Thursday, 31 May 2012

Just watched: Yoshitaka Yuriko challenges Macbeth

Actually, the proper name for this program was "Yoshitaka Yuriko: 6 Days in London; I Challenged Macbeth" but if I put all that in the title, the whole thing would include two colons and a semi-colon, and that's a lot of punctuation just for the title of a blog post.

Anyway, recently I've been doing quite a tiring job, so I can't watch anything new because I don't know if I'm going to fall asleep halfway through. As such, I've been going back and watching old things I've seen before. In this forty minute documentary, Yoshitaka Yuriko has the impossible task of playing Lady Macbeth in English. In London. In six days.

It's not a proper production – the final play looks like it's staged in a room over a pub – but you can tell it's still stressful as she struggles to deal with a play that's in a foreign language. In one very awkward scene she breaks down and cries during rehearsals because she can't get it right. In fact, she seems to be getting worse.

In the end she makes it through, and the play is fine. People say nice things about her, but there's no denying that –from what is shown of the play – she's not a great Lady Macbeth. For a start, she's too young, and lacks the presence to make it work.

On the other hand, she was very brave to even try it. After all, she's a famous, successful actress who doesn't need to take risks. And this is illustrated in a scene where she goes to the pub with the cast after rehearsals. They ask her how many films she's been in, and she holds up a hand with one finger, and another hand with four fingers. "Five?" they say, very impressed that she's been in so many films. Then she has to correct them: "No. Fourteen."

Friday, 25 May 2012

Currently watching: Muri na Renai

Wow, now I've got some work again, I'm reminded that having a job that involves working with just one spreadsheet really sucks the life out of you. Plus, there's an unreliable commute there and back. On the plus side, I can now empathise with the plight of salarymen in J-dramas a lot more than I could before.

Having said that, there are no salarymen in this series from 2008. The story is that a young-at-heart (but old-in-truth) music executive starts thinking about a serious relationship. Meanwhile, a part-time waitress/actress faces a dilemma with her useless but adorable boyfriend. By coincidence (and it wouldn't be a romantic comedy without them) the music exec becomes friends with both of them, and he falls in love with her, but gives advice to him, and then worries about it afterwards.

I'm three episodes in, and it's good but not great. Natsukawa Yui is great as the female lead role, and Sakai Masaaki (the lead actor in Monkey, who I wrote about recently) is fine as the juvenile sixty year old man. However, if the dialogue is nicely written, the story itself creaks and groans with chance meetings and unlikely coincidences.

Perhaps I'm being over-critical. It is, after all, the first romantic comedy I've seen since watching Kekkon Dekinai Otoko so it has a lot to live up to. Judged against any other romance that involves people thinking it may all be too late, it's pretty good. Certainly, the "August/November" romance of an elderly man and a middle aged woman is a different twist to the usual type.

So if you watch this show after almost any other series, then you'll be impressed. If you see it after Saigo Kara Nibanme no Koi or Kekkon Dekinai Otoko, it might not seem so great. But I realise I'm being unfair, and I'll see this one out to the end with pleasure.

Monday, 21 May 2012

Currently watching: Answer

The idea behind this police show is a slim one. After highlighting poor police practices to the media, a police officer (Shinkai Akira, played by Mizuki Arisa) is quickly moved to head of the Evidence Verification section where it's hoped she won't cause any more problems.

Basically, this section of the police is little lore than a proof-reading department, where grammatical mistakes in crime reports are corrected. So this is not a department for making sure the police do their job properly, but a safe place for officers who aren't very keen on being officers.

But Shinkai Akira has other ideas, and she sets about making her reluctant staff investigate those parts of the report which don't make sense. Thus, new evidence is uncovered and innocent suspects are set free.

It's okay. The format works fine, and the characters are fun. The stories are okay and everything works well. The best part of the show belongs to Yutaka Matsushige (above) and Tsurutaro Kataoka (below) as the two aging pen-pushers who are forced to start investigating crimes again.

Apart from this, it's very much crime-drama-by-numbers. Watchable, but forgettable.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Just watched: Go Find A Psychic!

A few months ago I dreamt that Nagasawa Masami was my girlfriend (February 18th, to be exact. I made a note in my sketchbook). I don't remember much except that it was very early in the relationship and the only image I can recall is following her through a doorway in a house.

