Thursday, 27 November 2014

Just finished: Liar Game

Yes, we have spoilers.

This series based around games of bluffing and bargaining ended on a very open note, clearly pointing towards a second, darker series. And, by episode 10, I thought that this series would increase the tension for the series finale. At the end of that episode, one contestant was last seen trapped in an elevator, apparently free-falling to his death. But at the start of the next episode, nobody seemed to be that bothered that he wasn’t around to film the next game or even answer his phone. They just carried on without him.

The other drawback of the final episode of this series was the amount of talking that went on. The motives and events behind everything that happened were explained in quite a bit of detail, and I was somewhat disappointed to see the old storyline of “we were all in an orphanage together but I forgot” to explain why nobody had realised the link between the contestants until the end. This was a plot device I last saw in Final Fantasy 8, and I remember thinking at the time that I hope I never see it again.

Then there was the kidnapping of the main contestant’s father. This sub-plot really came out of nowhere, and wasn’t terribly well thought out. It ended with a rather silly fight between a good guy and a bad guy while the father, tied to a chair, wobbled about a bit in the foreground. I suppose he must have forgotten that he was doused in petrol and he was about to knock a lit Zippo lighter onto the pool of liquid around him. An easy mistake to make.

So that’s the bad news.

The good news is that this remained entertaining despite the slightly shaky finale. And it was better than the Japanese version, by quite some distance in the end. The real life setting of a TV reality show meant that events of the game had some kind of repercussions outside the game. I liked the scenes about debt collectors and how the public were reacting. It put everything in a world I recognised.

I enjoyed the games, too. The Contraband game was far clearer in Korean version. The Japanese version involved taking out the opponents' money and then making them think they were smuggling it back in again. The Korean version was mostly about who to trust and how to trick the game. Plus, it had this shot in it.

It was far better, too, to have the enemy as another contestant instead of some faceless group of enigmatic criminals. Shin Sung Rok was great as the evil mastermind determined to destroy his rival. He was by far the most interesting character in the series – a seething pit of hidden disgust at those around him. Nicely underplayed.

And, perhaps the Korean version’s biggest triumph over the Japanese drama concerns the final episode. In the original Liar Game, it was a two-hour recap of the previous ten episodes followed by a fifteen minute epilogue stuck on the end. You can’t imagine how disappointed I was when I first saw that. I was expecting a feature length Battle Royale to end the fantastic first series. The Korean Liar Game at least sticks to one hour per episode and doesn’t waste too much time with flashbacks.

So, although it wasn’t perfect, I really enjoyed this series and I look forward to the next.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Currently watching: Yowakutemo Katemasu!

While looking through an old hard drive, it occurred to me that Yasashii Jikan was made ten years ago. Back then, Ninomiya Kazunari was playing the misunderstood teenage son. Now in this series, he’s playing a grumpy teacher. How time changes us all.

I started watching Yowakutemo Katemasu because Nakuna Hara-chan reminded me how much I like Aso Kumiko, so I looked around for something else she’s been in recently. The story is about a man who becomes a teacher at the school he once went to. The school is famous for its high grades and its terrible baseball team. He decides to take over the team and convince them that, “even if they are weak, they can win.”

I've seen the first few episodes, and I though it was okay. Aso Kumiko's role is a bit marginal, but apart from that disappointment, it's a perfectly average drama about a high school sports club. Nothing special.

Although while I was watching one episode, and I was thinking I should go to bed when it finished, one of the characters suddenly burst into the scene and said “We've got a game!” I immediately forgot about sleep and thought “I have to see the next episode! I need to know what happens next!”

For that moment, at least, I was hooked.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

D-addicts stops hosting torrents

Ah, well. It was bound to happen sooner or later. As someone who watches a lot of j-drama, the one thing I’ve come to accept over the years is the fact that sites hosting TV shows will, eventually, vanish. Sometimes with warning, sometimes not. Silent Regrets, My Asian Cinema, Asiator, and a load of sites listing links to Megaupload all vanished eventually. And now one of the largest, D-addicts, has announced that it will no longer be hosting torrents, and will only carry fansubs for videos that have to be found elsewhere.

Of course, this has caused a lot of sadness, even amongst me. The site was the first place where I downloaded a J-drama (Loss Time Life) and got into this whole thing. Before the torrent comments section was deleted, I checked, and my first comment on the forum was in 2008. Alas, it was a complaint. It would have perhaps been nicer if my first words were more positive, but never mind.

