Monday, 25 February 2013

Currently watching: Shotenin Michiru no Mi no Uenabanashi

Toda Erika may have started out as a model but, more recently, she's been playing characters that are either plain (Kagi no Kakatta no Heya) or just plain gross (Keizoku SPEC) and this is another of those roles.

In this series, she plays a worker in a book shop in a small town who, on a whim, decides to go with the man she's seeing in secret for a night in Tokyo. The lie she has to tell to friends and family and boyfriend starts to get larger and she ends up spending over a week there.

To makes things more complicated, one of the lottery tickets she bought for her co-workers just before she eloped is a winner. To the tune of 200 million yen.

I'm really enjoying it. It's a clever story showing how one small decision can snowball out of control, but the events follow so naturally from one to the next, that you totally sypmathise with the lead character as she becomes more an more involved in her own lies.

At half an hour per episode, the writing is sharp and to the point, and the cast is great. So far, so good.

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Currently watching: Mahoro Ekimae Bangaichi

In the weird version of Japanese showbusiness that I keep in my head, I like to pretend that when Kiruma Kaela is out making pop music, her husband, Eita, gets on the phone and invites his good friend Matsuda Ryuhei to his house where they drink beer, smoke cigarettes and talk about girls.

An image which is based almost entirely on this TV series. In this series, Eita and Matsuda Ryuhei play two slackers who run a company that does whatever work it can find. And it's the interplay between these two that make the show worthwhile.

Eita is rapidly turning into Mr Quality when it comes to dramas. His ability to change almost completely according to whatever the role demands is once again on show here. Meanwhile, Matsuda Ryuhei is the apathetic heart of the show. His slack-jawed disinterest and rudeness is pivotal to the stories.

He really does have a unique place in J-dramas. While many young actors are placed into roles that require them to be rude, surly or rebellious, they barely manage more than looking a bit pouty as if they've done quite badly on a spelling test. Ryuhei's apparent lack of effort in his acting is a rare sight on Japanese TV. The fact that he doesn't get acted off the screen by the more technical, exact style of Eita just shows how perfect his is for the role.

The series is a comedy. The format allows them to do a different job each week, so hopefully no chance of it becoming stale after a while, and it is pretty funny. Certainly, it's funny enough that I didn't realise at first that episode one actually has a sad ending. I'm very glad this is being subbed by earthcolours and danburi on d-addicts (who do an excellent job) so now I can rewatch the earlier episodes and know what's really going on.

Friday, 15 February 2013

Just finished: Koukou Nyushi

While I enjoyed this, I think it was a bit of a stretch to make it last thirteen episodes. My heart sank when the people behind the conspiracy began to be identified with two episodes still to go. We ended with a lot of talking and explanation, and then quite a long epilogue at the end.

As such, the pacing suffered and although I watched the last four episodes in one sitting, it had mostly lost its earlier energy. Plus, episode eleven didn't even end on a cliff-hanger. It just suddenly ended, apparently mid-scene.

Still, it was enjoyable, and a decent try at a mystery that wasn't centred around the usual murder/money/family/love type of storyline. It's a shame that it didn't have enough going on to really justify all thirteen episodes, plus there were no real consequences of the conspiracy, at least not as far as the students were concerned. As the new term began, things just went on as they always did. A bit of a flat ending, really.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Currently watching: Nakuna, Hara-chan

In this series, a cartoon character comes to life, bringing all kinds of havoc to the woman who created him.

It stars Aso Kumiko as the depressed writer/artist in a dead end job who vents her frustration every evening by writing a manga in a note book where five people sit in a bar and argue. Then one day, due to a series of remarkable coincidences, one of these characters is brought to life.

Nagase Tomoya is a lot of fun to watch in the role of Hara-chan. He seems very well suited to these kinds of roles: big, burly, over-emotional and stupid men. And this time, his character is extremely dumb. He knows nothing of the world. He is baffled by the concept of money, frightened of cars and generally blunders into situations with little thought for the consequences. This make him entertaining, and the show is certainly funny as he over-reacts to the slightest thing.

Meanwhile, Kumiko Aso is the meek, downtrodden, manga artist who almost had a career once. She is the focus of Hara-chan's affection and she has no idea why. She is in turns baffled and appalled by this brute crashing into her life, but starts to accept him by the end of the second episode.

Unfortunately there are no subs. Or at least, you can only get the subs if you're a member of LiveJournal so I'm watching this with no English. Luckily, Hara-chan spends so much time asking for explanations that it's quite easy to follow.

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Just watched: The Foreign Duck, The Native Duck and God in a Coin Locker

This is a smart piece of non-linear storytelling from the director who brought us Fish Story. And, like that film, it's has a song central to the story: "Blowing in the Wind" by Bob Dylan, which keeps cropping up throughout the film.

We begin fairly near the end of the story, when a student enrols in a university. He meets his new neighbours and then gets involved in a hold up at a book store. But the reason for the robbery is slowly revealed in a series of flashbacks.

It's cleverly structured, and kind of difficult to explain without ruining it. Perhaps it's a little too clever, as everything that happens in the first half of the film is referenced in the second half. The trouble is that you find yourself admiring the storytelling rather than the story.

Eita, as always, puts in a high quality performance, and the rest of the cast, too, don't disappoint. I was surprised to see Matsuda Ryuhei in the film, since the two of them have just worked together on a TV drama. I suppose it's possible that this is coincidence but I like to imagine that they got on so well when making the film, that they just decided to make a TV series too! Isn't that how showbiz works?

It's a good film, funny and likeable, if perhaps a little dry.