Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Avoid: Ando Lloyd: AI Knows Love

It’s been ages since I named a blog post “avoid” but this drama leaves me very little choice. Despite a strong cast, good directing, nice photography and a lot of money being spent on it, this falls foul of those mistakes that should have been noticed during the writing sessions.

It’s written by the same writer who worked on Keizoku: SPEC, and if you take everything that was wrong with the finale of that drama and stretch it out across entire episodes, then you’ve got Ando Lloyd.

The trouble is, the writer keeps getting himself into situations that he can’t get out of. For example, the writer wants to show how damaged Ando Lloyd was after the battle in episode one, so he adds a line about it taking two weeks to recharge. Of course, that won’t be much use for the show, so he invents some lightning to get round it. But then something goes wrong! Actually, no it doesn’t.

The writer can simply rely on the super-intelligent robots to solve any problem or make mistakes as required. The writer certainly isn’t coming up with any clever solutions more complicated than “oops, he wasn’t dead after all.” Each time Ando Lloyd uses a new function we’ve never seen before, it does not suggest how powerful he really is, but rather how bad at planning the writer really is.

To be honest, the whole thing feels like a revenge fantasy written by someone who did badly at school and one day wrote this complicated story as if to reassure himself that he was clever and one day he’d be famous and then all those kids who kept laughing at him in class would be sorry.

Perhaps the worst thing about this drama is that it makes me wish they'd made a second series of Mr Brain. Kimura Takuya never does sequels, but maybe someone can force him to watch this drivel until he changes his mind.

Monday, 28 October 2013

Currently watching: Henshin Interviewer no Yuutsu

Satoshi Miki has a new film out, Ore Ore (or It’s Me, It’s Me), out this year and also this TV series. It’s a late night murder mystery, with half hour episodes and the typical Satoshi sense of humour.

The story is that a mystery author has hit writer’s block just as he’s about to start on his 100th novel. Looking for inspiration, he starts to investigate a strange murder in a country town, assisted by his... well, by his assistant.

Satoshi Miki’s style of comedy hasn’t changed, and nor has his choice of actors, with Fuse Eri and Iwamatsu Ryo making appearances. Nakamaru Yuichi is the lead actor. I’ve not seen him before, and he has a similar style to Odagiri Joe. At least he does in this. Maybe it’s just because Satoshi Miki directs his male leads in the same way, I don’t know.

The story seems interesting, but we've barely scratched the surface so far. After just one episode, it’s almost impossible to tell how it’s going to go, but after Jikou Keisatsu and Atami no Sousakan, I’m hopeful of another murder mystery that is surreal but still makes sense.

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Just watched: The Berlin File

This South Korean film was filmed almost entirely in Europe and a lot of the dialogue is in English. This is due to the morass of nations battling through the streets of Berlin: Korean, American, Israeli, and Arab secret agents and terrorists fight and shoot each other in a series of exciting set pieces.

As for the plot, well, don’t worry about that. Something to do with a North Korean agent who may or not be a double agent or who may or not have been set up. And some arms deals. And his wife is pregnant. It doesn’t matter if you can’t follow the story, since all problems are solved by fighting rather than clever logic.

It is reminiscent of The Bourne Identity (a deliberate stylistic choice by the director, Ha Jung-Woo) and its international style also prompts comparisons to The Thieves. But The Thieves is more tongue-in-cheek and its set pieces are more dramatic and more unlikely than The Berlin File, which is played completely straight.

It’s entertaining, even though the lack of clear storyline makes it hard to know who to sympathise with until about half way through the film. For a film that tries so hard to look sleek and sophisticated, it’s actually pretty shallow. Enjoy it for what it is: a beautifully photographed martial arts film, rather than a new kind of spy film.

Friday, 18 October 2013

Currently watching: Toshi Densetsu no Onna 2

Sequels are almost never as good as the originals, so I was quite relieved that this new series seems almost identical to the first series. The set-up remains the same: a murder is committed which has some apparent connection to an urban myth.

The characters, too, are mostly present and correct. Otonashi Tsukiko still strides off in search of the truth behind the myth, Katsuura is still following her around like a doting puppy, and Tannai still shouts and looks exasperated.

The first episode was about the myths surrounding Mount Fuji, and they were pretty interesting. The murder itself was okay. Not too complicated or devious but that's not what the show is about. It's mostly just an excuse to dig up a few folk tales and say “hey, what if this were all real?”

