Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Jmovie review: Heaven's Door

Lolicons, this is not what you think it is.... maybe.

Thanks to anonymous who left a comment for my review of Ramen Girl for introducing me to Heaven's Door. It hasn't turned out at FSC and FSS, two places where I get my Japanese movies from. Heaven's Door in a nutshell is a two terminally ill people go on a trip buddy movie. Basically people with nothing to live for not caring for the consequences of what they do.

She reminds me of Matsu Takako for some reason...

Nagase Tomoya is Masato, a part time mechanic who is fired from his job when the result of his health check is made known to his employer. At the hospital, he meets Harumi (Fukuda Mayuko), a 15 year old girl who has been hospitalised since she was 7. Masato introduces Harumi to tequila shots and discovers that Harumi has never been to the beach. So with only days to live, Masato decides to bring her to one and thus begins their long road trip.

Heaven's Door is a remake of a the 1997 German film Knockin' on Heaven's Door and judging from the reviews on IMDB, a pretty good movie. In fact, Heaven's Door feels like an European arthouse movie. There are a lot of slow scenes which are intimately and quiet. However, this style of movie requires very good acting, something Nagase Tomoya is not capable of doing. His limited acting skills notwithstanding, I think he should not try to make his character Masato look kakoii. Masato is supposed to be a 'loser'. A character on the fringes of society who during the course of the movie gets the audience's empathy not because of his illness but from his character and actions. He needs to be more of an everyman rather than guy with super gelled up hair and facial hair that does not grow in 3 days. Tomoya excels in exaggerated anime acting but Heaven's Door is a movie where subtlety is required.

Yes, the original German movie featured two men instead of a guy who talks like Tomoya's yakuza roles and a loli but the movie fails to humanise the characters. Somehow I feel like I'm looking at them from 100 meters away instead of being next to them on this journey to the beach. Forget about the logic of them taking so long to find a beach in Japan. Japan's a freaking island ffs. There are some illogical parts in the movie but it would all be forgiven if the character part of the movie worked. The bond between Masato and Tomoya is lacking and the script just doesn't know how to develop it.

Fukuda Mayuko once again shows that she is THE best young actress in Japan. I like that she does a lot of movies. It establishes her as an actress instead of an idol/talento. I can sort of see what they are trying to do with her story arc. At the end, she is the more adult of the two because she has come to terms with her fate but the writing is just everywhere. The jokes are not funny and the character arcs are almost nonexistent. Whatever that the original movie had, it has not been transplanted into this remake which makes me want to see it all the more. Strictly for Fukuda Mayuko fans.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Maid Deka ep 1

Maid Deka is basically an updated Sukeban Deka. The sailor fuku girl has been replaced by the maid. Fukuda Saki is Wakatsuki Aoi, a former bicker chick who works as a maid at the police chief's home and is given maid infiltration missions. Instead of sukeban deka using a yo-yo as a weapon, Maid Deka uses a mop with a flat golden coloured metallic end. How she can clean floors with it I have no idea. I was hoping she would pull a katana out of the mop and hack people to bits with lots of spurting blood.

Reason no. 2 why I watched ep 1 to the end. :)

One would expect that being a midnight show, Maid Deka would be bad. The question is whether would it reach the heights of being so bad that its good. Main problem is the humour totally falls flat on its face. You have the cook who is does some really lame jokes like the bruce lee impersonation that had me wondering whether it was the joke or the actress that was miscast. There's the assistant inspector who is beat up/abused by Maid Deka so if violence by women against defenceless men floats your boat, this is the show for you. Personally, I never found all the violence in Love Hina funny.

This maid was obviously killed because she did the unforgivable sin of wearing short under her skirt.

Story wise, its standard detective whodunnit fare. Have a list of suspects, give everyone motives and eleminate suspects one by one. Standard stuff that keeps the show watchable. Episode 2 will go into Wakatsuki Aoi's past which I thought was pretty early. I had expected a structure of all stand alone episodes with hints of her past sprinkled throughout and climaxing at the end of the series. Hopefully they've got something better planned for later; a rival/evil maid for Aoi to go against. Might as well make this a fighting maid dorama! :)

Someone tell this guy that Golgo 13 not moe and only has one facial expression.

