Monday, 30 April 2012

Looking forward

Perhaps one of the strange parts of liking TV in a foreign language is how it's possible to impatiently look forward to watching a series that was shown years ago. Recently, two subbing groups have announced that they'll be providing subtitles for two series that I always wanted to watched.

The first series is one that I've mentioned before. Furuhata Ninzaburo was a detective series that ran for three series in 1994, 1996 and 1999 (with three specials in 2006). It was written by Mitani Kouki, my favourite Japanese writer, and is about a detective who solves cunningly devised murders. I was very happy to learn that someone had decided to sub the first series after all these years.

The second was even more of a surprise. Fujiko F. Fujio no Parallel Space was a six-part series of unrelated short stories broadcast in 2008. I've had these sitting on a disc for a while now and didn't expect to watch them again until my Japanese had improved. Luckily, this subbing group (who previously did Eri Fukatsu's Black Comedy) have decided to pick it up.

Stylistically, each episode is different, giving it a similar feel to Camouflage or Ueno Juri no Itsutsu no Kaban, and I'm interested to see what the stories are actually about. Episode one, starring Nagasawa Masami, is definitely one to watch since the framing and acting is taken exactly from the original comic strip. It's very interesting to see how positions and scene changes that seem so natural in comics don't work at all in live action.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Currently watching: Kagi no Kakatta Heya

Before I sat down to watch this, I didn't know anything about this TV series, except that someone from Arashi was in the lead role and that it involved solving crimes in the classic genre of "locked room" murders. That is, the victim is found in a locked room that no one could get in to or out of. Everyone suspects suicide until Enomoto Kei, an expert in locks, is called in.

Because I knew very little, when I saw the lead female character – a demure, plainly-dressed woman with straight black hair – I thought, hmm, she looks a bit like Toda Erika. Then when I heard her speak I realised it was her. So, full marks to her for making herself different enough that I didn't recognise her. Ohno Satoshi is fine in the lead role, except that his character is an emotionless genius, so he doesn't really have to do much acting.

The first two stories are quite interesting and cleverly done. The drama is based on a novel, so hopefully there'll be enough ideas to keep the show going until the end. So far, there's been no hint as to what the overall storyline might be, except a jokey reference that the Enomoto might have been a criminal once. A genius with a dark secret in his past that comes back to haunt him? He wouldn't be the first.

Sato Koichi (The Magic Hour, The Uchoten Hotel) supplies some nice comedy moments as the powerful lawyer who is appalled by Enomoto Kei's geeky knowledge but also wants to impress him with his own deductive powers.

But mostly, it's all about the stories. And they've been good so far. I shall be watching this with great interest.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Currently watching: Ataru

In this detective story, the crimes are solved by an autistic genius, whose knowledge of the details of trivial things helps lead the police to the criminal. The main issue is how to get him to explain what he's thinking in an understandable way.

The TV show takes considerable liberties, stylistically, in representing the main character's autism. Soap bubbles and tiny black clouds indicate when he's thinking, and shots taken from his point of view are filtered and distorted, as if the director is using a really over-literal way of saying "this guy looks at things in a different way".

However, I'm no expert on autism, so I'll leave that part to one side. Nakai Masahiro is fine in the lead role. Meanwhile, the two police officers are played by Kitamura Kazuki and Kuriyama Chiaki, and very good they are too. But the drama doesn't know if it wants to be funny or not. The script goes from tense drama to knockabout comedy very quickly.

The main point of the story isn't "how clever can the police be in finding the clues", rather "how patient can they be in waiting for the next clue". I'm also wondering how patient can I be. It's an interesting idea, but strangely unsatisfying. Instead of solving the crime itself, they're solving the enigmatic sentences of someone who's already solved the crime. But I'll keep watching for now to see how this develops.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Currently watching: Kaeru no Oujo-sama

This series tells the tale of a Japanese actress and singer who, unable to find work on Broadway, returns to Japan to coach a group of amateurs in a small town amateur dramatic club. However, the town is threatened with the creation of a giant waste processing plant.

Amami Yuki, who has a lot of experience on the stage, is great in the lead role. The programme tries to add a dash of Broadway magic by dipping into English every now and then. But in the scenes which involve Americans the English is pronounced very clearly, with a distinct lack of Noo Yawk accents. It makes them feel a bit like they're a dialogue from an English lesson.

