Saturday, 5 December 2015

100 Yen Love

This 2015 film is this year’s Japanese entry for the Oscar’s best foreign film. I’ll be honest, I didn’t know that each country could only nominate one film each. I was under the (perhaps naive) impression that they made some kind of effort to watch a decent amount and then make up their own minds.

Japan’s recent Oscar performance hasn’t been great, with only two nominations in the last thirty years (although one of those, Departures, actually won the Best Foreign Film Oscar) and I wonder if this is the film to break through the wall of indifference that the Oscar Academy usually shows.

The story is about a slacker, Ichiko Saita – played expertly by Ando Sakura – who is still NEET (No Education, Employment or Training) in her thirties. She finally gets a job in a convenience store, falls in love with a boxer and takes up the sport, desperate for a professional fight.

It’s a rights-of-passage film for a woman with zero self-esteem. Which is odd, when the people she meets and works with all seem far more dysfunctional than she is. Her wants and needs are positively mundane in comparison. Her desire for a normal relationship with the emotionally immobile boxer is almost heart-breaking in its futility.

It’s a comedy, but a very dark one and don’t be surprised if you find yourself wondering exactly when a scene went from humour to bleak realism. And, being a boxing film, there is the obligatory training montage.

In this film, boxing becomes a metaphor for the life that has pummelled Ichiko Saito into a nervous lump. Ichiko clearly wants to get beaten up, just so she can hug her opponent afterwards and it’s okay. An option that’s not available to her in real life.

It’s smart, affecting and emotional. I do wonder if it’s Academy material, though. However, with this film and 0.5mm, I would hope for a Best Actress nod for Ando Sakura. Or is that too naive, even by my standards?

Thursday, 26 November 2015

Yuriko Kotani – 2015 BBC New Comedy Award winner

In the Japanese World of Comedy, the double act is king. Manzai is the dominant format, with two comedians delivering fast-paced puns and body gags. Solo stand-up comedians are far rarer. Before today, I could name only two Japanese stand-up comics: the first being Issey Ogata, who does (or did) comic monologues in character, and the second is Hyodo Daiki. While it’s easy to find his stuff in Japanese (search for 兵頭大樹 on YouTube), stuff with English subs is much more scarce. This is the only example I know of:

But today I discovered a third. Yuriko Kotani won the 2015 BBC Radio New Comedy Award. She’s based in London and only began doing stand-up in 2014.

I listened to the five minute set on the BBC webiste, and it was okay. It’s hard to get a good idea of a comedian from such a short amount, but it made me laugh. You can hear it on the BBC site here:

She talks about trains, which is a sensible enough topic, given the huge gulf between the Japanese and British railway systems. And it’s a safe topic, since everyone likes to complain about the trains in Britain. I wonder how I’d do in a similar situation where I was doing a stand-up routine for a Japanese audience, commenting on the cultural differences between us. But I guess a fifteen-minute rant about why cycling on the pavement is a bloody stupid thing to do wouldn’t be quite so popular.

It’ll be interesting to see how her career progresses. Judging by previous winners, she can look forward to the occasional panel show appearance and maybe a series on Radio 4.

Saturday, 14 November 2015


In this film from 2014, director Ando Momoko directs her sister Ando Sakura in a long, rambling story about a home-carer who, out of kindness, helps one of the families she cares for out of office hours. This is against official practise, so when the evening ends in tragedy, she is also given the sack.

This begins a long road trip type movie in which Sakura’s character, Yamagishi Sawa, drifts from one adventure to another. Although “adventure” is probably the wrong word. They are understated episodes in which Sawa gets involved with a lonely old man and changes his life for the better before moving on.

The film lasts over three hours and, since it involves several short stories, you could be forgiven for watching it in several chunks, like I did. However, that’s not to say the film is bad. Far from it. But it can be a test of endurance.

Luckily the film is centred around an astonishingly good performance by Ando Sakura. She’s in pretty much every scene and it’s her portrayal of an everyday woman thrown into extraordinary circumstances that makes the film work.