The next issue that this has brought up is, where next? Other torrenting sites are being discussed, but it’s clear that the future of watching J-dramas will be much more diffuse. It’s already getting that way, with a lot of stuff coming hosted on jdramacity.

I’m lucky in that I got registered on Asiatorrents, otherwise I’d be in a bit of a fix. One thing that I did think about was looking again at legitimate sites, like Drama Fever, Viki and Crunchyroll to see what kind of selection of J-dramas they have.

Drama Fever mostly has Korean stuff, including Running Man, but that's region locked, so I can’t watch it. Viki has stuff from around the world, but little stuff from Japan, and what they do have is a few months behind schedule.

Crunchyroll is mostly anime, with some live action dramas. And, like Viki, it’s mostly quite old, although Nobunaga Concerto and Hero 2014 are up. But there are a lot of adverts on that site unless you pay, which makes it kind of tough to sit through.

To my surprise, I also found Biblia Koshodou no Jiken Techou on there. Not with my subs, I hasten to add. They must’ve got a professional in. It was quite addictive watching it with their subs and checking what I wrote line by line. Certainly their subs are more accurate, but I think mine are funnier. Mind you, I would, wouldn’t I?

It’s a real pity about D-addicts dropping the torrents, but not the end of the world. It'll just make things a little more inconvenient. Just focus on how much joy it brought, and let’s hope it continues as a successful host for fansubs.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Best Running Man Episode part 3

It's been over a year since my last list of best Running Man episodes and, since I didn't give my Best Game Show award to Running Man this year, I thought I'd take some time to sing its praises in case anyone thought I'd gone off it.

Part one of my Running Man rankings is here.

And part two is here.

And here is part four!

Sure, these last twelve months have been tough. The ratings dipped (at one point to less than a 6% share) but have recovered. And on various blogs I read, the overall feeling about the show in the past year was either that it was getting tired and needed new ideas or that it should go back and revisit some of the old games they used to play.

However,when I did my research into games since my last list, I found that most episodes had some gold in them somewhere. For example, Patrice Evra in episode 154 being surprisingly entertaining, and the episode where 2NE1 were supposed to be aliens, ending in a farcical battle to retrieve water. Then there was the skipping on mats on water game or the mixed-sex boxing game or the episode designed by a fan of the show. The amount of invention remains high, and anyone who says Running Man is tired and predictable needs to watch a few episodes of Vs Arashi. That's barely changed at all in the four years I've been watching it!

One thing that you may notice about my choices is that the all rely heavily on guests. I find that a weak or uninteresting guests can really make a show drag. Equally, a show with no guests at all somehow isn't as exciting as it once was.

And so here is the third list, and this time I'm going from worst of the best to the best of the best

Episode 213

When I started watching this episode, my expectations were rock bottom. It began with some scenes where the RM regulars are required to do a bit of acting (improvising, really) and previous attempts by Running Man to mix drama and variety have usually been quiet bad.

But before long, the five guests proved themselves to be funny and unpredictable. The format of the games allowed for the couples to change, which avoided the usual problem with couple races: that one couple tends to be ignored.

This time everyone got plenty of airtime and it looked like it was an enormous amount of fun to film.

Episode 187

In this episode, the RM regulars recruit teams of students to help them build a boat out of ordinary household materials that will carry them across the River Han. The cast's interaction with the students is great and watching everyone struggle to cross the river is almost inspirational.

Episode 219

The most recent episode on the list. This episodes demonstrates what I mean about guests adding to the show. Wang Ji-hye, an actress, was invited on and thanks to her friendship with Gwang Soo became a star of the show, with their teasing and banter.

The game, too, was pretty exciting, involving a game where each player is secretly given a side, and it was up to one person to try and work out during the game who was on which side.

Episode 206

This episode involved the three teams trying to create a gourmet meal by mixing bits of instant meals. On the way there were plenty of amusing games that allowed them to choose better ingredients, and the cooking challenge, too, is funny.

Episodes 192-4

This three-episode epic saw our contestants racing across Korea for one episode, and then they have to discover the identity of two spies amongst the cast in the following two episodes. Hats off to Ryu Sueng-Soo and Kim Min-Jong for adding to the fun in the most unexpected ways.

Episodes 148

A very silly episode. Using a board game set-up to link together a series of short games, this episode more or less ignores any attempt at a storyline or narrative structure, preferring to go for the jokes. A hightlight is the game of badminton on top of a crane.

