Monday, November 30, 2009

Jmovie review: Ikigami

In an alternate reality/not so distant future, Japan enacted the 'Maintenance of national prosperity law' whereby upon entering school all children are given a nano-capsule injection. Upon reaching the ages of 18-24, 1 in 1000 of the capsules will be activated randomly and they person will die. Matsuda Shota plays Fujimoto, an ikigami who is the bearer of death. The ikigami presents the sacrificial citizen with a card marking his/her death in 24 hours and the card allows the person free lodging and food. The family of the sacrifice is then granted a government pension and if the person commits a crime within the 24 hours, the pension is used as compensation.

Why such a law is enacted in Japan is never explained. However, because such a law exists, crime rate and suicide rates in Japan experienced a significant reduction. The belief is that such random killings force the public cherish their own lives. However, the government has a draconian attitude towards the preservation of the national prosperity law. Speaking out against the law is a thought crime and perpetrators are sent for reeducation. It can be assumed that Japan experienced a crime wave and suicide rates of such horrible proportions that such a law was forced to be enacted as a response.

The important thing is not why the 'Maintenance of national prosperity law' was enacted but what stories can be told from it. We have the main story Fujimoto going about his job as an ikigami and the effect it has on him and stories about 4 different people who are chosen to die; a former victim of school bullying, an up and coming singer, a hikikomori and a brother of a blind sister.

I would have loved to see an argument about the morality of such a drastic measure. If crime and suicide really reached epic levels, would the sacrifice of a few justify the saving of many? Of course the answer is that an innocent person should never suffer for the wrongs of others but it would have been a fun argument.

I've seen that nurse in doramas before...

Ikigami is more about exploring the value of life and the cost of a random death on family and friends. The singer story was really good, especially the song and performance. I really liked the ikigami boss' comment that maybe was the fact that the singer was about to die that aspired him to greatness. I love it when movie ask hard questions.

You interested in joining Crows Zero 3? You'll make a good nemesis for Oguri Shun.

The brother of the blind girl story is pretty melodramatic and its something we've seen before. Good thing this is not a Korean movie so they didn't milk it as much. Good to see Yamada Takayuki and Narumi Riko playing bit parts. I guess my cynical side is loathed to admit that the movie succeeded in doing what it is designed to do, move the audience in a story about the value of life. I really like how the ending is sort of open ended while hinting out how things will turn out. Its saying that the beginning and end doesn't matter as much as exploring the middle of the story.

Big thanks to 8thsin for subbing this movie. He always picks good movie and I wholeheartedly recommend this movie.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Liar Game season 2 Eps 1+2

Liar Game is back! The surprise midnight dorama from 2 years ago has finally returned except now its shown at 9pm. The first season is probably the greatest midnight dorama ever, at least from the few late night shows that I have seen. It was a story based dorama that didn't require good acting and just required simple sets that would last a few episodes. It is a made to be low budget. Most of all, I'm just glad to see Toda Erika in a watchable dorama.

Don't kill yourself because you're being forced to do crap like Code Blue 2!

Kanzaki Nao is back and she still retains her too good persona. Well, they gotta give her a reason to go back to Liar Game anyway. No one in their right mind would want to return unless they were greedy, in debt or in her case idealistically wishing to 'save' people. The important thing is that she is now smarter. At least they have shown that she has learned something from the previous season.

Kichise Michiko is always typecast as the hot chick from evil organisations. I don't think she looks evil at all. :)

Akiyama is of course back and they use another twist that the boss that they met at the end of the first season is not the real brains of the operation. All this story stuff doesn't really matter. I don't even remember the end of the first season. This series is all about pitting people against each other in a game of wits. I would even say its the equivalent of a mental battle version of Dragonball Z. Player A beats player B for a while and then player B starts laughing and reveals his/her true form/plan and starts winning etc.

I've only seen her in Babel so no comments about her for now.

