Sunday, 28 April 2013

Currently listening to: Amado Leejaram Band

Perhaps the best thing about this band having a Facebook page is that I now know what the official English name for the band is. I was never sure if it should be Amado Lee Jaram Band or Maybe Lee Jaram Band or even the completely anglicised Maybe Jaram Lee Band. But the debate is settled. Amado Leejaram Band it is.

I've been waiting for their debut album (called "Debut") for over a year and now it's out, it has pride of place on my mp3 player. They play in a sort of folk/blues style, and I would say that it has a laid-back, relaxed quality but it's too well played for that.
The verses coil around your heart while the choruses get under your skin, and the production is great, each instrument is clearly defined while Lee Jaram's voice glides over the top. The only drawback is that two of my favourite songs aren't on the album (but live renditions of them are on YouTube here and here) but the songs that did make the final cut are all excellent. This is an early contender for album of the year.

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Currently watching: Sennyu Tantei Tokage

Hmm, this is the fourth murder mystery in a row that I'm writing about. I'll have to make an effort and watch something different tonight.

In this drama, the police are taking drastic measures against crime, and are hiring private detectives to operate outside the usual laws that the police have to follow. This is where our hero, nicknamed Tokage, comes in. An ex-cop whose partner died in an operation went wrong, is asked to go undercover in various cases. He's accompanied by an assistant, a rookie who is keen but naive.

Matsuda Shota is fine as the cop, even though he's playing it exactly as he did in Liar Game. Well, if it's not broken, don't fix it, I suppose. Renbutsu Misako is also good as his assistant, adding a bit of humour without seeming obvious or distracting. And the minor characters are well defined, too, including two officers who do not appreciate Tokage's efforts, and some very cynical but pragmatic managers.

This is my subtitles project for the season, and it's certainly different from Biblia Koshoudou... There's a complete lack of literary references, and instead it's mostly smart one-liners and threats. It's full of energy and excitement: A lot of fun.

Currently watching: Take Five

When I mentioned this before, I suggested that it might be a weekly version of The Thieves. Well, with no martial arts involved, perhaps it's more Ocean's Eleven than Thieves, but you have to admire the ambition of the producers. Given the limitations of a mid-budget Japanese drama, this has a certain style about it.

Some retired criminals are brought back into service once they find out about a stash of riches in the vault of a corrupt trust fund. Something like that, anyway. I got the feeling that the motive really wasn't too important. There's the gang of cunning thieves, the determined cop who's always one step behind, and two enigmatic types: a homeless woman who seems to know more that she should, and a detective who's watching the gang closely, apparently doing some stealing of his own.

At the moment, none of the characters stand out. The appeal of the first episode was the break in and back out again. Who these people are and how they grow as a team is still to be decided. But we've already had flashbacks to an unhappy childhood, which will probably be the cause of some emotional acting before long.

It's good, but this is now the third new drama of the season that shows promise but hasn't really grabbed me.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Currently watching: Galileo

Whenever the police need help with a seemingly paranormal crime, they turn to eccentric scientist Yukawa Manabu. He solves it using his extensive knowledge of physics and his ability to write formulae on any available surface.

This is the second series, and Fukuyama Masaharu (in the lead role) is joined by Yoshitaka Yuriko as the rookie detective who's assigned to his cases. She's now the third person in this role, after Kitamaru Kauzki (who appears at the start of both series and in a film as Kusanagi Shunpei, the detective in the original novels) and Shibasaki Kuo (as Utsumi Kaoru, in the first series and a film).

Apart from that, not much else changes in this entertaining romp. While the idea of a genius solving a crime with a tiny piece of trivia is hardly new, this TV series keeps it fresh. Fukyama Masaharu is comfortable back in his old role, and it's nice to see Yoshitaka Yuriko playing someone less ditzy, for a change.

On the front cover of an English translation of a Galileo novel, it describes Higashino Keiko as the Japanese Steig Larsson. But while I enjoy Scandinavian thrillers, I'm glad that this drama steers clear of the slow, pondering pace of The Killing or Wallander. This is quick-moving, visually engaging and often very funny.

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Just finished: xxxHOLIC

Sumptuous. It's a good word, especially if you want to describe the style of photography for this series. It was often very nice to look at, with the set design, costume and directing all coming together to make a feast for the eyes.

And the director made sure that each shot got enough time so it could be appreciated. This gave the drama quite a slow pace and, despite the spooky nature of the stories, I found it quite relaxing to watch.

Personally, I preferred the first five episodes. These had one story each and the drama seemed to work better this way. The final story stretched across the last three episodes, and it didn't seem to work. The problem was that, once you allow a supernatural element to a story, there's a danger that the writer can use any bizarre happening to move the story along.

The same problem happened with Keizoku 2. If you don't set up the rules early on and stick to them, you can end up with a sort of "with one leap, he was free" kind of ending. Which is what happens here.

But I did enjoy it. Especially the first five episodes, which were a kind of supernatural Tales Of The Unexpected. Short and satisfying. And sumptuous, of course.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Currently watching: Otenki Onee-san

It must be very difficult to write the opening episode of a brand new murder mystery. You have to introduce the characters and how they interact, and also have a storyline strong enough that people will want to come back next week.

