Thursday, January 29, 2009

Koi No Chikara eps 5-7

Jobs in jdoramas are a tricky thing. The audience needs to see and easily understand the difficulties of a job. It needs to be exciting without getting too technical. There needs to be an easily understood and exciting challenge for the protagonist to overcome and the goal needs to be visible. That's why there are so many medical shows. The challenge is to save lives and medical complications are something that the audience are familiar with. And what is more exciting than saving people?


Advertising jobs are another favourite of jdorama writers. There's fighting for projects and doing advertising campaigns like in Love Generation and Last Christmas. Its easier to write than say civil engineering where the challenge would be building strong foundations or how to build a retaining wall. Basically with advertising in jdoramas, its easier to fit it in the script since there's more variety than a typical salaryman job and there's an artistic end result to show for it.

I know where I'm going when I visit Japan besides Akiba....

However, Koi no Chikara really stumbles in regards to the advertising part. Its such a vital component of the show because it is about them fighting from the ground up as a small advertising firm. The natural up thing was pretty stupid. They spent whole night stressing about which fonts and colours to use for the words 'natural up' and in the end it looks like crap. Then they stress even more about some stupid letting of balloons with certain seeds in them and make it such a big deal.

I'd love to hear that from a woman as hot as her. :)

Pride in work is one of the hallmarks of jdoramas and I enjoy it when they exaggerate the skill needed in even the simplest of jobs. However in Koi no Chikara, I just don't see what they are so stressed about and the end result is so unimpressive. If this were a show about cooking, they can have characters talk about how incredible the food tastes etc etc. But releasing balloons? Designing a crummy poster with the words 'natural up'? The problem is, its all visual and there's no way to have characters talk about how grand it is. They have to convince the audience that it looks tough or that Nukui is actually a good advertising designer by showing some actually good logos.

Worse is ep 7 where Nukui is asked to copy paste someone else ads for a year long contract and they make a big issue over it when the company is in dire straits. All they are asking for is for Nukui to photoshop some images together and put in some words. Isn't the purpose of advertising to create ads for products that according to the client's wishes? The client is paying the bills and the client has the final say. The little that Nukui has done has not shown me his skills in advertising. The only thing he has shown is that he knows how to use photoshop.

Don't remember her in Hotman so that means I have to rewatch it!

Its unfortunate that the job part in the last few episodes is bad because the rest of the show is good. Its classic jdorama cliches done well. The beats, the dialogue, the side story, its all predictable but fun. If Taiyo to Umi Kyoushitsu taught me anything, its that there is always hope. 4 more episodes to go and fingers crossed a better ad from Nukui & Co.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Arifureta Kiseki eps 1+2

I've always thought that Nakama Yukie is better as a comedy actress. I've always enjoyed her role in Trick with Abe Hiroshi. I think her ability to play such a flawed character is great. Contrast that with her boring role in the super pedestrian Tokyo Wankei. Arifureta Kiseki seems to be another serious boy meets girl jdorama ala Tokyo Wankei so I wasn't expecting much. I really don't see how they can do a serious romance dorama today that comes close to Long Vacation/Love Generation quality with the non-acting ability of young actors today.

Imagine my surprise when I realised that the main actor was Kase Ryo from 'Soredemo boku wa yattenai'! Yes! Someone who can actually act! OMG, how did this happen?! Someone actually decided to cast based on acting skills rather than random Johnny bishonen? This is brilliant! Nakama Yukie won't have to carry the show by herself! Yatta!

Hhhm, she's not as kabe onna as I thought...

Then, Jinnai Takanori turned up on my screen with his super bulging eyeballs and array of overacting skills. WTF is this person in so many freaking doramas. Do they not realise his tendency to overact kills every serious dorama he's been in. I love it when he's in comedies like Heaven Cannot Wait or Backdancers. Its cool when he's suppose to be comedy relief supporting actor. With a serious show like Arifureta Kiseki, it could be really bad.

I try to banish my resentment for Jinnai Takanori from my mind in order to enjoy the show more. It was that or fast forward all his scenes. It is really nice to see a more realistic jdorama. Too many anime style jdoramas can be a bad thing. And this is realistic serious dorama. Not like Tomorrow where its serious but people act and speak slightly more anime like. You can say its more movie like than you're average jdoramas. The characters can exist in our world.

