Monday, 28 February 2011

Just watched: G@me

I'm not sure why there's an “at” sign in the title. The film doesn't have much to do with the internet.

This film is a mystery from the pen of Keigo Higashino, writer of Galileo and Shinzanmono. The story concerns a frustrated advertising executive whose ideas keep being rejected by his boss. After a chance meeting between himself and the boss's unhappy daughter, they think of a plan to stage a fake kidnapping in order to extort money from him. All goes according to plan, when a twist halfway through the film changes everything, and it becomes a case of who is manipulating who.

It stars Nakama Yukie (Trick, Untouchable) and Fujiki Naohito (Hotaru no Hikari, Control) who are both fine in their roles. The script is clever and fast-moving, and although the film never builds up much tension, it's definitely a compelling story that should keep you watching to the end.

Friday, 25 February 2011

Recommended: Family Outing

Now this is television. I watched around eighty episodes in a little over three weeks, sometimes even watching four ninety-minute episodes a day. Such was the hold it had on me, I found myself waking up really early when my internet connection is better, so I could download it faster. It even got to the point where I was starting to forget my Japanese as I found myself making simple errors at one lesson, having watched nothing but Family Outing for the previous couple of days.

While most reality shows rely on conflict to keep viewers interested, this uses friendship and rivalries to keep you watching. Each member of the band of celebrities had something to bring to the show, and the guests were always included in the banter and never left out.

The bonds between them were genuine, and that added to the enjoyment. I recently read that when they filmed the final episode for Park Ye-jin and Lee Chun-Hee, Dae-sung decided to miss a promotional visit to Japan with Big Bang (btw, number 12 in the US iTunes chart, at the time of writing) so he could be there to say goodbye.

Trying to pick a favourite episode is impossible, as each one has its own classic moments. I was very sad when I watched episode 85, and there were no more left (I won’t be watching the second series in case it’s so bad it ruins the first) so I think I’ll give myself a week or so to recover, and then start again from episode one.

Monday, 21 February 2011

Recommended: Galileo

This detective series from 2007, based on novels written by Higashino Keigo, concerns a police detective who enlists an eccentric physics professor to help her solve seemingly paranormal crimes. This is hardly an original set-up in Japanese dramas: there are quite a large number of shows with a similar basis, but this is a cut above the rest.

It uses science to explain the peculiar events, and most of the solutions are ingenious with some nice demonstrations of odd physical phenomena along the way. And the cast is great. Shibasaki Kou and Fukuyama Masaharu are ideal in the two lead roles of detective and scientist, Maya Miki is perhaps the world's most adorable pathologist and there’s a constant supply of famous faces taking the roles of the victims and suspects of each episode’s crime.

Even the two feature-length specials are worth watching. In fact, perhaps they're even better than the series. One is set before the series, with a different detective (a male one this time, which I believe is more faithful to the original novels) while the other is a straight sequel to the TV shows.

If you’re a bit of a geek who’s looking for a science-based crime-busting show, this is hard to beat.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Not Watching

I’ve read in a couple of other blogs how this season of Japanese drama is pretty sparse in terms of quality, and it’s hard to disagree. So here’s a quick round up of those shows that I gave a chance, but decided weren’t really worth my time.

Lady - Saigo no Hanzai Profile

Given the low ratings this series has been getting, I don’t want to kick it while it’s down. But I can’t find that much good to say about it, either. This show is based around a profiling section of a police force who are so good they’re able to guess the colour of the tie a criminal is wearing based on the type of terrorist plot he’s prepared.

Kitagawa Keiko is the lead role in this show, playing an ace profiler who was trained in America. When she explains her clever theories, she frowns in an expression of deep thought and concentration. Unfortunately, it just looks as if she’s having difficulty remembering her lines.

Misaki Number One!!

A Roppongi nightclub hostess become a high school teacher. She’s given the worst class in the school: a bunch of hopeless cases and drop-outs. I’m sure that during this series she’ll convince them all of the benefits of education with her sassy wisdom, while at the same time trying to keep her past a secret. At least, that’s what happened in episode one, and I don’t expect the following parts will deviate much from that formula.

It was all pretty flat. Nobody was terribly convincing in their role, and the storyline was too contrived. I say “meh”.

By the way, both Lady and Misaki Number One introduce their female lead characters with a close up of lady’s foot stepping onto a posh carpet in high-heeled shoes, with an echoing “pock” to signify that this woman means business.

Deka Wanko

Ignoring the unfortunate title, this show actually has a lot in its favour. Female detective has super sensitive sense of smell and somewhat odd taste in clothes. I liked the way they introduced all the different characters, with the detective simply talking straight to the camera when they join the story. It was certainly a lot more fun than just having captions.

Tabe Mikako is full of energy in the lead role, and the story was fairly interesting. This is good, but for some reason this hasn’t grabbed me. I’ll probably watch the whole series eventually, but for now I’ve got other things I want to see.