She’s just an amazing actress and if I was the type to write fan mail, I’d have written her a book by now. But it’s so hard to pin down why she is as good as she is. It’s almost as if she isn’t acting. But at the same time, you can’t help but be transfixed by her.

So, at the very least, if you want three hours of some of the best acting you’re likely to see, then this is for you. The addition of intriguing stories and clean, crisp directing is a bonus.

Thursday, 5 November 2015

C'est Si Bon

I heard about this Korean film back in July and, since then, I have been repeatedly visiting its page on Asiatorrents, hoping that the English subs would be there. In the meantime, I’d have the first twenty minutes on in the background, just to enjoy the songs.

When, after four months of trying, the subtitles finally arrived, it almost didn’t register and I was about to click away, thinking “Maybe next time” before I realized that I was looking at it.

Was it worth the wait? Well, it is certainly a sweet film. The music and the period details give it a charm that’s hard to ignore.

It tells a fictional version of the start of a famous folk duo Twin Folio.

They were formed of two singers who were popular at a local live music club C’est Si Bon. The film invents a third member who left the band before they became famous, and he becomes the main character as he falls in love with another performer at the club.

Since the film starts in the present day before returning to the late 1960s, the viewer is given a good idea that all the hopes and dreams of youth do not run smoothly. In fact, halfway through the film, I wanted to stop watching just so it had a happy ending.

But it didn’t. It was a lovely, touching film full of great performances. It gets a bit soap-opera-ish towards the end, complete with a tear-jerking scene in an airport, but by that time I was fully invested in the characters and was willing to let this cliche slide.

Perhaps it works best as an introduction to the kind of music that was popular in the sixties and seventies, long before K-pop was even thought possible. Certainly, for someone like me whose knowledge of Korean culture only goes back eight years (not counting the occasional film) this has been as much an education as entertainment.

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Ishi no Mayu and Yami no Bansosha

These two crime series prove (if any more proof were needed by now) that WOWOW is the closest thing that Japan has to its own HBO. The quality of performances, directing, photography and writing are streets ahead of the average terrestrial channels.

Not to say that WOWOW is completely free from the usual cliches of Japanese TV, though. In both of these series the lead female characters (a cop and an ex-cop) both went onto the police force because their father’s were detectives and died with one unsolved case.

After this, the two dramas have little in common. Ishi no Mayu is the more conventional cop drama. The lead role is Kisaragi, a rookie cop, who is a junior officer on a serial killer case. In most J-dramas, rookie cops are there to make stupid mistakes so that people shout at them until the end when they make a passionate speech and everyone realises what a great detective they are.

Not this time. Most officers are either supportive or indifferent to Kisaragi. Some people are a bit annoyed when she becomes pivotal to the case, but that’s a side story.

The case itself involves a killer who appears to be taking revenge on some people he accuses of being murderers. So this leaves two cases to be solved: the current one, and a case from twenty years ago. This means that there’s never a dull moment in the five episodes, and the use of the killer phoning the police to tease them with clues may be old hat, but it does make for some great-cliffhangers.

Yami no Bansosha is less of a typical cop show, even though the police are involved. Mostly it revolves around two people: an ex-cop turned detective and a grumpy old out-of-work manga editor. The detective was brought in to investigate a manuscript, apparently written by a famous manga author, that describes an old unsolved murder with uncanny accuracy.

She is put in touch with an editor who can use his expertise and contacts to investigate. There are some nice Biblia Koshoudou type parts, where the editor can spot stylistic aspects to get more clues from the manuscript.

Both of these are similar in structure: male-female pair investigates an old unsolved case, but the approach is quite different. Yami no Bansosha is more comedic, with Furuta Arata stealing a lot of scenes, especially when he tries to run in a duffle coat and rucksack.

And both are excellent. If you watch them back-to-back like I did, you’re bound to feel some deja vu, but to ignore one in favour of the other would be a mistake.

Thursday, 22 October 2015

A famous murder from the Meiji era

I like online newspaper archives. I’ve passed many Sunday mornings, typing words at random into the search engines of various archives to see what comes up in reply. Often it is some forgotten gem of a story which was famous for a few days, before fading out of the public view.

