Tuesday, 8 November 2011

It's the 2nd Annual November The Eighth Awards!

It's been two years since I started this blog, so here's my second post in which I highlight the best stuff I've seen in the last twelve months. You know, I spent most of this year thinking that I haven't enjoyed watching J-dramas so much as I did last year. And then I sat down to write this, and remembered all the excellent stuff I'd seen.

And just like before, this is based on things I've seen in the last year, not just things that have been released last year.

Best drama
Furuhata Ninzaburo
Jin & Jin 2
Marks no Yama
Soredemo, Ikite Yuku

Perhaps it's a little unfair to bundle the two series of Jin together, but that's how I watched them: I finished series one just as series two was beginning. And I adored this show. The adventures of a time-travelling doctor in 19th century Japan may not be the most challenging or thoughtful television, but it was done with wit and charm and the ending didn't disappoint. Furuhata Ninzaburo remains agonisingly un-subbed which is a real shame, since the four episodes that I saw made me keen to see more. Marks No Yama was by far the best crime series of the year, and Soredemo, Ikite Yuku was an emotionally-charged drama with some great acting.

Best Drama: Jin and Jin 2

Best comedy
Reinoryokusha Odagiri Kyoko no Uso
Yuusha Yoshihiko to Maou no Shiro
Tiger and Dragon

Yuusha Yoshihiko to Maou no Shiro was a blissful romp through RPG cliches, and Ishihara Satomi once again showed she can do comedy better than drama in Reinryokusha... but the winner of this category was Tiger and Dragon, a sharp, intelligent work that has become my favourite Japanese comedy of all.

Best comedy: Tiger and Dragon

Best film
Live Tape
Memories of Matsuko
Love Exposure

Do I have to chose between these? Really? We've got four works of genius here. Parade is a perfect example of Generation X slacker film-making – cool, distant but interesting and funny. Live Tape is indie DIY cinema at its best – a cameraman follows a busker around some city streets. Watching Love Exposure is like speed dating at a psychiatric ward. But Memories of Matsuko wins against these excellent competitors by being emotional and romantic and cynical and cruel. But most of all, by being beautiful.

Best film: Memories of Matsuko

Best actor
Kubozuka Yosuke (Long Love Letter)
Keisuke Koide (Parade)
Eita (Soredemo Ikite Yuku)

Eita takes all the plaudits as the guy between two families who've both been destroyed by a motiveless murder that happened years ago, and it's through him that the viewer is expected to view both sides of the story. Without him holding it together, the whole story would quickly fall to pieces. Kubozuka Yosuke's performance in Long Love Letter is a masterclass in understated cool and when he's on the screen, it's hard to look at anything else. Keisuke Koide has a similar energy in the film Parade, in which he effortlessly holds your attention.

Best Actor: Eita (Soredemo, Ikite Yuku)

Best actress
Nakatani Miki (Memories of Matsuko)
Naka Riisa (Cafe Isobe)
Mitsushima Hikari (Love Exposure)

Nakatani Miki's perfect portrayal of the permanently defeated Matsuko was the real hook for that film. She really made you share in Matsuko's optimism, which made it all the harder when things inevitably went wrong. Naka Riisa was great as the schoolgirl who watches in despair as her father make a fool of himself over a woman. Mistushima Hikari's performance in Love Exposure is also a tour de force, a remarkable source of energy that keeps you watching for the whole four hours.

Best actress: Nakatani Miki

Best game show
Running Man
Family Outing
Vs Arashi
Game Center CX

No real competition here. Once I've downloaded an episode of Running Man, I can't have it sitting on my hard drive unwatched. I have to see it immediately, which usually means I'm awake until half past one on a weekday morning. Which is no bad thing. This cross between a game show and a Hollywood blockbuster is always entertaining and at its best, it's the closest that television gets to being a rollercoaster.

Vs Arashi is all bright colours and knockabout fun, and very easy to follow, no matter what your level of Japanese. Family Outing is a glorious example of how a TV show can build a relationship with the viewer. And Game Center CX remains a lot of fun to watch, as Arino struggles through various retro video games. And it's still a perfect analogy of my life – middle-aged man fights battles he should've left behind when he was young.

Best game show: Running Man

Best album
Bump of Chicken "Cosmonaut"
SpecialThanks "Seven Lovers"
Dear Cloud "The Bright Lights"
Organic Stereo "The Moments Linger"
Kokia "moment"

For the second year in a row, my favourite album from Japan is my favourite album full stop. Bump of Chicken's “Cosmonaut” continues their impeccable track record. Perhaps not as immediate as “Orbital Period”, but still a great album which has never been away from my mp3 player for long. At the time of writing, it's also the last time I bought an actual CD.

SpecialThanks are all youthful energy, crashing guitars, female vocals and catchy punkish tunes. It's very hard to find anything wrong with that. Korean music makes an appearance with Dear Cloud offering bright vocals and big choruses that would fill a stadium, if only they had the chance. Organic Stereo's album was a little bit ambient and a little bit pop, with a series of dreamy instrumentals, each one of which sounded like the soundtrack to a happy ending. Lastly, Kokia's album “moment” was a folk-tinged collection of ballads with lush production values and some achingly melancholy harmonies.

Best album: Bump of Chicken "Cosmonaut"

Safe pair of hands award

This award is for people who consistently choose good shows to appear in

Yoo Jae Suk (Running Man, Family Outing)
Nakatani Miki (Memories of Matsuko, Jin, Jin 2, Densha Otoko, Keizoku)
Keisuke Koide (Parade, Jin, Jin 2, Surely Someday)
Mitsushima Hikari (Love Exposure, Moteki, Sawako Decides, Kakera, Villain, Soredemo Ikite Yuku)

I was a bit late in discovering Mitsushima Hikari. I checked her filmography and I saw that she was in Death Note and Shaolin Girl, but I can't say I noticed her in either. But this year I caught up with her recent film work and, by God, she's got good taste. From her minor role in Villain as the obnoxious murder victim to her central role in Love Exposure, it seems she can do no wrong.

She beats some strong opposition: Yoo Jae Suk is a brilliant presenter who's kept me entertained through some tough times this year. Nakatani Miki holds a special place in my heart for her roles in Matsuko and Keizoku. And Keisuke Koide showed me how wasted he was in Nodame Cantabile with some great performances.

Safe pair of hands: Mitsushima Hikari


  1. Yes! Tiger & Dragon and Memories of Matsuko sweep! lol

    I know everyone lovvvveeess Running Man, saw the first couple of eps. It's really good, like... a great combo of funny thrilling in a freaking 'reality' show. But I find it to 'thrilling' to be able to relax with it like I do with Family Outing. xD And my god, Hyori is violent! LOL I love her for it. xD

  2. I just remember that Eita was in Memories of Matsuko, too. So, yeah, almost a clean sweep for that film alone.

    You've only just started on Running Man? It only gets better (mostly). Just wait til episode seven.