Saturday, 30 October 2010

Avoid: Guilty Akuma to Keiyakushita Onna

Twenty minutes. That’s how long into the first episode I lasted. That’s some kind of record, since I usually make the effort to get to the end of any series' opening episode. But not with this. Something about it made me think I was better off doing something else.

Guilty begins with a suicide, and then progresses to a scene with some plain-clothes police officers being cold and distant to each other before one of them leaves the office and saves a dog. But he doesn’t care that he saved the dog: he’s that kind of man. And the dog’s pregnant, and her owner’s gone missing. So a worker at the pet salon looks after it.

The problem with this show is that halfway into the first episode and there’s still no clear storyline. People either glare silently, or they look awkward when not answering a question, implying some deep mysterious secret that no one dares talk about. Unfortunately, if no one can answer any questions, it just looks as if no one knows what’s going on.

I decided to read the synopsis on the Drama Wiki. The last show I had to check on the internet to understand what was going on was Atami no Sousakan, but for completely different reasons. With Atami, I wanted to learn more. For this, I was looking for any redeeming features at all. But, if anything, the synopsis put me off even more. It turns out the pet salon owner also has a big secret. Of course she does. Everyone does. Why the Hell not? Maybe even the dog has a secret.

I guess I'll never know.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Going cold turkey from d-addicts

Hmmm, when I click on my link to d-addicts, instead of the usual forums, all I see is smartly dressed woman and a list of links about drug rehab. It tells me that the domain name wasn't updated. So all that's left is for me to sit tight and wait. At least it'll give people a chance to cool off and appreciate it a little more. I kept noticing people on the Subtitles forum getting more and more impatient recently.

Tsk. Kids, eh? They don't know how lucky they are.

EDIT: According to this thread on Jdorama, the domain has been renewed, and all that needs to happen is for stuff to be updated. Phew.

Jeez, and if that isn't enough, I can't navigate around the No Many More site without it transferring me to some site about watching TV from China. What the hell's going on out there?

So, I guess that leaves Silent Regrets, if you really need your J-drama hit. And, hey! Look, they've put Camouflage up! So it's not all bad news...

UPDATE: It's back.

Monday, 25 October 2010

Currently watching: Reinoryokusha Odagiri Kyoko no Uso

This is another in the long list of Japanese crime shows in which the main protagonist is a fake psychic, or debunks psychic phenomena. Or in this case, both. Ishihara Satomi stars as Odagiri Kyoko, a famous TV psychic, who despises the dishonesty of her job and wants to leave but can't. Her fame has been noticed by some unidentified law enforcement department that sends an agent to investigate. However, it's made clear to this agent – played by Tanihara Shosuke - that if this psychic is a fake like the other 107 he's investigated, he's going to get the sack.

So with the two main characters with opposite ideas about if she should come out as a fake, the stage is set for some comedy mystery capers. It's very light-hearted, and while shows like Galileo, Trick and Puzzle were all about murderers, this show's mysteries are pretty low key: two episodes in and we've had a ghostly groper and a psychic pig. But a couple of long-running stories are neatly set up in episode one (the law agency, and Kyoko's sick brother) so you know that there is something more important happening.

It's a funny show, and Tanihara Shosuke is a great partner for Ishihara Satomi. The idea that no one can identify Odagiri Kyoko once she's out of her costume is a bit unlikely. She's quite distinctive. Although I will say one thing: Satomi absolutely rocks a big woolly hat.

Monday, 18 October 2010

Re-watching: Ueno Juri to Itsutsu no Kaban

It's been a year since I last saw these, and recently I went back and watched them again. Especially since the first time round I watched a couple of these episodes at work on Viikii, watching a couple of minutes here and there whenever I had a quiet moment. That's not the best way to watch any drama, so after Silent Regrets put up some good quality versions, I thought it was high time I gave these my full and undivided attention.

Of the five, choosing a favourite is difficult. On balance, it would have to be the fourth. It's the funniest and saddest, ending on a sad, wistful note after a lot of comedy from Juri. Also the music is fantastic, and the song that appears throughout is beautiful. It's a shame that there doesn't seem to be an official release, but I recorded the two versions and put them in the same mp3. You can download it here.

The one that impressed me most after a year was episode three, “My Neighbour's Neighbour, Akira”. Someone comes to visit their old friend who'd moved to the big city, only to find they'd moved on from how they were in their former days. A visit to the hospital for a pregnancy test is inter-cut with scenes from their last camping trip together. This time, I found this quite moving. I don't know why it didn't connect with me first time around.

Perhaps the least satisfying is the last one, “One morning, Hinata suddenly” which I feel mixes imagined scenes with reality too easily, plus it's the third episode in a row to deal with the same topic: growing up, moving away and growing apart.

All five are meditative and considered in their subject matter and there's a feeling of melancholy running through them. Meanwhile, the main theme of bags is tenuous, but at least it is vague enough to give the people involved a certain freedom. I enjoyed watching these again - they certainly stand up to repeated viewings. I almost bought the DVD when I was in Japan, but at around £40 it was a bit pricey for a single DVD. Even if it did have a "making of" as an extra. Ever since then I've regretted that slightly. Not enough to change my mind and buy it online, but it would be nice...