The only free Japanese newspaper archive I know of is pretty hard to use without a solid knowledge of kanji, and the type of stories generally covered by Japanese papers tend to be quite dry and boring.

So it’s lucky, then, that the Internet Archive has digitised the Japan Daily Mail (or Weekly Mail). This was an English language newspaper based in Japan during the Meiji era aimed at foreigners living in Japan.

It's a fascinating look into Japanese society as seen through the eyes of new arrivals trying to make sense of it all. Some copies have an index at the front which is great for finding interesting stories. On page four of this issue, for example, tells the story behind a murder trial that gripped Japan. I’ll summarise it here:

Nishigori Takekiyo, 39, was an art connoisseur and was a former vassal to the wealthy Soma clan.

In 1877, while Nishigori was living in Tokyo, Viscount Soma Masatane started showing signs of insanity. His condition worsened until June 1879 when he was given a special room in the family mansion and treated as a patient, as well as receiving treatment from a lunatic asylum and a hospital in Hongo.

Nishigori believed that the Viscount wasn’t ill, but the victim of a conspiracy. He believed that the Viscount’s stewards and the Viscount’s father’s mistress had planned this in order to steal his property.

During 1882-83, Nishigori tried several times to visit the Viscount but was refused. He also repeatedly sent medical men to try and gain access. However, when this all failed, he sued three of the stewards Shiga Naomichi, Ishikawa Eisho, and Tomita Fukazo for illegal imprisonment.

This was thrown out of court so, in 1884, he used a letter of attorney to get the case looked at again. Unfortunately, it was discovered that Nishigori had forged this letter and the case ended in his own conviction, with a prison sentence of a month.

Rather than shake his convictions, this all seemed to have made him even more determined. In 1887 he kidnapped the Viscount from a lunatic asylum and took him first to a friend’s house and then on a trip around neighbouring prefectures.

The Soma family tracked him down and had him arrested (another one month sentence) but by now Viscount Soma had given Nishigori complete power of attorney. Using this, Nishigori kept filing civil cases against the Soma family.

Then, in 1892, one case had reached a point where the Viscount himself need to go to court to testify. The summons arrived on February 19th 1892 (asking for his attendance on March 3rd) and on the night of the 19th, the Viscount fell ill. He died on the 22nd.

Nishigori believed the Viscount had been poisoned. A belief made stronger when the family refused an autopsy. Then the Viscount’s estate was given solely to one son, Masatane, while the other son, Hidetane (still a child), was frozen out.

Nishigori asked a friend of his, a judge named Yamaguchi, for his opinion on the matter and the judge said he believed Nishigori was right. Encouraged by this, Nishigori began to put together a case regarding the poisoning and aspects of Hidetane’s succession.

The judge, Yamaguchi, thought that it was wiser to persue the poisoning case. He suggested that if Nishigori sent some documents to the court denouncing the Soma family this would cause enough of a sensation to get the case heard.

Nishigori did this, writing up a fictional version of the murder and bribery of medical practioners as if it were a confession from one of the accomplices.

He posted it to the court on June 28th and it caused a sensation when it was published in a newspaper soon after. Nishigori decided to press forward by filing a charge for murder. He hired a lawyer, Okano Kan, who was convinced to take the case by the confession.

The preliminary hearings were taken by a close friend of Yamaguchi, Judge Okada Seikyo. Yamaguchi himself helped with the examination of some witnesses and was able to pass on information to Nishigori, who could then use that in his case. Nishigori also continued to spread false stories about the Soma clan.

However, despite all this, no actual evidence of murder was forthcoming. Yamaguchi suggested to Nishigori it would be easier to pursue a lesser charge of illegal imprisonment leading to death. Nishigori agreed, but in the end the court threw out even this case.

Throughout this time Judge Yamaguchi had been slowly obtaining money from Nishigori. A few hundred yen here and there, as well as 5,000 yen in September 1893. And while he was extorting from Nishigori, he was in secret contact with the Soma family! Yamaguchi’s brother-in-law knew a high-ranking member of the clan, and they had asked Yamaguchi to help with their case. A request to which he agreed, promising to keep a close eye on Nishigori’s actions. However, his relationship with the Soma clan was not as profitable as with Nishigori.