Its all about the tactics and how the players use the rules to their advantage. Sometimes I'd wish that they'd just cut through the suspense build up and go straight to the reveal, sort of like watching the last episode of season one where they just summarised the whole season in half an hour. I don't really like the new remixed intro music though. Luckily they sprinkle the old intro tune throughout the episodes.

I hate to say this but I wish I were Fukunaga.

A better timeslot should mean a better budget but Liar Game season 2 just looks the same. Its cheap, cheesy with lots of lights. Actually I can't really think of anything they can do to improve the presentation. Its hard to review Liar Game because it is what it is; a dorama about a high stakes battle of wits. As long as non of the solutions to the games is stupid, its all good.

On a side note, the last episode of Liar Game season 2 is going to be a movie which is bad news for any of us not in Japan. Its going to take a few months for the dvd to be released so we're just going to be left with a cliffhanger for a very, very long time. It might be a good idea to wait for the dvd release and watch everything in one go. For me, nothing is going to keep me away from my weekly dose of Toda Erika. Besides, it gives me more reason to rewatch when the movie dvd is out.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Toda Erika Calender 2010

My Toda Erika finally arrived from yesasia. I was surprised when I saw it wasn't put in a tube but was folded. I can understand that the calender is smaller than usual size but that's no excuse to not put it in a tube. Now there's a freaking crease across the calender. Ggrrr. Calenders are not cheap and shouldn't be treated as such.

The good news is that this is better than her last one. Toda Erika's 2009 calender was shockingly bad and luckily I bought the desk version. That's the danger with calenders, you never know what you're going to get. At most you can preview two pictures but its pretty much up to luck. It doesn't matter how much you like an actress/idol because a bad picture is a bad picture.

Really like this one. Its the most 'artistic' looking one IMO.

This one makes me feel like some chikan.

I think her front view is her worst.

Hhhmm, Kanzaki Nao's legs.


The best one is the last one.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Fumo Chitai eps 1-3

From the writer that wrote Karei Naru Ichizoku, comes Fumo Chitai another period dorama set in the post war era. I love Karei Naru Ichizoku despite KimuTaku nearly fucking it up with the overemphasis on his character. It was the first show that showed me as charismatic as KimuTaku is, he is not a real actor and can never do justice to character doramas. Check out my reviews here and here and I strongly recommend it if you're after a family and politics dorama with good acting.

So Mr Baker and Sachi's aunt were together in a previous life. :)

Fumo Chitai is about Iki Tadashi (Karasawa Toshiaki aka Kenji from 20thCB), a military strategist who was captured by the Russians at the end of WW2 and spent 2 years in a Siberian camp. The first hour of ep 1 is the story of how he survived his imprisonment and how he was released. The second half is about him trying to reenter society. He decides not to rejoin the army and put his family through more worries and joins Kinki Trading Company.

I keep dreaming about a talking deer...

At this point, I was thinking they should have spread the Siberian camp story as flashbacks throughout the series to show how the hard 11 years he had changed him. Perhaps even have him deal with the trauma and learn to come to terms with his lost 11 years. For some reason, the President of Kinki headhunted him and put him into the textile department. Iki struggles to prove himself useful and then the real reason that he was hired is revealed; to help Kinki Trading Co sell the Luckheed F-104 airplane to the Japanese government.

After Boss, it sure is nice to be in a dorama that doesn't defy logic.

However, the Grant Super Dragon plane is in the lead to be Japan's next fighter planes with the Defence Agency's chief having some personal interest in it and backed up by Tokyo Shoji bribing the Prime Minister's group. Iki's former colleague Kawamata Isao backs the Luckheed as it is the best plane for Japan. Having sworn off joining the defence department of Kinki Trading Co, Iki reneges on his promise in order to combat money politics influencing defence decisions. Thus begins the tale of Kinki Trading Co vs Tokyo Shoji lead by Samejima.

The best thing about all the secret meetings is the sushi!

