Sunday, 30 May 2010

Just watched: England 2-1 Japan

Well, I'd heard that the Japanese were generous, but this is ridiculous.

I sat down to watch this more interested in how I'd react to seeing two of my favourite countries playing each other, and I have to admit I was happy to see Japan go one goal up after seven minutes. Now, I figured, England had a challenge – something to battle against and I expected them to raise their game.

Well that didn't happen until the second half, so for most of the first I found myself frustrated by an England that huffed and puffed a lot and kept the ball well, but never looked too dangerous. Considering that most were playing for a place in the team that goes to the World Cup, there was a lack of verve about their play. They do say that the sign of champions is to win while playing badly, but I can't see that working in the later stages of the World Cup, so unless we gel quickly, we're not going to get further than our regular plucky quarter-final defeat.

Japan, though, impressed me somewhat. It's the first time since the last World Cup that I've watched them for a whole game. Despite deflecting two crosses into their own net, they seemed to have the right idea about the game and I think need not be too pessimistic about their chances in their group.

But it's only a friendly, and we'll see how the players react once they get to the tournament itself.

As for this blog, I expect the amount of J-drama I watch to drop quite sharply in favour of the pantomime injuries and innocent faces of international football. But since the four nations that make up my four main cultural sources have qualified (England, USA, Japan and Italy) I'll be writing about each of them as and when they play. It may not necessarily be about TV, but it's better than nothing.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Just watched: Departures

I cried. Mind you, I also cried at the last episode of Seigi no Mikata but I was in a funny mood that day. The two don't really compare.

This Oscar-winning film is famous enough already that you don't need my review to tell you if it's any good. But if you've never heard of it (or, more likely, forgotten about it – there's been a wait of over a year between it's Oscar-winning night and a PAL release on DVD) now's as good a time as any to catch up.

The story is about a failed cellist who moves out of Tokyo and becomes a – well, I'm not sure what the English equivalent is. The person who prepares the body before it's placed in the coffin. But he's not an undertaker: the film makes that very clear. Directed with a light touch by Takita Yojiro, he manages to find some nicely composed shots in the most formal situations. As a comedy, it works fine and as a reflection on the transience of life it's not too shabby either. Personally, the theme of the absent father struck a chord and is perhaps why it touched me as much as it did.

The acting is all superb with not a duff note to be seen. The main character's previous job as a cellist appears to be just an excuse to have him play the cello occasionally while a beautifully shot flashback or montage rolls past. But narrative devices aside, this story is told in a naturalistic style. Understated and underplayed. Perhaps a little sentimental but no worse for that.

Friday, 14 May 2010

Currently watching: Zettai Reido and Bloody Monday 2

Wahey! Someone’s subbing Zettai Reido! I was a bit worried about having all the episodes without any way of understanding what was going on. But recently soft subs came out, so problem solved.

This drama follows a division of the police force as they crack cases that occurred years ago. Aya Ueto plays the new member of the team, and so far, that’s about it. One episode in and the only other character to be given any depth is Yamaguchi Sayaka's (Shimokita Sundays, Zettai Kareshi), who plays a former profiler turned detective. There have already been suggestions that her career contains some devastating failure that caused her to change jobs. No one else has had more than a brief introduction such that you can identify them as the wise old one, the computer whiz kid and the boss.

Watching this gives quite a strong sense of déjà vu. It bares some similarities with Boss concerning profiling and a love for new (possibly fictitious) crime-solving methods involving technology. Not a problem in itself, but the fact that the cases are several years old does leave the show with a certain lack of urgency. Plus, it’s difficult for new evidence to be found without it looking very lucky and/or convenient. In the first episode, the killer filmed part of the murder and put it on his laptop, which was then sold to someone who recovered the deleted file, and… well, it goes on. This may need a few episodes to get going.

On the other hand, taking barely five minutes to get going is Bloody Monday 2. Two years have passed since the unsuccessful attempt to attack Tokyo and, while our former heroes are trying to lead normal lives, nefarious deeds are being played out that bring them all back together. I’m still miles behind – only just seen episode one, which is good enough to be a film in its own right. They can't keep this up, can they? Either way, I have high hopes for this.

Monday, 10 May 2010

Currently watching: Nep League

When I say "currently watching", I mean "when I can find it".

This quiz show completes the triumvirate of Japanese shows you can enjoy even if you don't really understand the language, alongside Quiz Hexagon II and Tokyo Friend Park II. Nep League is a quiz show mostly based around general knowledge or knowledge of Japanese (or English, on occasion) and each stage demonstrates quite a strong video game influence, with swooshing graphics when you're correct and smoke and alarms to signify a wrong answer.

The example illustrated below is a nice example of the most interesting stage. An answer has five elements – be it five hiragana, katakana, kanji or (in this case) letters. Without conferring, each player writes down the element that corresponds to their position. If they get it right, the word is successfully pronounced by the voice-overed question master. If they get it wrong, the question master just says whatever they wrote as best they can, with sometimes hilarious consequences.

The rest of the stages are all enjoyable and offer so many flashing lights and pretty pictures that non-Japanese speakers can easily enjoy it without following the banter or understanding every last nuance.

Saturday, 8 May 2010

From Merry Christmas to Happy Birthday

Between the general election and the new series of Doctor Who, the amount of Japanese TV I've been watching recently has dropped a bit, but I was aware enough to notice that Bump of Chicken released two singles in April, both of which are getting heavy rotation on my mp3 player.

Judging by Wikipedia (my Japanese isn't good enough to work out what he's singing about for myself) the lead singer/songwriter is a bit obsessed by turning 30 years old as the first single, "Happy" has the refrain "Happy Birthday" while the second single is about the thirty year old him giving advice to his twenty year old self. Pity that he hasn't advised himself to not give one of his albums an unpronouncable name (Yggdrasil? I mean, really.)

But the music's great, and after a fallow period of not liking music much I find myself rocking along to this, Veltpunch and Greeeen, as well as an American band sneaking in, The Winter Sounds.

Mmm, music.

Friday, 7 May 2010

Just watched: Koi no Mon

After "Ashita no, Kita Yoshio", I started looking around for other shows involving the same actors and found this surreal comedy from 2005. Starring Ryuuhei Matsuda as a drop-out manga artist with some odd ideas about manga and rocks, and Wakana Sakai as a cosplaying manga drawing admin assistant. They meet, fall in love, and stumble through a series of unlikely situations before the credits finally roll. That's more or less the closest this film gets to a storyline.

It's Sakai who steals the show, though. While Matsuda is likeable as the Dylan Moran-esque mumbling buffoon, Sakai is either perfect for her role or a great undiscovered talent. Undiscovered by me, that is. She's done stuff apart from this, including an episode of Lost Time Life (one which, sadly, I don't have). Undeniably cute, she sets about the role with great energy yet also with some subtlety so it doesn't become overbearing.

The film relies on the two main actors to hold your interest as without them, the series of odd things happening to odd people in odd ways could run out of steam before too long. And perhaps this film is a bit too long, as every scene is ultimately disposable and you may find yourself wondering why certain things made it past the final cut. But in the end, it's more hit than miss and an enjoyable diversion while it lasts.