The story reads like a New Zealand news editor's wish list: A Kiwi banged up in an exotic Asian locale with harsh laws and a secretive justice system. Celebrity, dangerous weapons, bizarre behavior, death threats, Brazilian street gangs and a mysterious love interest. The backdrop: a polite, upmarket department store in suburbia. And last, but certainly not least, a key role for that most quintessential of New Zealand pursuits: rugby.

Whip all of these ingredients together and you are guaranteed to have the nation's attention — and so it was with the recent arrest in Japan of former All Black Jerry Collins.

"Jerry Collins — a true New Zealand story," said Hamish Alexander, 51, speaking from New Zealand's second city, Christchurch, summing up better than most why the story caught the country's imagination and what it said about the Kiwi psyche: "It has got rugby, it has got violence, it has got brown skin, and it's got a New Zealander living away from home. It has all the ingredients of a classic N.Z. thriller."