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Not watching...

Just a quick round up on those series which I started watching but have recently fallen by the wayside.

First up is Zettai Reido. Actually, it's only been subbed up to episode eight, which I'm not that bothered about since I've only just got caught up. It's a well-meaning drama, but it simply didn't grab me. The fact that the crimes being investigated were very old meant that there was no immediate danger. This was fine for a comedy, like Jikou Keisatsu (which also based its stories on the same 15-year law) but in a tense drama, it left the action feeling flat. I'm sure I will finish this, but I'm in no hurry.

Next comes Shinzanmono. I wrote about this a while back, and the early signs were good. But it fell into the same trap as Zettai Reido – no sense of urgency. By episode five, the murder they were investigating was all but forgotten and I did wonder what all these people had to do with the crime. So I left it for other shows. Like Zettai Reido, I'll probably come back to it: perhaps there's some deviously clever way that it all ties together. We shall see.

Then there are two series that I haven't previously written about. Tobo Bengoshi is a “The Fugitive” style drama about a lawyer fighting to clear his name for a murder he didn't commit. But recently I kind of over-dosed on law shows, so I just stopped watching. I didn't think it was particularly bad – although a lawyer played by one of the contestants from Quiz Hexagon II was a bit of a stretch – but then, it wasn't that good either.

Lastly is Gakeppuchi no Eri. A struggling actress battles through adversity and art school. This left me very underwhelmed, and I dropped it after a couple of episodes.The situation, characters, humour and storyline all left me cold.

Friday, 15 October 2010

Just finished: Unubore Deka


This is bordering on genius. What could've been a predictable format (every week police detective falls in love with woman who turns out to be the criminal) turned into a cleverly written series, with each episode building on the initial idea in an original and unexpected way. This way, it never got tired or ordinary and stayed fresh to the end.

Add to this an intriguing overall story concerning Unubore and the woman who broke his heart, and I'd say this show had more laugh out loud moments than any other J-comedy I've seen in a while, mixing broad physical humour with sharp dialogue and it had some great performances. I loved this, and now all that's left is for me to try and track down Nagase Tomoya's previous role in a similar style, Tiger & Dragon...

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Currently watching: We Got Married

Much as I like to tell myself I'm a sophisticated gentleman with high quality tastes, of course, this isn't true, as was recently demonstrated by me stumbling upon this game/reality show from Korea.

I first heard about this because Ueno Juri appeared in an episode. Thinking it was a drama, I downloaded it with subs and found myself watching a show in which two famous people seemed to be pretending to be man and wife in everyday life, while some other people in a studio commented on their actions. I did a little research to find out more and, it turns out, that's pretty much what it is.

The episode in question abruptly ended with Ueno Juri still at the “married” couples' flat so, clearly, I had to watch the next one. Then that episode ended with the couple, having said goodbye to Juri, heading off to some mystery location in the Korean countryside. And so, again, I had to watch the next one.

By the end of the third episode I'd seen, I definitely wanted to see more. It's an odd concept, and it seems to be a way for TV to generate celebrity gossip that people can then talk about on TV. And the editing is a little peculiar, with no shame in repeating statements or expressions from different angles. This is a bit distracting, and I sometimes wish the editor wasn't making such an effort to make sure we get every little detail.

I've started watching some of the early episodes, and it is interesting to see them in the early days being far more awkward in each other's company. I don't know if I'll watch all of them, but it certainly has a soap opera charm to keep me coming back for more.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Just finished: Atami no Sousakan

Somehow the word "finished" doesn't seem right.

Anyway – big spoilers up ahead (kind of)

The final scene shows Hoshizaki (Odagiri Joe) riding the fabled school bus into a tunnel with a bright light at the end, but with no further explanation. People all over the internet started going back through earlier episodes for clues. Myself included. However, it was clear to me that without a firm grasp of Japanese or of Japanese imagery, I was going to struggle. Additionally, I'm aware of the desire for people to read too much meaning into vague or random texts, which made me wonder if the things I'd found were genuinely placed there or just a coincidence.

In one scene, Mitsuko Katasura (Fuse Eri) uses Scotch tape on the floor to trip up Hoshizaki, leaving his shoes behind. Now, people take off their shoes before committing suicide, so is this a clue for something? Meanwhile, this site shows screen grabs from a passport issued in 2008, but has stamps in it from 2007. A nice find, but what does it mean?

Perhaps the smartest finding has been regarding some of the puns and meanings hidden away in the numbers throughout the show. Two commentators on d-addicts have posted their theories, and they make for interesting reading. Perhaps the most important refers to the registration plates of Hoshizaki's car and the bus. Clakaz wrote that the number plate of the bus is 4392, which can be read “Yomi no Kuni” (the world after death) while Hoshizaki's licence plate is 7292: “Nakatsu Kuni”or middle world.