Episodes 171-3

A three-parter in which the star guest isn't actually present for the first episode, except in some video clips. The guest in question is the baseball player Ryu Hyun-Jin and subsequently there are a lot of baseball themed games, leading up to the big Super Power Baseball match at the end.

Suzy appears too, and there's an adorable attempt by the cast to start a loveline between her and Hyun-Jin.

Episodes 151-2

Finally, this episode is, I think, the best since the last time I made a list like this. There's a great elimination game, using surveillance cameras that the hunted have to find and turn off. There was also the first appearance of the blob jump, and a watermelon race where Kwang Soo ignored winning and concentrated on getting his revenge on Jong Kook, and also a wrestling game.

The only downside was a not too eventful elimination game at the end, and the last ten minutes of episode 152 were taken up with a teaser for episode 153. But I don't think the ending should take away from everything that lead up to it.

And so, that's my list for the time being. And, in case you're wondering, I think my favourite out of all episodes is probably numbers 109 and 110, when they had the Olympic athletes Park Tae Hwan and Son Yoen Jae on the show. Every game, every scene, had “classic” written all over it.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Recommended: Nakuna, Hara-chan

Honestly, I think I’m going soft in my old age, crying at two things on TV in the last two days.

The first one was the film Miss Potter, and then I watched the final two episodes of this series in one sitting so I could make a real effort and finish subbing this series over the weekend. I suppose that, after serveral moths of chipping away at these subtitles a little bit each day, I formed a bit of a bond with these characters. So it was that during the last two episodes I found myself reduced to a blubbering wreck. Even when I was doing the subs later, I found myself tearing up again.

So, I’m recommending this, but with some reservations. First, if you’re the type who is not impressed with the type of doomed romance which is impossible not just because of society (the usual love across the barriers type stuff) but because of some physical impossibility (such as robots, ghosts or, in this case, cartoon characters), then steer well clear.

On the other hand, if you’re learning Japanese and are looking for a drama to watch without subs, then this is for you. Especially episodes 7 and 9, which I think someone with intermediate skills (or a bit higher) could watch it and understand most of what is going on.

If you’re in the mood for a weepy yet funny romance which doesn’t require you to think at all, then this is for you. It’s funny and stupid and often very touching. But as I write this, I still wonder how much of this reaction was due to me subbing it. If I hadn’t spent so much time in their company, would I have empathised with th characters so much? I was even sad when I was putting the subs into a zipped file and posting it on d-addicts. I was depressed that there was no more work to be done on this. A clear sign that these characters, absurd though they are, had got under my skin.

So... it is what it is. A tear-jerker that’s all heart and no brain.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Currently watching: Gomen ne Seishun

I once wrote about Mistushima Hikari, calling her "the elfin-faced queen of downbeat characters in oddball films." Well, that's a long time ago. Now she's more likely to be the plucky, unfortunate heroin who's prone to start crying at least once per episode.

So it's a nice change to see her in a comedy. This one is fast-paced and highly entertaining. The story involves two single-sex schools that have to merge due to financial difficulties. And if the difference in gender wasn't enough, one is a high-flying elite school while the other posts some of the worst results in the region.

It's written by Kudo Kankuro (Amachan, Tiger and Dragon) and it sees him back at something approaching his best. Mitsushima Hikari and Nishikido Ryo work well as the two teachers who are in charge of the two first classes to try being coed.

There are plenty of romances between the students. In fact, between almost everyone. In fact, like most Kudo Kankuro works, everyone seems to have their own storyline, even a deceased mother of one of the character's who is now a Buddhist god and acts as a kind of narrator whenever necessary.

It's funny and miles away from your usual school drama. Certainly worth a look.

Saturday, 8 November 2014

The Fifth Annual November 8th Awards

Given that this past twelve months has seen my amount of TV viewing fall off a cliff, this is probably the least representative November 8th awards that I’ve done. Nevertheless, I have seen some very good things and I’d like to celebrate them. And so, with a conspicuous lack of nominations, here are the winners...

Best drama

Petero no Souretsu

Actually, this was going to be Border right up until last week, when I finished Petero no Souretsu. Plenty of dramas this year were quite nice, but most were abandoned halfway through. These two, however, kept me gripped until the end. Border expertly took a silly idea and played it straight, turning it into something quite unique: a sensible supernatural cop show. But Petero no Souretsu was a fine piece of drama, expertly played and I think it just deserves the win.

