Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Re-watching: Liar Game

Just before Christmas I felt the need for a bit of geeky mathematics-related action, so I dug out Liar Game and watched a few episodes. It quickly captured my interest with its cleverly devised plots and endless double crossing. I started to regret watching it at half past eleven in the evening, because before I knew it, it was one o’clock and I’d seen the first three episodes, and I was eager to see more.

On the down side, a lot of the show's fast-pace is a bit of an illusion. For example, twenty minutes of episode four involves a long explanation of how one person cheated the game. Each revelation was accompanied by crash zooms on each of the competitors. This streches out a scene that could've been done in five minutes.

Apart from the constant stylistic interruptions, the storyline is intriguing. A mysterious organisation sets up a game of chance for randomly selected competitors that will either make them rich or put them into massive debts. As the stakes get higher, the opponents become more and more cunning. Each game involves clever manipulation of people and probabilities to ensure success in what seems like a game of pure luck.

It’s a huge shame, then, that the last episode should be a feature-length recap of the whole series before the final scenes are played. The first time I watched it, I was puzzled at why they started with such a long, detailed flashback until I realised it wasn’t a flashback – they were telling the whole story again. Nevertheless I do recommend this to people, if they like mathematics and if they can sit through the director's endless reliance on the same shots and zooms.

Then, today I discover that a new Liar Game film is being made: Liar Game Reborn, so I thought I should write about it so I look up-to-date and relevant. The last time I wrote about Liar Game, I expressed a wish that the film would be the end of the series. However, now there's a new chapter in the story, I'm quite excited to see what happens next.

Judging by the trailer, it looks like more of the same, despite the lack of Toda Erika. There are a lot of familiar faces in the trailer and the music and directing style seem identical to the original TV series. Plus, Lair Game Reborn also features Ashida Mana, who seems to be in more things than AKB48 these days!

Liar Game Reborn is released on 3rd March 2012

Friday, 23 December 2011

Looking forward

Reading the summaries for the dramas starting in January doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. There are a lot of brilliant but unconventional characters who annoy their colleagues but, in time, they grow to respect each other. The other recurring theme is that a death in the family prompts a career change. Either way, it’s pretty grim out there, with only WOWOW seemingly making an effort. Nevertheless, here are the shows which, at the moment, I’m looking forward to.


Number one on my list of things to watch is this series. An interesting storyline and a very strong cast have caught my attention. The story is about four women who, as children, witnessed a murder but couldn’t remember the man’s face. The mother of the murder victim blamed them for the murderer never being found and now, years later, those events are about to have their consequences...

I’m paraphrasing, but it’s something like that. Aio Yu (Camouflage and lots more besides) and Sakura Ando (Love Exposure, Soredemo Ikite Yuku) head the cast. I’m excited by this. It begins on the 8th.

Lucky Seven

Eita and Matsumoto Jun star in this detective series. Again, the overall theme of the show appears to be a clash in styles of two very different detectives. But the two strong leads (and Naka Riisa too) give me some hope for this.

Honjitsu wa Taian Nari

Of January’s new dramas, this has the best storyline, at first glance. Five wedding ceremonies are to be held at the same venue on the same day. A message arrives demanding that they all be cancelled or receive “punishment from heaven.” Who sent the message and why?

This seems to be a slightly different take on a mystery theme. I shall keep an eye out for this.

Suugaku Joshi Gakuen

A male student with no interest in maths accidentally enrols in a maths class with some high-flying female maths students. I’m being very optimistic by recommending this one. It looks like one of those terrible romances where different women take turns in falling for the male lead, but perhaps there’ll be some maths in there too? I know, it’s crazy, but Liar Game was a success so maybe they'll try and tap that market. I’ll give this one episode to persuade me.

Stranger 6

This Japanese/Korean/Chinese production revolves around three agencies trying to stop a terrorist attack. It’s by WOWOW so hopefully it’ll be more sensible than Bloody Monday.

There are also new dramas for Nakatani Miki and Nagasawa Masami which I’m kind of interested in, but not especially. Nakatani Miki stars in Seinaru Kaibutsutachi a new hospital drama, and I don’t enjoy those due to them usually being staffed entirely by doctors who have piercing eyes and a habit of demanding that they save someone’s life, even if it breaks every rule in the book.

Nagasaw Masami’s drama, Bunshin, has the weakest storyline as far as I can tell. A woman sees another woman on TV who looks just like her. And so begins her journey into her family's murky past. That could go anywhere. It could be brilliant, it could be daft.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Just Finished: Nankyoku Tairiku

Dead dogs are sad.

That’s the main lesson I learnt from this epic tale of polar exploration. That, and the fact that everyone in Japan in the 1950s was noble and strong.

Cynicism aside, I did enjoy this. The true story of Japan’s attempt to rebuild some pride and stake a claim for a scientific base in the Antarctic was solid enough. It definitely seemed to be tailor made for Japanese TV, with everyone looking windswept and interesting as they battle the elements. And the star of the show was the location. The wide open vistas of the frozen wastes were put to good use, and looked great, even if they did make the CGI parts look a bit obvious.

And call me sappy, but I thought the scene when Kuramochi returned to the base and looked for the dogs’ remains one by one was quite touching. And the story often dips into sentimentality, even for a story as heart-warming as this. The cut-aways to the dogs’ adventures during that year were a bit silly to be honest. And as with all stories based on truth, I can’t enjoy it completely since I always wonder if a particular bit is true or added in for dramatic effect.

