Monday, 27 September 2010

Just watched: Kimi no Yubisaki

I'm not a fan of Horikita Maki. For whatever reasons, she just never seems to appear in dramas that interest me and apart from a minor part in one of the Trick movies and some DoCoMo adverts, she's largely passed me by. So I didn't have high hopes for this, but it's a short film and I thought "I used to like short films when I was a student", so I decided to try it.

The story line, what there is of it, concerns two schoolgirls on one afternoon. They talk about unimportant stuff, but before long it becomes clear that there's something they want to say to each other. Or to be exact, that one wants to say something to the other, but can't. Or daren't.

The acting is fine, although neither Horikita Maki nor Kuroki Meisa are particularly stretched. The directing style is interesting. There's a distinct lack of colour in the film – the girls are both wearing white shirts, the buildings on the school roof are white and the sky and sea are bleached out to pale greys. It's a quiet, unassuming and rather sweet film. The sort of thing I would've liked when I was a student.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Just watched: Castaway on the Moon

You know, the fact that I almost didn't bother with this makes me wonder if I know anything about films at all. In my defence, the poster doesn't help, making this look like a knockabout comedy but in fact it's a clever and touching story about two people who are, in their own way, trapped in their small worlds and who reach out to each other.

A man tries to commit suicide by jumping off a bridge in a Korean city, but wakes up on one of the small islands along the river. A woman has never left her room in three years sees him from her apartment window and begins to watch. So begins their faltering relationship.

The film is funny, don't get me wrong. Jung Jae-Young is particularly good, especially during the opening half hour or so, which is basically him trying and failing to master survival techniques. The parallel with communicating with aliens and the two people communicating with each other is very neat. In these days where speaking to people has never been simpler, our two heroes are reduced to messages in bottles and words writ large on beaches which means that they can barely manage a sentence a day, like beaming messages into space and hoping for a reply.

Anyone who's ever felt like the person they most want to talk to may as well be on another planet will probably empathise with this. It's a great film, full of warmth, charm and wit.

Last Friends photo shoot

I've not watched Last Friends and, frankly, I don't think I ever will, but I did recently find on d-addicts some scans from a magazine promoting the series which were so nice I thought I'd mention them here.

I do like these kind of photos, which are less staged (or at least they seem so) than normal photo shoots. I also like the atmosphere they have; of youth in the summer time and friends together. Looking at them felt like going through a friend's old photos, and when you find these you want to stop and ask you friend who they are.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

The return of Kabachitare!

Well, this was unexpected. When I saw this back on the first page of d-addicts, I thought it was someone bumping an old thread, asking if anyone can re-seed it. Turns out that B.O.N funsubs have picked this up to finally finish it off. Previously only two episodes had been subbed but those two were enough to get me interested.

The programme (originally broadcast in 2000) is about two women: a pessimistic, cynical lawyer, and an optimistic, naïve waitress. They are brought together by chance and forge an unlikely friendship, mostly based on complaining that they're still single. The storylines are pretty flimsy, but it's the interplay between the two women that's the main attraction. Fakatsu Eri can go from cold and impassive to quirky with ease, and she talks so fast that I'm not surprised that the original subbers dropped it. Tokiwa Takako also shines as her idealist friend, and the two of them complement each other perfectly.

It also has some nice cameos, from Shinohara Ryoko as a vindictive police officer, and the comedian Abukawa Mihoko in two brief but memorable appearances in episodes one and two.

Cross fingers that the new subbing team can go the distance...

Friday, 17 September 2010

Currently watching: Chase

I saw a review of this a while back on another blog, and thought it looked interesting: the sort of thing I'd like. I then promptly forgot about it until I saw it listed amongst TV series starring Aso Kumiko, so I decided to give it a go. I should be ashamed. I wish I could say I started watching this because I like challenging dramas with complex stories, but in fact I chose it because it has a pretty lady in it. I'm so shallow.

Which is something you can't say about the series itself. If you thought a show about tax evasion wouldn't be interesting, give this a go and marvel at how wrong you can be. The jargon pings back and forth, and the techniques used to break the law (and to defend it) show that the writers have gone to great lengths to research this. Meanwhile, the directing is tight and the actors give the script the talent it deserves.

Even small things in the storyline impress me. For example, the new member of the team is not there for comic relief, nor is he an idealist who's there to make the grumpy bosses realise how bitter and cynical they've become. In fact, he's there because he's good at his job! So simple, yet such a refreshing change.

Download this and feel the quality.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Continuing: Nihonjin no Shiranai Nihongo

Okay, I'll admit it. I'm confused. Episode seven has cleared up a few things regarding various students' nationalities, with a couple of unexpected twists. Paul, the suave Mediterranean type, turns out to be English and not a suave Mediterranean type, as I first assumed. Meanwhile the stone-faced businessman turns out to be American, but I thought he was English. And the otaku is Italian, not French. Although the black guy is American, as I first guessed, so I got one right at least.

Meanwhile, the show remains an oddity. I still don't know what to make of it. The most recent episode touches upon the Japanese tendency to be disappointed when foreigners become too... well... too Japanese. It doesn't explain why, though. I'd guess it's something to do with living in such a culturally homogeneous country, meeting a foreigner is a chance to experience something different. Or maybe not.

But this isn't the program to go into these problems, as the storyline stays light and humourous, and it tries to pack everything into half an hour. Asking it to do a thesis every week on Japanese attitudes to other cultures is probably asking a bit much.

