Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Jmovie review: Soredemo Boku wa Yattenai


Soredemo Boku wa Yattenai is a very interesting movie about Teppei, an innocent man who is falsely accused of being a chikan/groper. Almost everyday, one reads of Japanese men being caught for chikan/upskirt/voyeurism etc. Its so common place that they've even got women only trains. This movie takes a look at how the justice system handles such matters, through the eyes of our protagonist, Teppei.

Hhmm, reason no.5 why I want to go Japan. :)

First thing this movie tells you is that the smart thing to do is to just plead guilty, pay the fine and walk out of the police station as the alternative is hell. The police the right to keep one in prison for weeks and bail was denied on the basis that he might intimidate the his accuser! And I thought bail was to prevent the accused from fleeing the country/not coming to court. If Japan were a common law country, one could argue pretty convincingly that every person accused of a crime should be denied bail. Why even have bail in the first place?


Second thing this movie tells you is that there is no presumption of innocence. Nothing surprising about that. Most people assume that police would not charge anyone without concrete evidence. The scary bit is how the judiciary is portrayed as an arm of government who's sole purpose is to rubber stamp the arrest and send people to jail. They even went so far as to use Teppei's JAV as collection. I mean which guy doesn't have porn. And 50% of JAV involve schoolgirls. Its like saying all Japanese men are very likely to be chikans.

What sort of sukebe would want to molest a joshi kousei as young and innocent as her?! On second thought, don't answer that question.....

The judge running Teppei's case talks about how the number one function of a judge is not to send an innocent man to jail. Quickly, he is taken off the case. Finding someone innocent is an embarrassment to the police and there is always pressure for the judiciary to not only please the police and the bureaucracy behind it. In order words, there is no fucking safeguard in place. The judiciary does not function as a check and balance of the police's powers. The system itself is fucked.


The most interesting thing is what is not talked about in the show; legal system and public policy. Japan's legal system is based on civil law ie judicial precedents are hardly given weight and there is stricter interpretations of statute. Whereas in common law, ie US/Aust/UK the crimes act would be adhered to but based on principles of law established by previous cases. In order words, Japanese judges have almost no power of interpretation and everything is about legislation.

Remember ladies, always hold onto the hand that gropes you! :)

Basically, the Diet has legislated a criminal system where people who have been accused are so much better of admitting to the crime and let off with minimal trouble and where the accussed are not given a fair go at proving their innocence. The scene where Teppei's accuser takes the stand is so heartbreaking. I felt so sorry for her and admired her bravery and yet that has nothing to do with whether or not Teppei did the crime.

What this movie really needed was someone playing the devil's advocate. Proving someone was a chikan is hard. Since the trains are so crowded anyone could easily claim that it was a case of mistaken identity and would cost the courts, police and public prosecutor so much resources just fight these cases. Not to mention having the women/girls relive their experience in court.

The scene where they staged the chikan incident is ingenious. :)

One the other hand, letting people off with a fine does nothing to discourage chikan. Furthermore I don't think having a fair trial system would encourage an avalanche of innocent please would drain resources. Would a guilty person actually want to risk pleading innocent as society would presumed him guilty anyway?

I highly recommend this movie to anyone interested in Japan. The pacing is slow but its a very eye opening experience. In the end, what this movie is about is in the first line of the show: an innocent shall not be punished even if 10 true offenders slip away. No matter what the cost. And we know this through Teppei's experience. No innocent man should be be forced to fight such an unfair and uphill battle.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Utahime


OMFG, I just marathoned the whole series in one go. And to think that I had the audacity to stop watching after the 1st episode when I first got the series months ago. Seriously, this is one of the best written and acted shows. Tight and funny script and I just couldn't stop watching after the 2nd episode. Nagase Tomoya plays Taro, an amnesiac who worked as a projectionist in the 1950s and Aibu Saki plays Suzu, the daughter of the owner. In a nutshell, Utahime is a variation of the childhood friend story while incorporating the older dude younger chick element and actually making it work!

Aaahh, the Taro Suzu dance. I love how its so freaking random and when they finally explain it, it takes on a whole new meaning. Truly great writing.