I love stories about politics, power and money. I was a bit worried that Iki seemed to be idealistic but luckily he turned out to be a practical man. There's no way he can fight without resorting to bribery and industrial espionage as well. Iki starts off as the default good guy because Luckheed is superior to the Super Dragon but after ep 3, everyone is shades of grey. There are no innocent guys. Just people pushing their agenda and I love it. Backroom dealings, backstabbing and use of the media. No super idealistic ignorant idiots made to look like heroes like KimuTaku's Manpyo Teppei in Karei Naru Ichizoku.

Not a fan of where the Koyuki side story is heading...

You have the side story of an underling who does all the dirty work for Iki and is unappreciated and later sacrificed. Not to mention the reporter who helps to push Samejima's agendas but values his journalistic responsibilities not to suppress stories. Too often jdoramas look at the world in black and white and its refreshing to see one that has no good or evil. There is no need to give the audience simple answers. Rather it is better to ask difficult questions.

Geronimo, speak Japanese!

The acting in Fumo Chitai is excellent. Lots of big name cameos. Haven't seen Kita Yoshio yet though, lol. Its sad that Fumo Chitai has bad ratings. Its not profitable for them to do adult doramas like this compared to crap like Tokyo Dogs with its juvenile writing. I'm sure that any Japanese actor worth their salt would rather be on a show like Fumo Chitai despite the lack of exposure. Definitely a must watch dorama.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Jmovie review: Oppai Volleyball

Somewhere in Japan during the 70s, Terashima Mikako (Ayase Haruka) starts her job at a new middle school and is immediately assigned to the male volleyball club. Unbeknown to her, the club members are only interested in having fun and dreaming about oppai including thinking about ways to replicate the oppai grabbing sensation. They are so inept that they even got trashed by the girls volleyball team. Mikako faces the arduous task of motivating this group of youngsters.

If I had a teacher like this, my life would have turned out different.

Somehow, Mikako ends up promising the boys that she will show them her oppai if they manage to win a game in the next inter-school volleyball competition which is more than enough motivation for them.Yes, the selling point of Oppai Volleyball is that the underdog protagonists are entering playing to see Ayase Haruka's oppai, which makes me just insanely jealous. I feel like my high school life was incomplete because I never had the fortune of having such a beautiful and dedicated teacher.

Come to think of it, the only shots I've seen of her cleavage are from her gravure days.

The rest of the movie is pretty standard fare. Training montages accompanied by 70s music. Introducing the opponents who of course must wear black to signify that they are the villains who stand between our heroes and their oppai dream. The revelation about Mikako's past and her own personal demons. We've seen it all before, just never with oppai as the main plot.

Ohgo Suzuka has a nice 10 min cameo. Too bad she's in Sakura's alternate costume no.10 for like 5 seconds.

There is also the story of the new member of the team, Jo who happens to be the only one who has experience in the sport but it turns out to be the weakest part of the movie. Its almost like a throwaway plot line that they were forced to add in order to pad it out.

The writer was probably ticking the box of all sports underdog cliches and felt that having a new ace in the team is necessary. Except Jo was never shown to be an ace and the only plot that couldn't have been done without his presence was the train yard fight which is probably the weakest part of the movie.

Things I never achieved in high school.

I find the writing a bit unfocused. Too much of trying to please everyone and thus having a movie that doesn't flow well. However, I still had fun watching Oppai Volleyball. The music was great and its fun to watch a movie about teenagers that doesn't resort to crude homour. The novelty of oppai didn't wear off but if the movie were about something else it would have been pretty boring. If the concept of the movie strikes your fancy, I'd recommend it. Just lower your expectations and you'll have fun.

