Monday, 30 August 2010

J-dramas that should be shown in the UK

I sometimes try to work out which J-dramas would make it onto British screens. Unlikely, since UK television has an aversion to any foreign shows with only Wallander from Sweden having a series on BBC3, although an episode of the Italian detective series Montalbano was shown once in 2008.

Given the nature of British TV, of course, most Japanese stuff simply wouldn't make it. The female characters are often too subservient or girly, or in the case of hard-hitting dramas, the bitter pill of social injustice is smothered by a sweet sub-plot, in which the teenage thug really does love his mother, or the murderer was trying to avenge the honour of his father.

So, here's my list of shows that would comfortably make it onto British screens. Not necessarily prime-time on a major channel, but they could find a home somewhere and not look out of place. I've put them in order from “no changes at all” to “needs quite a bit of work done to it”. And I've added where in the schedule they might fit. Ah, I missed my vocation – I should've been a programme planner.

1. Jikou Keisatsu
I've only recently started watching this, which is why I haven't mentioned it before. This is a detective series in which a policeman has a hobby where he investigates crimes that happened over 15 years ago and so cannot be brought to trial. Directed by Satoshi Miki and starring Odagiri Joe and Aso Kumiko, it's very funny and intelligently written. I'd put this on instead of Atami no Sousakan (same director, same cast) because Atami's constant Twin Peaks references would have people complaining it was just a rip-off, but this stands on its own two feet and I think it needs no changes at all to work abroad.
Channel: BBC2 or Channel 4, around 9 or 10 o'clock

2. Ueno Juri no Itsutsu no Kaban
No need for explanations, since I've written about this before. This series of short dramas is quiet and quirky, and would work fine pretty much as they are.
Channel: BBC2, after Newsnight. 11.15 ish

3. Galileo
I watched this ages ago, and keep meaning to write about it, but never seem to find the time. A scientist genius is used by the police to solve seemingly impossible crimes. The writing is great, and the explanations never disappoint in their ingenuity.
Channel: Late night ITV3, I reckon

4. Ashita no, Kita Yoshio
When people think of the Japanese, they tend to think of high suicide rates so I do wonder if this show (about a man who's decided to commit suicide in eleven days) would only reinforce that stereotype. But the series is so good that I'd take that risk.
Channel: BBC3 or 4 perhaps?

5. Akihabara@Deep
Definitely not prime time, but would easily fill a gap for cult movie-watchers and otaku. Some of the jokes may not make any sense to the British, but what the hell. Put it all on. Its energy and originality should be enough.
Channel: E4... or perhaps it could just make it onto Channel 4

6. Camouflage
While this show is excellent, I can't se your average UK viewer sitting through the intro and outro of every episode. So with a bit of editing, I think you've got a very strong four part series.
Channel: similar to Itsutsu no Kaban, so again BBC2, after Newsnight. 11.15 ish

7. Lost Time Life
The first J-drama I ever watched and still one of my favourites. But let's be honest, not all of the ten episodes are great and the one about food is simply too Japanese. People will ask themselves: what's so great about sukiyaki? Cut it down to a six-parter and you've got something special.
Channel: late night BBC3

8. Anego
Another series I haven't written about yet. Hmmm, I feel like I should apologise. Anyway, this show is about an office lady who hits 30 and has no husband and no sign of any coming soon. A sort of Japanese Bridget Jones. Shinohara Ryoko is fantastic in the lead role, and while the storyline may be a bit wobbly in places, this could work. Just about. A bit of editing, maybe?
Channel: Hmm... E4?

9. Puzzle
This series is great. Funny and mysterious. Unfortunately, episode one relies on a word puzzle that most British people would get in seconds, thus making the audience wonder what all the fuss is about. Not sure how you'd get round that. It'd need a lot of editing. After that, though, this would work fine.
Channel: E4

10. Liar Game
This would need a complete remake. The female lead is too passive for British audiences, and the number of crash zooms in an average scene is ridiculous. But if they do make it for British audiences, I think it would work well. Geeky things are in vogue just now.
Channel: Hey, if you give it to Steven Moffat, BBC1!

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Recommended: Satoshi Miki films

Several years ago, some friends and I went for a walk up a hill. It was a sort of saddle shape so it had two peaks, and once we'd reached one, we looked at the other, and decided that the other one was higher. So we set off to that one. But once we'd arrived and looked back at the other peak, we started thinking that perhaps the first one had been higher all along.

The only reason I tell this story is because that's how I felt trying to work out which of Satoshi's films I like most. Although I've only seen three, the choice is surprisingly difficult, and whenever I make a decision, I immediately start to change my mind. "Turtles are Surprisingly Fast Swimmers" is perhaps the funniest, and it has one scene with my "dream team" of J-drama together at last: Ueno Juri, Aoi Yu and Nukumizu Youichi (even if the scene is barely two minutes long). "Insects Unlisted in the Encyclopedia" has the best story and Kikuchi Rinko (Liar Game 2, Moteki) in it and Fuse Eri is hilarious playing a sweet-guzzling teenage boy. Lastly "Instant Swamp" makes most sense as a story (despite the flying dragons), and has the strongest lead performance from Aso Kumiko.

