Saturday, 17 August 2013

Currently watching: Why Did You Come To Japan?

Non-Japanese people on Japanese TV normally make my skin crawl. If they’re in a drama, the chances are they can’t act. If they’re on a talk show, they’re probably not that interesting, but just happened to be in the right place at the right time.

Of course, there are exceptions, such as Pete Barakan on Japanology. And also this show. It’s a humorous documentary where a TV crew asks foreigners arriving at an airport what they’re going to do in Japan. Most of the interviews are quite short and sweet, but every now and again they ask if they can follow people to their next destination.

It seems that, as long as someone is interesting enough and agrees, they’ll follow the story. Thus, we see an Englishman walk from Osaka to Tokyo Tower over the space of a month or so. And at the end of his trek, the film crew arranged for some people he met during his journey to be at Tokyo Tower when he arrives.

But usually, the stories are not that heart-warming. Instead they’re played for laughs (in a nice way) with subjects like a Ninja Convention or some guy trying to start a new life in Tokyo, arranging everything on the internet, only to find his new flat is between two loud building sites.

The program is a mix of English and Japanese with a few other languages thrown in. This can be followed quite easily by anyone with intermediate Japanese, apart from the commentary from the comedy duo Bananaman which is a higher level. But still, you can usually guess from the context.

It’s funny and interesting, like a sort of Soko Ga Shiritai, except not about Japanese people. And you can find it on YouTube. (Not any more you can't)

Saturday, 10 August 2013

Just finished: Double Tone

Well, there you go. Two murder mystery cases and two connected dreams, running concurrently, with the same murderer in each. The trouble with that is, once one mystery is solved, then the other one is automatically solved too. This makes the final episode slightly odd since the big reveal happens halfway through. This kind of ruins the surprise (assuming, of course, that you haven’t already worked out who the killer is).

I admired this series, with its two interweaving storylines. It occasionally didn't quite exploit the possibilities, though. For example, one woman communicated to the other woman via letters that she’d write. When the husband found these letters which apparently predicted his wife's death, then I thought that something big was about to happen as he would no doubt demand to know more about them. Nope. In fact, he didn’t seem that bothered.

There was a lot going on in this drama. Too much, however, to all sort out in one final half-hour episode. An excellent idea, but the ending couldn’t match the build up.

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Recommended: SOIL

My initial plan – to use the translated manga version of SOIL to help me understand the TV series – didn’t last much further than four episodes and mostly I was reliant on meeting up with a Japanese friend every week (who’d also seen it) and asking him what different things meant.

But I got there in the end. I’ve just watched episode eight and while I still need to ask my friend about it, I’m fairly sure I understood most of it. Not every line of dialogue, but enough to be getting on.

The story involved the disappearance of a family and how this uncovered various dark secrets. It was set in a pristine New Town in a baking hot summer and this gave it a dreamlike and slightly suffocating atmosphere, even before weird things started to happen.

Even though the style of comedy was quite physical, this drama also had moments of beauty. Some of the directing (by Takashi Shimizu) was top notch, and film students might want to take a look at a couple of scenes: one in episode six where flashbacks are woven into the scene with only a change of lighting to show the difference, and also in episode seven, when someone watching a reflection becomes part of the scene he’s watching in a very natural and non-CGI way.

I enjoyed this a lot. Now I have to watch it again to work out if I understood enough so I can make subtitles for it. Hmmmm... this could take a while...

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Just watched: Galileo XX - Utsumi Kaoru Saigo no Jiken

This is an episode of Galileo in name only, since this story focuses exclusively on Utsumi Koaru, played by Shibasaki Kou. The eccentric scientist makes a cameo appearance in one scene and the final scene is on the same day as episode one of the  second series, but apart from that this drama has little to do with the rest of the Galileo canon.

Except, of course, the presence of Utsumi Kaoru solving a mysterious crime. A man is arrested in Tokyo, pushing a dead woman in a wheelchair. It’s discovered that he’s wanted in another prefecture, he confesses to a murder and he is transported to the other police department. However, by the time he gets there, his story has changed completely.

There’s no science behind the puzzle this time. Just a tangled tale of blackmail, false accusations. It’s a more old-fashioned murder mystery than Galileo’s demonstrations of physics and chemistry, but no less entertaining.

It was fun to watch, and nice to see Shibasaki Kou’s character get centre stage for once. It’s not a complete return to form for Galileo, nor is it as good as Suspect X, but it’s a decent addition to the series.