Best comedy

River’s Edge Okawabata Tanteisha

I did enjoy No Con Kid (didn’t write about it, though) and Kagi no Kakatta Heya but to be honest, River’s Edge had no real competition. Made with such care and acted so perfectly, there was almost nothing to dislike about this series. The idea of a detective series that takes weird cases is hardly original (after all, last year’s winner Mahoro Ekimae Bangaichi had almost exactly the same plot) but I fall for it every time. Gorgeous.

Best Film

Ah, now this is a category that I have kept up with. Mostly.

The Great Passage
Petal Dance
The Last Chance:Diary of Comedians
Snow White Murder Case

A tough one. The Great Passage is a film about dictionaries, and I love words and language, so it obviously struck a chord with me. The Last Chance made me cry with its tale of a failing stand-up comedy act. The Snow White Murder Case was a great story that kept me thinking long after it ended but, despite all that, I cannot explain the hold that Petal Dance has had over me since I first saw it. It’s gentle semi-improvised pace means it is more of a mood piece than a story to be followed. And that’s how I’ve enjoyed it each of the six or seven times I’ve seen it. Almost like ambient cinema. Delightful.

Best Actor

Oguri Shun (Border)

A winner by a country mile. His performance in Border held the storyline together, and was full of nice touches as he slowly lost his ability to trust his colleagues while he relied more and more on his supernatural power of seeing the dead. Perfect.

Best actress

Inoue Mao (The Snow White Murder Case)

Tricky one, this. I almost gave it to Toda Erika for Kagi no Kakatta Heya, simply because for the first few minutes of her performance I didn’t realise it was her. Quite a convincing change in appearance and mannerisms.

But Inoue Mao takes it with a great performance as the suspect in a murder investigation who has already been tried and charged by the media. The best role in her career so far.

Best Game Show

The Genius
Crime Scene
Game Centre CX
Running Man

After three years of being first, Running Man slips back a few places, displaced by two new game shows from Korea: Crime Scene (basically Cluedo for TV) and The Genius. I decided to give the award to The Genius since it's a stunning piece of work: tense, exciting and funny. It is everything you want from a game show. Crime Scene was an excellent example of how murders can be fun. Meanwhile, Running Man is still funny enough that I can barely wait for the subs each week and Game Centre CX remains a fixture on my list of essential viewing.

Best album

Bump Of Chicken “Ray”

I knew half the CD before I even got it, since so many singles had been released from this album. Luckily, the half I didn’t know was well worth the cost. A great piece of work. The three opening tracks by themselves are almost worth the win.

Safe Pair of Hands Award

Odagiri Joe (The Great Passage, Gokuaku Ganbo, River’s Edge, Real)

This award could have gone to Hong Jin Ho, the ex-Pro Gamer from Korea who appeared in The Genius, Crime Scene and a nice bit of Korean fluff I saw called “Sweet 17” where he gave advice on romance, of all things.

But Odagiri Joe was in so many films and dramas I saw in the past twelve months that I lost count. And, amazingly, I liked all of them. Well, Alice no Toge wasn’t so great, but everything else was good. Certainly, twice he was involved in stuff that’ll I want to watch over and over, and everywhere else he was able to lift his scenes into something above the norm. Effortlessly talented.

And that's my opinion (albeit very uninformed) on the previous twelve months.

Monday, 3 November 2014

Recommended: Petero no Souretsu

When the subs for this series finally came out, I wanted to sit down and write about the series so far. The trouble was, whenever I did that, new subtitles for the next episode had come out so what I wanted to say was already obsolete.

In the end, I decided to stop trying to keep up with Subie06’s prodigious output. I waited until all of the subtitles were done, and then I sat down on the next work-free day I had and watched the last six episodes in one sitting.

The story begins with a bus being hijacked in episode one, and then the rest of the series concerns these hostages attempts at making sense of this situation: who was the hijacker and what did he want?

It's an intelligent and intriguing mystery. Well acted and well written, the whole thing is put together with a great deal of care and thought. The only downside being that, because it was a sequel to a previous series, there were occasional references and flashbacks to things that occurred in the past that I didn't fully understand.

But that's the only fault in an otherwise flawless production. Like Mitani Kouki at his best, this series took one idea, one crime, and fully explored the consequence, as well as expertly including aspects of office life into the story. Unmissable.