So take your pick. You can't go wrong, if you don't mind stories that aren't in any hurry to get to the end. Perhaps it is an acquired taste, but it's one that gets better each time.

Monday, 23 August 2010

Currently watching: Moteki

A man called Fujimoto Yukiyo, approaching his thirtieth birthday, has gone through life with no real career plan and no girlfriend. Suddenly, he gets his “moteki” - a period of time when he's attractive to women. Convinced this is his chance to find his true love, he clumsily tries to win their affections.

As with a lot of late-night dramas it's a bit odd. He frequently talks to younger versions of himself, to apologise/explain where he went wrong. And sometimes, they come forwards in time to see how he's doing. So far, the episodes have been all about introducing the different women and what part they played in Fujimoto's life. Now we've met all four, I want to see what happens next.

It's pretty funny stuff, even if you do sometimes want to slap him for thinking too much about things. So far episode two has been the most enjoyable, with Mitsushima Hikari as the love interest. They go to see where her favourite drama was filmed, and when they arrive at a particular location she breathlessly acts out a scene by herself in the street. That's kind of how I felt when I found the shrine they used in Akihabara@Deep.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Currently watching: Atami no Sousakan

First, let's talk about Twin Peaks. Clearly, anyone watching this who doesn't know about the director Satoshi Miki may dismiss it as simply Twin Peaks with jokes. This would be a shame, although it does bear some clear similarities. Satoshi-san has obviously had some fun bringing in references to David Lynch's TV series, with people amazed by how good the coffee tastes, the twangy guitars in the soundtrack and the uniforms of the local police. But, really, this show isn't much different in tone to his previous films and it does occur to me that if you took Satoshi's stream-of-consciousness-style of story telling, and applied it to a murder mystery, you'd end up with something like Twin Peaks anyway.

The story (and I apologise for another reference) bears similarities to Picnic At Hanging Rock. In this show, four schoolgirls go missing when the bus they're on rolls away into some thick fog. Years later, one girl is found at a bus stop in a coma. She eventually wakes up, but has no memory of the event, or even of that day. The "Wide-Investigation Police" (a sort of Japanese FBI) come to investigate and this is how things begin.

The cast is golden. Odagiri Joe (best known in the West for his role as the deranged bad guy in the film Azumi) and Kuriyama Chiaki (Kill Bill) fit the lead roles perfectly, and the supporting cast is great too, including some familiar faces from past Satoshi Miki films. Notably, I was happy to see Fuse Eri as one of the local police force. She's always one of the best things in anything she does, and is an effortlessly funny and versatile actress. She's the one below with the bazooka.

This is gonna be awesome.

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Currently watching: Hotaru no Hikari 2

So this comedy romance continues to be highly popular (judging by the ratings in Japan and the fact it's been translated into ten languages on Viikii) with Amemiya's troubles caused by her unrealistic ideas about love.

The first episode starts badly, as Amemiya returns from three years abroad (not looking very well, according to some people) and it seems the relationship between herself and her boss/boyfriend did not survive the long distances, and we're straight back to the beginning with them being argumentative and grumpy. I had the terrible feeling this was going to be series one all over again, but thankfully the relationship does progress, and we can all move on to the next stage.

Well, that would be too easy. A series of misunderstandings gets in the way, because after all, a lot changes in three years. The comedy part is fine, but nothing amazing, but the most interesting thing is: having watched the first three episodes I can't really tell if the two main characters will end the series as a couple. In the first series the ending could've been guessed almost immediately, but in series two the introduction of two new potential love-interests for Amemiya and Seiichi who are sympathetic and likeable makes things more unpredictable. Certainly, the "next week" montage at the end of episode three promises some dramatic revelations.

Friday, 13 August 2010

Beckii: Schoolgirl Superstar at 14

Since I mostly watch dramas and quiz shows, and because most of my news about music comes from Japanator or HearJapan, I hadn't previously been aware of the phenomena of Beckii Cruel, except for having read about her a few months ago on the Japan Today website. Then I saw that the BBC had done a documentary about her, so I had a look.

The story is one for our times: a video of a schoolgirl dancing to an anime soundtrack in her bedroom goes viral and clocks up half a million views. This grows as she puts up more videos, gets a manager, and visits Japan during her school holidays to promote her photobook, new single, DVD, whatever.

In the past before the internet, when an act became an "overnight success", they almost certainly had several years of experience in doing what they did in local clubs, theatres, etc. Now, "overnight success" can almost mean just that. So Beckii epitomises that dilemma: when you have millions of people watching what you do, what should you do? Beckii and her family's attempt at building on this popularity is reasonable enough, but she's got no training, no particular skills and no natural talent. She just happens to have got a lot of people's attention. If this had happened over time, she could've prepared but as it is, she's learning her trade in full view of the public.

