Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Just finished: Subete ga F ni naru

So I made it to the end of this, always expecting it to suddenly get better but it didn’t. It remained sort of average right until the closing credits. The final crime to solve was perhaps the weakest of the series, since it relied on too many occasions where what the viewer was shown never actually happened.

In terms of acting, I can’t say that Takei Emi really suited the role. Especially, she was a bit flat in the scene in which she sees her parent’s airplance crashing. It lacked any emotional punch. This problem was highlighted by the fact that the scene was shown in every episode.

There wasn’t much chemistry between the two lead characters, and the supporting cast were pretty forgetful. The two students (one female and emotionless, the other male and goofy) were just there for comic effect, I think, because they certainly didn’t add to the storyline. Occasionally they’d appear at the scene of the crime (for no reason) just so they could ask what was going on and the writers could explain recent events for the viewer. Then we’d never hear from them again.

Then there was the silly method of showing how Professor Saikawa solved the mystery, invloving lots of different versions of himself saying random things that have happened against a sort of high-tech background which was meant to represent Saikawa’s thought processes.

In the end, this series failed in a wide variety of ways. Never quite bad enough to be unwatchable, it never met its expecations, either. The most memorable part of the whole series was the couple who appeared in episodes seven and eight of a straight guy and a transvestite man. They were really funny and interesting. Could they have a series, please?

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Just finished: The Genius: Black Garnet


It’s only had three series, but watching the final of this game show already has a certain ritual attached to it: Phone off, curtains drawn, lights off, sit away from keyboard and mouse in case accidentally moving them gives away how long is left before the end.

Despite all that care and attention, I must admit that series three has been a bit flat compared to the previous two. Maybe I was too caught up in how new the show was to me during series 1 and 2, but series 3 didn’t have the same kind of zip as before.

The games seemed to have one way to win, and no way to counter-attack. Once a team had been formed and the right strategy devised, they were pretty unstoppable unless someone betrayed them or changed sides. And in this series, the two players who first did this both got eliminated in the first two episodes. Perhaps that persuaded others not to do the same.

The main story of this series was a true bromance between student genius Oh Hyunmin and comedian Jang Dongmin. The two of them formed a team in episode six with the aim of both of them getting to the finals, and it worked.

It robbed the show of something, though. Their mix of strategic expertise and charisma (and shouting) was unbeatable, and then on those occasions when their plan went wrong and one of them went to the Death Match to see who’d be eliminated that round, they came through. Choi Yeonseung came closest to breaking up their alliance, but couldn’t manage it.

So, it was fun, but not as incredible as it once was. I hope that it regains some of its tension and skullduggery next time.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Just finished: Kurokouchi

A few days ago, it was 10th December – a day forever etched on the Japanese psyche as the date of the 300m yen robbery that took place in 1968. I wanted to do a bit of research on the subject, but found surprisingly little on the subject in English.

Anyway, I remembered that I had this series, still unwatched, which had a story based on uncovering the truth behind this unsolved crime. It’s all hypothetical, of course, and is based on the popular theory that the perpetrator was the son of a police commissioner who committed suicide some days after the crime.

Nagase Tomoya is the gravel-voiced hero, a detective who habitually breaks the rules, and it’s a decent enough performance. Similarly, Gouriki Ayame is perfectly adequate in her role as the new partner to this unconventional cop. In terms of acting, the only performance that stood out for me was Koide Keisuke, seen in silent flashbacks as the person behind the robbery. Despite him not saying a word, it reminded me how good an actor he was. I must try to find something more recent he’s been in.

The story was good. Quite clever and convoluted, and it certainly kept me watching as I sped through the whole series in six days. It was a nice example of an urban myth padded out to a full series, and if you like these kind of “what if” dramas based on history, then this would be right up your street. Excellent subs, too. Big thanks to subie06.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Always watching: Downtown

A long time ago, before I had the internet, my interest in Japanese culture hadn’t really got much further than “aren’t their women pretty, and why don’t they translate their video games quicker?” I found a book in a second-hand shop called “The Encyclopedia of Japanese Pop Culture.” I bought it, and started on my way down this long and winding road.

In this book was an article about Downtown, a comedy duo of Matsumoto Hitoshi and Hamada Masatoshi. They stuck in my memory because they were famous for being the people who paid most tax in Japan.

When I finally got online, I started looking for their stuff and found a few videos here and there. I even began subbing thanks to them. I found some streaming subs on a website that I can’t even remember anymore for a Five Rangers game that I found hilarious. I made soft subs for a raw on another website (Gaki-no-tsukai.com) and it’s still being uploaded to this day. This makes me very happy, and I still owe a debt of thanks to Spacecoyote for letting me make an srt file of her subs.

Anyway, I don’t follow them regularly, but every now and again, I feel like watching a few of their shows. Recently, I checked on Shibatabread blog to see if he’d subbed any new episodes, and he had. It was the first part of the King of Bikkuri Face Grand Prix, and it had me weeping with laughter. Some comedians, in a hidden camera situation, have to pull off the most absurd suprised expression without the other people present noticing something was wrong.

I absolutely couldn’t stop laughing at this episode, and I’m now clicking on his blog regularly to see if part two is up, even though he’s said it’ll be a while. Plus, I recommend you spend some time on his blog. It’s full of great Downtown stuff. Also, Zurui’s site is good too. But only if you have adblock. Otherwise you may be too annoyed to find the videos funny once you finally get to download them.

Oh, and also on Shitababread's blog, this is a great piece of stand-up comedy from Hyodo Daiki. I liked it so much, I left a comment!

Currently watching: Subete ga F ni naru

I really want to like this series. Really, I do. I’ll almost certainly keep watching until the end, but I might not enjoy it that much.

