Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Just watched: Crying Out Love in the Centre of the World

Because my computer has gone to be repaired, I’m relying on my non-internet old laptop for my entertainment. And since it still only has USB 1.0 (and the DVD drive is broken) it means I have to plan ahead if I want to watch anything over 700MB or so because it takes so long to transfer across.

Luckily, there were still a few things left on the hard drive from when I regularly used it to watch TV. In particular was a film called Crying Out Love in the Centre of the World. I couldn’t remember why I downloaded it, but I thought I’d try it.

In short, the film is about a man, about to be married, who returns to the town where he grew up and fell in love with a girl who later died of leukaemia while still a teenager. The flashbacks are introduced by him listening to messages on cassette tapes she made when they were a couple. Meanwhile, his wife – who also knew this girl – also returns to the town.

It has a strong cast and is nicely acted. Nagasawa Masami (Last Friends), Osawa Takao (Jin), Shibasaki Kou (Galileo) and Moriyama Mirai (Moteki) are all excellent. And for the first two hours, there’s not much wrong with the film either. The stories are funny/sad/entertaining and although the film is slow and long, it’s not dreary.

But as the film draws to a close, some parts didn’t work for me. The film tries too hard to draw parallels between the past and the present, and the final scene in Australia seemed a bit rushed. But it’s a good film. At times, very good. Finding this film is perhaps the one benefit to my computer breaking down.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Watching again: Camouflage: Aoi Yu x Yottsu no Uso

There comes a point in life when funerals start to outnumber weddings. A recent death in the family is, I think, the point in my life when that begins to become true.

The evening when I heard the news was strange. It was too late in the day to get a train to go to my family and so I was rattling around in my flat, not knowing what to do. I needed some background noise to distract myself, and I returned to the first story (eps 1-3) of Camouflage.

The story is about how a woman deals with the sudden death of her boyfriend. It’s always been a favourite, and this time it seemed especially appropriate and comforting. That evening I watched it all the way through twice.

Episode three especially caught my attention. In this her cat turns into a middle aged man. She is appalled about how un-catlike he is in human form, and somewhat surprised about his simple way of thinking. While cat owners like to think of their pets as enigmatic and wise, this episode portrays them as a bit frumpy and dumb.

It’s touching and funny, especially her appalled reactions to the cat/old man who she used to pet and cuddle. But despite this, they start talking and as they do, he shows how his owner can overcome her grieving.

Strictly speaking, the episode is just a story written by the boyfriend who dies in episode one so it never really happens, but the meaning is clear: it’s okay to go for a day without recalling their memory - that doesn't make you a bad person. It’s a sweet little tale, and is (as I’ve said before) my most-watched piece of drama. It never gets old and, as I move through life, it seems to teach me something new every time.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Recommended: Mr Brain

The two screenwriters behind this high-budget, star-studded crime series have a history that includes Jin, Trick, Puzzle, and Bloody Monday. As such, you can feel fairly sure that this is going to be entertaining.

The story follows an eccentric genius, Tsukumo Ryusuke, who joins an elite police department who solve seemingly unsolvable crimes. Kimura Takuya takes the lead role and his performance certainly holds your attention. He’s a ball of nervous energy and curious outbursts, and is very funny. Ayase Haruka is his assistant, and is effectively the straight man in this double-act but her performance is strong enough that she isn’t acted off the screen. The show also features Mizushima Hiro in one of his last roles before he quit acting to be a writer.

The series does its best to look expensive. The headquarters of the police department have a sleek, futuristic feel, with perspex walls, holographic projections and TV screens everywhere. Especially in tables. No expense has been spared in guest stars, and Gackt seems to have a lot of fun in his role as a deranged killer, and Nakama Yukie is great as the murderer who you hope is innocent.

One strange thing, though. It seems that two of the stories were an odd length, and instead of cutting them down or extending them, there are two stories that last one and a half episodes. I should be happy that they didn't muck about with the story just to fit it into an hour, but having a crime solved and explained when there’s twenty-five minutes to go is fairly confusing at first.

The crimes themselves are fun and the solutions are clever, even if I have no idea how realistic they are. But the dialogue is witty and the cast is strong. Despite its high ratings, no sign of any sequel. I can only hope.

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Just watched: Elevator to the Gallows (2010)

This is a remake of a 1958 French film (which I haven’t seen but it has 8 out of ten on IMDB) and while it tries to be sophisticated and intelligent, it’s a fairly empty tale.

A man (Abe Hiroshi) kills his lover’s husband. But a minor mistake quickly escalates, and he finds himself stuck in an elevator. Meanwhile, his car is stolen by a cop who is following a crime boss and... well, it’s all very complicated.

At first, it does feel a lot like the two stories are entirely unconnected, which makes it quite frustrating to watch. Then the lover (Kichise Michiko) has some sort of dream sequence halfway through, and I turned off.

