Sunday, 18 March 2018

Forthcoming dramas

It’s been a while since I sat down with a J-drama. In fact, it’s been a while since I even checked to see what was on. But recently, I looked on the jdramas blog to see when the next series of Cold Case is coming out (in the fall, apparently) and while I was there I decided to find out what new dramas are coming out in the next few weeks.

Out of these, I put together a list of what seems interesting to me. I’ll never watch them all, but I’ll try to keep an eye out for them.

Hanbun Aoi (starts: 2 April, NHK)

The only reason this caught my eye was because the main character was born in the same year that I was: 1971. It seems like one of those slice-of-life dramas: a single mother returns to her home town after life in Tokyo. Could be interesting. Unfortunately, it’s an asadora, which means a 15-minute episode every day. I never could get the hang of that kind of schedule.

Kodok no Gurume 7 (7 April, TV Tokyo)

Seven?! I haven’t watched this since season two. Luckily, there’s little in the way of storyline, as I recall, as a man goes to different establishments and eats food.

The Confidence Man JP (9 April, Fuji TV)

Well, it’s got a good cast (judging by the poster, mostly Nagasawa Masami's legs) and I usually enjoy scripts based around confidence tricks and betrayal, so those are two things it’s got going for it. Plus, it's from the writer of Suzuki Sensei, so fingers crossed for this one.

Signal – Chouki Mikaiketsu Jiken Sousahan (10 April, Fuji TV)

I’ve already watched, finished and thoroughly enjoyed the Korean original so I know this drama has a solid base to start from. And I do enjoy a story that plays around with time. If done properly, they can be a lot of fun. I’m kind of hoping, though, that the story of the Japanese version isn’t the same as the Korean one, otherwise there won’t be much reason for me to watch.

Mikaikestu no Onna – Keishichou Bunsho Sousakan (19 April)

I do enjoy police dramas, especially those that involve crimes that haven’t been solved in years. In fact, I’ve already mentioned two (Cold Case and Signal) so maybe a third is pushing it. Plus, in this series the unsolved crimes department is in a basement. Are all unsolved crimes departments in basements in Japan? Seems very unfair.

Yami no Bansosha Season 2 – Henshoochou no Jouken (31 March, WOWOW)

Well, I was not expecting this. Three years after the first series, a second is finally released. Very happy to see Matsushita Nao and Furuta Arata back together again. Can they solve a murder where the only clue is an unpublished manga manuscript? I’m looking forward to this one.

Miss Sherlock (27 April, Hulu & HBO Asia)

The recent BBC version completely ran out of steam by the end of its fourth series, so a new angle on the old Sherlock might be nice. Then again, it might not.

Kuroidogoroshi (14 April, Fuji TV)

Just a one-off special, but I thought I’d mention it here. The writer, Mitani Kouki, is one of the greats of Japanese TV but even I have to admit it’s been a long time since his stuff has been essential viewing. However, this is a sequel to his adaptation of Murder On The Orient Express and this means a repeat performance from Nomura Mansai. Last time out, he stole the show.

Let’s hope someone has reigned in Mitani Kouki’s self-indulgent side and kept the script to what he does best: witty dialogue and murders.

And so, to recap...

Most likely to begin with a helicopter shot of Tokyo: Confidence Man JP
Most likely to contain a scene where footsteps echo ominously as someone approaches: Confidence Man JP
Will almost certainly not be as good as the original: Miss Sherlock
Will probably include an old couple who run a sweet shop: Hanbun Aoi
Will have excessive use of flashbacks: Hanbun Aoi
Will include a sympathetic murderer: Mikaikestu no Onna
The two main characters do not get on at first but learn to respect each other: possibly all of them

Saturday, 17 March 2018

Japanese soundscapes

When you come back from travelling, you will probably have some photos and films, some souvenirs and some local foods to help you relive those memories.

But sounds are often overlooked. Possibly because they're not as easy to capture as a visual image and possibly because, when you're constantly seeing and tasting new things, it doesn't occur to you to stop and listen.