Once Nishigori’s case collapsed, he and his accomplices were arrested. But even while the preliminary hearing for this case was in progress, Judge Yamaguchi was named in an entirely different case for blackmail! What a character.

This case was famous enough to have been written about in British newspapers at the time and according to this page, twenty books about it were written in one year (1892). Nishigori’s own book sold well, and made him a more sympathetic character: a loyal servant doing what he thought was right.

In the end, according to the Birmingham Daily Post for Wednesday 23rd May 1894, Nishigori was sentenced to four years in jail, while Yamaguchi was given five.

Monday, 12 October 2015

Disaster Preparedness Tokyo

Anyone who has visited Japan will, sooner or later, notice the local authorities’ sensitivity to natural disasters. Japan sits on the “Ring of Fire”: an earthquake-prone area that runs along the Asia-Pacific area, across the Bering Sea in the north and then down the western coast of North and South America.

Recently I saw a story on the BBC website about a disaster survival manual that had been written specifically for people in Tokyo, and distributed to them for free, which has caught people’s attention from outside the capital. Despite it being available for free download (link to the English version here) people seem to want the physical version, and copies of the manual have been popping up on e-bay.

I took a look at it and, apart from being impressed by the English, I found it quite fascinating. The manual begins with a clear warning that a large earthquake will almost certainly hit Tokyo in the next thirty years. On the one hand, this could seem alarmist. On the other hand, pretending it’ll never happen would be worse.

It’s full of useful information. One tip that hadn’t occured to me is that if you’re trapped, don’t shout for help since that’ll wear you out. Instead, repeatedly hit something so people will hear you.

I can totally understand why this book has become so desirable. It covers a wide range of subjects and is reassuring in its tone. But at the same time, there’s always something haunting about when authorities start to prepare the population for the worst. It kind of reminded me of the old Protect And Survive leaflet from the 1980s when a nuclear war seemed possible. It tried to be helpful but instead came across as being doom-laden and pessimistic.

Sunday, 11 October 2015

A change in direction

As you may have noticed, I haven’t been posting much these days. A lack of time is partly the problem. I have several half-finished articles about TV that I had planned on posting, but then never got a chance to finish them and finally it felt like the moment had passed and I couldn’t be bothered.

However, my interest in Japanese culture hasn’t waned, but it has shifted from dramas to a wider range of subjects. As such, I’m going to try writing about these as well as dramas and hopefully this’ll mean this blog won’t lie unloved and abandoned for much longer.

See you soon.

Monday, 31 August 2015

Just watched: Attack on Titan

Giants attacking people. If you think about it, it's difficult to come up with an older storyline. Ever since people gathered round to tell tales, it seems that the idea of a giant who eats people has been a recurring theme, with Jack and the Beanstalk being perhaps the most famous.

And so to Attack on Titan (I’ve no idea why it isn’t “Titans” since there’s more than one) a film in which humanity is under attack from hordes of giants in a dystopian future. No one knows where they’re from, and there’s only one way to kill them: attack the back of the neck.

It looks good, and has a nice atmosphere and at 1 hour 38 minutes, it doesn’t feel too long. Mind you, there is a sequel coming out in a month or so. Unfortunately, after that, the compliments quickly dry up.

The characters are awful, with dialogue apparently taken from an old 8-bit role playing game. The hero is a tortured loner, who loses a loved one early on, is not taken seriously by his peers, but becomes their saviour. Any storyline that doesn’t involve the hero, and might actually include some relationships is quickly finished off by having somebody die. This way the writer neatly avoids having to write any proper dialogue that real people might actually say.

In fact, during a lengthy battle scene, the hero meets another character that he’s argued with in the past and my heart sank. The words “Oh God, they’re not going to start talking, are they?” actually crossed my mind.

An early glimpse of what I suppose is the final boss

The film's not quite bad enough for me to say you should avoid it. The directing is lively and dull bits don’t last too long. And, if I'm being honest, I'll probably watch the sequel. I wouldn’t suggest that you ask your friends round to watch this film as part of a fun evening, though. Unless you don’t really like them.