Friday, 11 February 2011

Just watched: Justin Lee Collins: Turning Japanese

I once saw Justin Lee Collins live. He wasn’t doing an act – he was just waiting for a train at Bristol Temple Meads station. So now I’ve established my close personal relationship with the presenter of this three-part documentary, what did I make of the show itself?

It was shown on the UK TV channel Channel 5 recently, and the first episode was about sex and the sex industry in Japan, starting of with the lack of dating opportunities which has left some people exploring some pretty strange avenues to satisfying their libidos. While I understand that programme makers want the opening episode to be talked about to generate an interest in the rest of the series, I definitely got that sinking feeling that the next time I mention I like Japanese culture to someone, this will be what they talk about in reply.

The second episode focused on how the Japanese spend their leisure time, and was mostly about manzai: fast and physical double act stand up routines, and Justin's attempt at putting together a double act of his own. This was pretty interesting, although I did wonder why they didn't show any clips of mainstream acts like Downtown or Bananaman. Then I guessed that, since it was Channel 5, they probably couldn't afford the rights.

The third and final part was loosely about the work ethic and society. This was the one I enjoyed most, because it was the one that taught me the most. A theme park where children are taught about the realities of a working routine sounded terrible, but in the end looked like a lot of fun. Another interesting part concerned the woods near Mt Fuji which has become a magnet for suicides.

Justin Lee Collins was an amiable host, pretty funny and keen to join in. He also made it clear when he disapproved of things, such as a restaurant which has a monkey doing some of the waiting on tables. Mind you, animal rights aside, when the monkey is introduced it is wearing a mask and a wig, so it looks more like something out of Ring, rather than a cheeky monkey.

In summary, I enjoyed watching Justin struggle with Japanese culture, although his production team seem to have chosen some pretty off-the-wall topics, and also given him a translator who took great delight in forcing him to eat disgusting food. It was a bit rambling, though. The themes covered in each episode seemed to overlap, so much so that I suspect a section of part two was actually intended for part one, but they couldn't squeeze it in. But on the whole I enjoyed it.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Just Finished: Reinoryokusha Odagiri Kyoko no Uso

Spoilers an’ ting...

Although I had enjoyed this series, I didn’t expect it would have a satisfying ending. And I was right. It’s never a good sign when the writers have to bring in a brand new character in the last episode to help tie up all the loose ends and be the bad guy. Except he wasn’t that bad, just misguided.

The crimes in this series had never been particularly clever or devious, but it seemed like the crime in the final episode was particularly feeble, and it was solved with only a little investigation. But by now that wasn’t important. By now the series had a number of storylines that it needed to finish off. Some worked better than others: Odagiri’s admission of her fakery on TV was quite touching, and I was fairly interested by Taniguchi Ichirou’s turn to the dark side, but the issues around her brother and her missing parents were both solved in barely a few lines of dialogue.

While watching this, my heart sank when some characters from past episodes turned up to give Kyoko some moral support (even wearing the same clothes from all those weeks ago) but then this was saved by the manager admitting she’d set up that scene to help Kyoko overcome her doubts about continuing in her work.

This sums up the series pretty well: it often got very close to cliche and tired, predictable ideas but it always seemed to have a spring in its step and a wink in its eye, so that they could be forgiven. And never mind the weak final episode, I enjoyed the ones leading up to it and it’s the journey, not the destination that’s important. Right?

Friday, 4 February 2011

Currently watching: Family Outing

What is it about Korean variety shows that draws me to them whenever I fall ill? A recent three days with the flu meant I was more bed-ridden than normal. To fill the hours, I went back to iSubs (home of Running Man) and took a look at their other project, Family Outing.

In this show, which ran from 2008-2010, a band of celebrities spend a weekend at a house in the countryside while the owners are away on a lovely holiday (which I assume is paid for by the TV station, otherwise I can’t see the benefit). During these two days they have to complete a few tasks, play a few games, and argue, laugh, eat, and sleep. Just like a family, really.

This is definitely a show that improves as you get to know the cast. The only person I recognised at first was the host Yu Jae-suk but I soon got to know the rest of them, and their lovable foibles. It's fun to watch how they interact, and how the in-jokes grow from one show to the next. If watching the same people week after week seems boring, at each location they’re joined by special guests which usually changes the balance of power enough to keep things lively between the regulars.

However, I wouldn’t recommend this show to vegetarians. Fish tend to be the main dish of the evening meal, and we see them being caught and gutted before being cooked. In most cookery shows, the food is already killed and cleaned before being prepared but Family Outing is more honest than that as it happily shows how to stun a fish. And how not to. But, as someone who eats fish and meat, it would be hypocritical of me to complain.

All in all, this is the TV version of an old photo album with lots of funny comments written underneath. Very silly, often quite touching, and definitely addictive.