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.