The next day, I gave it another try and the second half does get better once the murder(s) are discovered and the police slowly tie the two crimes together but even at its best, this is a fairly mundane film. The acting is okay (Kitagawa Keiko makes a good impression as the cop’s girlfriend) but the directing is slow and ponderous. Shots are held for too long – far longer than necessary. The photography isn’t interesting enough that you appreciate the chance to linger over the lighting or composition etc, so I found myself getting quite impatient.

That’s the second crime thriller I've seen this week that was all style and no substance. And, frankly, not much style. Pity.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Just watched: Brutus no Shinzou

This is the second of three recent crime thrillers from the pen of Keigo Higashino (Galileo, Shinzanmono) and, as far as I can tell, the only one to be subbed.

It’s a story of two halves, with the first part neatly setting up the murder and the unexpected twist, and the second half being a bit vague and unexciting as the story never really goes anywhere. It all gets a bit complicated as clues from an old murder from two years ago come to light. Meanwhile, those people connected to the murder are found dead one by one.

If it sounds like a deep and involving story, well, in many ways it is. It’s full of nice touches and style. The trouble is, the police aren’t interesting or clever enough to be a threat. The only one who suspects the truth seems to be the enigmatic one who’s killing those involved in the original murder. This means there’s no clever detective logic, no clues to discover, no battle of wits between cop and criminal. We’re just expected to accept that someone already knows.

As such, it’s fairly flat and boring. And the final explanation is kind of disappointing after the cleverly devised opening half hour.

Not bad, but not great.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Currently watching: Yuusha Yoshihiko to Maou no Shiro

This comedy series describes the story of a village boy (Yoshihiko) who is chosen as the one hero who can defeat the villainous Maou. And so he sets off, quickly acquires a band of three others to help him in his quest, and together they fight various fights, or seek treasures.

In other words, it’s an RPG. In this show the conventions and clichés of role playing games are constantly parodied. It references Dragon Quest in particular, but you only need a passing knowledge of Japanese RPGs to get the jokes.

The jokes come thick and fast, so there’s no danger of being bored. It’s cheap and cheerful, and full of energy. It’s clearly written and made by people with a lot of affection for RPGs and watching our heroes face inept enemies or get distracted by side quests for absurd magical items is great fun.

If you've ever played an RPG and wished that, just once, one of the characters would remark on how predictable it all seems then this is the show for you.

Monday, 8 August 2011

Still watching: Bull Doctor

... but, you may ask yourself, why?

This series is quickly becoming a parade of bad casting decisions. Esumi Makiko is good as the working mother trying to balance work and family, but that’s about all the show has going for it.

And while I like Ishihara Satomi as a comedy actress, she doesn't have the gravitas to pull of some of the more emotional scenes here. Shida Mirai is one of the more promising young Japanese actresses I’ve seen, but you wouldn't know it from this show, in which she barely appears. Kohinata Fumiyo is similarly unremarkable as the boss with a terrible secret.

But it’s Inagaki Goro's performance that really demands your attention. His performance passed "so bad it’s good" a long time ago and it's now the main reason I watch the programme, as he refuses to show any acting talent whatsoever. It's quite bemusing and, frankly, very funny. This, for example, is his expression when he hears the shocking news that a friend of his is dead, and that he's one of the suspects...

In his defence, he doesn't have much to work with. His character is one of the more uninteresting Japanese archetypes – the strong, silent, emotionless hero. Unfortunately, he's taken the lack of emotion to such extremes that his part could be played just as well by a balloon tied to a chair.

Perhaps it's wrong to take such pleasure in someone else's misfortune. But as long as this show is entertaining – for whatever reason – I'll keep watching it.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Recommended: Goodbye CP

This documentary from 1972 focuses on a group of people with cerebral palsy. The film focuses mostly on one, a poet, but also spends time with the others especially a photographer in the group.

The techniques of making the film are interesting. It’s shot in harsh black and white and the soundtrack is almost always out of sync, so it’s not the easiest documentary to watch. Close-ups and shots are held for longer than usual, asking the viewer to look at these people for longer than necessary, in contrast to the usual reaction of not looking at them at all. The narrative of the documentary, too, is interesting as Yokoto Hiroshi (the poet) expresses his increasing dissatisfaction with the way the film-making process is going.

The abiding memory is how ordinary these people are. The film walks a fine line between highlighting their physical disability and their characters. Perhaps the perfect example of this is right at the beginning when Hiroshi says he can cross the road faster on his knees (which is how he usually walks) than in his wheelchair, and he demonstrates this. But after a short while, he drops his glasses. He stops to pick them up and then tries to go faster, which causes him to stumble. It’s quite difficult to watch, but when he gets to the other side, he laughs and talks about how scared he was.

It’s a remarkable film, and definitely educational. It starts by being about cerebral palsy, but it ends by being about people with cerebral palsy.