The website goes some of the way to solve that. It hosts a large number of soundscapes that have been uploaded by people, which are then pinned to a map of the world so you can browse by location.

There are fascinating clips from everywhere and it's easy to lose hours just going from one place to the next, but I'll be concentrating on those from Japan.

There's quite a large selection, taking in all the usual images people have about Japan, from Akihabara and a Sega arcade to temples. Quite a lot of temples, actually. While I was interested to hear unique and location specific sounds, I found that the more everyday sounds, like the chimes of a train crossing, are the ones that make me feel nostalgic. I mean, the sound of a shamisen being played on a beach in Okinawa Prefecture is very nice, but I don't get the same personal connection that I do with the sounds of a city street.

Nevertheless, this website gives you a chance to explore new things as well as the familiar. There's an eight minute recording from a temple in Hamamatsu and, oddly, a lengthy excerpt of John Cage’s “Lecture on Nothing” read aloud (in English) in Kyoto.

With the whole world to listen to there is, quite literally, something for everyone. I found that there’s a sound recording made at the end of the road where I live! An impressive collection.

Sunday, 11 March 2018

Folk singers

For the purposes of this blog post the term “folk music” refers to the Western style of music and not actual indigenous Japanese folk music.

I recently bought a book on Japanese folk musician Mikami Kan. I’d never heard of him before I saw the book in a Tokyo record store, but since it was the only English language book about a Japanese topic, I picked it up and bought it there and then.

The book is excellent, and it talks about music, the creative process, friendship and his career through 1970s Japan. It does so in short, punchy paragraphs, most of which are only one sentence long.

On one page, in a paragraph with six sentences in it (possibly the longest in the book) he lists the acts who performed at the 3rd All Japan Folk Jamboree in 1971. When I saw this, I thought this would be a great place to start and learn more about the genre. These are the highlights of what I found.

First is Okabayashi Nobuyasu 岡林 信康. According to Wikipedia, this guy is “Japan’s Bob Dylan” and he is best know for his song “The Letter” which is very nice but I was blown away by the electrified blues of “Watashitachi no Nozomumono wa” performed live with the band Happy End.

and if you prefer something more acoustic, this full concert (audio only) from 1969 is beautiful.

Next is Takada Wataru 高田渡 with this gentle singalong, “Seikatsu no gara”

Then there is Endo Kenji 遠藤 賢司 (and you’re going to need those kanji if you want to search for him) who sadly died last October. He wrote the song Bob Lennon which was later used in the film 20th Century Boys.

Finally, a song from Masato Tomobe 友部正人. This song may date from 1983, so it's a bit later than the 70s vibe I've been searching for, but I like it all the same.

While looking through YouTube for these songs, I kept getting sidetracked by the suggestions automatically provided by YouTube. A few of these lead me down some very nice paths, especially to this copy of Misora by Sanchiko Kaneobu.

And, of course, I had to include Mikami Kan himself, didn't I?

Monday, 5 March 2018

Shinjuku, ten years on

There is a film project called Global Lives in which ordinary people from around the world have one twenty-four hour period of their lives recorded. The idea being that these will become important historical artefacts, giving future generations a chance to see how we really lived, worked, played etc.

Japan's entry concerned a woman called Rumi Nagashima, a mostly wheelchair-bound girl scout leader. It was filmed back in 2007 and, truth be told, not enough time has passed for this to feel like a glimpse of a lost world. In fact, it all looks quite unremarkable. It's all up on the Internet Archive for you to watch, along with many others.

Anyway, in October last year I visited Japan again and this time I spent a decent amount of time in Tokyo. Previously I was only there for four days and you really can't get a feel of a place in so little time. I'll do a post of things I did in a few days, but a recurring theme of my holiday was to revisit places that either I or someone else had been.

