Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Currently watching: Shinzanmono

This mystery from Keigo Higashino, the same writer as Galileo, centres around an amiable detective who’s new in town, as he investigates a grisly murder.

Although so far all the people connected to the victim who’ve been acting suspiciously have been doing so for purely altruistic reasons, and the only secrets they’ve been keeping is how much they love their family. While some of the twists in each episode are ingenious, it’s losing quite a lot of momentum. As a result, five episodes in, I’ve kind of forgotten what the initial murder was about.

Here’s hoping that things will change as the series finale nears. With the writer’s previous pedigree I’m not too worried and Abe Hiroshi (Trick, At Home Dad) is always watchable, so I’ll happily see this through to the end.

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Normal service has been resumed

Well, I’d given up on that one post per match idea. And now that all four teams are out (notably England being dumped so ignominiously out of the competition and Italy now officially being worse than New Zealand) that frees up a little more time. In the meantime, I’ve been watching Cat Taxi on Viikii, and Shinzanmono, as well as the regulars. More on these later.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Netherlands versus Japan: Miki Yuuseki

Okay, so I'm getting these out of order, but this is a nice short one.

Miki Yuuseki (御木 幽石) is an illustrator and I picked up some of her work when I was in Japan. It's cute, with some very nice brushwork and I keep meaning to get some more stuff from YesAsia. For those clever enough to order things direct from Japan or just fancy a bit of window shopping to see more of her stuff can go here.

Saturday, 19 June 2010

USA versus Slovenia: The Boys In The Band

I saw this at a film festival when I was living in Italy. My girlfriend at the time marked it as one she wanted to see, so I went in with few preconceptions. This is usually the best way to watch a film, I find.

The film (based on a play) centres around a group of men, all except one are gay. The dynamic between the range of stereotypes, from full-on queen to straight-acting to (one assumes) repressed and in denial, is what propels the storyline.

Since it was filmed in the seventies, the period feel only serves to increase the feeling of high camp. In fact, it’s quite liberating to see such overblown stereotypes be given a proper dramatic narrative, rather than have them simply in comedic roles that they usually got in the seventies. Although, at first it can be a little odd, but before long you start to accept their various quirks and settle down to follow the storyline.

However, I can understand the reputation the film has acquired as being an Uncle Tom for the gay community. The conclusion of the film is that the main character breaks down in tears, exclaiming how much he hates himself (as I recall). It kind of undermines the previous events, and while certainly dramatic it’s quite an odd note to end on.

But as a period piece, it’s fascinating. And if you don’t read it as a commentary on the gay community, and take it at face value that it’s a story about these particular individuals, it’s an entertaining and engaging film.

Monday, 14 June 2010

Italy versus Paraguay: Gli Album di Marco Paolini

The pinnacle of story-telling. The pinnacle.

This theatre production, broadcast on Italian TV in 2005, is based on a series of semi-autobiographical stories of growing up in small town Italy in the highly politicised 1970s. In case this seems too dry, politics is never the main subject, but is woven into the stories of playing on railway tracks and falling in love and losing at rugby as a constant backdrop. Both adult and childhood are discussed with the same sardonic eye for detail, and an affection for the past that doesn’t turn into drab, plodding nostalgia.

The format of the show is simple. One man on a darkened stage telling tales to a live audience, with the occasional song. There’s certainly an intimacy in one person telling you a story for an hour or so, and Marco Paolini has enough charm to carry it through.

The finest episode, Un Filo di Pensieri (A thread of thoughts) begins on a rainy Milan protest march when a chance remark about a rugby match that he thought everyone else had forgotten about leads us into the lead character’s memories of his team reaching the final of a youth competition.

But it’s hard to find on the internet, expensive to pick up on DVD, and even if you do, there are no English subs. This means little chance of fame outside Italy, which is a shame since I think it’s a real gem and deserves a wider audience.

Japan versus Cameroon: University of Laughs (Warai no Daigaku)

This 2004 film, based on the play, follows the power struggle between a comic writer and a censor. Set in war-time Japan, the all-powerful censor finds himself slowly being drawn into caring about the writer’s silly little play as it is submitted time and time again.

The move from granite-faced official to collaborator (in the writing sense) is deftly done and only becomes apparent in one glorious scene when, in trying to prove a point, asks the censor to help act it out. At first the censor is stiff and awkward, but after a few attempts he starts to get into it and the look of child-like glee when he starts acting is quite touching.

Ultimately, despite it’s specific place and time in history, this is a universal story about censorship. But rather than a finger-wagging diatribe about how bad governments are, it’s more of a celebration of the things that censorship denies us – as the censor finds his world enriched by the exchange of ideas with the writer, the idea that society too can be similarly enriched is writ large throughout the film.

But there’s still no PAL DVD release, and it’s lack of fame means it’s unlikely to get one. I only know about it because a friend happened to watch it on a flight to Germany. Another undiscovered treasure.

