Sunday, 31 July 2011

Just watched: Gantz

Gantz started off as an manga, became an anime and is now a live-action film. People who’ve died are taken instantly to white room where they wake up alive and healthy and then a large black globe tells them to go and kill aliens.

Perhaps when I put it like that, it doesn’t seem like much, but it is an exciting and engaging film.  Ninomiya Kazunari, Matsuyama Kenichi and Natsune Watanabe are all good in the three lead roles, and Yoshitaka Yuriko pops up in a minor role as a student with a crush on the hero.

The special effects-laden sections where the team fight aliens of various shapes and sizes are tightly directed. The team has no choice but to fight, and there are always newcomers in the team who aren’t very well prepared. As a result, few make it back alive. This keeps things interesting.

Away from the action, the film is more sedate as our heroes are sent back to their homes when they’re not fighting aliens. They try to live a normal life while they piece together what is happening, and wait for the next time they’re suddenly taken to the white room to do battle.

It’s difficult to describe Gantz, because going into detail about a film as dynamic and physical and also enigmatic as this seems a bit pointless. The film doesn’t concern itself with explanations, you simply have to accept things and see what happens. Which is more or less the situation our heroes are in. A sequel is promised, with a tantalising last scene which leaves many questions unanswered.

I’m already looking forward to it.

Friday, 29 July 2011

Currently Watching: Detective Conan

Or Detective Conan - Kudo Shinichi e no Chousenjou, to give it its full name. I was recently looking for something to watch and tried this purely based on the fansubbers: Heiwa Fansubs usually choose good shows to sub, so I gave this a try knowing nothing about it.

And, frankly, if you don’t know anything about it, the opening minutes can be pretty confusing. No characters are introduced since the programme-makers assume you’re either read the manga or seen the previous TV specials. If you're new then you just have to try and work out things for yourself.

The story follows the adventures of a schoolboy detective played by Mizobata Junpei (BOSS 2) and he’s clearly too old for the part. But this makes a change from the usual habit of J-dramas casting people who are far too young. It did add to my confusion, though, as I watched it and thought to myself "He goes to school? Has he been held back a few years?"

The murders he investigates are simple and this is actually to its advantage. After watching Bull Doctor, Zettai Reido and BOSS 2, to have a crime that happens and is solved in half an hour and all in one location is a huge relief. It has moments of comedy to lighten the way and although the crimes are a bit unlikely, the explanations are never so stupid that it ruins the episode.

I’m enjoying this, so thanks to Heiwa Fansubs for bringing it to my attention. It’s half as long but twice as good as most other detective shows right now.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

At least one Japanese band understands the internet

Veltpunch have a new single out and an album coming soon. Since they made my favourite album of last year, I felt I couldn't just download it illegally, so I checked the usual sites for the CD but was put off by the high price. Then I looked on Amazon, hoping a kindly importer would have it.

Imagine my surprise and delight when I saw that the album will be available for download! Finally, I can show my love for this band in the only way I know how: money.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Just watched: Zettai Reido SP

I don’t know what to make of Zettai Reido. It’s slow pace makes you think it’s thoughtful and serious, but the crime solving is mostly helped by discovering a piece of evidence they’d previously missed or thanks to a suspect conveniently being killed, meaning they have to look elsewhere for the murderer.

It’s not all bad, though. The way they explained how the two murders (fourteen years apart) were linked was clever and did give me some hope for the rest of the episode. However, any good ideas about the crime were lost as it got stretched out to two hours. So every suspect got their own emotional story to tell, but the writing was never up to the job. It reminded me of Shinzanmono a bit, with people hiding secrets to protect a loved one, which made them look like a suspect.

The last scene, which was supposed to be the big emotional kick, didn’t exactly take my breath away. And then the credits rolled and I thought “well, that’s that, then.” I don’t think I’ll stick around for the second series.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Currently watching: Soredemo, Ikite Yuku

This series caught my eye because the lead roles were taken by two of my favourites actors, Eita and Mitsushima Hikari. Without them, I would have probably passed this by, since the storyline isn’t my usual choice.

