Friday, 29 March 2013

Just finished: Saki

* spoilers *

This mystery series started out as a murder mystery, but then switched to more of a revenge story in which the men who she despised had their lives ruined rather than ended suddenly. And I suppose this made sense. After all, there's only so many times your boyfriends can die before people start to suspect things.

It was a good drama.Not brilliant, but it was full of nice imagery such as the five steaks in the fridge representing the five men she was after, and Saki's habit of buying a vintage bottle of wine for each time she begins her plan, are both clever ways of heightening the tension.

It didn't really have an ending. Saki walked away unpunished, having gained the viewers' sympathy with her sad story (and it is quite sad) and because she spared the fifth and final man. She didn't really seem to repent or admit any wrong-doing and there's a strange scene at the end when she's in a park, sitting by herself on a bench, pregnant. Is this supposed to imply that she's mended her ways and settled down to start a family? Hmm, I wonder.

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Just finished: Biblia Koshoudou no Jiken Techou

This series was a charming but, frankly, over-long series of mysteries based around literature. It was entertaining, and I admired how each episode managed to involve some piece of literary history. But at the same time, while the stories were clever, they didn't really need forty-five minutes.

Episode nine, in particular, should win an award for longest exposition. The mystery was revealed after about twenty-five minutes, followed by twenty minutes of slow reaction shots as each tiny aspect of the story was drip-fed to the viewer piece by piece.

Plus AKIRA, in the lead male role, didn't really have much to do except repeat the last line of the previous speaker, or go "Ah!" at moments of high tension. Gouriki Ayame was very good, though, really quite convincing in the role of timid book-keeper but often the best lines went to the supporting cast. In particular, Suzuki Kosuke as the interfering coffee-shop manager, Fujinami.

It was a nice, warm, cosy piece of drama and it certainly captured the feel of a dusty second-hand book shop. And the stories were interesting, and they certainly made me want to go out and read the books they talked about. This, at least, makes it all worthwhile.

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Recommended: Still Walking

From the same director as the TV series Going My Home, and the TV series bears many similarities with it's older cinematic sibling. There's Abe Hiroshi and YOU in both, they have the same dreamy style of directing, the same soundtrack of tunes idly picked on an acoustic guitar, and both have barely any storyline at all.

The film is about a day in which a family gather together on the anniversary of the death of a son. Abe Hiroshi plays Ryota, the brother of the deceased, and has to deal with the constant subtext of never being as good as his brother. Meanwhile Natsukawa Yui plays a widower who is marrying Ryota, acutely aware that she and her son will never really be accepted by her husband's parents. Most of the film is concerned with everyday family life, with revelations and emotions only rarely being seen.

The director, Koreeda Hirokazu, certainly has a vision, and you can't criticise him for sticking to it. His films often have a timeless quality, and this film (and Going My Home) are all about making the mundane into something magical.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Recommended: Trick

Finally, I get round to writing about this TV series. I've recently started watching the first series again just before I go to bed, and it's perfect late night entertainment.

It was first broadcast in the year 2000, and it shows. Not in the fashion or style of directing, but in the quality of the picture. There are probably much better versions on the internet out there, but somehow I like the VHS rip. It somehow adds to the feeling of watching something other-worldly and distant.

The story itself is about a stage magician whose father died in mysterious circumstances. She is recruited by a university professor to investigate apparent supernatural crimes. Each time getting into more danger and, seemingly, getting closer to the truth about her father.

I remember, years ago, this was one of the first Japanese dramas I watched, how strange it all seemed. Not just the storylines, but the style of comedy, the soundtrack and the directing. They really set it apart from anything else I'd seen before then. In fact, I can remember being unsure if I liked it at first. But I'm glad I stuck with it.

The stories are clever and some are genuinely quite chilling, despite all the jokes. And the plot about her father that runs through the series is an excellent way to keep the viewer interested. The first series, especially, is an entertaining and fascinating piece of television.

Friday, 8 March 2013

Still watching: Saikou no Rikon

It's strange but whenever I watch this, I always feel like I should be eating something nice. Because it's such a treat for the eyes, brain and heart, I somehow feel like my stomach is missing out. Maybe a nice white wine and some pickles.

This is the kind of effect this show has on me. It's like I'm having some friends round and I should make an effort. I mean, I don't dress up or vacuum or stuff like that. That would be insane.

But I am really enjoying this show. The script and acting are so natural that I can't help but be carried away. And if each episode does usually end with a Speech Of The Week, then I can forgive it.

I enjoy the seemingly random tumble through other people's lives. The recurring minor characters who always seem to add something. And also the cast: Ono Machiko's energy, Eita's neuroses, Maki Yoko's grace and Ayano Go's... well, he hasn't had much to do so far except be funny in the closing credits. Maybe that'll change soon, but at the moment it's hard to see where his story is going.

Not that I'm worried or anything. This is a quality forty-five minutes where I can sit back and be entertained by people who assume I don't need everything explained to me like an idiot.

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Still watching: Biblia Koshodou no Jiken Techou

This has turned into a nice little show. Not earth-shattering, or anything like that, but quite sweet in its own way. But I do wish the episodes were five minutes shorter. Each time, they start to explain the crime, I look at the time, and I realise there are still ten minutes left.

A lot of those minutes are taken up by the criminal explaining why they did what they did, and most of the time they're designed to bring a tear to the eye. Whether they do or not depends on how much you like books, I suppose.

It's been cleverly put together, though, with a sort of washed-out sepia-tone style, as if you can see the dust hanging in the air. It's a nice effect, and gives everything a timeless look. The director also seems to be a big fan of dramatic footsteps whenever someone important enters the shop.

And is it my imagination or are Shinokawa Shioriko's smiles getting wider and happier, as if she is slowly coming out of her shell. Maybe by the end of the series she might even laugh.

Saturday, 2 March 2013

Currently watching: xxxHOLIC

Well, I can't honestly say I really understand what's going on here. A boy can see ghosts, and he's not too happy about it. He stumbles upon (or is summoned to) a strange house where a woman can grant people wishes, in exchange for payment in kind. Whatever that may be.

That's how it begins, but how it continues is anyone's guess. The first episode as just a brief morality play: lying is bad, and it would be a terrible shame if the rest of the series was like that.

It's shot in a sort of David Lynch style, with very deep reds and a lot of shallow focus. It looks great, and kudos should go to the production team for their work. The cast is strong, headed by Anne (Youkai Ningen Bem) and Shouta Sometani (Himizu) and there's very little wrong with this show.

The only doubt I have is that it's quite easy to start a drama with lots of mysteries and questions, but much harder to end it with answers and solutions that make any sense. Still, it looks so nice and has so much promise that I'll certainly keep watching.