Friday, 21 August 2015

Currently subbing: Furuhata Ninzaburo 3

Not so long ago, I found some English subtitles for the third series of this detective series. Since it’s one of my favourite J-dramas (if not my actual favourite) I was very happy and quickly downloaded them, only to find some of the worst subs I’d ever seen.

I decided to put them right, thinking it wouldn’t take long, except that they were often so bad that I had to ignore them completely. Luckily, I found some Japanese subtitles to help me. And, also, I needed to change the timings as some of these subs whipped by in under two seconds.

But hopefully this will help us to enjoy the final season of this great show.


As mentioned in the comments, the raws can be found here:

Saturday, 8 August 2015

Currently watching: Tamiou

Body-swap comedies are pretty common on Japanese TV. It seems that writers and producers never tire of this particular storyline where a parent swaps places with their child, and all kinds of hilarious misunderstandings unfold.

Despite my lack of love for the body-swap format (notable exception being the drama Himitsu) I decided to watch it because I like Endo Kenichi and Suda Masaki, who play the father and son (the Prime Minister and his half-wit child) respectively.

There are no English subs at the moment, so I ploughed through with Japanese subs, pausing every now and again to check definitions. But before long, I found I was caught up in the drama, not wanting to pause it because I was keen to see what happened next. The set-up may be predictable but the performances of the two lead actors are great and help to push the story along.

According to this thread, dheka will be providing English subs as and when possible, which is great news.

EDIT: the English subs now have a thread on d-addicts.

Sunday, 26 July 2015

You know you’re a k-pop fan when...

Actually, my infatuation with all things k-pop has died down a bit in the past couple of years. I still keep an eye on the scene, but not with the same sense of anticipation as before.

But since I spent a lot of this weekend listening to Girls' Generation, I thought I’d sit down and write a list describing the signs that you’ve finally given in to the allure of k-pop. These lists are all over the internet, but even so they never really reflect how k-pop affected me. So here’s my personal list and maybe it’ll strike a chord with you.

1. When you listen to Western pop, you imagine a Korean act is singing it

Once upon a time, when I listened to a song, I used to imagine myself in the pop video. Not any more. Now I imagine acts like BigBang or Miss A instead. It depends on who I’m listening to, of course, but I’ve definitely noticed a tendency for me to imagine song X is a particular act’s first English release, and then I wonder what the video would be like, their appearance on Music Bank, etc etc.

2. You listen to music every day but you have no idea who is number one in your country

I used to have my finger on the pulse of the music biz. I worked for EMI for four years and I was quite the expert on upcoming acts. Then I lived in Italy for several years, but I still had an idea of who was big in the UK. Then I came back to England, discovered k-pop and then suddenly the UK top forty just seemed unnecessary. I was so out of touch that I didn't even know when a couple of bands I liked (The Lumineers and First Aid Kit) became successful.

3. You get annoyed when people confuse Korean, Japanese and Chinese pop cultures

Seriously, I never used to give a shit about this stuff, but then it started to really get to me (now, not so much. I just assume they’re being ironic and laugh it off). Even stuff like confusing Soju and Sake would annoy me. They’re completely different! If they weren’t different they wouldn’t have the different names! I mean, come on!

4. Saying “aishh” or “aigoo”

This is one that I’ve seen on other lists, and personally I thought it wouldn’t happen to me. But I must admit, if I get annoyed enough with someone saying something stupid, I find myself saying “aishhh” before explaining exactly where they’re wrong. Slightly embarrassing, and I hope nobody notices.

5. You feel sorry for people who don’t like k-pop

This one’s a bit patronizing. I mean, snobbish dismissal of other people’s tastes in music is common in school children, but just looks absurd when coming from a grown adult. This means when I meet someone who says they don’t know about k-pop, I have to bite my tongue to stop myself from saying “Really? So you have no fun at all?” Western pop tends to look like a dour mix of greys compared to K-pop's dazzling palette of primary colours. Having said that, I genuinely do feel sorry for anyone who hasn't seen The Genius and that's not patronizing: that's a genuine feeling of remorse for someone's misfortune.