Arifureta Kiseki is about Kana (Nakama Yuki) and Shota (Kase Ryo) who meet when they try both prevented Makoto (Jinnai Takanori) from commiting suicide at a train platform. From there, its plays like your typical serious romance show. Awkward exchanges. Family background etc etc. I was sort of getting bored near the end and thinking there better be something at the end that'll make me excited about episode 2. And there was. Nice big reveal which just makes everything so much more interesting. This show is gonna rule and Jinnai Takanori's overacting is not going to spoil it for me! (I hope) Suffice to say, there's gonna be lots of emotional and dark stuff in this serious and (fingers crossed) no simplification or anime style dumbing down.

One thing that struck me as I was watching this show is that the camera is way too still. Yeah, I know movies have 3 months to shoot for 2 hours of runtime so they can take their time with shots but the realistic mood is slightly off put by the too obvious studio set shots. I guess you can call this more of an observation than criticism. The other thing I noticed when taking screencaps was the lack of close ups. This goes together with static camera observation. Even when focused on a character, the camera is distant. Maybe a deliberate choice to highlight the emotional distance between the characters and their emotions? To amplify their emotional detachment or signify the depths that they had buried their problems to? Will the camera shots get closer as more gets revealed and they confront their past?

I for one, am looking forward to seeing how Arifureta Kiseki unfolds and highly recommend it. At least give ep 1 a try and I guarantee you'll be hooked at the end.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

OL Nippon eps 4-10

The softsubs for OL Nippon by Haruspex seems to have stopped with ep 4. (damn those streamers!) The show is good enough that I decided to get one of those Engrish subbed HK dvds. I tried watching it raw but couldn't understand a lot of the work related talk. I wish whoever does this DVDs would hire someone with decent English to edit the subtitles. 2-3 years ago the idea of English subtitled dvds was unheard of so at least there's an avenue now for jdoramas that don't get subbed.

The middle portion of OL Nippon centres around the Kanzaki Shimako quadrangle with her boss, opera guy and Chibi-san. I just find this part of the show hilarious. Kanzaki basically wants to bury her head in the sand and pretend nothing is happening. Her boss knows that Kanzaki hardly acknowledges his existence but he's the only one who can stop the engagement. Opera guy has no chemistry and will forever get teased for that song and Chibi-san just wants to argue with Kanzaki all day. Nothing like likable, disfunctional characters trapped with only one way out.

Behold! The evil power of makeup!

Throughout all this, the General Dept has become more receptive to Chan-san and Yan-san. They start to see them not as outsiders taking away their livelihood but members of the same team. Its interesting to see how Chibi-san always talks about Chinese stereotypes but the more the General Dept get to know Chan-san and Yan-san, the more those stereotypes start to break down. They start acting against stereotypes and the Japanese start to see them as people, not just faceless Chinese.

Its interesting that this show is about accepting the impact that economic downturn and globalisation has on the Japanese workforce. Lifetime employment and working for one company no longer exists. Jobs are outsourced overseas to minimise costs. The Japanese response is to do whatever one can and take this as a challenge. They whinged about it in the beginning but they came to realise that the problem was too big. It was inevitable. You could say it was part of the shoganai na attitude. If this were an Australian drama, it would be about how overseas call centres can't speak proper English and are just reading from a list without adequate knowledge.

I still find the fact that the Chinese are portrayed so positively in this show is shocking and its fun actually not needing subtitles to understand some lines. I dare say that the Mandarin spoken by the Japanese cast in this show is far superior to the crappy English that we always find in jdoramas. Every time they have some actor pretending to be talking English, I just cringe. Pathetic pronunciation and stupid lines can never convince that a character is overseas speaking English. You can always see this tense smile on their face as they're wondering whether they sound alright. There's always something unnatural about it.

The only thing missing are laser beams of death shooting from her eyes.

Abe Sadao does a fucking brilliant job of speaking Mandarin. It feels natural. Sometimes words don't sound right but for the most part, he did a good job. The funniest part for me besides the opera singing and imaginary voice overs was when one of the workers scolded him in Mandarin. The pronunciation was perfect. I can't imagine how much the actress practiced those lines to be able to do it so well. Maybe it was the typical Chinese insult about the parents but that scene had me in stitches.

One show that OL Nippon has in common with is Muri na Renai. Both shows feature well developed characters as they struggle with their jobs. Both shows concentrate on the relationships in the beginning and focus and the characters' decisions regarding work at the end. Some people might find the lack of emphasis on relationships at the end off-putting but I don't care. Its more about exploring characters, their motivations and life decisions. I'd recommend anyone pick up the HK subbed DVDs despite the Engrish. Its very worth watching.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Taiyo to Umi no Kyoshitsu eps 3-10

Best reason to be a teacher in Japan when I grow up!