It reminds me far too much of Hula Girls with the conflict between dreams of stardom and grim reality. Some of the characters are the same too: There's a clumsy one, and a shy one. And although I liked Hula Girls, I'm not sure if I want to watch a fifty-minute version every week.

However, I will compliment it for a scene in which Amami Yuki kicks a cigarette out of a man's mouth. Possibly the coolest thing I've seen this year.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Sub standard

And so I've taken the plunge and committed myself to subbing a series: Toshi Densetsu no Onna. I'll be honest, I'm a bit nervous. I enjoyed the first episode but it's not uncommon for a J-drama to start strongly and then tail off by the end. I'm hoping that my interest in urban myths and legends will keep me going, even if the stories aren't so great. And besides, it really is time I gave something back to the fansub community. Something more worthwhile than a bunch of TV reviews, I mean.

I haven't really done any translating since I lived in Italy, and was nice to do some again. I had the familiar feeling of frustration of squeezing one culture's expressions into another culture's words, and the relief and satisfaction when you get it even half right.

Now the subs are out there, I'm interested about the reaction, if any. Especially regarding accuracy. I decided to capture the general meaning more often than any literal translation (apart from the crime bits) and I even sneaked in a couple of jokes that weren't there. Will this annoy the purist? Possibly.

And of course, there were times when I couldn't make head nor tail of a sentence at all and had to guess according to the context. It was just a case of have a go and hope for the best, and not get too sensitive over any mistakes. After all, the quickest way to speak a language well is to speak it badly a lot first.

On the down side, when I took this on, I figured I could ask my Japanese teacher for help on those parts where I got really stuck. But it turns out she's going back to Japan soon, and I only have a few lessons left!

Currently watching: Toshi Densetsu no Onna

This new series sort of fits into the same genre as Trick, Puzzle and Galileo because it takes a crime, and hints that it may be due to paranormal forces. Finally, it ties everything up in a nice, neat, non-spooky explanation.

The story concerns a detective, Otonashi (played by Nagasawa Masami, whose legs are featured so prominently in the show that they should get a credit of their own), who is obsessed with urban myths. She's convinced that there may be a grain of truth to them, and she dreams that one day she'll be involved in a crime that involves a genuine urban myth.

So in episode one, we have an apparent suicide near a shrine to an ancient war lord which is believed to curse anyone who disrespects it. Is this a case of murder from beyond the grave? Otonashi throws herself into the case, seemingly unaware of how people react to her strange theories and just as unconcerned about her frustrated boss.

It's a fun piece of television. Mizobata Junpei (BOSS, Shinzanmono) is funny as the love-struck officer from forensics. I think it helps that I'm also interested in urban legends, so I was pleased to see that they used a real one, and didn't make one up so they could fit a murder around it. It's almost educational.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Not watching: Dirty Mama

When I started this blog, I told myself that I wouldn't watch things just so I could review them. Instead, I would simply write about what ever caught my interest at that time. So, although I turned off episode eight of Dirty Mama halfway through, I had plans to finish the series. Unfortunately, ten minutes into episode nine I realised that the only reason I was watching it was to write about it, and stopped there and then.

Episode eight was the real death blow. One of the police officers has a son who doesn't respect him and is hanging out with a bad crowd. So unconventional detective Maruoka gets him involved in some criminal activity. At first, he's delighted at how cool it all is, but then it turns scary and once the gang find out his dad is a cop, they hold him hostage.

I'm going to guess that it ends with his dad (until now, a desk-bound middle manager) rescuing him heroically and so he finally learns to appreciate his father for who he truly is. I will never know. I think it's a safe bet, though.

And after that I couldn't take any more. I don't mind if a show is daft, or doesn't make much sense, but when it's as bland as this I can't forgive it.

Friday, 13 April 2012

Still watching: Scent of a Woman

When I was a teenager, I had the typical mid-puberty attacks of self-pity. When I felt that things weren't going right, I'd run upstairs, throw myself face-down on the bed and imagine how unhappy everyone would be if I died, and also I'd think about how lots of bad things would happen to me, but I'd still be positive and happy which would make everyone else even more sorry that they ever did anything to upset me.

I think that the writer of this did exactly the same thing except that they wrote everything down and, years later, turned it into a sixteen-part TV drama. But at least all these terrible things don't all happen to one person, but are shared around the characters. This means that everyone has one secret that they can rely on for sympathy from the viewers.