I think the dream was more caused by having just finished Yasashii Jikan, not that it was a premonition of the sudden increase in things I've seen with her in, but it makes a nice introduction to this review of a film where Masami plays a woman searching for a real psychic.

In Go Find A Psychic! (or, Bend, Spoon! as it's also known) Masami plays Sakurai Yone, a researcher for a TV show about psychics, and she is given the task of finding a genuine one. She stumbles upon a coffee shop where four psychics meet up, but they don't want her to know about their powers so they play dumb.

There's a nice section when one of the psychics discovers (using his x-ray vision) that there's a poisonous spider in Yone's business card holder, and they have to get it from her without her suspecting that they found out by supernatural means.

In fact, the film has many funny scenes in it, but they're joined together by a very thin storyline. And the ending is a bit strange, with lots of shots of children looking up at a light in the sky which is probably a UFO. So this is a nice but oddly unsatisfying movie.

And the whole thing takes place on Christmas Eve. Come to think of it, I think it may be a Christmas movie. I only just worked that out. So much for me being psychic.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Recommended: Rebirth

I feel like I'm recommending everything at the moment! I must be stricter with my reviews. Or force myself to watch some rubbish.

This film from 2011 is about a child abduction. A woman, Nonomiya Kawako (played by Nagasaku Hiromi) steals a baby, Erina, and goes on the run. We then see the effect this has psychologically on everyone concerned. The mother who cannot hope for a long term relationship with the child she's raising, the child who constantly moves and can't make friends, and the real mother who never really gets back the daughter she lost.

It's told in a non-linear style, and the storyline hops between the present (Erina as an adult, played by Inoue Mao) and past (Erina and her not-mother) and also a couple of scenes in a sort of middle ground, where Erina is a child back with her real parents, unable to make sense of her new surroundings. This is an interesting way of telling the story, as both time-lines converge on the same place: The place where Kawako was finally arrested and Erina separated from her "mother".

It's very touching and well acted. Nagasaku Hiromi is fantastic as the loving abductor. I'm quite relieved because after Cast Me If You Can and Dirty Mama, I was starting to worry that she'd never been in anything good. Meanwhile, Inoue Mao is equally excellent in the role of Erina who finally faces the events of her childhood that she's tried so hard to repress.

It's a very sad story, as you'd expect, and after two and a half hours watching Kawako and Erica bonding as mother and child, the moment of separation is very painful as the cruelty and selfishness of the crime really hits home.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Recommended: Kekkon Dekinai Otoko

This series is in serious danger of collapsing under the weight of it's own reputation. A reputation that I am now adding to. I'd heard good things about this so often that it almost discouraged me from watching it at all. In the end, I decided I had to sit down and give it a chance.

The story involves a successful architect in his 40s (played by Abe Hiroshi) who isn't married and shows no sign of getting married soon. He lives what many people might see as the perfect life: successful career and a nice home with enough money and freedom to do what he likes when he likes. It seems that in this ideal existence there's no need or want of a wife.

However, during the twelve episodes, we see him have to deal with three potential relationships. With his boss, his new next-door neighbour and his doctor. And of these, the main storyline concerns the doctor, played to perfection by Natsukawa Yui, my new favourite lady.

It's an enjoyable series, and the character of the architect Kuwano-san is very nicely observed and acted. The scenes when he gleefully spends an evening playing the Game Of Life or builds a model boat by himself reminded me of those days when I've spent hours in a geeky self-centred activity that no one else would take much interest in. In fact, this blog might be considered in the same way by quite a few of my friends.

The storylines of each episode are well-written and believable right up until the end. The interplay between everyone is fun, especially in those scenes with Abe Hiroshi and Natsukawa Yui. They're great together and I note with delight that they've been in several films together. I shall have to track those down too.

Even the minor characters, like the girl at the convenience store, the guy at the DVD place and the waitress are nicely portrayed. So in conclusion, I thoroughly enjoyed this show which is a cut above the usual "quick, get married before it's too late" style comedies.

Friday, 11 May 2012

Just watched: Soko ga Shiritai

I've had a few episodes of this series on an external hard drive for some time now, and so I thought I should write about it. This is a documentary series with a slightly random feel to it, as if they just went out with a camera and a theme, and filmed whatever happened. It ran from 1982 to 1997, and it covered a wide range of topics about life in Japan.

