TV review: ‘Emergency Interrogation Room’ puts the appeal before the trial

Got a yarn to spin? She’s ready to (dis)believe you.

The crime interrogation drama has been gaining popularity of late, thanks to series like Line Of Duty and Criminal (the multi-country-set show that takes place almost entirely in interrogation rooms).

Not many of us, aside from those who would scour the J-drama shelves at DVD stores back when those establishments were still a thing, might be aware of a show that predates at least one of those: Emergency Interrogation Room.

The show premiered on Japanese TV back in January 2014 with a nine-episode season, and was followed by a one-off special in 2015, another nine-episode second season in 2017, and a 10-episode third season in 2019.

The first two seasons are now available on Netflix, which does not have the special, and curiously labels the second season as “S3” in its programme listings. Grounds for a grilling, I’m sure.

For now, let’s just enjoy the initial offerings that are available, wrongly labelled or otherwise.

And there’s a fair bit to enjoy with this show, which stars popular actress Yuki Amami as Inspector Yukiko Makabe of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department.

After a disastrous negotiation with a hostage-taker, Makabe is demoted and transferred to the relatively new Emergency Interrogation Unit, under the watchful eye of an old rival, Kajiyama (Tetsushi Tanaka).

Initially receiving a cold welcome by the others in her unit – grumpy and seemingly misogynistic veterans Hishimoto (Denden), Nakata (Ren Osugi) and Koishikawa (Fumiyo Kohinata) – Makabe realises she has to prove herself not only to her colleagues but her patronising big boss Chief Gohara (Masao Kusakari).

‘Er... when I asked you to look at the camera during your interview, I didn’t mean the TV camera.’‘Er... when I asked you to look at the camera during your interview, I didn’t mean the TV camera.’

There are complications, of course.

For one thing, Makabe’s late husband was suspected of leaking police secrets, and she frequently finds herself distracted from her current duties by her vow to clear his name and arrest his killer.

For another, her unit is constantly clashing with higher-ups and field detectives, especially the borderline-hysterical Motsu (Kosuke Suzuki) and his less confrontational partner Nabe (Mokomichi Hayami).

I like to think of the duo as the show’s Lenny and Squiggy (Motsu being Squiggy) (and I guess 90% of you don’t get the reference – boy, I feel old).

Like Criminal, Line Of Duty and perhaps Mindhunter too, the “interview subjects” on the show frequently consider themselves too clever to get caught out by the interrogators. (The nail salon operator in Season Two is particularly slick – and sick.)

Also, thanks to recently gazetted laws, the interrogators are severely limited in the extent to which they can grill suspects.

It doesn’t help that any wrong turn immediately draws a disproportionate amount of flak from their scandal-shy higher-ups.

So it’s actually something of a joy to watch Makabe and her team ferret out the truth from their “subjects”, given the obstacles and odds against them.

Kudos to head writer Yumiko Inoue for the clever crafting of the crimes, as well as the techniques and persistence employed in getting the suspects to unravel and confess.

Yuki Amami (centre) heads a terrific ensemble cast in 'Emergency Interrogation Room.'Yuki Amami (centre) heads a terrific ensemble cast in 'Emergency Interrogation Room.'

Emergency Interrogation Room has more than its share of rough edges, though. Sometimes, the hysterics can get exaggerated to levels you normally see in anime supporting characters.

The action scenes – when there are any, and it is not very often – are not exactly well executed or choreographed, and the slowness to react of the individuals involved tends to stretch way past the limits of plausible delayability.

Still, it’s the brilliance of the ensemble cast at creating living, breathing and believable (well, mostly believable) characters that goes a long way towards giving this series an immersive quality that can easily pull in the viewer and keep us there, craving more.

OK, it doesn’t hurt that series star Amami strikes the perfect balance of confidence, vulnerability, humour, smarts and erm, glamour too.

It’s nice to see the growing camaraderie within the unit as Makabe gains the respect and acceptance of her grumpy old male colleagues too, although I can’t help but feel that the writers keep pressing the reset button when it comes to the field detectives and management types.

Somehow, though, the head-scratching moments of Emergency Interrogation Room seem to add to its likeability rather than detract from it.

All told, a pleasant and absorbing diversion if you want to cut back on the violence in your viewing diet without missing out on the crime.

Seasons One and Two (not Three) of Emergency Interrogation Room are available on Netflix.

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