The 70s are presented as such an innocent time and I find the low level fanservice very fun.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Tokyo Dogs eps 1+2

Tokyo Dogs opens with a police operation in New York. Oguri Shun's character, Takara So is suppose to be some super cop with horrible English. One has to wonder whether the American police actually understand his orders. The Japanese audience may find it kakoii everytime a Japanese actor butchers the freaking English language but it only goes to show how useless English is in Japanese education. In all my years of watching Japanese movies and dorama, only two actors have demonstrated proficiency in English pronunciation: Watanabe Ken and Sanada Hiroyuki who are coincidentally two of the best Japanese actors. Even Jacky Chan made better attempt when he started doing American movies.

Sadly, the best reason to watch this show.

Anyway, So is tracking is arch enemy, with two policemen from Tokyo who look and act more like college kids. Why Japan would send Kudo Maruo (Mizushima Hiro) and generic and useless supporting guy to some big police sting is beyond me. Their deer in the headlights act is suppose to be comedy but all it does is make them and the Japanese police look like incompetent fools. Fighting ensues and then they discover Yuki (Yoshitaka Yuriko) who is somehow linked to the mysterious organisation where members wear a badge of a bee. Yes, the face of evil is a bee. Turns out Yuki suffers from amnesia and unlocking her memory is the key to the evil bee organisation. So returns to Japan is partnered up with Maruo and thus begins the main story of Tokyo Dogs.

This is for all the bullying in GTO!

In a nutshell, Tokyo Dogs is a buddy cop movie. So is the very serious 'American-style' police officer while Maruo acts like a college student and is utterly unprofessional. Fortunately, this combi can prove to be pretty funny. There were quite a few parts in ep 1 where I was laughing out loud. Oguri Shun does a pretty good job as So is the source of most of the humour. The Doraemon scene in ep 2 is utterly hilarious if you are familiar with it. Its a shame that with his short hair, he looks like someone in his early 20s and it makes it hard to accept him as an experienced cop.

Nakamura Yuri, the best thing about episode 2 besides the Doraemon scene.

The good thing about Tokyo Dogs is that there are a lot of guns. Usually in Japanese cop shows, they don't carry a gun and near the end of the series everyone will arms themselves from the vault that can only be accessed once per season and then you'll have a scene of 100 policemen storming a house and pointing 100 pistols at the suspect. In Tokyo Dogs, So and Maruo actually carry guns around and are not afraid to use it. So's judicious use of his gun is suppose to be a source of comedy with Maruo referring to him as 'American-yarou' everytime he uses it but to me its just proper police procedure.

Otsuka Nene is completely wasted in an unfunny supporting role.

Actually I'm impressed with some police stuff in this show from So. Before he storms a house, he taps the windows from the outside. He shoots enemies through doors and actually has a plan. After watching so many incompetent Japanese police shows, I have to ask this question: is the only reason why So actually gets police procedures and thinking right because the writers have smartened up or because such behaviour is expected of American police but not Japanese?

At least there's plenty of gun action.

While episode 1 was pretty decent, episode two becomes a lame jdorama cliche. Father who spends too much time working and neglects his son. Boo hoo. Not to mention Maruo chasing an armed gunman and kicking him in the back. Hello? You think he's not going to turn around and shoot? Maybe the Japanese police manual has nothing on shooting feeling armed gunmen after telling them to surrender? How about shooting the leg? If you are close enough to kick him from behind, why not do a takedown into a disarm?

On 2nd glance, they don't look kawaii at all...

The end of ep 2 sees Tokyo Dogs going more of a traditional jdorama sitcom route. I would have been able to accept the faults of Tokyo Dogs if they had kept the humour up and let So do his 'American' police skills but I forsee the series devolving into another typical kiddish cop show. Its still better than Boss but I've had my fill of subpar Japanese police doramas. Its better to save myself more pain and suffering and just rewatch Gonzo and Rinjo.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Jyouou virgin eps 1-4

WARNING: This post contains lots of fanservice pictures and some nudity.

Jyouou virgin is the sequal to the 2005 midnight dorama Jyouou which I didn't review because it was really bad. The only thing worth watching it for was Sora Aoi. In terms of fanservice, it was so boring that it did not warrant the midnight slot. There are so many hot gravure and JAV actresses that they could have used but Jyouou was completely devoid of beauty besides Sora Aoi.