And so, when I found myself awake at two o'clock one morning, I took the chance to go to Shinjuku and photograph places I'd seen in Rumi Nagashima's film. To put things in some kind of context, it was late at night and she was trying to get the last train back after an evening out, and she needed to find the disabled access to Shinjuku Station.

So, for example, she heads towards the elevator to the station. As you can see, the artistic flooring (above) has been replaced by something more functional (below).

In the film, she was too late to actually use the elevator. If only she'd waited ten years, she would've found the elevator still open and operational.

Bits of Shinjuku.

More bits.

Sadly, the new album by Koda Kumi is not longer being advertised here.

Mostly the differences are minor, like a new logo on a shop front...

But this one bothered me. You see, I always thought that traffic cones were a temporary measure. Something used for a fixed period until a more permanent solution comes along. But in this photo, we can see that traffic cones have been used in the same area for about ten years. And what, exactly, are they doing?

Crossing a bridge. Kind of similar.

And once she's at the station, nothing much at all had changed.

As a piece of history, it seems quite faithful to reality. She talks to her mum about the TV news over breakfast, she works as a Girl Guide leader in the afternoon and goes out in the evening. While I expect they chose a day when she'd be doing something active, it doesn't seem particularly staged. In the nicest possible way: it's certainly dull enough to be real life.

Worth a look.

No subs, though.

Saturday, 3 March 2018

Death On The Mountain (1961)

This film is tells a story about how a trip in the mountains ends in tragedy and how suspicions grow after an article about it is published in a magazine.

It’s a fairly short film that focuses only on the main event - the tragic but apparently accidental death of a mountaineer. There are no sub-plots or character development beyond that which moves the story along. This means that, every step of the way, you feel you’re getting closer to a solution even if the film itself isn’t that fast paced.

Perhaps the film’s greatest achievement is the introduction, halfway through, of a new main character. With only a few broad strokes, the actor manages to establish himself as likable and interesting.

This is especially important since the final third of the film concerns him and the apparent killer retracing the steps of the doomed mountaineering party to pay their respects. As they do, the new guy keeps making observations about how the events of that fateful day don’t make sense and the tension between them slowly increases.

But do all these small clues add up? And if they do, will the killer kill again?

This is an enjoyable film, written in a tight, economic style and with some beautiful photography of mountain ranges.

So where have I been?

Well, sleeping, mostly. It’s not been a great year for TV and apart from Running Man, the only series I’ve watched to completion since I last wrote were Twin Peaks, Doctor Who and Hyori’s Bed & Breakfast. Certainly not enough to sustain a blog about TV.

Also, in the past year or so, the J-drama community has become increasingly splintered and hard to follow. It’s been quite sad to watch, as one bookmark after another has been deleted from my browser.

Is this going to be the start of regular blogging? I have no idea. It’s just that I watched a film this morning, and wanted to write about it.

Thursday, 29 December 2016

Currently Watching: Yuusha Yoshihiko to Michibikareshi Shichinin

Well, this came as a surprise. Five years after the last Yuusha Yoshihiko series, this new outing for our hopeless J-RPG stereotypes came out this season without me noticing any pre-publicity for it. I don’t know if it was a low-key release or if I’m just clueless. Either way, I was happy to see it back.

The format is the same: our hero Yoshihiko has to cross great distances and battle countless foes. And while they’re doing this, references to pop culture and video games pepper the dialogue.

The whole cast is back, including Yoshihiko’s sister who does very little except secretly follow her brother. Perhaps this time she’ll have more of a role to play.

Despite the long gap between series, it’s kept a lot of the amateurish charm of the original. It’s often hard to tell when the script ends and when improvising begins, and an eagle-eyed viewer should be able to spot various cast members trying not to laugh.

There is a story, but as I sit here and type, I realise I have no idea what it is. And it’s not important. It’s just a lot of very silly fun. Of course, how much you laugh will depend on how much you know about the thing they're making fun of. I especially liked the Final Fantasy episode but was less amused by the TV Tokyo story. I'm wondering if they're going to make fun of the Persona series of RPGs but that might be too niche, even for them.