That stuff about why "aoi" means blue and green was pretty interesting, though.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Just watched: Oto na ri

It's 4am, and I've just been woken up by the people upstairs playing music too loud. It can't have been a party, because when I rang their doorbell no one came down to see who had arrived - they just turned the music down. However, now I can't get back to sleep so I thought now would be a good time to talk about a film I recently saw, “Oto na ri”. I chose it because I'm on a bit of an Aso Kumiko trip at the moment, after seeing her in Jikou Keisatsu and Instant Swamp.

The story is about two neighbours who can hear what each other is doing, and the bond that grows between them even though they never meet. It's nicely told story, with some clever touches. When a woman comes looking for her boyfriend in one flat, the good-natured argument sounds like love-making in the neighbouring flat.

It's a shame that the story relies on such an improbable series of coincidences to bring our heroes face to face, rather than have them just knock on each other's doors, but never mind. There are some great moments through the film. Overall, I found it a pleasant film, which is about living the life you want rather than hoping that by chance the life you want will fall into place. At least, that's what the sub-plots are about. This is slightly undermined by having a chance occurance solve a large chunk of the main story, but the rest of the film is so good I can forgive it.

Oh, and the song that keeps appearing through the film is “Kaze wo Atsumete”, which is one of the only Japanese songs I know any lyrics to, so that was nice.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Currently watching: Unubore Deka

Alongside Atami no Sousakan, Jikou Keisatsu and Zettai Reido, I've been overdosing a bit on detective series recently. Especially those with a comedic twist. Unubore Deka tells the story of a detective who thinks he's irresistible to women, and who falls for the women who commit the the crimes he's working on, and he's aided by useless advice about love from his friends at a local bar. Add to this his boss is married to the same woman who left him broken hearted some years ago. Oh, and he lives with his dad who writes up his adventures, which are then shown on TV as a drama with a friend of his in the lead role.

If it sounds complicated, it all becomes clear once things get started. Well, perhaps the TV series bit doesn't work so well, but at least it gives Ikuta Toma something to do, and he is funny as the talentless-but-attractive actor who's out of his depth as a drama lead.

Of course, most of the praise goes to Nagase Tomoya as the main character. His performance is just the right side of over-the-top, and he displays some faultless comic timing. He's helped by a top script that's very funny and sharply written (and big thanks to the subbers for their great work on this). It's a little formulaic, but even four episodes in, the writers have started to have fun with the format. I'll be following this to the end, no doubt.

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Currently watching: Game Centre CX

Occasionally (very occasionally) I write about old video games (at least I did until I deleted the blog). As such, this show definitely appeals to my inner geek. For the most part, it's concerned with the presenter of the show, Arino, who has to complete an old game in the space of 12 hours. Watching him struggle with games (most of which I've never heard of – I was more of a ZX Spectrum/Commodore 64 player) is always satisfying as I remember my feeble attempts at completing games when I was a boy.

The studio-based sections are shot in a meeting room, which must make it the cheapest set on TV. His style of presenting is mostly him making feeble jokes about the game while the film crew laugh. At first, it comes across as being fairly amateurish, but after a while you get used to it, and you even start to laugh along too.

This page has a list of subbed episodes for download, and while it's not complete, I'm enjoying myself as I work my way through them. Notable episodes are the first one, in which he plays a game designed by Takeshi “Beat” Kitano. Famous for being weird and also not very good, there's an almost impossible section in which the player is required to sing into the microphone to clear a stage. This episode also has a section on the making of the game, which I wish they'd do more often.

Also, worth a mention is episode 2 when Arino has to play a dating game aimed at female game players and ends up getting quite involved in it, and episode 45, when the member of the crew who helps him complete parts of the game that he simply cannot do is, to his surprise, a woman. And quite a cute one at that. I may be reading too much into it, but it seems to me that Arino-san isn't entirely sure how to react and his jokes take a turn for the worse.

This show is definitely for Geeks with a capital 'G'. But outside of that, seeing a middle aged man struggle against the odds is strangely inspiring. There's no guarantee that he'll succeed, which makes every stage cleared all the more uplifting. I think most videogamers have games from their past that they'd like to see beaten and it's a relief to know that someone is out there willing to make the effort on our behalf.

Friday, 3 September 2010

Currently watching: Jikou Keisatsu

Since the wait between episodes of Atami No Sousakan was getting too long (this is not a complaint about the fabsubbers' efforts because even a wait of one day would be too long) I decided to dig out this old TV series to fill the gap.

Broadcast in 2006, this show stars Odigiri Joe and Aso Kumiko and was directed by Satoshi Miki and involves the police solving mysterious murders. However, these are crimes that were committed so long ago, they can no longer be brought to trial. They are simply investigating these crimes as a hobby.

It has a great sense of humour, as you'd expect from Satoshi Miki. It's more immediate in appeal than Atami No Sousakan, simply because each crime is solved before the end of the episode. The cast is great, and there's barely a moment when it isn't worth your full attention. I'm halfway through the series so far, but I can't find anything wrong with it.

Perhaps the only down side is how difficult it is to find. Maybe I was typing the wrong things into google, but after much searching, I had to download the series hardsubbed into French from here and then use the soft subs from d-addicts. Luckily, they sync up fine. To make the subs readable, of course, you have to change the settings so that the words have a dark background. For example in VLC player, that's Settings > Preferences > Video > Subtitles/OCD > Text renderer > Font effect. A bit of a pain, but worth it. Oh yes. [edit: actually, I just noticed they're up on My Asian Cinema, so you can save yourself a bit of work]