Monday, October 27, 2008

Hitotsu Yane no Shita/Under the Same Roof eps 1-6

Has it been that long since Groink did ep 1?

In the world of subbed family jdoramas, Oyaji is king. No other family show can unseat it from its throne imho. Karei naru Ichizoku makes a good case and would have if not for KimuTaku's character. He has charisma to play generic heroes but doesn't have the talent for deep characters. The only show that can match Oyaji is Hitotsu Yane no Shita. Way back in 2003, Groink fansubbed 4 episodes and it was great. Unfortunately he stopped due to someone selling his fansub or something like that. (Can't remember the exact reason) Two/three years ago, it was announced that he had given the raws to SARS and they were going to sub it but all was quiet for a long time. I had given up hope. My only choice would be to find the chinese sub vcds.

Yosuke looking like a serial killer.

Then one day, I noticed the torrent for ep 4-6. (No idea how I didn't notice the previous torrents) I couldn't believe it! All those years of waiting! I dug out my cds of eps 1-4 and hoped that they still worked. I had to overburn them since they were more than 700 megs and luckily the cds worked unlike some of my old ones! Had to wait a freaking week to watch this cause I really wanted my brother to see it. Under the Same Roof (USR) is one of those classic shows that everyone must watch and unlike Hoshi no Kinka, it stands the test of time.

Sappari wakaranai...

Family shows require very good casting. Those not much in terms of story variety. It requires bloody good acting and chemistry. Eguchi Yosuke, is the oldest son Tatsuya or as his six siblings call him, an-chan. 7 years ago, their parents died in an accident and the siblings were separated. After ending his marathon career, Tatsuya decides to settle down and reconnect with his siblings. Sounds a bit like Hotman, doesn't it? Even Tatsuya's overbearing personality is similar. Its a necessary evil to have a character who's constantly talking to be the focus. Eguchi Yosuke does it with the half the overacting that we find in jdoramas today and is able to carry his weight during the serious scenes. He is the irritating oldest brother who doesn't use his head but his heart.

If there is such thing as a perfect woman...

Fukuyama Masaharu plays Masaya, the 2nd brother who is the brains of the family. He is not really cynical but more of a realist and the one with the most reason not to reunite with his siblings. Tatsuya and Masaya are both sides of the coin of the ideal aniki. Masaya is the most interesting brother of the 4 but unfortunately there's not enough time to explore his character.

Koyuki after seeing an-chan's chinchin. :) Note her kawaii expression of horror and shock!

Thirdly, we have Sakai Noriko as Koyuki, the oldest sister and IMO the glue of the show. Finally, I get to see why was so famous back in the day. She is the perfect woman from the last century. She is the beautiful girl from next door. She is the perfect mom. She is the embodiment of the ideal woman of the 90s. The problem with Hoshi no Kinka was that her character was too passive to the point of stupidy or rather throwing the kitchen sink and bathtub at her was too much that empathy became indifference. In Mukodono 2003, Nagase Tomoyo's extreme overacting negated her charms. In UtSR, her beauty, charm and acting skills are self evident.

The way her eyes speak louder than any monologue can. She doesn't need Shiori's anime eyes to tell the viewers what is in her heart. The way she gets angry that is kowaii yet kawaii at the same time. I can see that Nacchi patterned her angry look after Noriko's. Or her slight look of dismay, the downcast eyes that just pulls the viewer in. Its sad that this type of character is no longer considered ideal anymore. Now its either the sassy OL or the slutty clubbing girl/camera whore. The feminine ideals that Koyuki represents is no more. One could argue such ideas were advocated by men and maybe still are but what do I know. I just know that watching Sakai Noriko on the screen fills me with nostalgic warmth.

I wish I had a sister who worked as a hostess. :)
Rounding up the family is Oji Megumi as Koume, the youngest sister. I think she was the bride with the mother who smokes and was a farmer from Wedding Planner. Ishida Issei (Seija no Koushin) is Fumiya, the 2nd youngest brother who has a rap sheet and Yamamoto Koji (Shinsengumi) is the disabled youngest brother, Fumiya. And how can I forgot Uchida Yuki as Rina, an idol who is a patient at the hospital Masaya works at.

An-chan knows the meaning of love thy neighbour! Look at those legs!

