Sunday, 26 April 2015

Currently watching: Crime Scene 2

This is the second series of the remarkably effective murder-mystery game show in which five regulars and a guest try to work out which of them is the murderer for that week’s mystery.

Only two cast members remain from series one, which is a shame, but they’re the two strongest: Hong Jin- Ho and Park Yi-Joon. They are joined by the singer Hani, the film director Jang Jin and the shouty comedian Jang Dong-Min. I was a bit disappointed when I saw that Jong Dong-Min would be in the cast because he became a bit insufferable in the third series of The Genius, but thankfully he’s kept the shouting down to a minimum this time.

Apart from episode one, which was mostly about introducing the cast with a mini-murder mystery set in one room, the format is almost the same as before. The only big change is that one member of the cast is given the role of The Detective, which effectively means they can’t be the murderer. This has helped a lot, since in series one there was always one character who clearly had nothing to do with the murder. Not so much this time around, which is nice.

The new cast have gelled together very well very quickly. Hong Jin-Ho and Park Yi-Joon are comfortable in this situation, as you’d expect, but I’ve also enjoyed Jang Jin’s over-reliance on his own powers of story-telling to help him solve the crime, and Hani has proved to be more than a pretty face. Since she’s a singer in the girl band Exid, you might think she’d be an intellectual lightweight but so far she’s been a match for the others. Even Jang Dong-Min has impressed me with his detective skills.

So I’m really enjoying the new series. They’ve kept the format as it was, but changed the cast which has done enough to keep things new and interesting. The crimes are so well-staged that everything is a clue. If you think something doesn’t matter because the set designer maybe bumped something or put something in the wrong place, then you’d be wrong. I’m amazed how detailed some of the sets are.

It's a great piece of TV, and I remain bemused as to why it’s not on UK screens. Out of all the variety formats Korean TV has come up with, this is the most international. And this would be such a big hit here. It’s funny and tense and interesting and everything you want from a murder mystery. I remain eternally in the debt of the subber Bumdidlyumptious for their work.

Friday, 17 April 2015

Currently watching: Tenshi to Akuma

I checked and, to my surprise, it’s been over a year since I subbed anything new on a regular basis. And I had no plan to sub anything this season either, except when I started watching this without subs, I began to enjoy it and I decided if I really wanted to get the most out of it, I’d have to sub it for myself.

This drama is about a police officer who believes in people, and a lawyer who does not. They end up working together to solve crimes. So far, it’s exactly like any other cop series in which two people with opposite personalities team up, become friends and save lives etc.

Add to this predictable set up a storyline about powerful enigmatic men who are manipulating things behind the scene. All of this points to some dramatic climax in which a major politician/police commissioner is uncovered as a criminal mastermind. Probably.

But I liked this drama particularly for the performance of Watabe Atsuro as Chajima, the over-polite yet over-suspicious lawyer. He has just the right manner of superiority without making you dislike the character.

I’m interested to see how this series progresses. Let’s hope for some surprises on the way. Or at least some well-written clichés.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

A justification of illegal downloads and a trip to Japan

Sometimes I get guilty about downloading stuff for free, so I’m almost glad when there’s something I want but I can’t find it online anywhere. Then I have to buy a real life physical copy and for a short time I’m able to convince myself I’m better than people who just take, take, take and never give anything back.

However, maybe I’m also stupider than those people. Twice in a row, I’ve had to pay customs tax (and the admin charge that the Royal Mail puts on top of that) on something I’ve ordered from Japan. That's £13, about half the price of what I ordered. Most recently, it was the film Live Tape. I was sick of waiting for it to come out on DVD, so I ordered it. And it’s very nice, too.

But to make things more annoying, it took so long to arrive that I’ve arranged another holiday in Japan. If I'd waited a bit, I could’ve bought it while I was there and not paid the surcharges!

I’m going next month, but already I’ve had two set backs. I was going to do the Kumano Kodo, but it seems you have to book more than a month in advance to be sure of hotel places. The other set back is that Maggot Gallery – the tiny but lovely photography gallery in Osaka – has closed! Just last month it held it’s final show. I’m a bit sad about that. I do like to revisit places I’ve been before, and I was looking forward to going back their to see what they had on. I'm also going to miss the sticker on the lift, made to look like the other lift buttons, which I tried to press the first time I went there, and then couldn't work out why the lift wasn't moving.