Nagase Tomoya does his typical overacting but this time he manages to scale it back when needed. After watching big money, its evident that his serious acting only works when its contrasted against his yakuza style overacting. The real star of the show for me is definitely Aibu Saki. She's like the new Sakai Noriko, playing the innocent girl who has everything and the kitchen sink thrown at her in her quest for love except she doesn't come off like an idiot like Noriko in Heaven's Coin.

Aibu Saki showing her sucking skills. :)

SPOILER WARNING

Wonder how many takes they needed for the hoola hoops scene, unless of course they cast the show with it in mind...

Can't talk about the show without mentioning the ending which sorta left a bad taste in my mouth. The show is shown through Suzu's eyes. We see her heartbreak and determination sprinkled with flashback of her childhood with Taro. Basically, one cannot help but empathise with her cause. As I had said concerning Hatachi no Koibito, the writers need to make the audience care about the Taro and Suzu's relationship with the age gap or it would look very awkward.

Suzu chan!!!!! They don't do old fashion heroines as good as her anymore...

Yet, after all that build up we get painful Himitsu ending. Its just that after all the emotional investment in a Taro-Suzu ending I was emotionally gutted. It worked for Himitsu cause both choices were 'right'. In this case... I suppose Taro made the 'right' choice but I didn't care about Miwako (Koike Eiko) . I guess the story being set in the 1950s, Taro didn't really have a choice. Maybe if they had cast someone else as Miwako as I find Koike Eiko's acting weak.


And Suzu ending up with Croissant..... uuuugggghhh. I don't care how many times he gets beat up, he is a mere comedy foil and will never get my approval. Not with so much build up and history between Taro and Suzu. The reincarnation ending is does not erase the bitterness of Taro's choice.


Sigh, maybe I would appreciate the ending better after sleeping. I do see why they wrote it that way but to acknowledge that Suzu's sincerity and purity was defeated by Taro's past....... Probably because Taro did it for Miwako and Sakura, two characters I don't give a shit about. In Himitsu, the husband's bitter choice was out of love for his wife. (If you have not seen Hirosue Ryoko's Himitsu, you NEED to hunt it down. Its one of the best movies ever.)



END SPOILERS



I had blast watching this show. From the retro 50s feel to the jokes to how there was always something interesting happening. I lot of jdoramas suffer from incompetent writing and its just uplifting to see something that's different yet so thoughtfully written. This show deserves high freaking praise and everyone should watch it.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Koshonin eps 1-4


On the heels of SP comes Koshonin aka The Negotiator. Will there finally be an action jdorama that I can rave about? To be honest, I'm not a big fan of Yonekura Ryoko though I've only seen her in Seiken Bijin and Hatachi no Kekkon. I put her in the same category as Fujiwara Norika; good to look at but devoid of acting skills.


In Koshinon, Ryoko plays Usagi Reiko, a new negotiator who finds herself thrust upon the all male Special Investigations Team (SIT). Add to that her mysterious relationship with a murderer in death row a la Clarice and Hannibal Lecter except the murderer is not scary and their conversations yawn inducing. So basically Usagi is this strong female Jodie Foster character who can't get a break from her colleagues or her superiors. Certainly a good way to see whether Yonekura Ryoko has what it takes to be a main actress.


Except the whole Usagi against the world thing feels so forced and unnatural. I would compare it to those Korean tearjerkers that throw all sorts of misery at a character and the director is shouting at your ear "see how sad it is? Now cry!" Basically it boils down to how the camera presents Usagi. A lot of the shots just scream "Look at Yonekura Ryoko! See how long her legs are! Look at her slim waist and nice ass!" The camera makes her look like a million bucks but its just too freaking blatant. Its like they storyboarded all those cool poses for her to do but everything else is not up to same standard. I don't know whether its a Yonekura Ryoko gravure video or a nitty gritty negotiator dorama.


I'm the last one to complain about fanservice. Its one of the most enjoyable parts of watching jdoramas. But it in a show that is supposed to be dark and serious? Imagine gratuitous shots of policewomen posing in NYPD Blue. It just doesn't fit the real world feel that they are going for? I mean she's supposed to be fighting against discrimination in the police force but its as if she's continuously showing the viewer how sexy she is. A more 'impartial' camera view would help and she should stop posing every time she's in full frame.