Two long-term storylines were also set up: the fact that people in the police are jealous of Otonashi's sudden success, and also the enigmatic friend of Tsukiko, Haruki, has gone missing.

So a solid, if unspectacular start. If you liked series one, this should suit you fine. If you didn't, this won't convert you at all.

Currently watching: Ando Lloyd

I was going to start off with a joke: Why are Kimura Takuya and this drama so perfect together? Because they’re both good looking but a bit stupid. Trouble is, I’ve no idea how stupid (or clever) Kimura Takuya actually is. I'm not entirely sure how stupid this drama is either, but more about that later.

It starts well. Almost brilliantly. Kimura Takuya plays Matsushima Reiji, an eccentric genius scientist, and his performance made the whole program feel like a sequel to Mr Brain. The story revolves around a “homicide calendar”: a list of people who will die on a particular date and time. We are now down to the last two: Matsushima and his fiance Ando Asahi, played by Shibasaki Kuo.

Unfortunately, Reiji doesn't make it much further than the half hour mark, and after that a mysterious android who looks identical to Reiji appears with orders to protect Ando Asahi from evil robots from the future. Meanwhile, there's a veteran detective who's on the trail of these murders and he suspects something very weird is going on.

On the plus side, it looks very nice and the acting is all pretty good. The trouble is that there's an awful lot of storyline packed into one episode, and it seems quite rushed. At the moment, none of the “rules” of time travel have been established. We don't know what these robots can or can't do, which means the story relies on “with one bound he was free” type devices to get our heroes out of any danger.

How this progresses remains to be seen. I suspect it will become a sort of Zettai Kareshi, and over time the android will slowly be taught human emotions. Except with more fight scenes. And fewer cakes.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Just watched: The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On

Typing “Japan” or “Japanese” into the search engine on the Internet Archive can throw up some interesting results, such as film footage of a Tokyo street soon after the war, or a book written by an English governess working in Japan in 1910.

Perhaps the most surprising and interesting thing I found was this film (note, only the links at the bottom of the page seem to work). Released in 1987, but filmed during a five year period, it tells the story of an ex-Japanese soldier trying to discover the truth about two soldiers who were executed by firing squad a couple of days after the end of the World War Two.

Okuzaki Kenzo is the main focus of the documentary and he makes no apologies for his views or actions. In the first scene, he explains how he’s murdered a man, and tried to shoot the Emperor. As you watch the film, you get a sense of how betrayed he felt by his country during the war: how the ruling classes and the royal family were responsible for the horrors that he saw.

He was part of a unit that was stuck in New Guinea, beyond the reach of any help from home, slowly starving to death. It was during this time that the two soldiers were executed, and Okuzaki considers it his duty to track down those involved in the firing squad to get their testimony to find out what really happened.

At first, he is accompanied by relatives of the deceased soldiers but after a while, they stop participating in the film and he has to ask other people to pretend to be the soldiers’ brother or sister.

As he finds and questions each participant, he does so with a single-mindedness that borders on obsession. On two occasions he physically assaults them when they won’t give him a straight answer. He is certainly fearless, and this makes for some interesting encounters.

In this film, the director seems almost completely absent. It’s very much an old-fashioned approach to documentaries. These days, it is expected and accepted that the director will have a particular point of view, and will edit the story to suit it. But in this film, all shots are hand-made and use natural light with very little opportunity for any stylistic additions. The conversations are edited, of course, but in an unobtrusive way.

The director, Hara Kazuo (who also directed Goodbye CP) leaves it up to us to decide what we make of the story: whether we admire or abhor Okuzaki’s desire for the truth. After all, he is a murderer accusing other people of murder, and more than once he points to one of his companions and says “the soldier’s brother has come all the way here to hear the truth”, which makes him a liar who demands that others tell the truth.

Although in the end the secret is discovered, the film doesn’t have a happy ending. A series of captions at the end tells us that Okuzaki later tried to shoot the commanding officer who ordered the execution, only he could not, so he shot he officer's son instead. Not fatally, but he was given twelve years for attempted murder. While he was in jail, his wife passed away.

It’s a brilliant film, but not easy to watch and often I found his attitude to violence somewhat disturbing. And the epilogue gives the film a slightly bitter moral: that knowing the truth may not bring you peace of mind at all.