As absurd as this jdorama is, my hats of to Fukuda Saki for playing it serious and not looking like she wanted to be anywhere but there. *cough* Horikita Maki in Teppan Shoujo *cough* Some of the dialogue is embarrassing and the way she has to introduce herself multiple times per episode is too much. It must have taken Fukuda Saki a 100 tries before she could do her overused line 'aku to yogore osojisashite itadakimasu'. (I will clean away both dirt and evil) She can even do the nice smile with evil eyes look which I like.

Don't get too excited, this is as much skin as you can see in ep 1. What's the point of being in a late night slot?

Fukuda Saki has yet to fulfill her potential shown in Daisuki!!! and LIFE but as long as she continues getting work, she'll get her one jdorama that will truly make her career. Its just a shame that crap actresses like Morikita constantly get pushed and Fukuda Saki is relegated to midnight jdoramas. To me, she is THE underdog actress in jdoramas right now. Her management should stop her dabbling into music. Her only good song is Goodbye my Love which is a cover of a jpop classic. On the other hand, she's not getting the action push and probably needs to diversify to survive.

No.1 answer by Japanese men when caught cheating. Benkyou shimasu!

At this point, I can only recommend this show to Fukuda Saki fans. Its definitely easier to watch compared to Ghost Friends. There's a chance it could turn into Attack no.1/Ace wo Nerae's level of I can't stop watching because it so bad but its too early to tell. ActuallyI I should have waited for at least 3 episodes but I just had to write about ep 1 as I had this huge urge to take screencaps right after watching. Come to think of it, as long as she continues her modus operandi of infiltrating as maid, that would mean that there would be other maids throughout the series so they'll be plenty of gravure idols to look foward to admiring.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Ninkyo Helper eps 1+2

I had a smile on my face at the beginning of this show. It seemed like a yakuza series without the overacting that has plagued too many yakuza based doramas. There seemed to be an element of dark humour Tsubasa Hikoichi (Kusanagai Tsuyoshi) spoke up various elements of the underworld surviving into today's society. As he introduced various characters I thought we would see politics and alliances to be made only to be broken. As quickly as my hopes rose, they were shattered when the main story was revealed; 7 yakuza members have to work undercover in a old folk's home and the winner of the unspecified position will take over their boss's job.

21 year old girl who's yakuza head of her own faction? Yeah right...

That'll teach me for not reading the synopsis. Shiroi Haru turned out to be all right so there's hope for Ninkyo. The dorama is about aged care and the differing views between Hikoichi and Hatori (Natsukawa Yui) take over and streamline aged care practices in Japan. If this feud sounds familiar, its because Ninkyo Helper is basically Tomorrow with hospital care changed to aged care. Both sides making sound arguments on personal vs profit based aged care. Tomorrow fell apart when the 'evil' profit lady changed her opinion way too quickly thereby neutering the most interesting character in Tomorrow. Let's hope Ninkyo Helper doesn't make the same mistake.

Don't go to parks when you drink!

The certain lack of overacting is such a breath of fresh. Kusanagi Tsuyoshi is well suited to play the cynical, money grabbing Hikoichi. Its a shame that he will be a nice guy at the end of the show. I would prefer he continue being the anti-hero and just do good deeds for ulterior motives or accidentally. There's a reason why he hardly smiles when playing his usual underdog nice guy roles, he's got an evil smile. I'd watch anything with Natsukawa Yui in its a refreshing change to see her act as a cold character.

For eye candy, you have Kuroki Meisa (Kaze no Garden) and Naka Riisa (Hachi One). Still can't understand why Kuroki Meisa is in so many shows but she hasn't reached Fukada Kyoko status yet. Why they have two skinny kids as part of the yakuza group I don't know. I don't think that the job of casting director even exists in jdoramas. If you are casting for yakuza, cast people who look like they can kick ass, not boys who look like they can be easily snapped like a twig. What does it say when Kuroki Meisa actually looks physically stronger than them. Actually, come to think of it, if I were a casting director, I'd just give the role to whichever idol gave me the best service. :)

Love this show of Kuroki Meisa. This is the one time where she actually acts like a yakuza.