I wrote about the first two episodes of Taiyo to Umi and it was clearly a dorama desperately searching for its identity, trying to find somewhere between GTO and Kinpachi sensei. They tried to make it different by making Oda Yuji by making Oda Yuji's character a bit more mysterious. They gave him a past of teaching in a war torn country and some story about his student dying. They gave him some weird power up move where, he does the Team Scorpion hand on heart from Pride, light comes out before he goes and does some GTO saving the students stupid heroics. The first two episodes convinced me to drop it and I only kept the series because it had Mop Girl/Kitagawa Keiko and Shinobu/ Yoshitaka Yuriko in it.

What's a teacher doing in the basement with two girls? :)

Taiyo to Umi became one of jdoramas I would watch from time to time when I was undecided about to watch. It was so bad that I would be forced to quickly decide what I really wanted to watch. The next few episodes were the same, Oda Yuji pulling some stupid GTO stunt except that it wasn't anywhere as cool.

Bloody Negative Yoshio Monday will be a sure ratings winner!

Then something happened in episode 6, the alien episode featuring Maeda Atsuko from AKB48. A side story that was been brewing in the background was coming to its conclusion. Oda Yuji's student saving stunt at the end was not about trying to out GTO GTO but was about doing something that made more sense for the problem. And there was no stupid hand on heart bullshit. Oda Yuji actually had a line in ep 6 about babies crying that I found to be pretty good. Was this Taiyo to Umi's identity that it was looking for?

Probably the closest thing to an upskirt shot in Taiyo to Umi.

Instead of trying to be cool, be a bit more touching. Put Oda Yuji in the background and the students in the foreground. Make his character serve as a plot device and make the stories about the students. No unnecessary illogical fourth quarter heroics from his character. Let the students decide the story and fit Oda Yuji where appropriate. Taiyo to Umi had finally found it voice.

3 lovely ladies in a classroom...

I continued on to episode 7 and couldn't stop watching. Taiyo to Umi actually became a gripping, well written show. The suicide story really helped. Going darker made the show and characters feel more real. There was more substance to the problem and Hachi became a character the audience would finally root for. Oda Yuji didn't need to do some crashing through window crap or carrying a piano to a cliff bullshit. He just needed to be a teacher like Kinpachi sensei, with less of the wholesome goodness but keeping some of the dark tones.

Luckily Shinobu was in the show or I would not have kept watching.

I won't spoil the rest of the series except that Shinobu has a big part in it and she is good. She was entrusted with a meaty role in Taiyo to Umi's most exciting story arc and she ran with it. Mop Girl is just miscast in this one. She is way too young to be playing a high school teacher. The last five episodes were really good, I would even dare say brilliant. If only I could easily discard the first 5 episodes from memory.

Too bad she was only featured in 1 episode.

Another problem I highlighted from the early episodes were the cartoonish villains. They're like your typical evil teachers except they are not funny and boring. I was expecting Kohinata Fumiyo/Kita Yoshio in the end to have some stupid painful past that made him become such an exam orientated teacher and have him do a long monologue about repenting. Instead something happened that I never thought I would see in jdoramas.

Are you upset about getting 'eaten' in the Baby! Baby! Baby! PV?

Kita Yoshio was revealed as a 'villain' who actually believed he was right. And he actually has a point. I'm watching Oda Yuji and Kita Yoshio debating their educational differences and Kita Yoshio saying that he is a necessary evil, in shock over the fact someone had written realistic characters making good, feasable arguments. It was sort of the undercurrent them of Taiyo to Umi; the prominence of exams in education. A 'villain' believing in himself and going down in his ship was such a great thing to see. And I think deep down, most would even agree with Kita Yoshio. It is such a shame that the villainous teachers were too cartoony during most the series.

If you've not watched Taiyo to Umi, I high recommend eps 6-10. Amazing stuff and proof that one can never judge a jdorama by its first 5 episodes. I remember watching one jdorama long time ago that only got good during the last two episodes but it was worth it. Taiyo to Umi Kyoshitsu 6-10 is very worth it. Simon & Garfunkel's Sound of Silence will never sound the same again.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Triangle ep 1

OMFG, where do I even begin? Let's talk casting; Eguchi Yosuke + Hirosue Ryoko = instant win! Its funny that Eguchi Yosuke seems like a different actor from when he was in Hitotsu Yane no Shita. I hope one day Harorangers will finish subbing Tobosha. After Hirosue Ryoko was seriously miscast in Yasuko to Kenji, I really want to see her in something good. Not concerned with Inagaki Goro since I haven't seen his other works which is pretty surprising, since I've seen so much of KimuTaku and Kusanagi Tsuyoshi stuff. He plays the earnest good guy detective who is more representative of the audience's viewpoint so there's not much acting required.