6. You get far too excited when Korean TV shows a Korean brand that you use in real life

I admit when I saw episode six of My Love From Another Star where Jun Ji Hyun offers someone a coffee of the same brand that I buy, I felt strangely elated. Like it somehow validated my interest in K-pop, making me feel a little bit more... authentic, somehow.

7. You start feeling like you’re in some kind of social experiment

Ever stopped to think about how weird your situation is? You’ve decided to divorce yourself from the culture that surrounds you and adopt a different culture instead. Your conversational skills drop off rapidly as you can’t discuss the latest TV/music/films that everyone else has seen. In fact, it’s not that different from being old. You find that no one understands your cultural references and when you do speak, people wait patiently until you’re finished and then change the subject.

8. You’re surprised when people say they don’t like songs in a foreign language

This depends on where you grew up, of course, but in the UK foreign pop music has always been patronized, probably due to its connection to the Eurovision Song Contest, which is now more popular for the fancy dress parties it inspires that the actual music. But after years of listening to foreign music, it comes as a shock when I’m reminded that some people have a real issue with songs in another language. Maybe it’s because they can’t sing along. I don't know.

- - - - -

So that's my list. No idea idea if anyone else feels the same and I guess it's applicable to any xenophile, but I thought I'd put it out there anyway.

Saturday, 18 July 2015

Currently watching: Tantei no Tantei

In this show a woman whose sister was murdered becomes a private detective to try and find the other private detective who she believes fed information to the person who killed her sister. And so she works for a detective agency as the only person in the “Versus Detectives” department, tracking down misdemeanors by rival detectives.

Episode one set everything up very neatly, with allies and enemies all put in place. There’s also some kind of connection to the murdered sister and a new detective who recently joined the agency. The storyline moves at a decent pace and it shows plenty of potential.

This show has a strong cast, and I'm especially happy to see Arata Iura as the head of the agency. But this is very much a Kitagawa Keiko vehicle. This means there's a lot riding on her performance. Despite her long and successful career, when I think of Japanese actresses best suited for a cop drama, her name isn't on the list. In episode one, she treads a fine line between looking stern and just looking miserable. However, I do remember her being the best thing in the film Elevator to the Gallows (although in a minor role) so I hope she can take this opportunity to show what she's got.

Furthermore, she gave a convincing performance in the flashback to the scene of the murder. Which is good, because I get the feeling we'll be seeing that flashback in every single episode.

Currently watching: The Genius The Grand Finale

* Spoilers for episodes one to three! *

* Don’t say you weren’t warned! *

There’s good and bad about this series. On the down side is the contestant Kim Kyunghoon. His character seems to be a desperate-to-please underling. A sort of Gollum to the other contestants’ Frodo and/or Sauron. I hope this will change in episode four. It's a little undignified.

But the good bit is that the games (so far) reward minority alliances. In series three, it seemed too easy to put together a reliable set of more than half the players and then steamroller the other remaining players. Not this time. In each of the first three games, it’s even been possible to survive without joining a team at all.

And this brings me to the real surprise of the series: Lee Junseok. Last time I wrote about The Genius, I said he’d probably go out early. But he has been a strong player and one who relishes the idea of a minority win. I admire that.

He’s also given us the best moment of the series so far. In episode three, the game revolves around ordering one of three types of food, and also guessing how many people ordered the same thing. In order to save a team member from coming last, he discovers his opponents plans and then goes against his own team’s plan in order to stop them. This kind of maverick thinking has made him an early favourite with me.

Another event of note is the crushing defeat of Lim Yohwan (second in season two, but notoriously bad at team games) by Yeonsung. I’m glad Yeonsung has retained his ruthless edge, and I hope he’ll go far.

Excellent subs by Bumdidlyumptious, as always.

Sunday, 12 July 2015

Just finished: Tenshi to Akuma

Well, time has been in short supply recently, which is why I’ve not been writing much. Whenever I sat down to watch a J-drama, I thought to myself “I really should be working on the subs for Tenshi to Akuma.”

It helped that I enjoyed the series. I especially like Watabe Atsuro in the role of the pompous, cynical lawyer. Subbing his lines was a lot of fun, trying to get just the right level of likeable arrogance in his dialogue.