End of the day, the yakuza thing is just a plot device. The show is all about elderly care and surprisingly, the first two episodes are pretty decent thanks to very good directing. We are treated to movie quality camera work. Not your usual jdorama angles and really quick scenes. It doesn't feel like your typical studio set with everyone reading their lines or just two constant camera angles for a scene. The director put a lot of effort and it shows. It makes the kakoii scenes look so much better like outside yakuza headquarters scene followed by chase at the end of ep 1. It had a grittier look, various camera angles to build the suspense and the music played into it beautifully. Hats off to producer turned director Goto Hiroyuki. Hopefully he can sustain the effort throughout the series.

Why guys should go to Japan to retire.

The first two episodes of Ninkyo Helper are good but it will be difficult to sustain the momentum. Every episode there is a guest star to play a elderly person who lives at the home who the story revolves around so its going to be hit or miss. Each of the yakuza members will probably take their turns and perhaps do a bit of backstory. Turning Hikoichi face/good guy too soon is just going to spoil it. His scheming yakuza ways are an excellent time filler and entertaining to watch. The audience is not going to turn on him just because he continues to cheat the elderly from their money. Actually watching Ninkyo Helper, I kinda wished they had cast Abe as Hikoichi, not that Kusanagi is doing a bad job.

Why it may not be a good idea to retire in Japan.

I think Ninkyo Helper is definitely worth trying out. Think of it as GTO in an elderly home with the main character helping the elderly instead of students.

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Ramen Girl

I can't help compare this film to Tanpopo, a slightly overrated jmovie classic about cooking ramen. If you can get your hands on it, its definitely worth watching. Just make sure there's a ramen store open near you after watching. Ramen Girl stars Brittany Murphy as Abby, a neurotic girl who goes to Tokyo to live with her boyfriend only to have him break up with her. She find no joy in her job as an English proofreader and is struggling to to find direction in her life when she stumbles upon a ramen store nearby and decides to learn how to make ramen from the cook, Maezumi (Toshiyuki Nishida). I have no idea why Abby would want to quit such an easy job. She just needed a pasokon to surf the net all day and can have three hour lunches all the time. Plus no one's going to tell her how to do her job.

One thing that bugged me about this show was that there were certain parts which seemed very... 'disneyfied' like the magical light coming out of the ramen shop when she sees it for the first time or the huge gust of wind when she first declares wanting to cook ramen. It sort of fits the magical them of ramen being able to make people laugh or cry but those two scenes just really bothered me.

I never warmed up to Abby. Yes, she was treated like a slave (according to her standards) by Maezumi but how can she not speak decent Japanese working there for a year? I don't know whether its Brittany Murphy's acting or the script. Normally in these type of master-student shows, you get the whiny student and stern master who hate each other and after the training montage, they begrudgingly respect each other and the audience like both characters. Its supposed to be a failproof plotline. I think it has to do with the fact that Abby doesn't really change or she doesn't show that she has. They really needed to show her becoming competent in Japanese and perhaps comedic scene of her understanding a Japanese speaker and pretending not to. She needed to become slightly Japanese yet at the end she seems as American as she was in the beginning.

The truck driver from Tanpopo makes a cameo. I shall ignore the idea that this movie is a homage to Tanpopo cause that would be insulting.

Toshiyuki Nishida does a decent job as the overbearing boss Maezumi. Nothing we haven't seen from him before. He provides most of the laughs and its not his fault that the master student relationship is kind of bland. I am not part of the audience this movie is made for, which are westerners who have little or no knowledge of Japan. Maybe that's why Abby seems to stay a tourist during her one year working as a ramen girl. For further proof, look at the megami no ramen that she made. If there's one thing I hate, its asian food catering to 'western tastes'. Never go to a Japanese eatery where the food has too many colours. Corn and tomatoes in ramen????!!! WTF????? What further proof does one need to show that Abby doesn't really love ramen. She just wants to fuck it up. That the crying whiny girl just wants to impose her tastes on a staple Japanese food.

