Sunday, 25 November 2012

Still watching: Going My Home

... Although I feel like one of an increasingly rare breed. The ratings for this drama have gone from 13% down to a dismal 5.9% in the space of six episodes, which has left me scratching my head over why.

It's a very slow moving story, that much is true. But this needn't mean a series is unsuccessful. Yasashii Jikan was slow but it had an important, emotional story at its heart: of a father and his estranged son. Dr Koto's Clinic was also quite soporific, but each episode had the good doctor struggling over big issues of life and death. In Going My Home, the main story appears to be that the main characters don't really know their own father. This is a pretty slender storyline to base an entire series on.

It's a shame the ratings are bad, because the series is full of excellent performances and clever dialogue so if you're like me and you're not bothered that the story hasn't really started yet, then this is quality television. If, however, you suspect that all of these scenes are just padding, then you'll find this a very frustrating show.

But each episode has a scene or two that's definitely worth watching, and if anyone can find something more adorable than Miyazaki Aoi describing the little people who live in the forest to a room of children, then I'll eat my hat.

Going My Home is a bit arty and a bit too clever and in no hurry to tell its story. I love the fact that it takes time to show otherwise unimportant details. This wouldn't be out of place on WOWOW, but it doesn't appear to be doing well on Fuji TV, up against other big dramas and variety shows. Going My Home feels like a late-night drama given a prime-time slot. Trouble is, it's getting late-night drama viewing figures.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Currently watching: Osozaki no Himawari

What with this and Going My Home, j-dramas have quite a rustic feel this season. It also reminds me of Dr Koto's Clinic, with plenty of wide-shots to get as much out of the location as possible.

Osozaki no Himawari begins with a man losing his job and his girlfriend on the same day. Embarrassed at his situation, he finds a job online on a Local Revitalising Team in a small town in the Japanese countryside.

Thus Ikuta Toma and his big eyes and floppy hair helps people out the best he can. He seems awfully naïve for someone in their late-twenties, but that's a minor complaint. The story is all about him trying to do his best in the face of some peculiar country ways.

He doesn't have any world-weary arrogance or disdain for these people. Instead that is provided by a doctor from Tokyo who has been given a position at the local hospital where she grew up. Having escaped the country once, she finds herself right back where she started, and she's not happy about it.

The population is ageing, businesses are closing, young people are leaving. Behind the feel-good storylines are some grim views of rural life. But they're quite a long way in the background just now. I'm just enjoying the lightweight storylines and already complicated romances, and it's nice to see Ikuta Toma and Kashii Yu (Linda, Linda, Linda) in a drama again.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Currently watching: Monsters

Putting the SMAP member Katori Shingo in the lead role of this comedy police drama was a smart move. If you're one of those people who find SMAP annoying, insincere and ubiquitous, then you'd surely have no problems with him as the annoying, insincere and ubiquitous detective Hiratsuka Heihachi. If you're a fan of SMAP, then you can be impressed by how well Katori Shingo can act, because he's obviously nothing like that in real life.

Either way, I enjoyed the first two episodes of this series. The format is pretty similar to the writers' previous big hit, Mr Brain, in that a genius detective solves crimes while their rookie partner ends up in all kinds of awkward situations. And if that's what you like, then you can't go wrong here.

The crimes are interesting with nice solutions, and the jokes are good. The comedy is that sort of weird, slightly theatrical kind where people hold their poses for a second too long, but it's still funny.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

The Third Annual November 8th Awards

Has it really been three years since I started this blog? My goodness. As is usual on this day, I present my round up of what I've been watching for the past twelve months. And remember: this is about what I've seen since last November, not about what has been released so that the new has to battle against the old.

Best drama

Ai no Nedan
Furuhata Ninzaburo
Suzuki Sensei

It is unfair to throw a classic in amongst the newcomers, but those are the rules. As it is Furuhata Ninzaburo wins handsomely with its cleverly structured murder mysteries, all set up and solved in under an hour. Shokuzai was a beautiful piece of writing and directing with a powerful storyline. Ai no Nedan was the surprise of the year: almost no publicity but it was a smart mystery based around life insurance claims. And Suzuki Sensei was another clever story, with an excellent cast.

Best comedy

Toshi Densetsu no Onna
Kekkon Dekinai Otoko
Kagi Kakatta no Heya

Difficult to be unbiased here, since I subbed two of these series. In the end, though, I think that Toshi Densetsu no Onna made me laugh more often than the others, so it takes this prize. Kekkon Dekinai Otoko was a great piece of slice-of-life comedy, while Tokkan mixed tax regulations with Inoue Mao's physical clumsiness. Kagi Kakatta no Heya's interplay of the three main characters that was the show's real attraction.

Best film

A Pierrot
Jiro Dreams of Sushi

Golly, what a line up. I still haven't written about A Pierrot (Gravity Clown), but it I enjoyed it's mix of family secrets and crime solving. Jiro Dreams of Sushi is an excellent documentary, made with care and attention. Watching Rebirth was a powerful experience and very moving, but it's the almost-musical Moteki that wins, simply for reminding me what is good about film-making. Very life-affirming.

Best Actor

Hosshan (Renai Kentei)
Sato Koichi (Kagi Kakatta no Heya)
Tamura Masakazu (Furuhata Ninzaburo)
Hasegawa Hiroki (Suzuki Sensei)

Did I watch the wrong stuff, or was there a lack of interesting roles for men this year? Hmmm, maybe it was just me.

