Saturday, 31 January 2015

Currently watching: Marumaru Tsuma

Well, I’ve not been writing much recently but actually I’m feeling pretty optimistic about this season of J-dramas. Perhaps because I’ve not had much time to watch TV, and now it all seems fresh and original again. Anyway, there are four dramas that have caught my eye and I’ve even started visiting d-addicts multiple times in a day, hoping that the subs have been updated. It's been a long time since I did that. I’ll try and write about these four in the next few days.

The first I want to write about is Marumaru Tsuma. This series stars Shibasaki Kuo as the perfect wife to her husband, a TV news presenter. She's attentive, caring, patient. Everything you could wish for in a wife.

Except this perfection hides dark undercurrents. She’s too attentive, able to predict her husband’s needs with eerie precision. Also her desire to do what’s best for her man means she sometimes resorts to less than honest methods.

Who she is and what her true motives are is, I guess, the main story of this drama. The end of episode one threw in a few surprises to convince the viewers (who would have already suspected) that this woman can't be trusted and those dark undercurrents are about to come bubbling to the surface.

Episode one was all about setting up the situation and characters and, as such, nothing really dramatic happened until the last ten minutes. Then an awful lot happened at once. Perhaps almost too much, as various truths about the wife came tumbling out one after the other. A lot of the hidden menace will have gone with so much out in the open. But we’ll see. I could be wrong.

However, whatever her history is – yakuza, spy or even an assassin for Mossad – one thing is clear: leaving her husband when he has to look after his elderly mother (which was her idea) is not a nice thing to do.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Just finished: Gomen ne Seishun!

The writer of this series, Kudo Kankuro, has often used pretty dark subject matter for his stories, such as street gangs, yakuza, or people dying of cancer, and they generally had an originality to them that regular J-dramas lacked, such as Ikebukuro West Gate Park being shot like a pop video, or Tiger and Dragon’s two interweving storylines. Although his work was very watchable, they hid a strong centre of sentimentality, and never really dwelt on the consequences of life in these situations.

Recently, his stories have focused on more mainstream topics, sometimes even twee (take a bow, Amachan) which has been no bad thing. Now, instead of hard-hitting drama with a soft centre, Kudo Kankuro writes soft-centred dramas with an edge.

All of which is leading me up to saying that I really enjoyed this series. It made me laugh, and kept me interested and in the hands of any other writer it would have been far worse. Each main character had a proper storyline that ran through the series, and there was hardly a second of dead space while they were all given their moments in the spotlight.

This series was about the merger of two single-sex schools: one high-achieving Catholic girls' school, the other an under-achieving boys' school. As these two cultures clash, fights are fought, people fall in love in unexpected ways and the future of these students and teachers has to be decided. Throughout the series, our main character has to hide the truth that, fourteen years ago, he accidentally set fire to the girls' school chapel in a fit of jealousy.

You couldn’t exactly call this original, though, as Kudo Kankuro used a number of narrative devices that he’s used before (such as a supernatural entity supplying some commentary on events) but I’ll forgive him that since he usually adds enough new stuff to make up for it.

Monday, 5 January 2015

Recommended: Suteki-na Sen Taxi

This series is about a taxi that has the ability to go back in time (for a fee) to a moment just before a pivotal choice, so you can try it again. It’s a simple idea, and but is played perfectly. The absurd notion of a time-travelling taxi soon becomes accepted.

A lot of this is thanks to the actor playing the taxi driver - Takenouchi Yutaka. His smooth and laid-back attitude hides a mass of neuroses, which reflects the basis premise of the show: how life is series of choices.

Each episode has a different story, in which someone has a need to go back in time. Perhaps they need to react differently or run faster or change something that they regret. Usually this takes several attempts since making a different choice can change things in unexpected ways.

It's an excellent show, funny and entertaining. Beautifully put together, it's full of nice little touches, such as the customers' disappointment that going back in time is so unremarkable. The driver also frequents a local cafe, and their interactions prompt dilemmas that are reflected in the main story.

The moral of this series seems to be “Be careful what you wish for.” Not everything ends as desired, although it's usually for the best.

Just watched: Tug of War

I watched this film solely because it had Inoue Mao in it. I haven’t seen any good reviews for it. In fact, I’ve not seen any reviews at all. This film had just sort of drifted past without notice on its release in 2012.

And I can totally see why. It’s a feel-good film, made in the style of Hula Girls. The storylines are the same: a small town council decides on a unique scheme to raise the town’s profile. In Hula Girls, it was Hawaiian dancing. In Tug of War it’s – you guessed it – tug of war. In this case, a female tug of war team.

And just like Hula Girls, each of the band of brave amateurs seems to have a domestic problem to overcome, such as an elderly father with dementia, or a rebellious teenage son.

It’s all so predictable, right down to the life-affirming montage where the team starts practising properly. Too obvious to be funny or interesting and too lightweight to be emotionally engaging.