Saturday, 22 June 2013

Currently watching: Keiji 100kg

What with work, subbing and catching up with seven episodes of Mythbusters, I haven’t been watching much Japanese drama this week. I did take a look at Keiji 100kg. I almost decided to sub this one, but I saw it was set in Kyoto, and Kyoto-ben (the local dialect) just baffles me.

This is a light-hearted cop drama where the main character is a newly-promoted detective. He’s also overweight, and most people seem to find this surprising. He helps to solve murders that take place around Kyoto’s maze-like streets.

Two episodes in and it’s okay. The crimes are nothing too devious, and the solutions are fairly clever. Ishizuka Hidehiko is fun to watch in the lead role and most of the appeal of the show relies on him. He has to walk the line between adorable fat man and ace detective.

It’s not bad. Even surprisingly good, considering some of the dramas this season, but surely this series demonstrates that the genre of “detective with a funny quirk” has run out of ideas. Hasn’t it?

Monday, 10 June 2013

Still watching: Sennyu Tantei Tokage

This police drama tries very hard. It throws together all the right ingredients for a tense cop show, but it lacks a certain something. Perhaps it’s biggest failing is that the murders committed seem to be for very petty motives. This series has seen people killed by jealous fashion models and parents determined to get their kids into a good school. It never quite makes sense.

So much so, that when they do talk about the criminal mastermind who they suspect is behind this, he (or she) never seems terribly frightening. I hope this will improve as the series reaches a climax, but really, it should already be ramping up the tension. I thought the episode with a telephone scam set-up was a step in the right direction, but since then, there’s been little to worry about.

We shall see what happens during the finale, but I suspect it’ll back away from any real sense of danger. It’s the sort of show where everyone looks as if they’re doing something dangerous and the (very impressive) soundtrack adds to the atmosphere. For most of the time the charade works, but then the writing falls flat or the budget couldn’t stretch to one more special effect, and we’re reminded of how flimsy the storyline really is.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Looking forward: Sakasama no Patema

I don’t watch much anime, but I do try to follow the career of director Yoshiura Yasuhiro. He created the series Time of Eve, which I loved, and most recently he’s been working on a film to be released later this year.

There's a lengthy teaser (four six minutes excerpts from the film) and it serves as an excellent introduction to the themes of the film. A colony of people live underground in a claustrophobic den of tunnels and rooms. There they look for food in long-since abandoned parts of the colony, and they daren't go outside. Then, one day, a girl is exploring in one of the forbidden areas when she is attacked by someone who can walk on ceilings. In fact, who can ONLY walk on ceilings.

And this is the basic premise of the story: two societies (one underground, one above ground) have different senses of gravity. One falls down, the other falls up. When the two meet... well, that's when the teaser ends.

It's an enticing idea, and I'm already impatient to see what happens next. The film revisits a previous theme of Yoshiura Yasuhiro work: The cramped living conditions and dreams of a better world can also be found in his short film Pale Cocoon.

Pale Cocoon

However, this feature film loses Pale Cocoon's bleak world view and replaces it with more acceptable themes of friendship and understanding. But despite this more commercial feel, and it's simple idea, the style of the film (so far) is excellent. I'm especially impressed with the way that the sky can suddenly seem so threatening – an endless pit into which you could fall.

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Japanese or Korean actors who could play Doctor Who

In the UK right now, a major cultural shift is taking place: the actor who plays the lead role in Doctor Who (technically speaking the character is called “The Doctor”, not “Doctor Who”) is stepping down, and now we have months of speculation about the future of the show and who will take over.

So, as I was wondering who I’d like to see in the role, I thought, if language were no barrier, which Japanese or Korean actors could take the role? Who has the required air of alien-ness and childlike qualities? This is the list I came up with. It's in order from "unlikely" to "you know, I think this might work!"

Nukumizu Youichi

One of my favourite actors, even if he only ever plays one role: the downtrodden ordinary man. But I think he’d be good at this. Something about his self-deprecating sense of humour appeals. I’m not sure how good he’d be at action scenes, though.

Kimura Takuya

To be honest, he’s practically already played Dr Who. His performance in Mr Brain was a great example of eccentric genius, all nervous smiles and sudden bursts of energy. And his character’s constant bemusement at how other people think or feel is another aspect that I found quite Doctor-ish. The down side is that he never does two series of the same show, effectively ruling him out for this role.

Abe Hiroshi

Putting to one side the fact that Abe Hiroshi could play any role and be brilliant, I think he’d be great in this. He has physical presence, but also a subtlety in his acting which I think would fit perfectly.

Kuriyama Chiaki

I poo-pooh the idea that the Doctor must be played by a man (otherwise the British Empire will fall or something like that) and I’d be very pleased if producer Steve Moffat chooses a woman for the next series. And if so, why not the striking and unique Kuriyama Chiaki. She's a decent actress who knows how to do an action scene.

Bae Doo Na

In Air Doll, the role she played was of a newcomer to a strange world, and I think she has the right qualities of slight eccentricity and vulnerability necessary for playing the Doctor. Maybe her boyfriend (?) Jim Sturgess can convince her to go for the part.

Odagiri Joe

Slightly alien air about him? Check. Eccentric taste in roles? Check. Can do comedy and drama, even in the same scene? Check. Well, I can’t find anything wrong with this idea. Plus, he speaks English (at least, he studied drama in the US). He could actually do this! Please? Pretty please? Someone send the producers of Dr Who a link to this page, and then when he gets the job, you can all thank me later.

Saturday, 1 June 2013

Currently watching: Haitatsu Saretai Watashitachi

In a time of J-drama drought, the TV channel WOWOW comes to the rescue. This is a charming drama about a man who, after a failed suicide attempt, finds seven letters from years ago and decides to deliver them.

Despite the heavy themes of suicide and alienation, it retains a sense of humour. Each letter has its own little story and I did enjoy episode two, with its tale of hero-worship and adversity. But I do worry that there’s only so many times you can argue about whether there’s a point to life before it gets repetitive.

The music is interesting, too. Mostly trumpet and accordion. It seems like the director is a fan of Mitani Kouki or perhaps European arthouse cinema. It certainly made a change from bland, licensed J-pop and it added to the drama's jolly but slightly unsettling atmosphere.

Also there is one character, a doctor, who is perhaps the first character in a J-drama to react to the beautiful lead actress (Kuriyama Chiaki) in the way any normal person would: with a big old comedy double take. Viewers of Japanese TV series often have to suspend belief and imagine that Inoue Mao or Karina are ugly because everyone keeps calling them that. Finally, there’s someone in J-dramaland who’s noticed how good looking their co-star is.

Plus, for some reason, I really liked the fact that it was snowing in episode one.