Monday, 28 December 2009

Currently watching: BOSS

So, in the mini-tussle between BOSS and Bloody Monday, BOSS won out simply because the files are smaller and quicker to download. Up to episode eight so far.

BOSS has turned out to be quite light-hearted in its characterisations and while this could act as a nice counterbalance to the weighty concerns of their job, the fact is the cases never seem to be too threatening. It's clear that none of the main characters are at threat which takes away any urgency, and even minor supporting characters seem to have remarkable luck when being shot at.

The cases rely very little on clever deduction, preferring instead the sudden discovery/revelation almost before its too late. So the story needs the interplay between the team to be sharp to keep the viewer interested. This is where the actors have to prop up some pretty drama-by-numbers writing. Amami Yuki is almost perfect as the beautiful career woman guiding her disparate band - when the mask slips and her vulnerable self appears it's never over-played.

But its Nukumizu Youichi who steals most of the scenes. After liking him in Lost Time Life, Camouflage, and the film Turtles Are Surprisingly Fast Swimmers, this is the first time I've seen him playing a regular character in a weekly serial. His self-depreciating humour is used well even with a script that doesn't make too many demands on him, and he makes a nice change from the endlessly perfect faces that populate Japanese TV.

Friday, 25 December 2009

Just watched: Kagayaku Onna Ueno Juri

Posting on Christmas Day? Disgraceful.

Anyway, last night I was watching Kagayaku Onna Ueno Juri, in which the actress visits the UK and talks about acting, her life etc, while discovering England and working on a farm. During her five-day stay on a farm, she lived and worked with a family, and it's quite a touching piece of documentary. Juri comes across as mature - both enthusiastic for the future and reflective about her past. I do wonder, though, if that family dig out that DVD every Christmas for people to watch.

The reason I feel compelled to mention it is because she visits Bristol. Juri's favourite book is set in Bristol, "The Great Blue Yonder" by Alex Shearer, and she visits the cathedral which is mentioned several times in the book. She's quite moved by the experience, which shows how much the book meant to her, and for me it made me think about the place where I live in a new way. It was quite odd to see places that I walk through every day treated as special or exotic, and when I next go out in Bristol, I'm going to try and see things through the eyes of a first time visitor, as I once was years ago. Can't let myself get complacent, you know, otherwise I'll never appreciate anything.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Currently watching: Shimokita Sundays

Between Liar Game 2, Boss and Bloody Monday, it occurred to me that I ran the risk of overdosing on po-faced looks and tense undercurrents so I decided to look around for something lighter to break the mood.

So I dug around on an old hard drive, and decided upon Shimokita Sundays as a nice antidote. It’s based around a university student who stumbles upon hapless theatre group at a happening they organise at her university (which involves sawing the lectern into pieces). Intrigued, she goes to a play of theirs and is so enraptured that she then joins them.

At its heart, it’s a fairly typical story of how youthful innocence can win the day. What sets it apart is the strong ensemble cast of oddities and outcasts. While J-dramas often have these misfits, they tend to be in the background ready for the occasional comedy prat fall. In Shimokita Sundays, they’re given enough space and time to become proper characters, with each one given an episode in which they feature. Every one, of course, carries a terrible burden which is overcome with the help of their friends, but although it’s predictable, it’s still entertaining.

The final episode is a bit of a shame, involving old friends finally reconciling in pretty unlikely circumstances, and a fairly artificial race against the clock to get to the theatre on time, but the eight episodes leading up to that are all little gems. God bless its little optimistic socks.

Tiny Joys: the jump rope section from Quiz Hexagon II

This year, this candy-floss of a quiz show has had a bit of an overhaul. A few new ideas have been brought in and, interestingly, a few of the people who always scored lowest have started to get higher marks. Have they been studying?

One of the new games for this season is one where all six members in a team have to answer general knowledge questions while skipping. They start one at a time, and if they answer a question they keep skipping. If not, they have to get out and try again. The idea of the game is to get all six skipping at the same time.

Apart from being funny, even if you understand no Japanese, I’m pleased by its balanced structure. The more intelligent ones are the ones who are least fit, so should go last (that way they don’t spend too much time skipping). But the less intelligent team members are more likely to get the question wrong and have to start again while the others keep going. Either way, the smarter you are the longer you’re likely to be jumping up and down on the spot.

This one is a particular favourite of mine, but frankly, they’re all good.

You can find more episodes of Quiz Hexagon II by looking through doughnutandcoffee’s videos on Daily Motion.

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Just browsing

Now that I’ve finished Akihabara@Deep, I’ve started looking around for something to replace it. Recently, I’ve seen good things written about Boss and Bloody Monday, so I thought I’d download the first episodes of each to give them a go.