It concerns two families who, in their own way, lost a child fifteen years ago. But one was a murder victim, and the other was the murderer. Eita is the older brother of the six-year old victim who has had to live with the guilt and sorrow ever since, and Hikari is the younger daughter of the high-school boy who committed the murder, and so she's been part of a family shunned by society for years.

One day, these two meet and begin to fall in love which, considering what’s happened between the families in the past, isn’t easy. There’s been lots of crying, emotions and angst and we’re only up to episode two. This show is not afraid to overdo it, and sometimes it’s trying too hard to engage my sympathy.

On the plus side, and it’s a big plus, there’s the chemistry between Eita and Hikari. Once they stop talking about the past and talk about more ordinary things, they become more interesting. They’re still fragile, and you can sense the hurt beneath the surface, but there’s some room for humour. The scene when they first meet is surprisingly funny and touching.

The story is beginning to set up the return of the older brother, which will no doubt be emotional for everyone concerned. Then again, almost anything seems to be emotional just now.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Just watched: Japan vs. USA


After a season which began with the England's men's team wobble about and fall over in last year's World Cup, followed by my team Arsenal huffing and puffing to a glorious fourth, and then England getting knocked out of this Women's World Cup tournament, I'm glad that a squad I have some emotional attachment to has finally won something. And it was a great game. Compliments to both sides but, yeah, COME ON JAPAN!

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Recommended: Marks no Yama

Reading what others, including myself, have said about this series, you’d be forgiven for thinking that this was the Japanese equivalent of The Wire. That’s how fulsome the praise has been. It’s not quite at that level, but since quality Japanese dramas seem to have dried up recently, this stood out from the rest.

The story followed the attempt of one lone murderer (played by Kora Kengo) to blackmail five powerful men. Their secret revolved around the events on a mountain twenty years ago. The police begin by investigating the murder, but are soon drawn into the web of lies covering the earlier mystery. Add to this a journalist (Konishi Manami on fine form) who has also found out about the story behind the story, and things can get complicated.

Certainly, I found myself re-watching previous episodes whenever the subs for this came out, to remind myself of the twists and turns. This series managed to pack more story in one episode then others can in ten, but even so it never seemed rushed or confused.

It’s nice to watch something that’s made with such care, with the writers, directors and actors all producing quality work. It felt like a proper story, and it didn’t try and patronise us with flashbacks to a childhood incident which made people want to be a police officer, journalist or corrupt politician. Well, okay, the murderer got a flashback or two, but it was part of the story.

If I had to point out a flaw, I’d say the ending for the character played by Kohinata Fumiyo was pretty convenient. But it was nice to see him playing a bad guy for a change. In the end, it’s a bit of a relief that J-dramas like this are still being made.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Currently watching: Bull Doctor

This new series stars Ishihara Satomi as a career-minded police detective and Esumi Makiko as a no-nonsense forensic scientist. Despite not getting along, they work together to solve crimes.

The first episode followed two cases to their end and yet it seemed like nothing was really happening. There was little time for police work, amongst all the side-stories being introduced, such as families and bottles of gin hidden in desk drawers and a calligraphy class where, by coincidence, Satomi’s character and Makiko’s son both go. Although they don’t know who each other are. I hope this doesn't turn into a major plot device, because it's just absurd.

The acting of the two female leads is fine, and the supporting cast are okay too, if somewhat uneven. Shida Mirai is sorely underused as a first-year medical student, while Inagaki Goro (from SMAP) doesn’t convince at all. In fact, he went through the entire first episode using only one expression.

The writing and directing lack any subtlety. In a scene where a mother and her daughter learn the true reason for the death of her husband, the imagery, music and dialogue were so cliched, it was like someone poking you in the chest, saying “This is sad! This is sad, isn’t it?”

And they really don't credit the viewer with any intelligence. In one scene near the beginning, Makiko begins an autopsy without putting her hands together in prayer first. This is mentioned during the show and then, when she mentions why she doesn't do that, the scene is repeated as a flashback. Just in case you couldn't remember what happened half an hour ago.

