. Funny again how she seems to trust whatever Ataru says after only having that really bizarre first meeting.

Ataru is buying more mustard and ketchup when a box with Speedy Mustard written on it catches his attention. His fingers move like he’s playing the piano and he keeps uttering “D.” Meanwhile, the evidence is taken to the lab and processed by Atsumi Reiji [Tanaka Tetsushi] he confirms that one of the screws from the scene was made in Taiwan while all the others were from mainland China. While Sawa is learning this, Ebina is doing research and discovers that the random numbers and letters Ataru spouted was really the make of a particular printing press.

Sawa and Ebina meet up and learn from the victim’s wife that all their wooden crates are from a certain factory. At the factory, they learn all of their screws come from China, not Taiwan. Ebina then shows pictures of charred boxes with writing. The man points them to another factory. Their, the man looks at all the pictures and points to a particular one as being the only one NOT printed at their factory. Ebina then pulls out a picture of the printing press she found and asked if that press could have printed that label. The man doesn’t know. Sawa takes the printout and wonders just where Ebina found such information. The girl recalls Ataru’s words, but remains silent about getting outside help. She then hands Sawa the printout again and tells him to look into it. That crate from unknown origins could have contained explosives which means murder and not an accident. Looks like Sawa is finally starting to believe her. Ataru wanders into a net café to watch an internet drama. Seems trivial, but it plays an important part in this episode.

Sawa and Ebina meet with the victim’s wife once again. They get suspicious when she asks when the death certificate will be released. Why is she in a hurry? She needs it for insurance purposes. This makes Sawa’s antennae go up and makes him think it just might be murder after all. Back at the station, Sawa asks for information on the printing press. That turns out to be a relatively good lead as there are only a few types of that press in Japan. Meanwhile, Ebina heads home where she asks her brother, Sho [Tamamori Yuta], to identify a sound. What sound? The sound that Ataru kept making. Sho identifies it as an “E” from the music scale. He has perfect pitch and was a rocker in high school.

Sawa and Ebina go to the places that own the presses but seem to come up empty. Ebina then requests to bring a person in on the case. Who? Well, she has no idea. She then explains about Ataru and Sawa goes in to have a worker [dispatcher?] search for a missing person fitting Ataru’s description. Meanwhile, Ebina is looking at more printing places and manages to find a place that prints the boxes for the ketchup she saw Ataru had. When she learns where it is sold, she rushes off in hopes of catching Ataru. And wouldn’t you know as she’s looking at the other day’s footage, Ataru comes in to buy more supplies! Ataru isn’t very forthcoming with information directly. He points out the mustard box and keeps making a noise. Ebina then has the store manager look for a customer with perfect pitch. They find a drag queen who has it and he identifies the note as “D.” Ebina gets it finally. The “d” on the picture she has is different from the rest of the font. While Ebina closely compares the box to the picture, Ataru just turns and walks out.

Ebina rushes after him when she realizes he’s gone and manages to catch up. He elbows her hard in the stomach when she tries to stop him, but she won’t back down. While struggling to keep him still, the pictures she’s holding end up flying everywhere. Ataru focuses on these and spots something interesting. He points it out and tells her the percentage is different. Ebina quickly picks up that picture and Ataru goes to leave once again. This time Ebina tackles him to the ground for obstructing justice. But tables turn when he bites her and ends up on top of her. He then notices the time and gets up. He needs to get to the net. This surprises Ebina, but she keeps following him. They end up watching a Japanese-dubbed drama of a female detective who is also a synchronized swimmer. Ebina wonders if this has something to do with the case, but she doesn’t quite get it, even though I think Ataru is hinting at something to do with the real case and the drama case. Ebina gets home and Sawa is there once again. She shows him the picture of the piece of metal Ataru identified and asks him to have that investigated.

The next day Sawa hears back that no such person matching Ataru’s description has been reported as missing. He then goes to the forensics lab where Ishikawa Yui [Mitsumune Kaoru] is torturing the forensics expert about preparing for paternity leave for the 5th year in a row. Her attitude immediately changes when she catches sight of Sawa. She leaves and Sawa teases Saori about his wife being pregnant for five years straight before getting down to business. Looks like that piece of metal that was analyzed was most likely from a bomb fuse. This is enough to reopen the investigation officially.

Ebina tracks down Ataru to the net café again and calls in Sawa to the location. Ataru asks for a specific brand of curry soup, but Ebina brings the wrong one and he refuses to eat it. Ebina gets angry and opens the noodles to eat all of them up, leaving on the broth and veggies behind. Ataru still refuses to eat until Ebina says something in a high-pitched tone. Ataru immediately quiets down and says the information has been updated and he calmly eats the noodles, surprising Ebina. Ataru then snuggles up to look at her watch and announces it is shower time. While he’s bathing, Sawa arrives and they go through Ataru’s things, but have no luck in identifying the strange Chocozai. Yells can soon be heard and there is Ataru walking around the place buck naked.

While Ataru changes, Sawa wonders just what is going on. Ebina confesses she doesn’t know, but everything Ataru spouts are clues to the case. Isn’t that strange? Glad someone finally pointed that out. Ebina doesn’t care, she trusts that the different Ataru is not involved in the incident. When Ataru spouts more information, Ebina carefully writes it down. She then entrusts Ataru to Sawa and rushes off to check out the victim’s house in search of “purple carpet” and to let his wife know about the new evidence. His wife wishes the investigation to be stopped because she fears it just might be a suicide. However, Ebina doesn’t wish to stop the investigation. She wants the full truth to come to light.

