Sunday, 28 July 2013

Currently watching: Double Tone

This late-night mystery series has been one of the quiter successes of this season. The story is about two women who have very vivid dreams about each others lives. At first, they think nothing of them, until the people in one dream start appearing in the other women’s life. This is followed by a grim discovery which turns this drama into a mystery series.

The use of dreams in a story like this could be a disaster, with the writer using the slightly supernatural aspect to manipulate the story in unlikely ways, but it is actually very well written. The shared dream is the only strange part of the drama. Everything else is played totally straight.

The two women do what they can to investigate the mystery from their side of the story, and the way the two interact is very neat.

When I first read the synopsis, I was not impressed. I thought that two women sharing dreams was, frankly, a bit silly, but I am surprised how quickly I've accepted the surreal situation which is a real sign how good the acting, writing and directing is. I’m definitely excited about what might happen next.

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Just finished: Galileo 2

When I started this blog I promised myself two things: One, I wouldn’t watch something just so I could review it and two, I wouldn’t force myself to write a review of something I had seen.

And that’s the problem I have now. This series has just drifted past my eyes in a pleasant but unremarkable manner, and now it’s finished I don’t really have anything to say about it. This, in itself, is quite a criticism.

Yoshitaka Yuriko was not a great replacement for Shibasaki Kuo (or even Kitamura Kazuki). Her character was too ill-defined, bossing around her superior at work but whining at the genius scientist. And as for the scientist, Fukuyama Masaharu can comfortably walk through each episode without really trying. It was up to his assistant, played by Watanabe Ikkei, to inject a little energy into the show.

And the two-part finale was a disappointment. It was a lot better than the slightly silly finale of series one, but I couldn’t help but notice that the solution wasn’t very scientific. But it was nice to see Aoi Yu back on TV in episode 8, playing an actress who used to be popular but, after a couple of dud films, isn’t so famous any more. I wonder how she prepared for that role...

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Currently watching: Amachan

I’m watching an asadora! Does this mean I’m officially old? Or a housewife?

Asadoras (Morning dramas) run six days a week on NHK, and last for hundreds of episodes, each lasting fifteen minutes. It’s tempting to dismiss them as light daytime TV, but this one seems a little different. Mind you, I’ve only ever watched one other asadora, Ohisama. I saw a few episodes, but found it rather slow moving and it was obviously made for people who were nostalgic for the post-war period.

The reason I started watching Amachan was because it’s written by Kudo Kankuro: the writer of Tiger and Dragon, Unubore Deka and Ikebukuro West Gate Park. I knew good actors sign up for asadora’s quite happily but I was surprised that someone who’d written such good dramas would work on daytime TV.

Once I began watching, I quickly had to change my mind. This was nothing like the cosy, plodding moralistic Ohisama. It moves at a fast pace, making the fifteen minutes seem even shorter, and this means that when one ends, you immediately want to watch the next.

The story is about a woman who returns to her home town that she left over twenty years ago. She brings her daughter with her, and is appalled that the daughter loves the town she hates so much. That’s basically it. The cast is great: full of familiar faces, with Kyoko Koizumi as the returning woman, and Rena Nounen as her daughter. Rena puts in a great performance, especially considering this is her debut drama. Meanwhile, the dialogue is as sharp as you’d expect from Kudo Kankuro.

This has been quite a surprise for me, and I’m very glad I tried it out. Huge thanks to earthcolors for doing the subs.

Monday, 15 July 2013

Currently listening to: Bump of Chicken

Bump of Chicken, despite the terrible name, are one of the biggest and best rock bands in Japan. They have a string of successful albums and every single since 2000 has got into the top five. Having said that, I haven’t actually met someone Japanese who’s heard of them. I guess in a country of 125 million, it’s possible to sell millions of records, and still not make much of a dent on the collective consciousness.

Recently, BoC released two CDs, covering two halves of their career, 1999-2004 and 2005-2010. The problem with “Best of”s is that they always leave off some tracks that you’d include. I wish they’d added one of their B-sides, “Pinkie”. It’s good to see the single-only A-side, “Merry Christmas” finally on an album. Apart from that, the tracklisting doesn’t really surprise. And because it ends in 2010, none of the five singles since then are present, indicating that they’re all being kept back for the next studio album.

But this collection really emphasizes the evolution of their sound from the early, under-produced, guitar-driven work (such as Lamp, above), to the new, cleaner sound of recent albums. But always with a chorus that has some hope, innocence and optimism. That’s how it sounds. I’ve never bothered to translate the lyrics.

Friday, 5 July 2013

Currently watching: Woman

Ah, after far too many unremarkable cop shows, it felt good to sit down with something different. Although, in its own way, this series tells a familiar story (single mother makes her way in an unfair world) it is certainly a cut above a lot of stuff I’ve been watching recently.

Mitsushima Hikari stars as the single mother, and she’s excellent in the role. The first episode focuses solely on her and the family, with only a few clues regarding future storylines, such as the sympathetic guy at the welfare office, the friend who suggests that night work at bars is more lucrative or the mysterious teenager obsessed with a portrait of the family on display at a photographer’s studio.

It’s early days, but I’m enjoying this already. I hope that the cast and writing is strong enough to last to the end, and the signs are good. I didn’t quite cry at the end of the first episode, but I came close. Especially with Dvorak’s New World Symphony (and the Japanese song based on its melody) in the soundtrack. Looking forward to more.

Monday, 1 July 2013

Just finished: Sennyu Tantei Tokage

If it seems like this is the only Japanese drama that I’m watching at the moment, that’s because it is. My free time has evaporated in the summer sun, and now time in front of a TV is sparse.

I’m a bit torn on this series. It was over-ambitious, often to the point of looking silly. But it also cared about its characters such that I found myself worrying about them. Add to this, a couple of real surprises in the final two-episode finale, and this had enough redeeming features to make it worth my while.

But, as I said before, if I hadn’t been subbing it I doubt I’d have stuck with it until the end. And that would’ve been a shame, since the final two episodes were pretty good.

Meanwhile, Matsuda Shota’s attempts at acting were undermined by his long fringe which often curled around under his nose, so that it resembled a mustache. How he got through some scenes without sneezing, I’ll never know.