A poor start, which is a shame. We’ll see how it goes.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Just finished: BOSS 2

*spoilers, in a manner of speaking... *

It couldn’t last, I suppose. The early promise lasted up until episode ten, but in the extended finale BOSS ran out of steam. One of the team is shot and seriously wounded, yet no one seems very upset by this. Certainly not the writers, who only give him a couple of thirty-second scenes to finish off his story.

Episode ten ended on high drama with everyone arrested on a variety of charges, but by the end of the first ten minutes of episode eleven, our heroes were set free thanks to a friendly superior. After that it was business as usual.

The last episode felt most like first series of BOSS, with a lot of mock drama but no real sense that anyone was in danger. The sudden appearance of another enemy to be defeated was fairly predictable once I’d realised they’d caught everybody but there were still fifteen minutes left to go.

The team discuss the case. Meanwhile, that's a very nice-looking screensaver

So, a bit of a disappointment at the end. And the final scene has Amami Yuki striding purposefully through an airport again. Only this time she is interrupted by a character from another drama. I have no idea what all that was about.

The final caption seemed to promise further episodes. Well, I suppose I'll watch them, but I'm not holding my breath.

Just Watched: Index Finger

I got back from work today after a day in which I barely spoke to anyone, but that was fine, and I was feeling a bit lifeless, as if I was made out of wet cardboard. I couldn’t be bothered to cook, so I made rice and poured cold curry sauce on top and ate that. Not exactly graceful living.

Then I found that Raspberry Field have released a new single, accompanied by a short film on YouTube. And it had English subtitles! Maybe this’ll cheer me up, I thought.

The film is barely ten minutes long, and is set on a flat rooftop. Two people, a man and a woman, have an unremarkable conversation about each others’ relationships, and then one of them leaves. The important part seemed to be the low concrete wall the divides the roof in half. She can’t bring herself to step across it, although she wants to. Meanwhile he can cross it, but only when she’s gone.

It’s not the most original metaphor ever, but it fits in naturally with the location, and it isn’t overdone. The acting is fine, and the dialogue is exactly the kind of sweet teasing you get from two people who ought to be in a relationship but don’t know it.

And it did cheer me up. At least, I felt like I was made of slightly drier cardboard. And the single is lovely.

Monday, 4 July 2011

Currently watching: Gallery Maggot’s photostream

A couple of weeks ago I found the sketchbook I used to keep a diary when I went to Japan. I read it, and was reminded about the art gallery in Osaka I’d been to where I’d seen an excellent photography exhibition.

I did a little searching and found the site of the gallery itself, and also their photstream on flickr. Here you can find a lot of evocative and interesting photos of urban Japan (Osaka, I presume). Now I check it every few days, for the latest views of Japanese cityscapes which are quite different from the clean shiny version I see in Jdramas. Fascinating, often quite beautiful, and always worth watching.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Just watched: Cold Fish

This film from 2010 is based on a true story about an unremarkable man, Shamoto, who ends up involved with a husband and wife team of serial killers. Shamoto lives with his new wife and his daughter who don’t get on with each other, and he runs a smallish shop that sells tropical fish. Then he meets the charismatic owner of a rival shop, Murata, who charms his family and convinces him to become a business partner. But when one of the people present at their first meeting, so begins a tale in which Murata finds himself partners in an entirely different business.

The quotes from reviews on the cover make it seem like a gore fest, but it’s not really. There are some bloody scenes, but nothing very shocking. The film is very sensual. The women are all attractive and are available to the men who are, frankly, not attractive. This film is all about power: the lack that Shamoto has at home, the abundance of it that Murata has over everyone he meets and the power that woman want from the men in their lives.

There's an interview on disc two from a journalist who covered the original killings which is pretty informative. It's definitely useful to know what in the film was true and what was the result of Sion Sono’s over-active imagination. Amazingly, most of it is true* apart from the change of the real killers' profession of dog-breeders to tropical fish sellers. This makes no difference to the story. I guess Sion Sono thought that fish are easier to deal with on a film set.

It’s a good film, and certainly worth watching. Watching Shamoto's helplessness in the face of increasing danger and being unable to trust anyone else, not even his family, is fairly grim. But fascinating.

* for those who don’t have the interview, it’s mostly true until the second scene on the bridge.