Look at the talent on this show! What is interesting is that they were very young when this show came out but they're twice as talented as all the young actor wannabes today. Even if one had the power to cherry pick, it would be impossible to find an ensemble cast as good as they are today. Come to think of it, Summer Snow had pretty good casting and its sort of a family dorama, but not quite.

Every guy needs a sister like Koyuki...

Of course, all the talent in the world is useless without a decent script and USR doesn't dissappoint. It doesn't try to do too much. The script knows its role. Do some humour, build up side stories in the background and go for the moving scene at the end but not to milk it too much. Its simple straight to the point and puts the onus on the actors to deliver. What more can I say to sell this show? Its classic and I can't wait for ep 7, especially after the cliffhanger!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Jdorama review: Daisuki!!

Good old disability doramas. They are to me what cancer is to Korean doramas. It appeals to the gambatte spirit of the underdog against all odds but doesn't have to resort to lame fatalistic plots. Not all disability doramas are good of course but I kinda associate them with the golden age of jdoramas. From Beautiful Life to Kimi ga oshiete kureta koto. Its always moving to watch a hot girl who can't see/hear/walk etc struggle against the odds. With a regular chick, you have to make her interesting. With disability doramas, its just about the challenges and keeping the cheese factor to minimum.

Daisuki!! came out in the beginning of this year and its one of those shows I've always wanted to blog about but never got around cause I just watched a really good show that I want to talk about. I had the whole review in the back of my mine months ago but never got around to writing them down and had to search through my posts just to make sure I had not. In Daisuki!!, Karina plays Yuzu, a mentally disabled woman who gets pregnant. I'm pretty sure she's autistic but I'm too lazy to look through the series again to confirm. Usually in such cases, children's services will have to remove the child from the mother. In fact, I had spoken to an autistic mom this week who's child is in custody of the grandparents which sort of reminded me of this show.

Karina's character Yuzu, has the mind of an eight year old, and as Robert Downey Jr said in Tropic Thunder, 'full retards' aren't just entertaining. Or rather, I am unable to empathise with Yuzu. I just pity the mom and brother for having to shoulder the huge burden of allowing Yuzu to have the child. People who make the 'right' decision knowing that it is the most difficult instantly gain my sympathy, especially the brother who has to make sacrifices. Its hard for me to judge her acting despite her winning two awards. I just have this idea that anyone can act like an eight year old. Maybe I'm just indifferent to characters who show no intelligence.

The one thing that kept me glued to the screen was Fukuda Saki's character of Kotone, the child's aunt. She's the cynical girl gets attached to Yuzu and Himawari and in helping them turns her life around. I enjoyed her role as the manipulative bully in Life but her acting as Kotone shows that she has acting chops. She is the perfect anthesisit to Yuzu's goody brother, Ren. Rather it is their story that made this show interesting.

So it pissed me off to no end when Ren ended up with the fucking boring ojousan Natsume. I really can't understand how the writer can justify not putting together the two most interesting characters in the show. Natsume is so boring. She's the nice girl who like Ren and puts in the effort to help Yuzu but she's more of a 2 dimensional plot device compared to Kotone says whatever is on everyone's mind but they do not dare to voice out. Not to mention the complete lack of chemistry between Ren and Natsume. I wouldn't recommend Daisuki!! unless you want to see what Fukuda Saki can do.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Jmovie review: Taiyo no Kizu/Sun Scared

The thing about Takashi Miike, Japan's hardest working director is that you either love his movies or you hate it. While he is king of B-grade horror/gore with such movies as Ichi the Killer, he is capable of doing real good mainstream films like Zebraman. Miike is like the Frank Miller of Japanese cinema. He is very talented but likes to indulge himself way too much, ie does whatever he likes without worrying about pacing and the overall movie. Its mostly when he is constrained or working has to fit his style to a structure then his brilliance comes through.

I can't really forgive him for fucking up Ryuga Gotoku though. The game had the perfect story to be adapted to movie form. It was a simple yakuza story about friendship, betrayal and loyalties and yet Miike went overboard by giving Majima too much screentime that the story was non-existant. However in Taiyo no Kizu, Miike has once again showed why he is a cut above most Japanese directors today.