Let me just say that if the past is another country, then the past of another country is like two other countries layered on top of each other. For me, with no first-hand knowledge of 1980s Japan (apart from playing Shenmue over and over), it can be quite odd. Somehow familiar, but also decidedly different.

You can see the germ of an idea that would pop up regularly in TV dramas when one episode discusses what it means when a woman turns thirty. They talk about how attitudes to family and society change. Of course, this is the main plot-line in countless Japanese dramas: the only difference being that the age has slowly crept up from 30 to 40.

There are some fascinating insights, such as those that follow trainees and new employees in companies. Other episodes are fairly rambling, and they do feel as if they're made up on the spot. For example, an episode about heirlooms involves a sequence where the presenter goes from door to door in a neighbourhood asking if they can film any antiques they might have.

They're definitely worth digging out – there are plenty of episodes on YouTube. In fact, I've just seen one called "Cryptic Classifieds" which I'm going to watch now, just to see what it's about.

Monday, 7 May 2012

Still watching: Toshi Densetsu no Onna

I think I got lucky with my first series to do the fansubs for. Toshi Densetsu is a fun crime thriller, with some cunning murders, plenty of unrequited love and a lot of theories about the truth or otherwise of myths and legends.

Nagasawa Masami is adorable in the lead role of Otonashi Tsukiko, darting from one scene to the next as fast as her high heels will allow, but the other characters are all nicely defined too. Mizobata Junpei gets most attention as the lovelorn forensics expert who follows Tsukiko around with his sad puppy dog eyes, and also Takenaka Naoto is great as the old-fashioned detective whose techniques aren't appreciated any more.

On a personal note, I've found that I now seem to have a personal interest in the success of the show which is quite out of proportion to my actual input. I even find myself worrying what the ratings will be for each episode, even though I have nothing to do with it. It's crazy I know, but I'm bracing myself for a drop in the viewing figures over the holiday weekend. Still, I hope the audience share stays the same!

Recommended: Suzuki Sensei

It's taken a while, but hats off to Chuks for subbing this series. This series ended with a story over three episodes concerning how Suzuki sensei gets his girlfriend pregnant and what affect this has on his students. After seven episodes of Suzuki sensei trying to sort out their moral issues, he finds himself under the same kind of scrutiny. And while all this going on, we watch the slow descent of another teacher, Ashiko, towards a nervous breakdown.

It's well written, and especially well acted. The producers have to be congratulated for finding such a strong cast of child actors. They're all well cast and genuine and helped to create a believable atmosphere for the show. And talking of atmosphere, I loved how the scenes in the school room lacked any bright colours at all.

Despite the idea of being able to listen to the teacher's thinking while he deals with various issues, and although the concept of a class discussing a teacher's moral standing is pretty unlikely, this show was one of the more realistic representations of school life that I've seen on Japanese TV. It was certainly one of the more interesting.

And that short scene right at the end, where we see the consequences of Suzuki's actions in the very first scene, was a neat little touch.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Not Watching: Ataru and Mirai Nikki

Two big series this season, but neither has particularly grabbed me. Episode two of Ataru confirmed my suspicions: it simply isn't much fun to watch the autistic Chokozai slowly drip-feed clues to the police. While I commend the makers of this show for trying something new, it just isn't very exciting. Meanwhile, the mix of comedy and drama is too uneven, with Kuriyama Chiaki over-acting one second and then getting all wistful about her deceased mother the next.

Mirai Nikki (based on a manga, but apparently with a new storyline) is about a teenager who sees no future for himself, and so avoids studying or looking for work or anything useful to society. Then one day he gets a new smart phone that tells him what's about to happen in his life. At first, this is great, as he can use the information to win big at Pachinko, but then it tells him about his parent's divorce and then about his imminent death.

A nice idea, but it doesn't quite work. For a start, the fight scenes have the least appropriate music I've ever heard. While our hero is fighting for his life, some anonymous pop tune is playing in the background.

Then there are all the questions left by the first episode that are supposed to keep us watching. Who is the girl? Where did this phone come from? Why did his dad suddenly turn up to try to save him? Was that actually his dad? Why did he have a phone too? Has everyone got one?

All of this is supposed to emphasise the confusing new life that our hero now has, but it just feels like the writer is making it up as they go along.