Saturday, 12 June 2010

England versus USA: Doctor Who

A bit cheeky to claim this for England when it's currently made by BBC Wales, but it's high time I mentioned it in some detail. This show, a sci-fi ramble across time and space, has been around longer than me and has guaranteed longevity with it's ability to renew itself every few years (give or take a decade's sabbatical).

“My Doctor” (ie, the one I grew up with) should be Tom Baker (the 4th Doctor). But such is my terrible memory of my early years, all I can remember of those early days is feeling acutely embarrassed when Leela (the Doctor's semi-savage assistant, usually clad in a leather leotard) was on screen, and the six-year-old me didn't know where to look. So I suppose that Peter Davison (the 5th Doctor) takes the title, since he's the one I have most memories of.

However, since the series returned to our screens in 2005, I've been determinedly nu-skool in my tastes. Patrick Troughton (the 2nd Doctor) aside, I've not cared much for anything before Paul McGann (the 8th Doctor). This is not by design or deliberate choice. I just happen to think that the new BBC series and Big Finish audio adventures are more entertaining.

And the current series, overseen by producer and writer Steve Moffat (Coupling, Jekyl, The Press Gang), somehow fits the bill even more. It's as if someone remade Doctor Who according to how I remembered it, not by how it was. The aliens are a little more Twilight Zone and the twists are a bit more Tales Of The Unexpected than the previous seasons' Hollywood pretensions.

Sometimes the show is a little sappy and silly, but it is supposed to be suitable for kids so who am I to complain. At its worst I can still imagine some kid sitting cross-legged in front of the TV thinking something was the coolest thing he'd ever seen. And at its best I am, for forty-five too-short minutes, that kid sitting in front of the TV screen, thinking that was the coolest thing I've ever seen. Another forty years is not too much to ask, is it?

England versus USA: Keith and the Girl

This US podcast kept me sane. Living in Italy, split from my girlfriend, but giving it one more year to see if it was worth my while staying in the country, this irreverent, occasionally offensive podcast was my main source of information on the English-speaking world. One of my abiding memories of that period in my life is walking around the south of Turin at five o'clock in the morning looking for an ATM while I listened to Keith tell Patrice and Chemda about how many abortions his ex-girlfriends had ha. (Two, for the record.)

Since then, it's helped me stay relatively up-to-date with it's mix of showbiz gossip (most Thursdays with Patrice) and current affairs (kind of) and comedy. It's lazy of me, but it's kind of useful to have as a sort of repository of all the things I ought to know if I was up to speed on the internet.

Recently, when Keith and Chemda announced that they were no longer a couple, I was quite surprised how much it effected me. I was in an odd mood for the rest of the evening, and the next day at work, I was quite frustrated that there was no one else to talk to about it. Although when someone asked how I was, I was tempted to say how I was sad that a couple I knew had split up, but I was worried that they may press the issue and sooner or later I'd have to admit I'd never actually met this couple... But it still upset me.

Such is the effect the show has on me. It makes me laugh and, on occasion, it makes me cry. It still hasn't made me breakfast, but I live in hope.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Currently watching: Tsuki no Koibito

It’s weird, but sometimes you meet people who really impress you. They’ve got a confidence and an air about them that makes me want to like them. Although I’m old and cynical and should be above being so easily led and even though when I think back and look at it dispassionately, I’m sometimes left wondering about my eagerness to please.

Tsuki no Koibito has a similar effect on me. If you were to describe it to me, I wouldn't give it a chance. But having watched it, I find a super confident, charismatic show that’s clearly had a lot of money and talent thrown at it. Japanese is joined by Chinese and English in the dialogue to give it a jet-set international feel, and it’s all done with such chutzpah that it’s easy to get swept along.

Set in a successful company that runs up-market department stores, it follows the adventures of the dispassionate president (Kimura Takuya, Mr Brain), his scheming PA (Matsuda Shota, Liar Game), the President’s girlfriend who’s more of a business deal than a life choice (Kitagawa Keiko) and a Chinese woman made unemployed by the company and then hired as a model (Lin Chi Ling) on the orders of the President, who’s in love with her. Maybe.

Should this sound too glamorous, there’s the down-to-earth designer (Shinohara Ryoko, looking fantastic in casual clothes) and her assistant who seems to take a similar delight in the gossip as the viewer is supposed to. Add some neat cameos, and you’d be hard pressed to find a weakness in terms of performance.

The story, too, is solid. Although there’s an uncharacteristic dip into sappy cliché at the end of episode one when the opening of the company’s first store in Shanghai is accompanied by the usual feel good images, which don’t really sit well with the rest of the show. Obviously, the main story continues throughout the series, so my guess is that this scene was added on just to give some kind of conclusion to part one. Things are looking interesting enough that I'm going to give this a shot.