Monday, 30 September 2013

Just watched: Kotonoha no Niwa/Garden of Words

It’s a sign of the times that downloading stuff for free now happens without a second thought. I saw some good comments about this anime film and decided to watch it. I found a link and within an hour it was on my computer. Simple as that.

However, halfway through watching, I started to feel very guilty about not having paid for it. The detail on the artwork is nothing short of stunning. The amount of patient and diligent work that must have gone into this is almost humbling. I found myself suddenly uncomfortable that I’d just taken it.

The film itself is a forty-five minute piece about growing up. For both of the main characters: a 15 year-old schoolboy and an office lady in her late twenties. With artwork as good as this, it must have been tempting to hold each shot for twice as long and release it as a feature film. I’m glad they didn’t, since the story itself is pretty slim, but at least it doesn’t out stay its welcome.

With the almost constant rain and the park setting, there are plenty of occasions for the artists and animators to show off their techniques but, equally, there are delightful touches to every scene: the familiar jostle of a moving train, or the flow of a pencil across a sheet of paper. Things that are so commonplace, but so difficult to recreate.

It’s a charming mood piece. Perhaps lacking a certain something to be a classic but in terms of visuals, there’s very little out there to beat it. I shall have to look out for more of Shinkai Makoto’s work and patiently wait for a PAL release of this film.

Friday, 27 September 2013

Just watched: The Woodsman and the Rain

Free time? Yeah, I think I remember that. What with thing and another, my TV watching has been reduced to half hour bursts, and if I do have an evening spare, I find myself unable to watch anything more demanding than Running Man or Vs Arashi. I’ve even been reduced to putting episodes of Amachan on my phone so I can watch it during my lunch break, and even then I’m falling way behind.

But I did manage to watch this film. The Woodsman and the Rain is a gentle, humorous tale of a director who’s trying to make a low-budget horror movie, and a local lumberjack who helps him.

It has a Mitani Kouki kind of feel to it, possibly because of the lead actor, Yakusho Koji, and also because it’s a film about making a film and Mitani Kouki often wrote about that kind of thing. But it’s actually directed and co-written by Okita Shuichi who I haven’t heard of before, but I’ll definitely try to look out for his work in future.

It’s a sweet little film, with lots of nice scenes. The performances are great, with Yakusho Koji especially good. He can go from macho indifference to childish glee and it doesn’t look forced. The scene where he sees himself on screen for the first time is a joy. Oguri Shun is also great as the director who is hopelessly out of his depth, but who finally comes out of his shell.

The whole film wanders along, looking quite lovely, and being rather sweet.

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Just watched: Vs Arashi and stuff

Since it was a lazy Saturday evening with no football on, I decided to watch an episode of Vs Arashi to pass the time. It was pretty much the same as always, fun but no real surprises. The opposing team was the cast from the new film Gatchaman, a live-action version of the anime that has been released twice in the West: once as Battle of the Planets, and then again some years later as G-Force.

It was light and undemanding. The format hasn’t changed at all in the past few years but that doesn’t seem to matter. You would think that Arashi would have a big advantage in most games with all their practice, but this show has been going so long that most guests are making their second or third appearance. Plus, of course, Arashi has a guest on their team who is usually a complete novice or playing it for laughs.

But anyway, it was nice to see that Gouriki Ayame really is adorable without a script and soft-focus, and the team as a whole were pretty funny. I laughed when one guy, Nakamura Shido, said he’d be good at one particular game because his hobby was bazookas.

After I watched this, I felt like I needed a bit more Arashi before I went to bed. I couldn’t be bothered to wait for a download, so I went on YouTube to see what had been posted up recently. I found an old episode of Himitsu no Arashi-chan which is a TV show I don’t know much about, but it had Nakatani Miki in it. I wasn’t sure how the glacial beauty of Nakatani Miki would mix with the knockabout humour of Arashi, so I watched it.

Part one
Part two
Part three
Part four

I was surprised to learn that Satashi Ohno appears to know about flowers and flower arranging, and they also played a couple of traditional Japanese games. One was particularly interesting (the games are in part four, by the way). Each player has to make a motion in time to some music, according to simple rules. If the object in the middle is still there, touch it or pick it up. If it isn’t there, then knock on the table, or put it back (if you have it).

I’d never seen a game quite like this in England, so I thought I’d pass it on. There are no subs, but the games are easy to follow and it's nice to see how the Japanese entertained themselves before Nintendo.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Currently watching: Hanzawa Naoki

Well, after a summer of nice weather and things to do, I’ve had little time to sit down and watch any TV, and when I do it’s usually Amachan. I only watch about two episodes a week. At this rate, it should last until Christmas!

But then I noticed that one J-drama was getting very high ratings, almost a 30% share. It didn’t seem to have anyone very famous in it, so I started to wonder why it had done so well. I took a look at the first episode, and although I wasn’t hooked, it was an enjoyable slice of drama.

The story is about a banker, Hanzawa, who suddenly finds himself blamed for a loan made to a company just before they went bankrupt. And at 500 million yen, this is the kind of loan that could end a man’s career. It’s up to him to clear his name and get the money back.

It’s nicely made, with some very dramatic music pushing the action along. There’s a lot of meaningful looks and jostling for power in the bank. It’s all very macho, in a way. In fact, there are almost no female characters at all, and perhaps this makes Aya Ueto the surprise highlight of the show, being very good in her role of Hanzawa’s wife.

I shall keep an eye on it. I'll be honest, I'm not sure why it's been such a ratings hit. Maybe because it doesn't have much competition?