Otherwise, good.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Just watched: Spring Bears Love

A woman is sitting on a train reading a book about art that she got from the library. She finds a romantic note written in the margin with a reference to another art book. Later, she reads that and finds another note. She becomes convinced these messages are meant for her, so she tries to work out who the mystery writer is.

Bae Doona (The Host) stars in this lightweight romantic comedy from 2003. It’s enjoyable and Doona is great as the confused optimist trying to find her ideal man. Yoon Jong-sin (the permanently tired/ill singer from Family Outing) pops up as the librarian, which I wasn’t expecting. Of course, there are misunderstandings and lies along the way and she even meets another woman who also thinks the messages are for her.

It’s a romantic notion – a painfully shy lover of art trying to woo a woman with poetic notes written beside classic paintings. It has a mix of curiosity as to who this person might be and also the hope that perhaps he’s the one man she’s been looking for.

But the moral of the story is don’t let an image of a perfect man blind you from the reality of what’s in front of you. It also highlights the many problems with trying to get a girlfriend by leaving notes in a book. There must be easier ways than that.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Currently reading: Make Believe Melodies

I found the blog Make Believe Melodies after a long, meandering journey through various websites clicking links as they caught my eye. It started at Sparkplugged and their entry on the excellent new single by YeYe. I can’t remember what I did after that but it certainly involved watching Asobi Seksu videos on YouTube. But that’s not important.

What is important is I’ve found somewhere new to get news about Japanese music which is up-to-date and well-written. Make Believe Melodies covers everything from pop to indie to experimental electro odd-ness which makes it very useful.

Also, tucked away on the twitter feed on the right is a link to a page that links to a page about new indie bands which is all in Japanese, but has plenty of links to Soundcloud and Bandcamp audio clips so you can quickly get an idea of what they’re writing about.

Mmmm... Soundcloud and Bandcamp clips. It’s the new embedded video!

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Just finished: Hyena

One year and three days after I first wrote about this series, I finally finish it. You may think that, since it took so long, that I didn’t really enjoy it but that wouldn’t be true. For a long time, after the demise of the website Silent Regrets, I couldn’t find it. Then I found it and started watching it again but not regularly. Just now and again I’d treat myself to the next episode of four single men in their thirties and their unlikely adventures with the opposite sex.

In the final episode, out of the five main characters, only one finds their true love. The others are left just as single as at the start. In the last few episodes, the show changed to a more emotional, less comical story. This was a shame, but understandable. If they’d remained humourous and light-hearted while hearts were broken and secrets uncovered they would’ve seemed a bit uncaring and cruel.

One character, though, remained funny until the end: Choi Jin Sang, the expert in one-night-stands who finally meets his match in a woman ten years his junior. He acts as some welcome comic relief from the other blossoming/failing romances that fill the last quarter of the series.

An enjoyable and silly series which was certainly different from my usual choice in dramas.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Just watched: Paco and the Magical Picture Book

After writing about Memories of Matsuko the other day, I decided to try more of director Nakashima Tetsuya’s films. I’d already heard good things about Kamikaze Girls, so I was tempted to watch that, but then the title of this film caught my eye.

I almost didn’t finish this film. Watching the first twenty-five minutes of this film is like patiently listening to a hyperactive child make up a story as they go along. While it resembled Memories... with it’s lush colours and carefully arranged scenes, there seemed to be little in the way of character or plot.

I persevered and, around half an hour in, some kind of storyline began. Put simply, this film is about an ill old man who resents being in hospital while his company does so well without him. He meets a girl whose memory is damaged such that she thinks it’s always her birthday, and she cannot remember anything that happened before. The two become friends, and the old man starts to reassess what’s important in life.

All of this happens in a vivid technicolour set with constant interruptions from the supporting cast. Eventually this style begins to make some kind of sense, but it’s hard going until then. In the end, it’s rather a touching film and it certainly tries every cinematic trick to try and make you cry.

This film is even more hyper-manic than Memories of Matsuko as it bombards the senses with images, music, and colours. This means the performances are somewhat swamped beneath all the costumes and make-up, but if you can get past the bumpy opening thirty minutes, you’ll find a film as sentimental and sappy as any you could ever hope to find.

Friday, 2 December 2011

Memories of Matsuko vs Memories of Matsuko: FIGHT!

I’m used to there being two versions of each story in Japan (whether it’s anime, drama or film) but I did not expect to discover a TV drama version of Memories of Matsuko. Trying to find it on the internet is impossible since searching for it brings up results for the film version. I did, however, find one user on YouTube who had put up some parts of the early episodes.

The riverside is a recurring theme in both versions (film, left. TV right)
Both were made in 2006, with the film coming out several months before the drama. Watching the TV series is a bit like watching an amateur production of the film. Gone are the dazzling bright colours and cinematography. Instead, we have what is a very mundane retelling of the same story. According to Wikipedia, the TV drama is more faithful to the original novel’s story, and I suppose over eleven episodes, it’s able to go into more detail but at the same time it loses a lot in emotional impact.

The scenes introducing Matsuko as a school teacher (film, left. TV, right)
The big problem with the TV series is that you can’t watch it without comparing it to the film. Nakatani Miki is sorely missed, and there are no musical numbers to illustrate certain scenes. And I think the screengrabs I've posted demonstrate the difference between Nakashima Tetsuya’s directorial vision, and the flat, muted greys of an average television drama.

The same argument (film, left. TV, right)
I do wonder if I had never seen the movie would I like the TV series, and I think I would. But I found it difficult to sit through the drama version without wishing I was watching the film version instead.