Sunday, 13 May 2018

Miss Sherlock

I had all but given up on watching this show having found nothing but a low quality version of episode two on a streaming site which wasn’t exactly easy to watch. But with subs on d-addicts, I was able to sit down last night with the first episode.

While I can’t call myself a fan, I do enjoy a good Sherlock, whether it be true to the original or a reinvention and this one, produced by the TV Channel Hulu, is apparently the first in which both main roles have been changed to women. I can’t see how this has changed anything but setting the story in modern day Japan seems to have caused a few minor rewrites. Wato-san, the doctor, is just back from voluntary work in Syria instead of Waston’s recent time in the army in Afghanistan.

The story is not a rewrite of a Conan Doyle story, but is a brand new mystery: two totally unconnected people die by a small bomb in their stomach going off. How did it get in there, and why were they targetted?

Episode one seemed a bit rushed. The clues were clearly signposted and there were few opportunities for clever Sherlockian deduction and even those were pretty uninspiring. Also, there was no attempt at slowly introducing an evil genius orchestrating everything: instead, Sherlock just started shouting “Who’s behind all this?” once the mystery had been solved. And then, right at the end, the two lead characters have to move in together because Wato-san’s hears that her hotel has just burnt down. How convenient.

So, a clunky start, but still quite enjoyable.

Thursday, 10 May 2018

In The Endless Zanhyang, We Are (Mother's Ruin, Bristol, 9 May 2018)

During the two years or so when I wasn't writing for this blog, I found a YouTube channel called "C Lippe" which regurarly posts live gigs from various South Korean bands. In The Endless Zanhyang We Are were one of those bands and the only one to really take a hold of me. I thought they were amazing and for the past eighteen months my mp3 player has always had something of theirs on it, whether it was the LP, EP or some live mp3s I ripped from YouTube.

Recently, I learnt through Facebook that they were playing their first gigs in the UK. Such is my love for this band, that I would've happily travelled hundreds of miles to see their first gig on British soil. As it was, it was only a twenty minute walk from my flat. How convenient.

The best bit about reviewing music on the Internet is that instead of describing the sound, you can post a handy link that would tell the reader all they need. Here’s a link to some live stuff from earlier this year.

Suffice to say, I find it both elegiac and immense, fragile and over-powering. The set itself was only half an hour long, held in a room over a pub that might hold fifty people at a pinch, but the smallness of the venue mattered little once they started playing. The lead vocalist went from gentle crooning to banshee wailing, arching her back and throwing out emotions far bigger than the room could comfortably contain.

The drums powered through, driving each song forward and I remember thinking how much more rhythmic and raw it felt compared to the studio album. The bass guitar added melody to the drums while the guitar acted as a counterpoint to the vocals and keyboard before heading off on its own into wild pounding chords, sending the song further and further away from its starting point before bringing it all back round again.

A stunning performance and, by itself, was worth the entrance fee. They were actually fourth on the bill. Astonishing. Their name should be tattooed on every shoulder blade and down every calf muscle in the Western world, in my opinion.

But, yeah. Incredible. If you need someone to restore your faith in music, then give them a try.

Track listing for the night
1. 5.41
2. Greensleeves
3. And So It Goes
4. Nightglow Sea
5. What If

Saturday, 5 May 2018

Signal – Chouki Mikaiketsu Jiken Sousahan

In this series, two police officers communicate solely by walkie-talkie in order to solve cold cases. The twist being that one is living in the past. As well as these two individuals is a third officer who worked with the first as a trainee and now works with the other one as a detective.

In this kind of story it can be difficult to maintain a logic guiding the time anomaly. This is especially the case in Signal, since the communications from the past aren’t even in chronological order: the first two transmissions are from a particular year and then the next (which doesn’t happen until eight years later) is from three years previously.

If I’ve made it look complicated then don’t be put off. This all happens over the course of the first two episodes and the phenomena is introduced slowly, so there’s plenty of time to understand what’s going on.