If there's a reason to watch ramen girl, its just to see a 'Japanese' movie written and directed by gaijin aimed at the gaijin market. Disregarding my prejudices, the movie is uneven. The romance bit felt tacked on although so much time was spent on it. Its as if the writer had a great concept but struggled to find a voice for the movie and so branched in every direction. If there is a Japanese cut, I'd be interested just to see the difference. Avoid.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Spring 2009 Jdorama round up

Just a few thoughts on some doramas that I have not yet written on or that I feel there's not much to say.


I think I watched up to ep 7 or something. Very very pedestrian. Too many characters with no purpose and the crimes are typical lightweight jdorama fare. The hancho, Azumi is mr. nice guy and so is everyone on his boring team which creates zero group dynamic. However, Azumi has a hot daughter! Shibuya Asuka is more like the girlfriend than daughter though. :) Now I see the advantage of having kids at 20! Too bad she's hardly in the show. That would explain why I lasted all the way to ep 7.


I tried to give this show a chance up to ep 5 but my god, it is so fucking boring. I know some people like it but I'd rather watch Hancho. I didn't find anything about it funny and it felt more like a going through the motions dorama. If you're looking for something similar but smartly written, go watch 'If you are the one' starring You Ge and Hsu Chi. Its a funny comedy about marriage hunting as well and had me laughing throughout.


Interesting premise of an internet cafe that suddenly turns up in the middle of nowhere. Its a low budget midnight dorama so I'm not expecting anything from it. Don't the Japanese realise that Densha can't act? Actually there's as much chance of that as Japan realising SMAP can't sing. I hate this part in ep 2 where the main characters are discussing some metaphysical ideas about where they could be and it was just random tossing out of ideas without a coherent argumentative structure.

I hate when one party is talking about A and someone else says B just and both parties end up simply stating their own ideas. Just because it low budget doesn't mean that they should not pay for a writer with a brain. Could still turn out to be a decent show but the ep 3 hasn't been released in ages.


I love Fukuda Saki. I hate the girl who looks like a guy who plays opposite her. Or it could be a guy who looks like a girl. I think there's something in Japan's water/food that's nerfing the Y chromosome in Japanese boys. Fukuda Saki sees dead people and her she tries to help them out but its hard for me to watch cause I just want to beat the crap out of the main dude. There's a couple of gravure idols in this show but its just not worth it.


Its basically Liar Game ripoff with each episode being a stand alone story. Shaku Yumiko is the host and its pretty much guaranteed there will be some interesting issues between her and the sponsor. AT the very least, it'll be fun watching for the guest stars and see what type of stories the writers can cook up regarding love and money. Interesting concept but unfortunetly, I don't see DramaCrazy finishing their subs.

SMILE ep 1

If anything, Smile has shown how to deal with actresses who can't act. Make her mute! Aragaki Yui should from now on just play mute characters and not talk so her lack of acting chops will not be exposed. Besides Aragaki Yui's very moe 'daisuki' moment in ep 1, I was really bored. It just feels like your typical idol driven kitchen sink drama; get two young popular idorus in a story where they go through every imaginable hardship. The problem is they're both not good actors and I don't give a damn about their characters. Plus it just feels contrived.

To provide some acting integrity, Nakai Kiichi is in it as a lawyer. He may save this show but I just can't be bothered to find out.


Nice concept, very bad execution. Celebrities go one quiz show where their dark past is slowly revealed. Problem is, there is nothing interesting or smart about the questions. And there's this boring 15 minute bit where the celebrity storms out and everyone panics. Good thing I can at least forward it but it is just a freaking time waster.

As much as I like Matsuura Aya, she does nothing here. I absolutely hate Maya Miki in this show. Her character is just so irritatingly redundant and she does not know how to 'act' any other way. I've seen her in so many shows and her one dimensional acting is really getting on my nerves. I just feel like putting my head through a wall everytime I see her. I don't even give a crap about the mystery between the host and the production guy. Avoid.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Majo Saiban eps 1-7

When Majo Saiban first came out, I kinda dismissed it after the first episode. First of all, the Japanese jury system is very weird compared to common law countries, or at least what is portrayed in this show. Of course, civil law systems are less adversarial but there are just some things that boggle my mind. Like lawyers leading witnesses, doing the cross examinations first and juries being allowed to roam freely to and from court. The second reason for my lack of interest was the blue haired villain who did a lot of posturing and laughing at the camera. Why does every villain have to act like they are in a sentai show with the muahaha and trying to act cool in front of their subordinates?