Mop Guy obviously disappointed no gaijin girls at the party.

How's this for supporting cast; Aibu Saki, Tanihara Shosuke aka Mop Guy and Sasaki Kuranosuke aka Mr Giragira. Not to forget Manpyo Daisuke from Karei naru Ichizoku who's probably played the father character to most of SMAP by now. This is freaking all star casting with acting abilities to boot. I was a bit concerned with the show's budget every time a new character showed up. If Hero proved anything, it was that big names + crap story and characters does not equal good show, despite what ratings say.

Hope this show erases Yasuko to Kenji from my memory.

I'm glad to say that the first episode of Triangle is good. The one show that is sort of similar to Triangle is Byakuyako, and that's a good thing. Triangle is a mystery dorama, about an murder that happened in the characters' childhood. I won't spoil anything here but suffice to say, nothing is what it seems. I thought I had the basic plot of the story figured out when I was watching episode one and was thinking of how they would make it interesting when at the end of it, they hit you with a revelation that throws any assumptions I had about the plot out the window.

WTF is that around her neck? Someone in wardrobe must pay!

A good first episode is one that hits you hard at the end and makes you come back for more. The truth doesn't matter as long as the journey to the end is exciting and there are no sacrifices in logic for the sake of story. I am trying to keep my expectations a bit low here because Bloody Monday pissed me off to no end. The more potential a jdorama has, the more I want to see it succeed. But then, this is the mystery genre which I think the Japanese are pretty good at with such shows as One Million Stars, Sleeping Forest, Midnight Rain and most recently, Scandal.

My what big eyes you have!

But WTF is Kita Yoshio in this show playing another cop after Scandal? I know he's a good actor and all but surely there are other 50+ actors out there. Who deserve and need work. Too much exposure is not a good thing. I know he usually rises above the supporting roles he plays but by seemingly appearing in every jdorama, he is in danger of being perceived as a prop and lose the ability to connect with the audience.

Yes, smoking is back in jdoramas! If 30% of Japanese smoke, 30% of jdorama characters should to!

Probably the best thing about Triangle is the revelation at the end of the first episode has made it more unpredictable and presents some interesting possible scenarios. Its all up to the writing to see whether the journey to the end of the mystery is an exciting one. I'm happy to give Triangle a go and so should you.

Don't worry, its not Eguchi Yosuke saying that line, or is it?

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Yottsu no Uso eps 1-5

This is one of the shows I had on my 'to watch' list for a long time. I was waiting to see if more episodes were going to get subbed. Its not one of those very watched jdoramas and all the actresses are around 40. So after the sub for ep 5 came out, I figured that would be enough episodes to tell if the Yottsu no Uso was worth watching.

10 years since Aoi Tori and Nagasaku Hiromi still looks as good.

Since this show has older actresses, you can probably guess what predictable elements are in this show. Happily married woman who has affair played by Hada Michiko. Bored houswife played by Terajima Shinobu and career minded doctor played by Takashima Reiko. Hada Michiko unfortunately dies in the first 5 minutes of the first episode and she acts as the narrator. There's sort of a mystery around the circumstances of her death but it was pretty much ditched towards the end.

Hello nurse!

Terajima Shinobu's part as the housewife who is infatuated with the tutor is so freaking boring. Its suppose to be the funny part of the show but she's not even half as funny as Hasegawa Kyoko in Scandal. She's this utterly idiotic housewife acting like a schoolgirl with scenes completely lacking in humour. As for Takashima Reiko, she always acts the same in all her shows. She's ok as a supporting character in shows like KDO or Saitou-san but when she's one of three main characters asked to carry a show, its a big ask. Not to mention her story degenerates into a working woman fantasy porn. I'm referring to it as porn due to lack of chemistry and build up. Doesn't sound exciting does it? It seems so by the numbers.

This is the first show I can't think of where the mom is way hotter than the daughter.

Well, the main reason I wanted to watch this show was Nagasaku Hiromi. I've only seen her in Aoi Tori which came out 10 years ago and in the 1st episode of Last Present, a potentially good dorama which was only subbed for 1 episode. I've always wanted to see whether she could act. Any decent actress can play a supporting role as the childhood friend. Whether she can carry a dorama is the big question.

Brilliant shot of Nagasaku Hiromi as she sees something shocking at the end of ep 5.

