Tegami chronicles the hardships endured by Nao (Yamada Takayuki) whose brother (Tetsuji Tamayama) was convicted for murder. The older brother works exhaustingly hard to ensure his younger brother manages to get to college. However, he injures his hip during some form of strenuous work and is fired on the spot.
Forced to resort to drastic measures to ensure his brother’s education is not affected, the older brother breaks into a house to get money for tuition and he accidentally kills an old woman. From here the younger brother’s story of tragedy and resilience begins. Does being related to a murderer make you one?

Tegami explores a rather interesting perspective, disparagement towards the undeserving and its effects on them. Having seen one too many “true love” movies, I was glad I had come across a movie that centralised a theme that was far more realistic and gritty.

The theme of the story is an intricate one, but is not explored thoroughly. The director tries his best to show the hardships endured by Nao including loss of dreams, love and hope. However, at times, especially regarding the topic of “love”, I felt that Nao’s first relationship felt contrived and exaggerated so as to amplify the anguish he had to go through when it ultimately didn’t work out. Still on the topic of “love”, I didn’t really feel the chemistry between the female and male lead characters despite the fact that their respective actors co-starred in a dorama the very same year. Whilst I was glad the movie was not inundated with sap between the two, I would have liked some palpable form of romance between them. I am particularly disappointed because the director could have cut out a large chunk of unnecessary material and improved in other aspects. What I would have especially liked to see was more of what happened behind bars as opposed to the sporadic 30 second-long clip of Nao’s brother writing a letter to him in his jail cell. My last criticism of the story would have to be the excessive amount of time skips. This movie was by no means short, so using time skips to quicken the pace of the plot is quite “lazy” in that sense. More detail should have been put into Nao’s brother’s account in prison.

Past these faults, the story itself was quite solid. The most touching part would without a doubt be the epistolary relationship between the two brothers (one incarcerated, one isolated). Despite receiving a letter every month from his brother, Nao refuses to reply as he still cannot bring himself to forgive his brother, society and most of all, himself. Unable to do anything else but be a spectator in this cruel game, he watches his dreams and aspirations disappear haplessly, perennially branded by society as “brother of a murderer”.

Subtle touches of stand-up comedy are added into the film which I feel helped prevent the story from being saturated with heavy drama. Yamada Takayuki does a solid performance as a grief-stricken individual struggling to come to terms with being isolated, judged and stereotyped. Once again, he proves his worth as a big name in melodramas. He is especially good at playing conflicted characters, so he is no stranger to such a role. Sawajiri Erika on the other hand fell quite flat as a supporting character. Don’t get me wrong, I love her to bits (and technically, she was my initial reason for wanting to watch the movie). However, her acting really lacked depth and believability.

The part that truly made this film a stand-out was its ending. Basking in simplicity and profundity at the same time, the overall message of the story was delivered with startling irony, and how true the irony is. In fact, I must say that Tegami has one of the most beautiful denouements in any movie I’ve seen in a long, long time. The end song, “Kotoba ni Dekinai” closed the film impeccably, sending goosebumps up my arm.

All in all, despite its shortcomings, the movie carries a starkly true message that hits home a lot harder than the generic romance movie due to the sheer realism and weight of the message it carries. To sum it up, Tegami is a beautiful social drama that encapsulates the unjustness of society and its pernicious effects towards the undeserving. A memorable watch through and through.

  • Title: Tegami

  • Genre: Drama

  • Director: Shono Jiro

  • Format: Movie; 121 minutes

  • Dates: 3 Nov 2006

  • Cast

    • Erika Sawajiri
    • Takayuki Yamada
    • Tetsuji Tamayama

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