Saturday, 30 June 2012

Just finished: Kagi no Kakatta Heya

So this season's best series ends with an extended episode that wasn't quite the genius versus genius clash I was expecting, but was still an entertaining bit of crime solving.

The series as a whole has been an intelligent and fun piece of drama, with some smart solutions to the crimes (and some which were a bit unlikely). But the main strength of the show was the banter between the three main characters. Sato Koichi is great as the pompous commercial lawyer who gets carried away with being involved in real whodunnits, and he works well with Toda Erika who plays his eager yet slightly more sensible assistant. And Ohno Satoshi is fine in his role, although it doesn't ask him to really stretch himself as an actor.

Halfway through this drama's run, the BBC ran a story on the enduring appeal of "locked room" mysteries, and when they wrote that Japan is the new home of the locked room murder, I hoped that they'd mention this show, but no such luck. It does, however, suggest other classics of the same genre which I'll be investigating now that Kagi... is over.

It seems there's no end to this style of murder mystery, and with this series ending on an enigmatic note, I hope there'll be a second series or film sequel.

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Seven best Running Man episodes? Don't mind if I do...

(UPDATE: a list of the best episodes from eps 94-140ish is now up. And a further update for eps 140ish-210ish is available too.)

It's not often I'm inspired to write by something I see on allkpop, but today, they ran a story that the producers of the SBS show Running Man had chosen their seven favourite episodes, so in a spirit of sharing I decided to do the same. Even though I'm a few episodes behind.

Bear in mind that most Running Man "episodes" often last for two shows, and I've put together thematically similar shows, just so I could fit more in.

And even then, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't get it below eight.

1. Episode 7

The first time that the hide and seek game is split into hunters with bells, and the hunted without bells. This turns the game into a survival horror that's suitable for family viewing. The tension runs high throughout this game, with a twist in the tale that I didn't see coming at all. This was the episode that converted me from occasional viewer to rabid fan.

2. Episodes 52, 53 and 69

In this series of shows, actor Choi Min Soo begins by hunting down each of the cast one by one in the most exciting single episode (52) in Running Man. Episode 53 is more normal, with games and quests, but it does include Yoo Jae Suk's betrayal of Choi Min Soo, leading to episode 69 when he returns to torture Yoo Jae Suk.

3. Episodes 42 and 74

These are the two episodes in which the regular members of Running Man have to defeat each other. With no guest to look after, the gloves are really off, and the jokes and barbs fly thick and fast. Gary wins both times, first with an extra name tag, and then with his super powers of duplication.

4. Episode 25

Park Bo Young totally gets it. It's like a viewer's been invited onto the show and she takes part with all the games with all the energy and humour that we expect from the regulars. If Song Ji Hyo ever does leave (God forbid) then Park Bo Young would be a suitable replacement.

5. Episodes 2 and 3

Song Ji Hyo's first episode, and worth it for a game where the two teams have to jump from diving boards. Whichever teams jumps from the highest in total wins. Very exciting, since I suffer from vertigo myself, and an early glimpse of Kwang Soo's potential. Plus, two hide and seek games (and Yoo Jae Suk's VJ getting exhausted), a photo game and a football game. This two-parter never stops.

6. Episodes 57 and 58

Often Running Man has to make allowances for the guests, but not this time. These two really add to the show. Shin Se-kyung is half adorable and half super-competitive and Cha Tae-hyun is funny all the way through. He livens up the morning mission by just insisting everyone do what he says and dropping any pretence at secrecy at all. There's also an interesting final battle where members have the chance to bet on the winner, but it wasn't quite done properly, I thought. But I can't leave it out just for that.

7. Episode 79

The Sherlock Holmes episode. But to be honest, this is more Twin Peaks than Sherlock Holmes, since it features a baffling comedy group including a man dressed as a dog who never goes out of character and two guests who, in an attempt to not look suspicious, look really suspicious. This episode wins points for being well thought out, and cleverly put together.

8. Episode 60

This whole show is a set-up against Gary who thinks he's the spy. In fact, every one is in on the deal, and have difficulty taking his terrible acting seriously. Perhaps it's just one big in-joke for RM fans, but I loved it.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Just watched: I Wish (Kiseki)

Because Japan has such an apparently small pool of actors there will, on occasion, be times when you watch something that brings together a whole group of actors that you'd recently seen in others things. This film has Abe Hiroshi, Natsukawa Yui, Nagasawa Masami and Odagiri Joe in it, all of who I've been writing about in the past month or so.