The story told by the documentary is a bit heart-warming, and a bit disturbing. The idea of the internet as some lottery of fame and the next one could be you, is one that a lot of people are attracted to. But the pop industry is like one of those animals that eats its own offspring, and I wonder how far this attempt at cracking the Japanese market can go.

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Still watching: Nep League

A week or so ago, a generous person on Live Journal started posting some recently recorded episodes. The low quality is a bit of a shame but it's perfectly watchable. Just pretend you're watching it on VHS. Plus, I'm actually quite pleased they left in the adverts. It makes a nice change.

Everything is still as I left it when I last saw an episode back in May: all the stages are exactly the same, but it still entertains. I still struggle with most of the questions (all of them, if they involve kanji) unless the answer happens to be in English. But it's all about bells and whistles and flashing lights, as far as I'm concerned. I do sometimes pause the game and try to work out an answer, but I find it tends to ruin the flow.

Monday, 9 August 2010

Currently watching: Life Special Investigation Team

Finally, I get round to watching some Korean drama. One of the (minor) things that I wonder about my fondness for Japanese culture is why don't I give Korean dramas a fair crack of the whip? For an outsider, liking Japan and not liking South Korea is the same as liking Spain and not liking Italy. I mean, sure, they're two different countries with different languages, histories and attitudes but, superficially at least, they are pretty similar.

But I did see one episode of God Of Study ages ago (which I only watched because it had Bae Doo Na in it (from the films Host and Linda, Linda, Linda)) and didn't care for it. Then, the other day I found this 2008 series on d-addicts. A quick look at the synopsis interested me, so I gave it a go.

The story revolves around the investigations of a team trying to uncover insurance fraud. Apart from the detective work, there's also a sub-plot of "will they, won't they, and if so, with whom?" in the form of a love triangle between the three main characters. The comedic elements are hardly subtle (see below) but can be pretty funny and thanks to some neat story lines, this has me hooked. The three main stars nicely play against each other and are well supported by the rest of the cast. The stories are twisty and turny, but not so much that you think that perhaps even the writers don't know who did it. Ultimately, I'm very glad I gave this a go. The episodes are being put up on d-addicts pretty quickly, but that's fine by me. Set 'em up, I'll knock 'em down.

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Just finished: Tsuki no Koibito

* tiny spoilers *

The last episode of this series set in the giddy jet-set world of furniture design and retailing ends with a double-length episode. Watching it wrap up all the loose ends with a whole bunch of happy endings was pleasant enough, though I was left wondering what the attraction to Rensuke was.

With barely any emotional display on his part, I was reminded of an experiment I read about when people were shown a photo of a baby next to a photo of someone with a blank expression. They described this person's expression as caring. Then they were shown a photo of a knife and the same photo of the person again. This time they described the person's expression as being angry.

This is kind of how I felt watching the show. Rensuke hugs a woman with the same expression as when he carves a bit of wood or looks for his keys. I felt like the show was asking me to read into those scenes whatever I wanted. I'm aware of the fondness in J-dramas (and videogames) for the hero to be a blank slate, tongue tied and distant, but it's one I'd never really liked. Give me Final Fantasy 9's wise-cracking romantic Zidane over FF8's sour-faced Squall any day. And so it was here. After Mr Brain I did hope for something more from Kimura Takuya, and reading people's reactions on various forums, he's been better in other romantic comedies, so I'll hunt around, give those a go. Perhaps.

Shinohara Ryoko, though. Aces ten.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Currently watching : GOLD

Goodness me, are the writers going for the record number of speeches in the space of one hour? The lasting impression I got from this was the speed in which every character's story was set up. Perhaps this is necessary to tell the story in the long term, but it did leave the first episode rather word-heavy. I think pretty much everyone got the chance to explain their feelings in some detail, which left little room for anything else.

What time there was left was given to building up the relationship between boss and mother of three gifted althetes (played by Amami Yuki) and her new secretary (Nagasawa Masami) and to establish the role in all of this of the estranged good-for-nothing husband.

So far, so complicated. No idea which way this is going to go, but I guess there'll be tears before bedtime.

Perhaps the one scene that stood out – if not for the right reasons – was when the daughter professed her love for her coach. The scene ends by cutting to Yuki watching the conversation on a TV in her office. I don't know much about security cameras, but I'm guessing those that film in colour and in widescreen are pretty rare!

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Still watching: Dr Koto's Clinic

Every now and again, when I'm in the mood, I sit down and watch another episode of this series. For some reason, it lends itself quite well to long gaps between viewings as the characters and storyline are never so complex that you might lose some of the more subtle aspects.

* spoilers, yeah? *

In the ninth episode, Aoi Yu's character's history catches up with her as her estranged husband turns up at the clinic uninvited. I won't give away what happens between them, but suffice to say her husband was seriously ill. I admit I laughed when he said that. Does that make me a bad person? But I figured of course he was ill: otherwise there's no reason for him to be on the island!

Anyway, the series is as relaxing as ever, despite the high number of locals with life-threatening illnesses. I think I have just two episodes left, so it just remains for me to find the time to sit down and watch them.