Gouriki Ayame had the right amount of self-righteous indignation and was not too smug when she turned out to be right. And the two leads had some good chemistry: I really enjoyed watching them play off each other.

The stories were nice and involved, too. The whole idea of the series (what if Japan tried doing plea bargains on certain crimes) allowed there to be, effectively, two criminals. Since your average whodunnit only has one, this extra suspect gave the stories a bit more depth.

As for the final episode...

* spoilers *

It was pretty good, but I couldn’t help but notice that the big secret that apparently drove all of these crimes was never actually revealed. This seemed a bit lazy but at the same time, whatever the secret was didn’t matter. This series was a buddy cop show with some entertaining banter and some nice crimes to solve. So what if the last one was a bit of a dud? By that time, I just wanted to see how it ended.

So, another subbing project over. While I was doing this, I promised myself this’d be my last, because it takes up so much time. However, a new project came up that I might not be able to resist...

More news as we get it!

Saturday, 20 June 2015

My Favourite Vs Arashi episodes

I've done a number of posts about my favourite Running Man episodes, so I thought I'd have a go at putting together a top ten of Vs Arashi episodes. Now, I have to admit, I don't keep every episode of Vs Arashi that I watch, so I have to assume that the ones I've kept are the best ones.

As you might expect, since the videos are from the last five years and come from a variety of sources, the resolution of the screen grabs can be a bit poor. I've included the date (yyyymmdd) in case any of you feel like trying to track them down.

The episodes are ordered from least best to most best.

20100624 You vs Yoshimoto Japan

You (the actress, not the second-person pronoun) is one of my favourite actresses. She isn't the kind of celebrity you'd expect to find on a variety show like this, but it works very well. The subtitles help a lot, and it has Giant Crash, which is a great game.

20101021 Freeter team

It's always fun when a member of Arashi has a drama or film to promote, and ends up on the opposing team. This is what happens this week, when Ninomiya is on the team promoting his drama Freeter. There's a lot of teasing between the two teams, and a good choice of games, too.

20120103 New Year Special

This was a New Year special, with plenty of guests to fill up the extended running time and, thankfully, it works. Matsumoto Jun joins the Lucky Seven team, alongside Eita and Naka Riisa, and that by itself would usually be enough.

But there's a third team in this episode: the Japanese Women's Football Team and then Gackt arrives halfway through! That's a lot, even for three hours.

20140313 Aoi Miyazaki

A team of comedians from Aichi make up Arashi's opponents, and the special guest on Arashi's side is the actress Aoi Miyazaki. It's quite odd seeing the waif-like, somewhat refined sensibility of Miyazaki on a variety show, but she clearly knows Arashi and is comfortable with them.

20120531 Momoiro Clover Z

This was their first appearance on Vs Arashi and the boundless energy of Momoiro Clover Z adds a lot to the show.

They really get into it and although they're not as invested in the game as when they first appeared on Nep League (on that show when they finally got a question right, they were so happy they started to cry) they clearly want to do their best.

20131017 Umi no Ue no Shinryojo

In this episode, Matsuda Shota continues to show the sense of humour he displayed in the drama. The whole cast seem to get on really well, and that helps with the games.

And it's quite rare to see Arakawa Yoshiyoshi on a variety show. He doesn't really join in with the banter, and he seems quite awkward, but it's nice to see him get out for a bit of fun.

20111027 Japanese Women’s Volleyball Team

Since the members of Arashi play these games every week, sometimes it seems like the only time they have decent opposition is against some real athletes. In this episode, the Japanese Women's Volleyball Team push Arashi all the way.

20130606 Beautiful news readers

When there's no drama being promoted, I do like seeing what kind of teams are put together for Arashi to battle against. I've seen teams of celebrities from different prefectures, and teams of celebrities that all wear spectacles.

This one is one of the strangest groupings (as another guest Mitsuura Yasuko says “Beautiful news readers... there's not much competition, is there?”), but it turns out to be one that works really well. The program also features the female stand up double act Oashizu, who add to the fun.