This film from 2011 tells the story of two brothers, living in different towns with their separated parents, and their friends. Each of the seven children has something to wish for, and when one of them mentions that if you make a wish at the point where two bullet trains pass, then it'll come true. So they arrange to skip school and go to a town in the middle of nowhere just to make their wishes.

The cast of children are good, and are ably supported by the experienced cast of supporting actors. Special mention goes to Otsuka Nene, the mother of the two brothers who packs a lot of emotion and understanding into her few scenes. The film is also very nicely shot. The director, Hirokazu Koreeda, has a filmography that's well worth exploring, including Air Doll, After Life among others.

It's a heart-warming story, and even if it does rely on a very convenient plot device once they get to the town, it's still a nice tale, nicely told.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Currently watching: Furuhata Ninzaburo

Ah, just typing out the title "Currently watching: Furuhata Ninzaburo" made me happy. It's been about two years after I first saw it, and about eighteen months since I gave up any hope of watching more than a handful of episodes. But I am now able to enjoy a full series of this detective series thanks to some hard-working subbers. A full series!

Furuhata Ninzaburo is a detective who solves murders. Each episode is structurally the same: The viewer sees the murder take place (so the killer is known from the start) and then we see the killer and the policeman interact with each other while the crime is being solved. It's similar to Colombo, except with far fewer locations. It's also half the length of the average Colombo episode, so the crime is usually simpler, but still devious.

It's a lot of fun to watch. Tamura Masakazu is great in the title role. Perhaps too perfect as, according to Wikipedia, he regretted the role believing it lead to him being typecast. It's a shame that he should have reservations about making the show, but for everyone else, we've been left a quality piece of television.

Seriously sub-standard

Flushed with pride after finishing my first series of subtitles, Toshi Densetsu no Onna, I rushed headlong into another short series: Renai Kentei.

This, it turns out, might have been a mistake. The thing about Toshi Densetsu... is that police jargon and urban myths are easy to find on the internet. If I got stuck, I could usually rely on some website having the correct translation (often Wikipedia, bless it). But Renai Kentei is all about love and contains informal language, abbreviations and slang which really slowed me down.

Is this okay? It's close enough...

This is not helped by the guy upstairs deciding that this week he was going to play loud music in the middle of the night. I'm writing this with that slightly wired feeling you get from too little sleep. It's also hard to concentrate on one thing for long as I constantly distract myself with forums, emails, YouTube etc.

Meanwhile, Renai Kentei is fun and harmless. But translating it really brought home how much I struggle to understand sentences without subject. Since the person or thing being talking about is often only implied in Japanese, I often had to stop and think about the context before making a decision about who was talking about what. And the use of language is far more informal than before, which slowed me down.

They're singing. Shall I bother translating?..
If translating can be compared to making a copy of a photo, I certainly felt like doing the subs for Renai Kentei could be compared to making a join-the-dots copy of a photo. I was often faced with a situation where I understood the meaning, but not the words. And vice versa.

In the end, though, I'm quite proud of my subs for episode one and am ploughing through episode two. But, in future, I'm going to try and see the first episode of a series before I decide to do the subs for them.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Just watched: Adrift In Tokyo

If you're feeling depressed that an actor as good as Odagiri Joe should end up in an ill-fated series like Kazoku no Uta, you can take some comfort in the fact that his 2007 film Adrift In Tokyo has finally been released on DVD.

It's directed by Satoshi Miki, and if you've seen any of his other work then you know what to expect. A storyline that meanders from event to event, with a surreal sense of humour. In this film, Joe plays a student deep in debt and Tomokazu Miura pays the thuggish debt collector who's demanding repayments. Then one day, the collector pays the student one million yen to walk with him across Tokyo. But he won't say why.

As the two men walk from one peculiar event to the next, they start to bond, and in the end they have to pretend to be part of a family. While all this is happening, we also see the co-workers of the debt collector's wife becoming increasingly worried about her absence. But, unable to believe that anything really bad has happened, they never take the situation seriously.

There's also a great cameo from Yoshitaka Yuriko as a schoolgirl who is convinced that the two main characters are father and son, and also Koizumi Kyoko (Saigo Kara Nibanme no Koi) as the schoolgirl's aunt who is also part of this pretend family.

It's a slow, dreamlike film and Satoshi Miki's signature use of logic runs throughout. Not a great deal makes sense, but once you get over that, it all makes sense.