Ah, memories.

Saturday, 4 April 2015

Currently listening to: MFBTY and Humbert Humbert

It’s Spring! Which means it’s time for a bunch of big name K-Pop stars to make their comeback. Or, as everyone else in the world calls it: release new material.

Despite my somewhat sarcastic opening, I am a little excited about this. For the past couple of months, I’ve been quite frustrated that I’ve haven’t found any new act that made me think “Hey, I want to know more about this!” so I’m kind of hoping that this new round of releases might change that.

Miss A have already released a good (but not great) mini-album, and BigBang and Girls’ Generation have new releases coming up soon. I have no idea what to expect from BigBang (and that’s a good thing) but the teaser for the new GG single sounds pretty awful. I didn’t like Mister Mister either, but at least it had a couple of good b-sides.

I’ll be honest (and I’m not proud of this) I didn’t like Girls’ Generation at first and the only reason I gave them a second chance was because they put the apostrophe in their name in the right place. I’m such a grammar geek that I thought, “Well, if they can do that, they can’t be all bad.” And so I gave “Gee” a few more listens, and the rest is history. But despite all that good feeling toward them, I have grave doubts about their new stuff.

But what I really want to talk about is MFBTY. Their new album, Wondaland, is out and in my mp3 player and it’s a bit special. Better that their debut The Cure, this is a great (frequently brilliant) collection of rap/dance tunes, with Angel coming out a clear favourite.

It made me wonder about the name, though. MFBTY is generally explained as My Fans Better Than Yours, but on the new album one song has the refrain “MF Bizzy TY.” This got me thinking: if B stands for Bizzy, then T must stand for Tiger JK and Y must mean Yoon Mi Rae: the three memebrs of the group. So what does MF stand for? Are there two more people in the band? Or does it actually stand for “Mother Fucking Bizzy, Tiger, Yoon Mi Rae”? Since I’m never going to meet them, I’ll never know, but I kind of hope so.

So, if that wasn’t enough to restore my faith in music, one day after I bought Wondaland I discovered a new band through the unlikely source of a YouTube recommendation. Humbert Humbert are a Japanese folk duo with an incredible ear for a chorus and some heart-breaking harmonies. Never more so than on their song “大宴会” (Daienkai) which is exactly the kind of song you’d expect to hear when you’re out hiking in a mountain forest in Japan, floating across a valley on a slight breeze. Somehow it feels like it comes from long ago but also could have been written yesterday: that’s how beautiful and universal it is.

But I don’t want to praise this song in favour of others. Most of their songs have that timeless quality. Unfortunately, they’re not the easiest band to search for. They’re on iTunes (along with two other bands also called Humbert Humbert) but I’ve found a fair amount of stuff on YouTube. Definitely worth the effort, though. They are one of those bands that sing songs that are so simple that you can hardly believe that no one has written them before.

Just finished: Mondai no Aru Restaurant

Sorry about the lack of posts recently. Work and all that.

This was a pretty average series, all told. Each character has their own neuroses to work through, and they all get the chance to stand centre stage and solve them. The trouble is, the most difficult and debilitating problem (the chef who is a hikikomori) is solved first and in a very quick and convenient manner. I suppose they had to do that, otherwise the restaurant wouldn't have had a chef.

Anyway, I finally got around to watching the final episode of this series, and I found it very confusing.

I expected the final episode to be some sort of climax. A lot of J-dramas keep the last episode for the pivotal battle that the series has been building up to. But Mondai no Aru Restaurant didn't. Instead, the final storyline happened entirely off-screen. It was occasionally mentioned by a character, but we never actually saw any of the action. That's about it.

Instead of a tense final battle, we got something like an opening episode: a series of scenes designed to illustrate the different characters. Except it wasn't a case of introducing characters, but showing how they've changed. It was strange at first, but once I'd got used to the idea that episode ten wasn't going to be a dramatic showdown, I quite liked it.

At its best, Mondai no Aru Restaurant was pretty bland, feel-good TV, and at its worst it became one of those dramas where everyone whispers when they talk to show how sad they are. The best thing about the series (by far) was the performance of Takahata Mitsuki as the ditzy yet clearly intelligent waitress. She was far more fun than the others. Not enough fun to save the series, though.

Mind you, the restaurant did look nice.