Frequent colaborator, Aikawa Sho plays Katayama, a salaryman who saves a homeless man from being beat up by a gang of youths and starts a chain of events which destroy his life. The youths get revenge on him and thus starts his trouble. There are many interesting elements in this movie. First is how juvenile offenders are given too much protection in Japan. Yes, they have higher chance of rehabilitation but for serious crimes, they are basically getting away scott free. Miike also presents the other side. How people can leave their past if they have something to live for but ultimately, in Taiyo no Kizu the juvenile system is prone to abuse.

The second interesting element of the story is sensational newsreporting. How the public so simply turned against Katayama and how the news selectively reports information for sensational headlines. We get that in Australia as well, which I fucking hate. Presenting one sided information and prejudging people so that people will buy papers with exciting headlines. Like how the news omit the fact that Katayama was saving a homeless man and how the public blamed him for the kids' crimes.

However, Miike's aim in this movie is not to dwell or examine the above two points. His aim is very different from most revenge movies. He wants us to feel Katayama's pain and frustration at a system which fucks the innocent and protects the guilty. The movie does not need to show too much of Katayama's pain and anguish. By showing less, the audience feels his frustration more. When the walls that stop him from getting justice keep coming we feel even more empathy. The more he strives to seek retribution, the more we support him. He is the ultimate underdog.

In other words. This movie is about the payoff. The act of vengeance. And never before have I felt so happy than when Katayama finally got his hand on the kid. My brother and I were cheering him on as he pounded the guy's face into the floor. Never have I watched a movie where I am so emotionally involved in an act of violence. It sorta feels wrong but never have I seen a movie that is built to manipulate my emotions this way. As Jon Favreau said, movies are about making the audience feel or experience something they don't in real life and Taiyo no Kizu does just that.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Koi No Chikara eps 1-4

From the writer of Yamato Nadeshiko and Shikaotoko, two of the best jdoramas ever is Koi no Chikara. Aizawa Tomoko also wrote the rather pedestrian but still watchable Itsumo Futari de and goddamnit, I regret not watching Medaka because her writing in Koi no Chikara is damn good. Its going to be a hurculean task to get it now unless I can find Medaka on rapidshare/megaupload.

Koi no Chikara is basically a josei dorama aka made for the the working adult woman. Fukatsu Eri is of course the 30 year old main character, Toko who's working as an OL in a dead end job etc etc. She meets Tsutmi Shinichi who plays Nukui, a talented advertising dude who is too straightforward and slightly inept socialy. Basically, Toko the everywoman OL. She's nice, emphatic and slowly she changes Nukui's character. We've all seen this before, except never written so well.

There are always stereotypes in josei/shoujo manga/doramas. Most of the time, they just feel like cutboard characters playing their roles in the plot. For some reason, it doesn't feel that way in Koi no Chikara. I've watched a lot of Fukatsu Eri shows but and somehow Toko doesn't seem like a boring generic OL but rather a disillusioned woman in the who is looking for direction in life. There's not really an element or part of the script that strikes me as the key to making Toko seem real but I guess most of the credit is to the structure or dialogue. There are many parts of the show where a voice in my head goes, "this is the typical josei part where this and that happens", but I'm just enjoying the show so much.

Hotman 2 just wasn't the same without her.

Maybe its all the little details like her watching that stupid tv show and admiting that the misery of others makes her happy. Or maybe how unlike a lot of josei character today, she doesn't talk all the time. There's a scene in ep 4 where Nukui is taunting her but she says nothing. Rather her facial expressions almost tell us her chain of thought as she absorbs the taunts before she launches her comeback. At least now I see why Fukatsu Eri is in so many shows. With her being in two pretty good shows, this and Suekko Chonnan, can she be considered a good actress?

Maybe its the acting. Having the cast of Yamato Nadeshiko back together minus Matsushima Nanako. Nishimura Mashiko doesn't have the subtlety to play the vindictive Yoshitake but his acting is still better than the overacting we commonly see in jdoramas today. And Yada Akiko reprises the same role as in Yamato. She is a delight to watch on screen and I wonder whether she will upstage Fukatsu Eri like she almost did in Yamato. Actually Yada Akiko's character is closer to the generic josei heroine. Nice to a fault but no other discernable characteristic.