I want to be the cinematographer in a midnight jdorama when I grow up.

Good thing that the second season is a huge upgrade. Firstly, we have the lovely 22 year old Hara Mikie who was in the first two episodes of Giragira playing the usual idealistic and uber nice 18 year old, Ando Mai. Hara Mikie's acting talents consist of opening her eyes to anime-like proportions and hypnotising the audience with her other set of 'eyes'. Being the main character, Mai dreams of winning the second Jyouou competition so that she won't have to depend on her mother. To create some depth for her character, she has a history of being bullied in school because of the size of her oppai. The first episode even opens with a scene of her crying in school while taking her clothes off.

Asakawa Ran?

Like Teioh and every other kyabakura dorama in existence, Mai is nice and ignorant to the point of stupidity. Of course, she wins because of her ernest and her feelings reach her customers, blah blah blah. Like I said in my review of Teioh, the more I watch other kyabakura/host doramas, the more I appreciate Giragira where the key to the success of the main character was not just by being nice.


How nice of them to help Mai take her clothes off.

Mai joins the competition and we are introduced to our collection of stereotypical girls. We have JAV actress Hara Soari as Izumi Yuika as the loner who was previously a dancer in New York. I am ashamed to say that I have not seen her before but shall endeavor to familiarise myself with her body... of work. Suffice to say, she was a great body, reminds me of Asakawa Ran and I hope she doesn't leave this show too soon. I can pretty much guarantee Yuika will get back to dancing and Mai with a crappy speech with plenty of words like yume, akiramenaide and ganbatte.

That cleavage looks familiar...

An all girl jdorama would not be complete without some steamy yuri innuendo.

Kurokawa Mei plays Kinoshita Tomo, the most interesting character in Jyouou and probably the only hope this show has a chance of being interesting story-wise. She's the quiet one of the bunch. The girl next door who becomes Mai's ally with a history of attempted suicide. Ep 4 hints that she might be more than just supporting friend for Mai. Being a non JAV actress, she does not strip. Boo.

Changing room politics are not for the faint hearted.

Akiba girl looks better without her clothes on..

In addition to our three main girls, we have the trio of bad girls. Shibuya girl Erina, S&M chick, Mizuki Sara-sama and lastly Akiba girl Haruna Mio. Erina is ugly. Her fake tan and overly done face may be indicative of Shibuya fashion trends but I wouldn't pay money for her. Mio does the squeky maid voice but unfortunately her face does not match with her sound. Ogura Yuko, she is not. Its like someone else is dubbing over her voice. Sara-sama is the best of the bunch though she hasn't had her time in the spotlight yet.

If this shot doesn't sell this dorama, nothing will.

What took you so long to get into jdoramas?

I'm most excited about Kadena Reon in this show. She's hardly featured in the few episodes of Maid Deka that have been translated and I'm eager to see what she can do. I'm disappointed that her character is confined to wheelchair so we probably won't get any scenes similar to her famous ipod dancing. Rounding is up is JAV veteran Asami Yuma, who was also in Shimokita Glory Days which I encourage every sukebe to check out.

Star of the greatest gravure video ever, along with the Sabra Isoyama Sayaka and Kawamura Yukie photoshoot.

Workplace accidents do happen.

As evident from the screenshots, Jyouou virgin is laden with fanservice. Plenty of nudity, upskirt shots and changing of clothing. We even have scenes where characters take off their top mid conversation for no reason whatsoever. If you want to make people watch a show with bad script and acting, you have to make it worth their time. One thing I have learned from this show is that overly gratuitous upskirt shots are not exciting.


Now this is an exicting shot.

There are sadly no subs for Jyouou virgin but its not necessary. The story and dialogue is predictably like every other kyabakura show. The characters are cliched and every episode ends with Hara Mikie screaming yamete!