As a police drama, it works well. The stories are interesting, the procedures seem realistic and it’s played straight. The acting is fine, with Kitamura Kazuki putting in by far the most compelling performance as Ouyama, the police officer from the 1990s.

Everyone else is good, but a little bit typical for the genre: there's the gruff career cop, the US-trained profiler with his new-fangled ways, the female detective who is basically The Sensible One in the team and, of course, an evil police commissioner. But I suppose you need a few archetypes in a police drama. It certainly saves time in introducing characters.

I’ve already seen the original Korean drama so, if it stays true to that storyline, I know it’ll be a strong drama with a satisfying conclusion. And so far it seems to be doing just that. This is a great example of how to do a drama that links two different timelines without it getting messy or unrealistic.

Sunday, 15 April 2018

Confidence Man JP

This drama concerns the exploits of a gang of three confidence tricksters and the way they rob from corrupt millionaires in exciting and entertaining ways.

That’s the premise, anyway. It falls a bit short, but more about that later.

On the plus side, the performances are fine and the show bounces along with a lot of energy and humour. I liked the opening section where they pay homage to the final scene of the 1973 film The Sting, but in a Japanese setting. By the way, if you like stories about con men and you haven’t seen The Sting, definitely watch that before you watch this because Confidence Man JP might spoil the ending for you.

On the down side, the story is a bit contrived. The problem is that since this is all about tricking people, the show itself has no problem with setting up a huge convoluted situation and then going “Actually, all that was fake.” I mean, that’s okay I guess, but I’m hoping they’ve got something more imaginative for later episodes.

So far, so good. But this didn’t have me gasping at the twists and turns as, say, Liar Game.

Oh, and the JP at the end of the title is to distinguish it from its sister shows Confidence Man KR and Confidence Man CN, both currently in production. I’m curious to see how the shows differ for each market.

Sunday, 8 April 2018

Keep on running, man

About this time last year, the Korean variety show Running Man was in serious trouble. Ratings were low and showed no signs of changing. Gary had left at the end of 2016, yet the cast still kept making references to there being seven members in the cast as if they were still pining for the good old days.

Then, in March 2017, it was moved from the prime time slot of 6.25pm on a Sunday to the slightly less prime time of 4.50pm. This looked, frankly, like a demotion and an admission that Running Man could no longer cope with its competitors at peak viewing hours.

But in April 2017 three new people joined the team. A new PD Jung Chul Min came on board and brought with him some new ideas for games formats and two new cast members: Jeon So Min (who cleverly mentioned her lack of work when appearing as a guest) and Yang Se Chan.

These two immediately became a breath of fresh air, with Jeon So Min’s unpredictable outburst and Yang Se Chan’s constant undermining of relationships among the male colleagues was just what the show needed. The fact that they were both devious was a bonus.

Suddenly, the balance of power in the cast had shifted and the old team had a new lease of life. Ratings, too, started to creep up until they were occasionally hitting double figures. Running Man looked like it had saved itself.

Interestingly, though, something else changed. Guests have started to repeat far more often than in the past. It looks like the new PD is determined to make sure that there are always a number of possibles for new members should someone else leave. In fact, Jo Se Ho was considered for the role of the ninth member when he chose to join Infinite Challenge.

Lee Elijah

Jo Se Ho

Lee Sang Yeob

Lee Da Hee

So the show is back on its feet and looking forward to the future instead of banging on about its past. Considering that, at the end of 2016, it had effectively been cancelled, this is quite an achievement.

Monday, 2 April 2018

Matsue for the third time

I once read a tourist book that recommended three days for a thorough exploration of Matsue, so considering that by the end of this holiday I would have been here as a tourist for about two weeks, you'd be forgiven for wondering if there was anything left for me to do.

There were a few things, mostly personal things that you don't find in tourist guides. Things I'd noticed in passing at the time and had slowly grown into obsessions since then.

Two of these things related to small forests. One was in Yasugi: I'd stopped off here in 2012 on my way to the Adachi Art Museum and taken a photo of a tree-covered hill with a red torii visible through a break in the trees.

The photo I took in 2012

The other was actually in Matsue itself. A tree-topped hill that seemed to rise and fall out of the suburbs for no reason.

