Thursday, 30 May 2013

Best Running Man Episode part two

It’s been almost a year since I wrote my last list and now it really is very out of date, so here is a new run down of the best episodes since then.

(UPDATE: Another list, covering more recent episodes, can be found here.)

A lot of people prefer the episodes where it's just the seven regular members, but I think there's nothing better than when Running Man has a good guest. Having somebody new to play against really adds to the show, and when it works, it's just brilliant. Of course, when it's just the seven regulars, that's when the production team bring out their most cunning games, so I'm happy either way.

I tried to be strict, keeping this list only for the very best. And I found myself leaving out some classics, such as the Rage Virus, Reincarnation and the Jackie Chan episode. Nevertheless, these are the episodes of the last year or so that I thought were a cut above the rest.

Episodes 109, 110

The guests are Olympic athletes Park Tae Hwan and Son Yoen Jae. These two episodes contain almost everything I admire about Running Man. First, they take two non-entertainers and make them comfortable enough that they can joke around with the rest of the cast. It also demonstrates the quick thinking of the production team when a storm hits Korea, meaning that the first part of filming had to be staged in one room with improvised rules. Lastly, it shows how well the cast and crew work together when one team complains that their cameramen aren’t laughing at all so that means they won’t be on screen much when the show goes out, and also in the scene where the PD can’t get them to shut up so he can explain the rules.

Add to this two exciting elimination games including twists, traps and betrayals, and a lot of fun challenges before that, and this is my favourite couple of episodes in the last year or so.

Episode 123, 124

I've written about episode 124 before, and it's brilliant elimination game in which one player is voted as king, and is therefore invincible until a new election can be held. But apart from this, I really enjoyed the two guests, the laid back actor Gosoo and the feisty actress Han Hyo Joo. These two contrasting characters really add to the chemistry of the show.

Apart from the elimination game, there's a funny but cruel breakfast game (can't eat until you've completed it) and an evening food preparation game.

Episode 98

It starts off with the theme of a school trip. It's all very light-hearted and fun, apart from some enigmatic messages from mystery schoolgirls. Then, that night, a zombie apocalypse breaks out and one by one the RM team become infected, while the rest have to find a solution to solve the problem.

Beautifully put together and, since there's no real visual difference between the zombies and non-zombies, it's as much a guessing game for the viewer as the players. And I especially liked the clue about the “infected” members of the Running Man cast not liking the dark.

Episode 120

Let’s face it: water is funny. And this episode serves up three games based on this idea.

The first is perhaps my favourite RM game ever, in which everyone in a team has to get into a car and then use water pistols to knock cans off walls while being soaked by hoses. Then there is a pronunciation game (punishment: being catapulted into a swimming pool) and then a water gun elimination game.

Episode 131

Having two fighters made this into a physical ordeal that the RM regulars were never going to do well at. Both Chu Sung Hoon and Lee Si Young are funny, but I tip my hat to Lee Kwang Soo who has the nerve to take on Chu Sung Hoon in a physical battle. But the games also involve a quiz and a round of ddak-ji, so the two fighters can't rely totally on their strength.

Episodes 95-97

This Running Man trilogy starred footballer Park Ji Sung, who turned out to be a surprise highlight of the show, especially in episode 97 when Yoo Jae Suk can't be there to film and he has to fill in as the host.

The superhero-soccer game is a treat, and the other guest, IU, does very well not to be overshadowed by the internationally famous sportsman. Plus, Rio Ferdinand makes an appearance. That means if I ever meet him, we'll have something to talk about.

Episodes 133, 134, 136

For a start, I thought Dong Hoon was a great guest. Very funny, even if sometimes it looks as if he's not sure what's going on. And I enjoyed Macau Tower as a location. I suffer quite badly from vertigo, and I was squirming with fear as I watched this and laughing at the same time. A peculiar feeling. Then in episode 136 there’s an elimination game which, despite taking up half of the show, never gets dull. Plus, it looks very nice, with distant tree-covered mountains and boat trips through caves.

Episode 137

Perhaps the jokes about Noh Sa Yeon being heavy get a little tired, but there’s no denying that this is a fun episode. Kwang Soo, Yoo Jae Suk and UEE make an unexpectedly good comedy team. All three "princesses" put in a great performance, making life hell for their male team-mates. I did feel sorry for them, though, during the swimming pool game where it is clearly very cold if you're not in the water.

Saturday, 25 May 2013

Just watched: The Ghost in the Well

The story of a woman who haunts a well is so well known in Japanese folklore that sooner or later, you’re bound to come across it. In fact, there’s a good chance that it was the story that lead you into Japanese culture in the first place, thanks to the film Ring.

This film from 1957 is based much more closely on the original folk tale: a woman throws herself down a well rather than face punishment from her lover, a samurai.

At only forty-five minutes long, it spends most of that time explaining the story behind the haunting and when she finally does come back as a ghost, she doesn’t do much except make him feel a bit guilty.

Perhaps I was expecting too much. I was kind of hoping for an early version of Ring, or some proto-version of J-horror. Instead, I got a nice but unremarkable folk tale. Although the shot of wet footprints through a corridor was quite chilling.

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Recommended: The Sun

With no new programs worth mentioning, I’m taking the opportunity to discuss things I saw ages ago but never got round to writing about.

Usually, this Russian film (in Japanese and English) from 2005 is compared to Downfall since both films portray the final days of a war as seen by the defeated leader. But this also has similarities to The Last Emperor, in that it follows the story of a man previously protected by tradition, suddenly having to face a less-respectful reality.