Ebina goes back to the explosion scene to search for more clues while Ataru directs the taxi driver to not go toward Ebina’s house, but the crime scene as well. while Ebina looks inside, Ataru looks around outside and notices tire tracks. Inside, Nozaki and his partner Matsushima [Shounozaki Ken] arrive. Nozaki immediately gets on Ebina’s case for meddling. He is certain that if its not ruled as an accident, it will be ruled as a suicide, thus ruining the victim’s family’s chance at getting much needed insurance money. Ebina sticks to her guns. It could turn out to be something other than suicide as well. At this time, Matsushima confesses and asks Ebina to date him. What awful timing. The shocked Ebina beats a hasty retreat.

Ebina runs into Ataru who touches her chest. Ebina laughs this off and pushes his hand away, but Ataru’s hand immediately goes back to her chest once again. I am surprised that Ebina didn’t get really angry at this, but she just kept laughing and trying to keep his hand away. The man only wants the pictures that are inside her chest pocket of her suit jacket. The pictures go flying through the air once more and Ataru is disappointed to learn that the tire marks aren’t there. Meanwhile, Sawa learns that the victim’s blood isn’t on the fuse so its murder and not suicide [if his blood was on the fuse, then that meant he set the bomb]. Also found was duct tape that had purple carpet fibers attached.

Sawa and Ebina meet up at the one print shop they were at before and find the van Ataru ID’d. And wouldn’t you know there’s duct tape and purple carpet in the van. They then talk to the printer and he finally breaks down and confesses to the murder. His business was going under. I’m not sure if he blamed the victim or what, but he arranged to meet the man at the warehouse. He planted the bomb there and when the victim tried to call him since he was late, the frequency triggered the bomb. The victim’s wife is happy to know that her caustic words to her husband did not drive him to suicide. She tearfully thanks Ebina for saving hers and her daughter’s life. This earns Ebina a congratulations from Sawa on her success. At this time, Ataru processes that the mission has been completed and he “shuts down” or rather falls over in a deep sleep.

Sawa and Ebina put “Chokozai” into a cart and wheel him to a house her father bought with her mother’s insurance from when she died. Sawa says he guesses why the house is called Maripoko [or something like that]. Ebina is surprised that he knows her mother’s name. Sawa ignores this and wonders why Ebina is letting Ataru stay at the house. Ebina smiles and looks down at the sleeping Ataru saying that it’s thanks to “Chokozai” that the case was successfully closed.

At the Ebina house, Sho pays respect to his mother’s shrine before getting ready to head out to medical school. Sawa praises Ebina-san for having a daughter who’s an investigator and a son who is studying medicine. Sawa then asks if he can pay respects to Mrs. Ebina. Ebina-san thanks him and tells him to go ahead. Sawa kneels and bows in front of the shrine and Ebina-san kneels beside him. Tatsuo says that maybe it is Mariko’s fault that Maiko [Ebina’s first name] was so pigheaded about the case. This catches Sawa’s attention and he immediately denies the possibility. Tatsuo then says that his wife had an “unnatural” death. Sho then tells Sawa that their mother committed suicide. Sawa seems really affected by this, but I don’t think it’s because he was uncomfortable from learning the truth, but because he seems to know something about Ebina Mariko’s “unnatural” death. He even gets a bit of an angry/suspicious look from Sho. I really wonder what’s to become of that plot line?

Meanwhile, Inoue watches security footage of Ataru at the 20Mart. He recalls a time where he was teaching Ataru the musical notes of “B” and “D.” Ataru repeats the sounds and says the information is updated. Inoue then says that Ataru is a Japanese speaker so that is why the pronunciation of the letters are strange. These scenes where Inoue speaks in English are really hard to understand as he has a very heavy accent.

Ebina takes Ataru into the empty house and shows him around, telling him he can live there until they figure out his real identity. Ataru seems to ignore her then he stops and says the information has been updated. Ataru snuggles up to her again and Ebina smiles and says the door isn’t even locked, but Ataru just wants to look at her watch. It’s time for the internet. Ebina wonders if he means the water ballet detective drama [which is on its 7th season by the way]. Looks like Ataru wants to go back to the internet café and Ebina wants to keep him at the house, which earns her an elbow in the stomach yet again. Ebina still blocks Ataru’s way and this time he bites her. It’s at this point that Sawa comes in. Ebina wants his help, but he doesn’t want to interrupt the “fun.”

I hope you’ll enjoy this strange, cute, funny new drama with me. I’m loving it so far!!! And I can’t wait to see just how twisted this plot is going to get and just how these characters are all connected. And what is going on with all these fuzzy flashbacks of Ataru’s parents and childhood?

2 comments

  • At first I didn’t have high expectations for this but now that I know Kuriyama Chiaki is in it, I think I’ll give it a try. *hoping*

    • It was a lot better than I expected. I was surprised to learn Ataru was a SMAP member – the invincible Johnny’s that are everywhere in Japanese entertainment. I’m a fan of the actor who plays Sawa.

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