View of the hill, as seen from near the Shimane Art Museum

I had noticed it the first time I came to Matsue, but never got round to exploring it. This time, I was determined to solve the mystery of both of these places.

There was also the small issue of a Lantern Festival I wanted to see, as well as revisiting old haunts.

On my way to the hill in Yasugi, called Togamiyama Nagisa Park, I walked past this crazy beautiful house build in the style of a Japanese castle. But slightly ramshackle, and not quite right. But it was so amazing to look at, I can totally believe this was intentional.

And the park itself was quite an adventure. Especially if you hate spiders.

Plenty of these

The spiders would build their webs across the path, giving any walker the choice of ducking under them or brushing them aside. And, frankly, brushing them aside wasn't really an option. These weren't dry, wispy cobwebs I was used to, but they were strong, sticky and broke with an almost audible snap. I decided to avoid them as much as possible.

Found this on the hill

Not sure what this used to be

Success! A five year old mystery solved!

The hill in Matsue can be access through the back of the temple Enjou-ji. It's pretty small, but still full of spiders and mosquitoes and I got bitten quite a lot during this walk. I think it was worth it, though.

I saw a lot of these stone lanterns with these strips of paper attached to them

Not sure what they are.

Found an old cemetery

The Lantern Festival, held around the grounds of Matsue Castle, was very pretty.

Not only that, I also enjoyed revisiting places to see if they'd changed.

They still haven't cleaned this mirror

I also went to Suito restaurant, where I'd been on my previous two trips here and I was very pleased when they recognised me. I also went to Dorobou Bar, where I went on my first time in Matsue. The bartender who'd served me was still there. In fact, she was now the manager. She didn't remember me, though people tried. I don't know who “James” was, but he must have made an impression, since two people asked me if I was him.

Grapefruit! Karaoke!

Someone brought in grapefruit and shared it round, which was nice of him. And I even sung a song on the karaoke, after a lot of drunken persuasion from a salaryman. I chose Kaze Wo Atsumete, since it's the Japanese song I know most words to. People either ignored me or were politely appreciative.

Actually, I had arranged this trip with the idea that this'd be my last journey to Matsue, but I had so much fun (and I still haven't gone to Yaegaki Shrine) that I guess I'll go at least once more.

Monday, 26 March 2018

Tokyo Night Sky is Always the Densest Shade of Blue

Is there a name for this genre of film? Lovelorn, confused and underpaid people struggle through their twenties in carefully framed shots of big city life accompanied by a well-chosen indie rock soundtrack. There must be. I've seen so many. This one, however, is one of the best. Even after just twenty minutes, I sat there and thought to myself "This film is brilliant."

The film is from Yuya Ishii, the same director as Sawako Decides, and it shares some of the same qualities. A slow dreamlike story progression and a deadpan, almost undetectable, sense of humour. The two films also concern themselves with characters who are psychologically off-centre. Embarrassed that they even exist, their attempts at reaching out are often clumsy and self-defeating.

The cast is brilliant. From the two lead roles right down to sniggering staff at a cheap late night restaurant, there isn't a bad performance among them. The main female character is a great performance from Shikuka Ishibashi and the male lead, Sosuke Ikematsu, is excellent. Likable enough that his air of defeatism doesn't become insufferable and he keeps you on his side.

The photography is very fine. Understated but classy. Like a fine white wine (I'm writing this in a pub. Can you tell?). Tokyo has been photographed to death, but it still looks vibrant and new here.

Finally, and I only discovered this after watching, the dialogue has an unusual source: the poetry of Tahi Saihate. This explains the sometimes florid use of language in the voice overs, but it definitely gives the film a distinct character. The poet in question hasn't been translated into English yet, so hats off to the translator for dealing with it so well (although someone needs to tell them that "... Not." hasn't been used as a way of being sarcastic since about 2002).

I was delighted to find this film and I had that feeling afterwards as if you'd just done something good for yourself, like exercise or reading a newspaper.

A fragile and slightly awkward gem.