Historians have suggested that the Japanese Emperor Hirohito was either an evil dictator or a somewhat ineffectual and cowardly leader, more interested in science than politics. Neither is particularly flattering.

This film takes the second option. Issy Ogata plays the role of Hirohito. It’s a sympathetic, sensitive and sometimes beautiful performance. The Hirohito in this film uses his power to try and ignore what is going on in his name. He marvels over the wonders of marine biology, while remaining supremely indifferent to the suffering caused by the war. As the US Air Force bombing raids hit Japanese cities, he sits in his office and tries to write poetry.

Ogata’s Hirohito is an overly mannered gentleman, rather stiff in his movements. While thinking, he moves his lips like a child who is reading to himself. Whether Hirohito did this or not in real life, I don’t know, but it makes Hirohito seem like a man with very little confidence.

He also seems to have a remarkable lack of physical presence. He sits primly on his seat while an American official sprawls casually on a sofa. While being taken somewhere in an American car, he is largely obscured by the two G.I.s in the front seat. Clearly, this is a visual device to reflect the poor bargaining position that Japan was in at the end of the war.

It’s a fascinating film, and a genuine attempt to understand what must be considered one of the worst examples in history of the wrong man in the wrong job at the wrong time.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Quick update

A mix of working Monday to Wednesday and a lack of anything on TV right now meant I haven't felt the need to write anything recently.

However, this evening I listened to an mp3 I put together ages ago of a song from the soundtrack of Ueno Juri no Itsutsu no Kaban. I recorded this off the video, so it’s not official at all. In that case, how the hell does VLC player know what album art to use?

To be honest, I’m slightly worried about this...

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Currently watching, or not as the case may be...

The slow demise of my computer has had two consequences. First, I've bought a new computer. Second, in transferring data across from the old PC to an external hard drive, I had the chance to decide what I would keep watching.

Last Cinderella fell at the second episode. It had one big problem: it just kept reminding me of Renai Neet, with its “older woman seduced by younger man with mysterious motives” theme. I found it quite frustrating to watch, with little new in the various relationships. I know the argumentative relationship between the two leads was meant to set up a kind of “Will they, won’t they” situation. But it was more like “Will they, won’t they ever shut up?”

Otenki Oneesan lasted until episode three. I tried to like it, because I'm a bit of a fan of Sasaki Kuranosuke, who was the pathologist with a huge crush on the crime busting weather girl. But I couldn't face it any more. There are two ways of making a character in a story look clever. One way is to make them say clever things. The other way is to make everyone else say stupid things. This series goes for option two.

Take Five didn't last too long, either. There was just a complete lack of camaraderie amongst the team. I know it’s only been one episode, but for most of that episode none of them seemed very happy to see each other. When the same attitude continued into the second episode, my patience ran out.

I'm still watching Galileo, and it’s the best thing I've seen so far (but I've still not watched Lady Joker or Miina Esper Dayo!) even though it’s not without its flaws. I wrote earlier it was nice to see Yoshitaka Yuriko in a less ditzy role. Well, I may have spoken too soon. I’ll stick with it because it’s still not too bad, but things are looking very grim this season.

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Still watching: Sennyu Tantei Tokage

Three episodes in and this has become a guilty pleasure. There's no doubting that this is not a drama for people who like clever dialogue, deep characters or even stories that make sense. On the other hand, I can't fault its unashamed lack of interest in such things. It has energy, and it rushes forwards with great urgency, even if there's not much of an ending to rush towards. Three episodes in, and the motive never seems suitable for such a serious crime.

It makes no sense that criminals can't shoot straight, or that undercover agents dress entirely in black to break into a well-lit apartment on a sunny day. But equally, I've found myself getting quite caught up in the moment, even getting a bit excited at a couple of scenes.

But perhaps its main benefit to me is how easy it is to sub. The clichés come tumbling out, one after the other, and it doesn't need much time to come up with something suitable. To be honest, I think I could sub just the first twenty-five minutes and then leave the rest unsubbed, and people with only the barest grasp of Japanese would be able to watch to the end.

And although the subs are easy, I do find myself finding excuses that mean I don't have to do them. For example, today before I sat down to do some subbing, I decided to take down the shelves in the bathroom and give them a good clean. I mean, they won't wash themselves, right? I think this kind of blatant delaying tactic says something about the show. If I wasn't subbing this, would I watch it? I don't think so, no.

Friday, 3 May 2013

Currently watching: SOIL

With nothing very interesting on Japanese TV at the moment, I've decided to go back through a few hard drives to find stuff that I downloaded but never got around to watching.

SOIL is a surreal murder mystery from 2010 which is still sadly unsubbed and was confusing enough that I thought I'd never be able to watch it. But then I found the English version of the manga online, so now I'm going through quite a complicated procedure. First, I watch an episode. Then I read the manga until I reach the same point in the story. Third, I watch the episode again.

The story begins with a disappearance of a family and a policeman in a clean suburban new town called Soil. Two inept detectives are on the case, and they try to piece together the clues while trusting no one. Not even each other.

The comedy is very broad and physical, and the scenario is very strange. It has a definite Twin Peaks/Atami no Sousakan feel to it, only much more peculiar. Hamster hearts on top of mountains of salt are the types of clues they have to deal with. But at least it's different and unpredictable and, in this sudden dry spell for J-dramas, that's very welcome.