And Nagasaku Hiromi doesn't disappoint. She plays Hara Shifumi, a woman is perceived as vile and cunning because she is good at using men. She works at a run down bookshop and struggles to make ends meet while taking care of her half senile father. She has a daughter from a broken marriage who mirrors her in character but unfortunately not in looks. Nagasaku Hiromi's portrayal of Shifumi is a joy to watch. She lives in the moment always searching for that little bit of happiness. She is poor and tries to get as much money from her former mother in law as possible. She realises the hopelessness of her situation with her father and daughter but cannot bear to part with them.

Suffice to say, two-thirds of the show is crap with Shifumi being the most developed and interesting character of the bunch. I just wish they'd cut out the other characters or shove them to the background. Shifumi is nowhere as bad as she thinks she is and its interesting watching her struggle with coming to terms with her feelings and reality. Shifumi's story would even make a great movie. Yottsu no Uso is supposed to be a study of 3 women at the peak of their lives and the choices they made in the past but only one turns out to be interesting.

I would not recommend Yottsu no Uso to anyway unless you have a thing for Nagasaku Hiromi like me. As you can see from the pictures, the camera loves her. They look like shots from a movie with a great cinematographer. Its like the cameraman puts extra effort into scenes. She's got those actress eyes that tell you all you need to know about her character. Episode 6 could get better when the stories and characters start to intertwine more. The show's title translate to 4 Lies so there should be some interesting revelations about the characters' past.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Kaze no Garden eps 1-7

First thing I noticed about this show besides the dedication to Ogata Ken was that it was in commemoration of 50 years of Fuji TV. The second thing was the camera work. Its not your typical still camera in generic studio set shots. Even the hospital sets look bigger, brighter and more real. Obviously signs that this has a higher budget than your average dorama. And this being the last jdorama by Ogata Ken (Ruri no Shima and Ai wa Doda) means its a must watch for me.

I dream of Kuninaka Ryoko saying that to me.

Kaze no Garden is basically the story of Shiratori sensei, played by Nakai Kiichi a doctor with a troublesome past who finds out that he has cancer and not long to live. Yup, this is the first dying main character dorama we've had in the last few years that does not star Sawajiri Erika and Nakai Kiichi is a much better actor than Erika sama. He is the kind of actor who doesn't need to overract to show his character's emotions.

Even a dying man can still get the women. :)

There's a side story in the beginning on a financial broker who is sick and Kuninaka Ryoko plays his daughter. I'm watching her acting going 'why is she always relegated to supporting roles?'. She certainly can act but she has not been given any challenging roles. She is certainly a better actress than Kuroki Meisa who plays Shiratori's daughter. Yes, Kuroki Meisa is in this show and is the reason I was hesitant about watching this. She doesn't stink up the join like Medaka but she still doesn't show me that she is an actress.

Who would dare do such a thing?!

Kuroki Meisa to me is like an overpushed Johnny. Stunt casting. A model pretending to be an actress without paying her dues by doing well as a supporting actress first. She tries hard is nowhere as bad as Fukada Kyoko or Ito Misaki but she just doesn't have the eyes that emote well. Her face is too stiff and I just can't help comparing her performance with Kuninaka Ryoko's as they both play daughters to estranged fathers. Even with Kuninaka Ryoko's crappy dialogue questioning Shiratori over what he said to her father, you can see the love of her character for her otousan and feel the connection. When Kuroki Meisa takes a walk with her father and they have their first real talk, there is a lack of connection. Nakai Kiichi saves it though, showing his character putting on a brave face while suppressing a gamut of emotions within.

Do you even have to ask?

I'm being too harsh on Kuroki Meisa but there's just something about her that makes it hard for me to enjoy her performance as the main actress. The worst offender in terms of acting would be the guy who plays the son of the bee keeper. OMFG, his overacting just stands out against the melancholy feel of Kaze no Garden.

Kaze no Garden is not for everyone. It is freaking slow. Its the type of story better suited to a movie format like Memories of Tomorrow. Too many unnecessary scenes. Its a low flame dorama but a well shot and well acted (for the most part) dorama. It does pick up after ep 5 when Shiratori finally meets up with his kids. You need to be in the right frame of mind to watch Kaze no Garden. You need to be in a mood for something that's very laid back. Forgot to mention that Hirahara Ayaka plays Shiratori's girlfriend and does a decent job at it. She reminds me of Tsu Chi with her doeful innocently seductive eyes. :) And its great to see the kid from Mukodono and Wedding Planner, two of my favourite jdoramas.

How can anyone in that right mind say yes to that?

In short, Kaze no Garden is not a must watch. The main reasons to watch it would be Nakai Kiichi's acting and Ogata Ken. The pacing is too slow but beautifully shot so its a very laid back dorama that's nice to look at.