Although Tamura Masakazu is perfect in his role in Furuhata Ninzaburo, I think that Hasegawa Hiroki was another piece of inspired casting as the all-knowing teacher in Suzuki Sensei. Meanwhile, Hosshan was great as the god of love in Renai Kentei and Sato Koichi stole plenty of scenes as the vain lawyer in Kagi Kakatta...

Best Actress

Nagasawa Masami (Moteki)
Nakatani Miki (Seinaru Kaibutsutachi)
Koizumi Kyoko (Saigo Kara Nibanme no Koi, Shokuzai)
Inoue Mao (Rebirth, Tokkan)
Nagasaku Hiromi (Rebirth)

Nakatani Miki's performance as the cold, calculating head nurse was Seinaru Kaibutsutachi's main attraction, Nagasawa Masami held my attention like never before in Moteki, meanwhile Koizumi Kyoko demostrated her range in two completely different roles this year, as did Inoue Mao. But it is Nagasaku Hiromi who takes the plaudits with her inch-perfect performance in Rebirth.

Best game show

Running Man
Nazotoki Battle TORE!
Vs Arashi
Game Center CX

No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't separate the two winners, so we'll just have to make do with a tie. And they could hardly be more different: Running Man's high-concept, CGI-laden physical challenges compared to Game Center CX's low-budget retro battles. But both of them are essential viewing, and to chose one over the other would be too cruel. Meanwhile, Nazotoki Battle TORE! and Vs Arashi offer up the same thrills and spills as they always do.

Best album

TaeTiSeo “Twinkle”
Shugo Tokumaru “Port Entropy”
Jambinai “Différance”
Taru “100 per cent”

While for most people 2012 will be the year when Kpop burst onto the scene with Gangam Style, for me it was the year when Korean artists put out some great albums. Singer-Songwriter Taru's album was a lovely collection of ballads, and Jambinai's album was an occasionally extreme (but still melodic) post-rock aural adventure. But it is the eighties disco overload of TaeTiSeo that wins. No other album has been in my mp3 player as long as this. Meanwhile, Shugo Tokumaru represents Japan in a dry year, with his charming clockwork anthems.

The Safe Pair of Hands Award

Nagasawa Masami (Moteki, Toshi Densetsu, Yasashii no Jikan)
Toda Erika (SPEC: Shou, Kagi Kakatta no Heya)
Koizumi Kyoko (Saigo Kara Nibanme no Koi, Shokuzai, Adrift in Tokyo)

This award is for the person who always seems to choose good things to be in, and this year it was an easy choice. Koizumi Kyoko never put a foot wrong all year, and each one of the three things I saw her in was excellent. Nagasawa Masami appeared in three things (four, if you include a cameo role in a dream I had) and each one was very good. Toda Erika, too, had two very different but very enjoyable roles.

Monday, 5 November 2012

Currently watching: Poison

But with d-addicts out of action for the past two days, I wonder how far I'm going to get through this series. I've got the first three episodes, but then what? Worrying times...

Anyway, Poison is my subbing project for this season, and I'm enjoying it. The story is that a scientist has developed a poison that leaves no trace and doesn't kill until twenty-four hours has passed, giving the murderer a chance to make a perfect alibi.

But this is no ordinary scientist. This scientist likes to appear in subways and offer to lend this poison to anyone in need. It's pure pantomime, a bit silly and quite a lot of fun. As the villain of the piece, the scientist gets all the best lines.

The police get involved, and they're a typical partnership: an old cynical cop and young enthusiastic type. And caught up between them is the murderer himself, who is a journalist who is sent to cover his own crime.

It's a good storyline, not too deep, and an enjoyable way to pass half an hour. Now, if only d-addicts was up, I could start posting the subs...

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Kyoto. Oh no!

Ah, Kyoto. Tranquil temples, long narrow streets which all seem to have interesting shops or restaurants, a busy hub of shopping streets and arcades, and a wide river which is perfect for the stroll back to the hotel in the evening. A lovely place to be.

Assuming, that is, you don't fall ill on the second day like I did. Nothing that kept me bedridden or anything, but it did mean most evenings were spent in my hotel room, with sandwiches and milk for supper, watching TV. Often baseball.

My only evening out in Kyoto

During the day, things were okay. My plan was to go to temples mostly, and get a bit of culture, so I could handle that. Things got a bit much in the city centre. However, there were plenty of side streets to duck down if I needed a rest, and you're never far from a temple. If you are going to have a constant headache in a city, then Kyoto's probably one of the best.

Daimonji. I walked up that last time I was in Kyoto. I must've been mad.

In one temple, I was walking about when two people sitting nearby started playing a haunting melody on a couple of flutes. That was very nice. And I spent a peaceful hour or so in the Shoren-in temple, just padding around in my socks from room to room in the autumn sun.

Shoren-in Temple

I went on the guided tour of the Imperial Palace. It was very interesting, but there was one building off to one side that looked a bit shabby and run down. The guide didn't mention it, and I was left wondering about it. I looked it up online afterwards and discovered it was called the Shunkoden, but didn't find much else except it was built in 1915 (so I guess it isn't a replica of an earlier building) and it's the only building in the palace still in regular use. As a tool shed, by the looks of it.

It was a real shame to go home in the end, but I'd filled up with Japan for another couple of years. Having to work out how each toilet works out before you use it loses its novelty after a while. I didn't get the DVDs I wanted – should've gone to Tokyo for that, but I did get a book on Kansai-ben/Japanese. And my Japanese is really no better than last time, which is a shame. All in all, though, a very nice holiday. Must do it again sometime.

A surprise discovery in the 100 yen section of a second-hand bookshop.