While I enjoyed them both, they have similar styles and along with Liar Game 2, there’s quite a lot of unexpected twists, close-ups of clever people looking thoughtful, an awful lot of Toda Erika (pictured) (Liar Game 2, Boss) and an enormous amount of Kichise Michiko (all three!). I’d previously only seen her in Liar Game, where her character is a cold emotionless organiser of the games. As such, her acting skills were never really stretched, so it was a surprise to see her smile, laugh, pick things up, etc.

The trouble is, with all three programmes based around people pitting their wits against each other, it could get quite samey. One’s going to have to be put to one side for now. I just have to decide which, though. Could be tricky.

Recommended: Lost Time Life

The premise of this show is simple. At the point of death, the action is frozen, and the person about to die has a certain amount of time to finish up whatever unfinished business he or she has, before returning to the scene to die.

Oh, and their actions are regulated by a referee and two linesmen and the fourth official who carries the board displaying the time remaining, while the whole thing is commentated on by two (unseen) sports commentators.

Despite the bizarre premise, it makes perfect sense once it gets going and before long you’ve stopped wondering about the technicalities of stopping time in a localised area and started cheering the hero on as they race against the clock to say their last goodbyes or fulfil final wishes.

The show is full of comedy and pathos. Obviously it’s very sad by the end of every show, and it’s not afraid to pull punches, emotionally speaking, with lingering last looks, weepy music and cruel fate reminding us that life is but a fleeting thing and if we don’t say or do the things we really want, tomorrow may be too late. But despite the sentimentality, its naturalistic portrayal of a surreal situation means this is perhaps my favourite of all Japanese dramas I’ve seen to date.


Sunday, 6 December 2009

Currently watching: Late Night Diner

Thanks to the subbers at not using You Tube as the host for these, I’m able to sneakily watch this while at work. What with all the office comings and goings, one half-hour episode usually takes a day to watch, but it certainly makes a nice break from arranging meetings and typing up minutes.

Set in a Japanese diner that opens during the night and the curious characters it attracts, it’s a low-key laid-back series. Each week is a different story and repeating characters are pretty few and far between, apart from the owner himself, who mostly stands behind the counter and looks stoic.

The lack of regulars is something of a drawback. It would be nice to focus on a core of characters, rather than having someone new each week. But for the most part this is a pretty interesting, if sentimental, show.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Just finished: Akihabara@deep

Well, that was a relief. Got to the last episode, and it had a proper ending. Or, at least, a final boss battle. While watching I didn’t know that it was based on a novel, which perhaps explains the pacing and satisfying conclusion to the story. I also noted that episode seven I mentioned last time wasn’t in the book: they just fancied doing a zombie story.

The end of season special was a “making of” which was interesting enough. Watching Yuka Kosaka (Akira) struggle with the acting wasn’t a surprise, nor was seeing Yuki Himura (Daruma) being the funniest between takes. I thought he stole most scenes he was in, although I guess the costumes helped.

I felt a bit sad when finished the final episode and I realised there weren’t any more. I wanted to see what happened to these people, more than just a quick round-up in an epilogue. Definitely a sign that this self-indulgent but entertaining series had got under my skin.

Not recommended: Nodame Cantabile

Just so this blog doesn't turn into a list of things I like, I'm going to occasionally focus on my less favoured programmes. I have mixed feelings towards Nodame Cantabile. Odd that, since everywhere else I look people heap praise upon it. It’s won awards, has now got two more TV specials being made for it and its soundtrack is Japan’s biggest selling classical music CD or something. So why am I so apathetic towards it?

I get the feeling that it helps a lot if you’ve read the original manga series. That way the characters won’t seem like a bunch of hysteric stereotypes and are in fact accurate portrayals of the comic. Certainly, the first episode had me scratching my head over some of the acting. What works on the page doesn’t necessarily work on screen (see also: the end of No Country For Old Men) but I suppose a less faithful rendition wouldn’t have been as well received. For me, who had never seen the manga at all, it was a bit like being thrown in at the deep end, and I simply had to accept their weird quirks without thinking about it too much.

The comedy, like the acting, is very broad and physical, which brings me to a dilemma. Both male and female characters are on the receiving end of comedy knocks which I should approve of, but I found it unsettling to see a woman punched in the face for not playing a piano just right, even if it was done in a cartoon-y style. Should I, in this post-post-feminist world be okay with such slapstick being given out to both men and women alike? Meh, perhaps I’m behind the times, but it bothered me.

On the plus side, the music’s good, with a nice version of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue in episode four or five (I forget), the acting (once you get used to it) is fine especially from the two leads, Ueno Juri and Tamaki Hiroshi, and the storyline does become more interesting and involved as you go. But that’s about it. I enjoyed it for what it was, but it’s not a title that’d spring to mind when talking about the best in Japanese TV.