This writing style is very manipulative, plus the story relies heavily on coincidence and clichés and misunderstandings, so why am I still watching? Well, Kim Sun Ah is a major plus, and also the male lead (played by Lee Dong Wook) has turned out to be more enjoyable than I'd feared.

Last night I got to the episode where the secret about Lee Yeon Jae's (Kim Sun Ah) terminal cancer has just been revealed to her boyfriend, so now I expect the show will go from romance to tragedy. How it handles this transition remains to be seen.

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Just watched: SPEC Shou

And so the adventures of Toma Saya (Played by Toda Erika) and Sebumi Takeru (Kase Ryo) continue as they hunt down criminals who use paranormal powers for evil. This TV special was transmitted a week or so before the cinema release of the final part of the SPEC story on April 7th.

First thing to mention is that this makes no sense if you haven't seen the TV series. Former characters are brought back with no introduction at all, and from the very beginning the humour is eccentric. I can imagine this being completely baffling to any newcomer. It's almost as if the director and writer went through each scene and asked themselves how they could make it a bit stranger.

As for the story, it's okay as long as you don't think about it too closely. It involves a killer who is targeting people with special powers (or "SPEC holders" as the programme calls them). At least we get some kind of an explanation about the final episode of the TV series, and we learn about Toma's special power.

It was an entertaining ninety minutes, and I'm glad it had a proper story with a beginning, a middle and an end (although I didn't really understand it), and wasn't just a big advert for the forthcoming film.

But I suppose it is just an advert for the film. But at least it's an advert with a beginning, a middle and an end.

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Still watching: Vs Arashi

When I get the occasion, I enjoy sitting down to an episode of this lightweight game show where teams of famous people compete against the pop band Arashi. The games are simple and enjoyable, and watching this is a great way to relax.

But the other day, I was surprised when suddenly an icon from my childhood popped up on an episode as one of the competitors. Sakai Masaaki came on and was introduced as the actor in the lead role of the TV show Monkey. It was broadcast in Britain at the end of the 1970s, and it was very exotic to a British society where saying things like "I tolerate coloured people" was the height of multi-cultural sophistication.

I think that Monkey was my first exposure to Japanese culture (even though it was set entirely in China) and I can remember adoring it and, like most boys my age, acting out scenes in the playground the next day. But I haven't really thought about it since then, so it was a surprise when this guy appeared on my screen again after thirty years. And, of course, they gave him a long stick so he could show off some of his old moves. Bless him.

And then, as I'm looking for more stuff about Monkey on the internet, it occurs to me that Pigsy looks a bit familiar. Turns out to be Nishida Toshiyuki, who is still a regular in films and drams, and is one of my favourite actors.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Just watched: My Darling is a Foreigner

Actually, "just watched" isn't quite right. I watched it ages ago, but only just decided to write about it.

This film from 2010 stars Inoue Mao and Jonathan Sherr in a comedy-drama about the highs and lows of international relationships. In this case, an American man and a Japanese woman. The film itself is okay. Lightweight and entertaining, and as someone who's been in an "international relationship" myself (English/Italian) there were a couple of things I could relate to. Especially the part where he tries to help by doing the housework, unaware that there are rules for almost everything.

What also interested me was the portrayal of the English character. Before I saw this film I read someone on the internet complain about how anti-English the film was. This person said that is man was a dislikeable, sex-mad man who thought all Japanese women were pushovers. I admit, the first image to come into my mind was of an upper class cad who impresses ladies with tales of meeting the royals and the Beckhams.

When I saw it I was surprised that it was a fairly accurate representation of Englishmen: confident and pushy and he thinks that because he's always thinking about sex, then everyone else is too. I've met this kind of man so often, that this film should be praised for avoiding the usual stereotypes about us Brits. And Nihonjin no Shiranai Nohingo also had an Englishman who was a bit of a sexual predator (although they got his fashion sense all wrong) so perhaps this is quite a widespread image in Japan. Next time I go, I'll have to ask.

But as for the film: like I said, it's okay. I'm a bit sad that Jonathan Sherr hasn't done anything else since this film, since he seems to be one of the few people who can act in English and Japanese. And he and Inoue do make a lovely couple, and you quickly start empathising with them and hoping that things will work out for the best.