With that in mind, maybe it's too early to dismiss Otenki Onee-san but it wasn't a very good start. A young genius weather forecaster gets a job on a morning TV show presenting the weather. And she also solves crimes. I guess she has a lot of spare time on her hands.

She meets, by chance, a rookie cop and a pathologist and helps them to solve a murder. The crime was simple, but I was interested by the explanation which involved air temperature. If they can keep up this level of ingenuity for each episode, this could be worth watching. Especially if you like the weather. If not, this may bore you senseless.

But enough about the crimes, what about the characters? She is a genius who has difficulty getting on with people and the rookie cop is naive and not taken seriously by his co-workers. So far, things are all very predictable. It's a relief, then, that the pathologist adds a little humour, as he finds himself falling for a woman twenty years younger than himself, and he's not happy about it.

Another series that needs a couple of episodes to get going.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Currently watching: Last Cinderella

This is another in a long line of dramas about people who can't find love in modern Japan. And it's becoming a very long line indeed.

Shinohara Ryoko plays Sakura, a 39-year old beautician who gives advice about love to her customers but hasn't had a boyfriend in ten years.

To be honest, this drama doesn't add to the genre. It feels a lot like Renai Neet: an old woman meets a sexy young man, but there seems to be some hidden motive behind his interest. Is this all just a game for him?

Add to this a love-hate relationship with the shop's new manager, a flirty friend who sleeps around, and it all feels very familiar. The writing is quite flat, and relies a lot on coincidences to move the story along, and some of the acting in a couple of scenes is very wooden.

I shall give this a couple of episodes, but I can't see myself lasting until the finale, unless there's a drastic improvement.

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Looking forward

At the start of the year, I remember feeling a bit apathetic towards the new season of Japanese dramas. That was three months ago and I've sat through what I think was the best season for some time, with four or five dramas being well worth investigating.

Well, the new season is about to start, and I've got that same feeling of apathy again. Hopefully, that's a good omen, right? There's the usual selection of dramas where teams of cops who don't like each other have to solve crimes or, if you prefer, family rivalries. But amongst all that, some things caught my eye, and here they are.

Big thanks to Tokyohive for putting together a page with all of the dramas listed with pics and summaries.


It's been a long time coming (since 2007, to be exact), but it's finally here. The second series of this police drama where an eccentric scientist solves eccentric cases is on the top of my list of things to watch. Yoshitaka Yuriko replaces Shibasaki Kou in the role of police officer who gets him involved in all these crimes.

Take Five

Second on my list of things to watch is this crime drama where the heroes are the criminals who specialise in stealing from people even more corrupt than them.

The storyline seems interesting, and offers a lot of potential for clever crimes, but I'm trying my best to keep my expectations low, in case I convince myself that this will be a weekly version of the Korean film The Thieves. The trailer makes it look incredibly cheap.

On the plus side, Inagaki Goro is in it and I admit: I've become a bit of a fan of his impossible-to-predict acting abilities. Will he be great or terrible? Time will tell.

Keiji 110 Kilo

This looks like a warm-hearted, but very silly cop show. The story involves a policeman who... well, I'm not sure. After years of TV shows about cops who are good at science, psychology, profiling, maps, smelling things or whatever, this show seems to run out of ideas and gone for a cop who's really perceptive.

Clearly, the writers thought this didn't make him unique enough, so they've made him fat, too. But it might be good. At least it won't take itself too seriously.

Last Cinderella

Shinohara Ryoko may be my ideal woman, but even I have to admit her last two dramas (Tsuki no Koibito and Ogon no Buta) haven't exactly been classics.

In this series, a 39-year-old woman who hasn't had a boyfriend in years gets all caught up in a romance again.

Otenki Oneesan

You know earlier, I wrote about how writers had exhausted the kind of expert who can solve crimes? Well, I was wrong. This is about a weather forecaster who uses her knowledge of meteorology to solve crimes. I'll be watching this just because I can't even begin to guess how this will work.

Kasuka no Kanojo

In this series a reluctant teacher gets advice from a dead teacher who haunts his apartment. On the plus side, it's got Anne and Maya Miki in it. On the down side, it really does look quite bad.

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Recommended: Mahoro Ekimae Bangaichi

This TV series is perhaps the closest thing to rock 'n' roll that Japanese TV has achieved in the five years or so that I've been watching. It manages to look low-budget but also made with care.

The acting was great throughout, with some notable performances from the supporting cast including, in episode eight, Kuroki Haru. I'd never heard of her before, but she stole every scene she was in which, up against Eita and Matsuda Ryuhei, takes some doing.

In the end, the stories took a turn for the dark. Since the story was about two people who'd do any job, this would invariably attract the attention of the criminal underworld. While this meant there were fewer jokes, it did at least give some kind of climax to the show. If they'd just remained bumbling idiots on the lowest rung of society, I don't know how entertaining it would've been.

The writing was excellent too, covering the sort of stories that you just don't find in other dramas. The dialogue was sharp and witty and natural. I'd certainly recommend this to anyone who wants to learn Japanese slang.

It really felt fresh and different. Very funny, very inventive and very well made.