And Jinnai Takanori is seriously miscast as her Chief. As much as I enjoy his acting in comedies, his overacting and stupid facial expressions just doesn't work. Even when he slaps Usagi, I couldn't take him seriously, not with his eyes looking like they're going to pop out of their sockets all the time.


I remember reading this interview with one of the makers of Dynasty Warriors game series who said not to judge the games by what they aren't but what they are. Maybe I should judge jdoramas as idol driven, poorly written shows where acting skills are not required. Well, in the scheme of jdorama cop shows, this is probably the first one I've seen that at least tries to be nitty gritty. Its just too bad they didn't get rid of stupid jdorama conventions like the whole SIT team walking in a straight line trying to look cool. It works in a more fantasy dorama like Iryu but not a supposedly dark cop show, especially not when the freaking cops didn't do any noteworthy work.


I feel like Charley Rosen for criticizing the show so much. Its not that I like complaining. Ok, maybe I do. Its just that I perceive several critical flaws that could have made this show a classic. End of the day, its watchable show and kudos to the makers for doing something different. Its still better than most jdorama shows due to the subject matter and budget and I would recommend it over SP, so far.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Security Police eps 1-6


One weak genre in jdoramas is the action/cop shows. This stems from too much anime/manga influence. Odoru Daisousasen was too light and the less said about Rondo the better. Toubousha might be good but only 2 eps are subbed. Is SP the action dorama I've been waiting for?



First thing SP has going for it is casting. Okada Junichi + Tsutsumi Shinichi = must watch. Okada plays Inoue Kaoru who's heightened senses allows him to detect danger. While having a bit of sci-fi element is OK, the show stretches it too far by giving him the ability to foresee the future. Like in ep 6 where he can somehow see how the whole assassination was going to happen. There is a huge gap in logic between heightened senses and ability to bend time.



Second good point about the show is the fighting. I'm glad they didn't use sentai fight choreographers. They actually use a lot of wrestling/jujitsu stuff to disable their opponents which is so freaking refreshing to see. Maybe they got an shoot fighter to choreograph. Case in point the fight scene in the elevator in ep 6. Complicated fight scene where one could actually follow the action. Only complaint would be that they pull the punches/elbows too much.



Biggest negative for the show would be the pacing. 3 episodes for every case is too much, particularly because a lot of the scenes are unnecessarily long and redundant. Maybe its just budget constraints. The second negative would be the whole SP should be human shields and not detectives background story. I know jdorama cop shows must have some element of corrupt and inefficient bureaucracy but its just too freaking lame. They should have more powers to act and clearance than the average cop. After all, they're protecting VIPs and there is never time to second guess decisions in the field. It makes their superiors worse than corrupt. It makes them super inept and stupid.


Still I'm impressed by this show. Nowhere as good as Western cop shows but a huge improvement over typical Japanese ones.

Monday, February 04, 2008

One Pound Gospel ep 1-3


When news that there was going to be a One Pound Gospel jdorama, I was elated. I had read the 1st two volumes many years ago and found them to be very fun. When I found out the main character was being played by Kame, I was devastated. Nevertheless I decided to risk my love for jdoramas and try out the series and was surprised to see that Kame isn't a bad an actor as Horikita Maki. Anyone who can't overacts in an anime based dorama doesn't deserve to be on tv.

Would it have hurt Kame to have actually cut his hair to at least try to look like Hatanaka from the manga? Where's the freaking dedication and sacrifice for your art? Oh, I forgot he is a johnny and this show is more about being a vehicle for him than capturing the magic of Takahashi Rumiko's manga.

Yes, sister Angela. I know its an idol driven industry but they still managed to nail H2.

The first two episodes were surprisingly watchable. Having watched really horrible doramas has made me appreciate the pedestrian. Ep 3 however, is a turning point for the series. It has nowhere to go but down. One important ingredient that is missing is chemistry between Hatanaka and sister Angela. Its more important as nothing really happens in the story. Their relationship never advances. Its basically the same joke told over and over again so their needs to be something to get the audience tuning in every week.


I knew what I was getting to when I stared watching this show anyway so I can't compain. If there's one quick fix which would easily make this series better, it would be for Kame to tone down his acting a notch. The manga was more similar to H2 than Ranma. Hatanaka and sister Angela have a doomed relationship. A bit more melancholy goes a long way.