Saturday, 25 August 2012

Still watching: Game Center CX

Recently, I moved house and got a new job (albeit temporary) which means that I haven't had time to look at a lot of jdramas this season. Add the fact that my job is deadly dull, you can imagine that at the end of the day I want something light and funny to help me relax.

And so, thanks to these guys, I've been watching some subbed episodes of Game Centre CX. I've written about it before, but that was years ago. I feel like I should mention it again since it's taking up so much of my viewing time.

It concerns a man who has a day (or two) to complete old video games. The format for most of the show is very simple: he plays the game while making comments about how well/badly he's doing. Most of the things he says aren't that funny, but usually raise a laugh from the film crew.

At first, watching a man playing video games seems pretty tedious, but before long you really get into it, and if he wins, it feels like a real achievement. And each episode has a segment where he goes and plays video games in an arcade somewhere, so at least they let him out of that room once in a while.

As an act of endurance, it's pretty impressive. I'd hate to sit and play one game all day, especially if it's one I haven't chosen myself. But he keeps playing on, the table gets more cluttered with snacks, and the whiteboard behind him becomes covered in notes. The way they've made video games into something like office work makes it something the viewer can relate to, even if they've never heard of the game being played.

It's like a morality play for the 21st century, except that instead of finding the way to a holier life, Game Center CX is about finding the way to the good ending.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Not watching: Magma

While I admire WOWOW dramas for avoiding the usual clichés of Japanese TV for something that is usually more thoughtful and refined, I found my mind wandering whenever I tried to watch this show.

I was halfway through episode three and I realised I hadn't listened to a word anyone had said in about five minutes. The storyline is about a company researching into geo-thermal electricity. At first, it looks as if it's about to be asset-stripped by a large corporation, but then it is saved. But then another geo-thermal research company wants to destroy it, and hires a journalist to dig up some dirt.

Then there's a big reveal about someone's true identity and meanwhile, the head scientist is looking a bit ill. In the end, it's a bit of a mess. And any sense of malevolent industrial espionage is somewhat undermined by the Japanese pronounciation of the word "Earth". Whenever they mention the company "Earth Power", it does sound a lot like they're talking about "Arse Power." A little unfortunate.

A nice try, but ultimately a failure.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Just watched: As One

With the Olympics closing, and only a week since South and North Korea last played each other at table tennis, it seems like a good time to sit down with this film telling the story of how both Koreas decide to field a united team for one Table Tennis World Championship.

It follows the women's team as they play through the competition, eventually winning by beating the Chinese in the final. But it's also about national identity and friendship as well as politics and culture clashes.

For such a huge topic, you can forgive the writers for trying to cram in as much as possible. Like a kid offered a chocolate from a box who can't chose just one, the writers go a little overboard in adding one sub-plot after another. Apart from the usual friendships, love stories and sick members of families, we also have an injury, a corrupt referee and fainting due to hepatitis and that's just in the final!

In fact, the writers could have gone further. While doing a bit of searching after I'd seen the film, I found out that one of the North Korean officials met his sister for the first time in four decades.

Despite such a huge amount of potential material, the film still almost ruins it. The writing is not very subtle. The Chinese are just stereotypes – uncaring bad guys who need to be defeated. And the endless problems put in Korea's way during the final are just a distraction from what they actually achieved: a brief unification of a very divided country.

But for all that, the story is an interesting one and the acting is very good, with Ha Ji Won and Bae Doo Na both excellent in the lead roles. And the scene in which the team says goodbye did raise a tear, but I found myself thinking "but won't they meet again at the next table tennis tournament?" And it turns out they did, two years later, but that was the only time they've met since then.

It's a moving story, whose moral is "why can't we all just be friends?" which is a bit simplistic, but well-meaning. A great story, but not a great film.

Friday, 10 August 2012

Currently watching: Beautiful Rain

This season's tragic tale of cruel fate concerns a family (just a father and his eight-year-old daughter) and what happens to them when he discovers he has early onset Alzheimer's disease. It affects his work, his relationships and, most of all, it scares him that in the end he won't even be able to recognise his own daughter.

It stars Ashida Mana as the plucky, spirited daughter who doesn't quite understand what's going on, but tries her best to help. Toyokawa Etsushi is the tough, factory worker dad who now has to ask for help from others. Nakatani Miki also stars, and it's nice to see her being normal for a change. She's the bosses daughter who turns up one day and won't explain why she's left her husband.

So it's all about secrets and how keeping them can lead to hurt feelings. It's entertaining, and well acted. Whether you like it depends on whether you enjoy dramas that are overtly emotional at any opportunity.

I'm up to episode four, and there's already been quite a lot of crying. I wonder what the big emotional finale might be since, unless they really speed up the progress of the disease, it'll still be in the early stages by the end of the series.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Currently watching: Higashino Keigo Mysteries

Phew. A few weeks without a decent internet connection, and I have no idea what's going on in Japanese dramas. Whatever I chose, I'll be playing catch up with all those episodes I've missed. However, this is a series of short stories so it's not a problem that there was a long gap between me watching episode two and three.

As the title suggests, these are all from the pen of Higashino Keigo. This highly respected writer of murder mysteries has had mixed success when it comes to television adaptations of his work. But first impressions for this were good, as it starts with a man standing over his own dead body explaining that he's been murdered. This turned out to be the introduction to each story, as each week the story of his murder includes an aspect reflected in the main story.

This is a very good idea, since the problem with short stories is that if you miss one episode, it's not so important. But now we have a murder that runs for the duration of the series which will keep people tuning in for the next instalment.

The stories are fine, but as you'd expect, some are better than others. The first two are quite good, but the third and fourth really didn't involve any real detective work, and the twist in the tail was a little unsatisfying. The direction is also quite bland.

If it weren't for the mystery at the start of each episode, I probably wouldn't see this series out until the end. Whoever decided to format the series like this is a very clever person.