Add to this the sign welcoming people to South Atami that reads “Almost Heaven” and Hoshizaki's description of the problem being that two worlds aren't mixing and it's pretty clear that the whole premise of the show is about the afterlife and the living world overlapping.

At least, I think it's clear... I could be wrong.

The other number puns all seem to refer to characteristics of the people they're attached to, so the number thing seems pretty solid.

But as I said, I'm mostly walking in other people's footprints here and I'm wary that any theories I come up with will be wishful thinking. The significance of the number two is so vague as to be everywhere and I do wonder how many theories based around it will be dead-ends.

The clock in that room in the police station was interesting, though. The hour hand always pointed to the "two" position, although the actual numbers were mixed up on the dial. I couldn't find a clear view of it, though.

A thorough knowledge of myths and lore around death in Japanese culture will help put together the pieces of the puzzle. One person on d-addicts noted that Hoshizaki's comment that he only smokes once a year is a reference to people visiting his grave once a year (to light incense, I suppose) which is something I would never had got. But, if Hoshizaki was already dead, what did it mean when he went through a tunnel to a bright light. Was he returning to life?

This show definitely needs a proper sit-down and viewing again which unfortunately I don't really have the time for. This evening, I just skimmed through, looking for screengrabs, and found this scene in the cable car, with this guy whose face we never see. I don't remember noticing him before. Who is he? Does he mean anything?

Maybe I should just hit "publish post" and move on to something else...

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Just finished: Jikou Keisatsu

You know, I should try and find time to write about the end of Atami no Sousakan. In the meantime...

* spoilers ahoy! *

Well, they're not really spoilers. But better safe than sorry.

Having finished the second series, which was pretty similar to the first, I can happily report the quality stays high to the end although I was a little disappointed that there wasn't a proper conclusion to the love interest. Instead we had a reference to Satoshi Miki's forthcoming film "Instant Swamp" (the stuff in the jar is instant swamp. If you see the film, it all becomes clear).

Odagiri Joe and Aso Kumiko are both great as the two lead roles, and they're ably supported by the rest of the cast. Fuse Eri is clearly the funniest woman in Japan, and Iwamatsu Ryo also impresses as the lovable boss. He also directed episode three. Versatile man.

The first series had, perhaps, the better crimes to solve but that's not to take away from the fun to be had in series two. Now that the characters are already established from series one, the writers start to have some fun. The two detectives who come in from time to time and try to impress people become increasingly surreal with each episode. And it's interesting to read that episode eight, in which Odagiri Joe's character is hospitalised, is actually written and directed by Joe himself.

I really enjoyed this. Funny and intelligent. And I still think this would do well in the UK.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Currently watching: Dasshutsu game DERO

A long time ago in Britain, back in the day when changing channels involved getting up and walking over to the TV and pushing a button, there was a quiz show called The Adventure Game. In this show, a band of minor celebrities had to solve logic puzzles to escape the vaguely sci-fi setting. Well, it's been a few years but finally there's a spiritual successor to this show. Apparently inspired by a series of games for mobile phones, this show puts minor celebrities into a locked room with a series of clues/questions to solve before they can get out.

All of the games involved are easy to follow, even for those with no Japanese and, visually, there's always enough going on to keep you entertained with plenty of mock danger. Most questions are shown on screen in kanji, which helps learners like myself. Some of the clues are pretty clever and I'm starting to appreciate the Japanese love of puns and word play. For example, a jar that won't open (akanai) is a clue to remove the red sections (akanai also means "not red") from the picture inside the jar to reveal the answer.

If you watch other Japanese game shows, you'll recognise some of the faces that take part but there's also a lot of AKB48 members who appear on the show (actually, there's an lot of AKB48 members, full stop). This is another Japanese game show you can watch without knowing any Japanese and still be entertained.

Friday, 1 October 2010

Just watched: Liar Game: Final Stage

So this successful series gets a big-budget cinema send off to finsh the story. Except it's clearly not that big a budget, since it looks just like the TV version. And, just like the TV version, the storyline is mostly pushed forward by surprise results of each round followed by people laughing just before they reveal their fantastic strategy. And then being amazed when it doesn't work.

It's all fairly predictable, and the game was simple enough to follow and allowed for lots of back-stabbing so that was nice. Unfortunately, that was as far as it went. Nao filled her role as the perky optimist and, as always, Akiyama was the moody puppeteer, pulling the strings.

The story lacked a rival for Akiyama Shinichi. The idea that one of the players was a plant was nice, and kept me interested but it didn't have the same attraction as the battles of series one and two. The performances were fine. Seki Megumi (Sunao ni Narakute) stood out as a potential enemy, and Hamada Mari was great as one of Nao's allies.

After that, some of the characters were kind of anonymous. That's a problem with basing scripts on game theory: Sometimes the games need more people than you can write for. In fact, when one of the minor characters suddenly spoke towards the end of the film, I was quite surprised.

But now it is over, and the Liar Game is complete. A nice idea which perhaps went on a bit too long but kept me going to the end.

And I hope that was the end.