Saturday, 21 December 2013

Currently watching: The Genius

I saw this show mentioned in the comments section on a Seoulbeats article. Someone compared it to Liar Game and I, delighted that someone had made a real-life (I say “real-life,” I mean “unscripted”) version of that drama, searched around until I'd found somewhere to download it.

In this show, thirteen contestants play a different game each week and are slowly whittled away one by one. Each game is structured to allow for plenty of secrets and surprises as alliances are formed and broken. Stylistically, it stays close to the Liar Game formula of a mysterious masked man in charge, and some techno music underlining the tenser moments, but otherwise it's generally easier on the eye.

Currently, it's showing the second series, which is where I started. This turned out to be a mistake since it began by introducing the players and, since it was the second series, there were some returning players. This immediately gave away the end of series one, which is a shame because I enjoyed this episode so much that I decided to watch the first series.

I spent most of Thursday and Friday just watching one after another, getting caught up in all the gossip and back-stabbing. People build up trust or become suspicious, and there was even the hint of a love-line for a few episodes, before the game cruelly separated them. It's like a soap opera based on game theory.

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Just watched: The Mourning Forest

This film from 2007 is about a woman who has lost a child and who works in a care home for the elderly. One of the people there is senile, and still talks about his late wife as if she were still alive. One day, when out running errands, the car they’re in crashes and he runs off into a forest, with her following after him. This journey through the dark forest is an allegory for mourning and finding closure after the death of a loved on.

But if I put my cynical hat on, the film ticks a number of boxes for award-winners, but at its heart, it is a fairly shallow film. It’s beautifully filmed, full of lingering shots over the perfectly manicured farms and dark, ominous forests. The acting is great (Ono Machiko is superb, as usual), and the first half of the film, with its use of non-actors, has a real documentary feel to it.

The trouble is that because the main character was senile, it meant the story could progress as the film-maker wanted without any real reason. If the story needed a change in scene, he could just run off by himself. Need him to cross a river? No need to explain. It all seemed very convenient.

I feel bad about criticising a film that is made with such care and style but it felt a lot like a very nicely filmed acting workshop.

Saturday, 7 December 2013

I hope I know what I’m doing

So, I’ve decided to sub SOIL, the David Lynch-esque murder mystery set in a new Japanese town. I watched it a while ago and ever since then I’ve been tinkering with some subtitles. I had the crazy idea that I could finish them off and put them up on d-addicts all in one go.

Trouble is, with no incentive for me to work on them, I never really worked on them. I never got further than episode one. Then I decided the only way to get these done was to start putting them up on d-addicts. By making it public, I hope it’ll make me take it more seriously.

I’m a bit worried though. With no Japanese subs to go on, I’m relying a lot on the manga, the things my friend told me, and my feeble listening skills. It’ll certainly be a challenge.

Currently Watching: Danda Rin

There’s something comfortably familiar about this series. The office setting, the new arrival who upsets the cosy way of working, the gossipy sub-plots and the menacing story arc that runs through each episode. And if all this may be predictable, there’s no denying it’s a solid foundation to build a TV drama on.

Its success depends on the stories and characters. If the characters interact naturally, and don’t just argue for the sake of the story, and if the stories are entertaining and new then it doesn’t matter how formulaic the format is. Just enjoy the show.

And this is what we have here. After two paragraphs of introduction, there’s actually not much to say about this show. The stories are fine and the cast is good, especially Matsuzaka Tori who plays Minamisanjo, the worker who is given orders to supervise the new addition to the office, Danda Rin (played by Takeuchi Yuko, also very good). He has a difficult task as an actor, since he is basically the straight man. He could be completely anonymous but he gives off such an air of patient tolerance that it makes you believe that he’s been in this situation for years.

I wonder how dark it gets, since some of the omens for the future are pretty ominous. In the meantime, it’s a nice vanilla flavoured piece of J-drama.

Friday, 6 December 2013

Build your own Japanese temple

Tucked away on the Internet Archive is a rather pretty little pdf that seems to give guidelines on how to build a Japanese temple. (It says it's from the year 1200, but I don't know if they had bound books in those days. Wouldn't it have been a scroll?) It mostly seems to concern itself with ratios and measurements. I’m sure it would be more instructive if I could actually read the cursive script next to the illustrations.

But I was especially impressed by the illustration of the torii gate, which shows which angles should be used on the ends of the top cross-beam (or kasagi, according to Wikipedia) and how to make sure they’re correct. Now that I know this, whenever I see one in a photo or film, I find myself checking to see if they’ve got the angles right.

Monday, 2 December 2013

Just Watched: It’s me, It’s me

Well, this is an odd one. I know, it’s a Satoshi Miki film and I should expect it to be odd, but this was a different kind of odd.

Because of the film’s title, I was expecting something based around the “Ore, ore” (“It’s me, it’s me”) telephone scam. And at first, that’s how it appears. The hero of the film, Nagano Hitoshi, picks up someone else’s mobile phone and convinces the owner’s mother to send him 900,000 yen.

So far, so ordinary. Apart from the occasional familiar face (Fuse Eri makes an early appearance) and bit of physical comedy, it’s all shot in quite a flat style. This means that when strange things start to happen, they sort of drift past. I thought “Shouldn’t this be signposted more overtly? Like a double-take or a quick zoom-in with startling music?” but nothing like that happened.

As Hitoshi keeps meeting more and more versions of himself, the film remains on an even keel: measured, patient, apparently in no hurry to increase the tension or weirdness.

Eventually, the tension does increase as Hitoshi realises his life is at stake, but it never dips into outright weirdness. It’s shot like a typical film, except that by the end the lead actor (Kamenashi Kazuya) is playing every part.

Kazuya is very good, especially in the three lead roles that make up the bulk of the story: each character is distinct and complete. The filming, too, is very clever, getting the various Hitoshis to interact quite naturally. There’s nothing wrong with this film, but I’m still not sure what to make of it. It’s Satoshi Miki’s weirdest film and also his most ordinary. That, in itself, is pretty remarkable.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Just finished: Toshi Densetsu no Onna 2

And so the second series of Tsukiko Otonashi’s investigations into modern myths (and the occasional murder) came to an end. It was pretty much the same as before, with jokes, fables and a bit of cosplay for Nagasawa Masami more important than anything like a sensible murder mystery to solve.

The characters filled much the same role as before, with the love-sick Katsuura and the frustrated superior officer Tannai. Perhaps the only character who had changed since the previous episode was Otonashi Miyako, played by Akizuki Narumi, and I suspect that was only because she was clearly older than before.

The series was fine, as long as you weren’t expecting anything too complicated. The quality was a bit up and down though, usually depending on how believable the crime was. Perhaps the best was episode three, based on Friday 13th, but all had their moments. If that makes it sound like I didn't like it, then my apologies. It was funny, and frequently so. Nagasawa Masami pitched her enthusiasm just the right side of annoying, and they all seemed to have fun making it.

It seemed to stop abruptly at seven episodes. The ratings weren’t bad for its time slot (but the ratings share was about 2% down on series one), and there seemed to be a couple of recurring storylines that were just dropped, so I've no idea why it ended like it did. But it didn’t outstay its welcome, and who knows, perhaps there’ll be a third series.