Are you thinking what I'm thinking? :)

It goes to prove that sukebes like me can enjoy well written josei stories. I think the notion of the viewer needing to project themselves onto the main character is a whole load of crap. That's why lots of shows are stuck with boring, generic main characters. And there's that old school fell of the show and not to mention having an Kazumasa Oda song. There's a kind of feel in the late 90s early 2K jdoramas which seems to have been lost forever. A more innocent or rather more simplistic feel to the shows. Not trying to do to much and end up achieving nothing.

As I've said, its kinda hard to write a structured review for Koi no Chikara because the 4 episodes didn't blow me away but more of a slow realisation that I was enjoying the show a lot. And the great thing about it is that we're 4 episodes in and they haven't gone into the main relationship yet which is great pacing. I'm just stoked that Band of Nuts took the time time and effort to sub this 2002 jdorama. I would definitely rate this as a must watch show. Can't wait for the rest of the show!

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Gonzo: Densetsu no Keiji eps 8-10

When talking about mystery type jdoramas, the cream of the crop is probably One Million Stars, Sleeping Forest and Midnight Rain. One Million Stars gets the nod from me because of Sanma's old detective character. Usually for mystery shows, the script is about throwing red herrings and trying to have an exciting revelation per episode while the audience on their toes. Once you get to the end, there's not much point rewatching cause you already know the truth.

Gonzo is different. Its more than just a mystery cop dorama. It is a character driven dorama about a cop with mental scars so deep that he can never go back. It is about a career cop who can never run from his mentor's shadows. Its about an old cop on his last legs and a young one seeking redemption. Gonzo is unique in that it feels like the characters are telling the story yet it exists within the framework of a very well written mystery dorama. In many mystery shows, what characters say and do are in the service of deepening the mystery. In order words, characters are merely plot devices.

But not in Gonzo. I care for the characters and when they formed Team Gonzo, I wanted to see them in action and solve a crime before going back to the main one. The idea of a rogue investigation team is so appealing. Plus the fact that you got to know the character very well. Very rarely do I not want a dorama to end and very rarely do characters become so alive and real that the plot doesn't matter to me. Probably the only other show to achieve that this year is Muri na renai.

It is shocking how the average rating for Gonzo is only 10.7. When KDO had an average rating of 17, I was impressed. A real good show without a Johnny getting decent ratings? Maybe Japanese viewers weren't as shallow as I thought. Its like a friend of mine who judges movies not based on content but rather how the actors appealed to her. KDO's ratings brought hope. Alas, Gonzo's poor ratings is a complete travesty of natural justice! How can the steaming pile of excrement known as Code Blue rate higher? Not to mention poor excuse for jdoramas such as Taiyo to Umi, Shibatora and Yasuko to Kenji? Have the Japanese lost their freaking minds?

One of the most well written and acted jdoramas ever with a rating of 10.7? Do writing and acting mean nothing in the face of shoddy Johnny 'acting'? This to me sends a bad sign to the network stations. Save money on scripts and real actors and just get pretty faces to get better ratings. Gonzo's poor ratings should be a national outrage. They should be pimping the dvds and doing reruns. More people need to see this show! We need a goddamn sequel. Gonzo v Sakuma round 2 with interference from a new guy from main office. Rouge team Gonzo solving crimes and shaming official investigators! They just need to keep the scriptwriter and all will be well.

Lets not forget the story of Gonzo. Its so fucking beautiful not because all storylines linkstogether in the end but how the thematic stories come together. It is a given that there would be a monologue(s) at the end with flashbacks of all the episodes. Its like the unwritten rule of jdoramas. I just like how the writer kept the monologue short but linked it back to all the previous episodes. Its like all the episodes served as clues to the mystery and at the same time helps answer the burning question of the series, "kono sekai ni, ai wa aru no?" Its hard to imagine how the writer decided to write a cop show with all elements of the story based on the question.

The reveal of the villain is simple but it works because it makes sense. That's probably the best compliment I can give the writing. The twist doesn't need to be unforseen or to come from left field. The clues have to come together and fit. Like how the big clue of the guy with the limp shaking while holding the shotgun was so easily dismissed cause of Gonzo's metal instability. Or Gonzo rationalising his playing of russian roulette. Even the villain's inevitable tragic past didn't feel lame because it gave birth to the konno sekai question. I love how they didn't milk his betrayal by the one woman who shouldn't have betrayed him. The polish and effort of the little details that went into the script elevates it above so many pedestrian jdoramas. Truly the best jdorama of the season.