Monday, 11 June 2012

Just finished: Toshi Densetsu no Onna

This fell a little short of being recommended. It's funny and interesting (and the subtitles were fantastic!) but too often the solutions to the crime didn't quite make sense.

But perhaps that's just me rewatching it and noticing stuff that I didn't see first time. Certainly, if you're only interested in a light-hearted murder mystery, but not bothered if a couple of clues don't add up, then this should be right up your street.

Nagasawa Masami seems to have a lot of fun as the over-excitable police detective with a fixation on urban legends. I have to commend her ability at finding new ways of expressing delight each time she encounters a possible myth. Meanwhile, Takenaka Naoto is great in the role of her boss who grows increasingly frustrated at her crazy theories. And Mizobata Junpei is funny as the unrequited love interest. But special mention has to go to Takuma Takayuki who plays the "villain", Gohara. He convincingly takes his character from unsympathetic opponent of the main characters, to someone who is also confused by/caught up in Otonashi's ideas.

The urban myths were cleverly written into the murder cases, so that they seemed like an actual part of the crime rather than just added on as an afterthought. Episode seven, though, was a bit odd since it included a genuine supernatural event, but Officer Otonashi didn't seem too excited about it.

In short, this is another in a long line of somewhat-supernatural crime thrillers, such as Galileo and Trick, which doesn't take itself too seriously and is all the better for it.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Just watched: Hayabusa

This title needs a little clarification, since there are no less than four films from 2011/12 that tell the story about Japan's mission to send a probe to an asteroid, collect samples, and return it to Earth. This film is the one called just "Hayabusa" and shouldn't be confused with (take a deep breath now) "Hayabusa: Back to the Earth", "Okaeri Hayabusa", or "Hayabusa: Harukanaru Kikan". Three of them are feature films while "Back to the Earth" is a feature-length documentary.

I don't know if I'll watch any of the others because I suspect if you've seen one, you've almost certainly seen them all. And watching this film, I'm reminded of how sentimental Japanese films can be. The main character, Megumi Mizusawa, is an astronomer because of the influence of her deceased elder brother, and this is referenced several times throughout the film.

Meanwhile, the story is one of success against the odds. The space probe went through a number of technical problems during its journey, solved by an ingenious bit of reprogramming, or by simply spamming the probe on different radio frequencies until they get lucky and it responds.

Its a nice story, and it works well on the big screen. The project lasted many years, so people left and people died, which gives the writer plenty of opportunity for sad scenes. I suppose I should be surprised the film doesn't include a romance. Although it does hint at one. Luckily, all the names have been changed, so no one can sue over misrepresentation.

In fact, each film version of this story contains characters with different names. It's tempting to watch them, just to see how they differ. Not very tempting, though.

Monday, 4 June 2012

Currently listening to: nothing, really...

It's halfway through the year, so I decided to make some notes for my November the Eighth awards. All was going fine, until I got to the best album category. I could barely think of anything. Plenty of bands have released great singles, but in terms of albums, I came up blank.

In fact, at the moment, the Girls' Generation sub-unit TaeTiSeo has the category all to themselves with "Twinkle". I find their retro disco swagger a lot of fun. Although, whenever I see the band name abbreviated to TTS, I always think it says TITS.

There's plenty of time for all this to change. With new albums from 2NE1 and awesome wolf-headed rock band Man With A Mission coming out later this year, I'm sure that TaeTiSeo will have some competition by November. But I was a bit surprised that this category – which is usually the one with most nominations – should be so barren. Am I missing something?

Not watching: Mikeneko Holmes no Suiri

I wanted to like this drama. I really did. At first, I thought that Becky was a regular cast member and I thought, that's good, because I'd like to see her have a proper go on a prime time drama. But she was only in the opening episode.

After that disappointment, I kept with it, but the characters didn't seem very well written. There's a sort of love interest, and a sort of brotherly rivalry. The main storyline concerns an inept policeman who is only able to solve crimes thanks to a cat who gives him clues.

But it ultimately suffers from the same problem as ATARU. The crime isn't solved by deduction, but rather by being told the solution from an enigmatic third-party. In ATARU, it's an autistic person. In this show, it's a cat.

And episode three demonstrates this problem. It's the first part of a two-part story, but the only reason it's taking so long to solve is because the cat is sulking. No real detective work is being done at all. This makes it frustrating to watch.

So much so, that I deleted all the episodes before I remembered to take any screenshots. Oops.