I’ll watch until the end because of the main story arc: about a woman who killed her parents in a motiveless attack some years ago. She’s only been seen on a TV screen so far, but she’s already the most interesting character in this series. By miles.

As for the rest, well, it’s made with care and attention and is full of things that I like about J-dramas, but they just don’t fit together. It contains:

i) Takei Emi acting like a real person, and not a cold emotionless genius. She jokes and laughs and generally seems likeable and sympathetic.
ii) Locked Room mysteries. I love these, they’re so mysterious and so much fun to work out, which brings us to...
iii) You’re given enough information and time to work out the solution yourself. At least, you were in the first mystery. Not so much in the second.

So what went wrong? For a start, there’s not a huge amount of chemistry between the two leads. Ayano Gou is the reluctant genius university professor drawn into these mysteries by his assistant. But, I can’t tell what their relationship is. Nishisono Moe (played by Takei Emi) flirts quite openly with him, but he barely reacts. He’s too good looking to be awkward around women, so it just looks strange.

Secondly, the stories are an odd length. They’re too short for one episode, they end up being stretched out to fill two. And, to be honest, the solutions aren’t really clever enough to need that much time, and they have some very convenient plot twists along the way.

Then there’s the usual problem with non-police/detectives solving crimes. They usually have to stumble upon these murders by chance, which never really looks convincing. Plus, they keep meeting the same policemen too, both of whom are quite stupid, allowing our heroes to save the day with their deductive skills.

It’s not bad, but it could easily be better which, somehow, makes it worse. I’m still interested in the main story arc, though. I want to know what happens there.

Recommended: Remember Me

You know, given how much I’ve been writing about Korean stuff lately, and now this blog post about a British drama series, you’d be forgiven for wondering why this blog is called IfbyJapan. I don’t usually write about British stuff, but I thought I’d make an exception for this supernatural horror mini-series, due to its J-horror influences.

The story is about a man, Tom, who is admitted to an old persons’ home. Before long, his social worker is dead, apparently flung from a window, with the window too. And so begins a journey through Tom’s mysterious past to identify who is behind all this.

It looks beautiful. Shot in Yorkshire, the landscape adds a malevolent touch. Remember Me also contains some strong performances, including Monty Python’s Michael Palin in his first dramatic role since 1991.

But, as I mentioned, it reminded me a lot of those J-horror films that swept into Western consciousness back in the late 90s, such as Ring and The Grudge. There are shots of oily black seas, and disjointed ghosts. The use of water as a signifier that something bad was about to happen obviously reminded me of Dark Water.

And all of this made this UK-horror very watchable indeed. Lots of shocks and suspense along the way, and an intriguing story to keep you interested.

Monday, 1 December 2014

Seven more worst ever Running Man episodes

This post is a sequel to this one I wrote almost two years ago. Since then, as I mentioned in my last post about Running Man, the ratings have suffered and, as I went back over the episodes, I did notice that there was a period where these poor or unremarkable episodes seemed to be more frequent. Luckily, that period seems to have ended. Mostly, anyway.

So here is my second list of the very worst Running Man episodes, from about episode 135 to 222. This is in order of episodes, since no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't work out which of these episodes was the worst.

Episode 147

I can imagine that filming a Korean variety show is a pretty strange affair. So much is filmed that you need to be entertaining for hours at a time, knowing that most of what happens will be cut out of the final show.

And, of course, knowing that a lot will be cut out, it wouldn't be unreasonable for people to do the same joke several times in different situations, thinking that at least one will be used.

In that case, there must have been a remarkable lack of decent footage for this episode, as two jokes are repeated in the first game. And the whole thing never really gets going. Sure, there are funny bits, but they're much further apart than usual.

Episode 150

In this episode, there is a vague storyline about the Running Men team having super powers. But the first game is paintballing, which is just not funny. There's a not very exciting dodge ball game and then during the elimination game, some fighters are introduced. The idea is that the Running Men should team up and battle them, but they don't and they're easily picked off one by one.

Episode 165

This is actually quite a good episode, all about a Running Man fan's scrapbook of the show. However, in the final chase, the book itself is ripped to pieces in a fight. I found this quite disrespectful to their fan. I hope it was a copy.

Episode 170

I feel bad about listing this amongst the worst, since Ji Suk Jin works overtime to try and make it entertaining. This shows that Running Man relies a lot on its guest these days. Kim Yoo-jung is too young to have any real presence on a variety show, and the other guests don't really make up for it. A bit feeble.

Episode 183

I'm not sure why the producers thought it was a good idea to start this episode with a 20-minute section where the Running Man members and guests all got horoscopes, but they did. And we all had to suffer for it. The following games weren't great either. The “Phone a famous person at random” game was okay, but very long. Still, it was comedy genius compared to those bloody horoscopes.

Episodes 188-9

Ah, Australia. Such a beautiful country, such a dull couple of episodes. The first game looked impressive: diving for treasure maps in a rusty old wreck, but was too dangerous to allow for any real joking about. Any humour comes from the witty (?) captions that accompanied the action. And if your variety show is relying on the guy who writes the captions to be the funny one, then your variety show is clearly in trouble.

None of the other games were very good, and they appeared to be designed by the Australian Tourist Board. Not even Song Ji Hyo arriving during the second episode could save it. A dud.

Episode 222

Honestly, I didn't laugh once for the first twenty minutes of this episode. It was so bad that I thought “Maybe I don't like Running Man any more.” With no guests, the seven regulars play some games and more or less do the same jokes that they always do. Some of those jokes are still funny, but I do find myself wishing they didn't do guest-less episodes any more. Without someone new who can be unpredictable and change the balance of power in the group, Running Man really suffers.