The non-blinking, fake smiling daughter of a Majo is very scary. I hope she's not like that in real life...

Instead of focusing on the plus/minus of such a jury system and the facts of the case, Majo Saiban is more about how juries can the blackmailed. The problem would be easily solved if the Japanese courts adopted the practice of keeping the jury isolated from the outside world during the whole trial. Its the fault of the system itself that it is so open to abuse. Who would want to be in a jury during a trial of a yakuza boss when there is no protection?

Someone please tell me the name of this actress!

Luckily, Majo Saiban turned out better than I expected thanks to its twists and turns. Everytime I thought I had it figured out, the show takes another turn to keep me guessing. The problem is sometimes the characters do stupid stuff in order for the plot to proceed a certain way. Mr Orange is a huge culprit especially with his girlfriend problems. This is a plot dorama as opposed to say Shiroi Haru which is a character driven show and gaps in logic can really kill the audience's mood for the story. Like how Kurokawa actually spoke directly to Izumi/White and the fake box of clothes incident which was just redundant. The only way sneaking White's daughter out of the house would matter is if they hid her somewhere Kurokawa could not find her. The grandmother would always be the first port of call. Did they actually believe Kurokawa would not find out sooner or later?

Suenaga Haruka has come a long way from LIFE.

The cop from Maou is the headstrong main character who comes to conclusions way too quickly. Yes, characters need to go through the motions to advance the plot steadily but they also need to show some mental acumen. Instead of trying to think twice, Orange to learn to think of all possibilities before jumping to conclusions. Not a fan of Kato Ai but she does a good as white. I think she's one of those actresses who get better with age unlike Ueto Aya. Higa Manami does a good job as Kaori. You can tell when she changes by her face without her needing to say or do anything. She somehow manages to make me feel uneasy about her character. Ishida Yuriko does a decent job as the Majou.

If you're a guy and this doesn't convince you to watch this show....

To enjoy Majo Saiban, you just have to not think too hard and not assume that the jury and court system in Japan is the same as common law systems. I need to find time to read up and see if the stuff in Majo Saiban is true. How can they fucking justify a juror meeting with one of the counsels or even the accused herself in private? There has to be a limit to a non-adversarial system. There are groan/yawn inducing moments but there are some pretty cool twists and revelations.

Ishida Yuriko is a true beauty. She look good without makeup.

The important thing is, there are quite a few ways for this show to end and any of them is fun. Mystery doramas do not require the 'you will not see it coming' twist because it might be too far fetched to make sense. As someone said, fiction requires logic but real life doesn't. It is enough to have multiple possible outcomes and have the audience guessing until the end. In summary, I had fun with the 7 episodes despite my complaints and eager to see how its going to end. Decent thrillers are not that common in jdoramas. Just give Majo Saiban a few episodes and see if you get hooked.

Monday, July 06, 2009

subbing alert: Anata no Tonari ni Dareka Iru

In case you didn't notice, a Hungarian jdorama group is subbing the above dorama into Hungarian and English! Never heard of the show? Neither have I. Its a 2003 dorama written by the guy who wrote Taiyo to Umi, Last Christmas, Itoshi Kimi E and Watashitachi no Kyokasho. I'll just pretend he never wrote Ryokiteki no Kanojo or rather that was a case of adapting a movie where there its more of a revelation based story rather than character based and having to stretch it way too long. Nevertheless, he's got a good resume.

The main reason I'm very excited about this series is the casting. Natsukawa Yui and Santamaria Yusuke together in a dorama???!!! Natsukawa Yui can play any type of character as far as I am concerned and Yusuke is the expert at playing the underdog/everyman character. You've got two main actors who can carry a jdorama and elevate the mundane to watchable. Not to mention a young Shiraishi Miho right after her debut in Bijo ka Yajuu!!!! Watching Shiroi Haru, I couldn't believe that that was the weathergirl I watched in Bijo ka Yajuu years ago. She really fits the hitozuma type role now. As for the story, the synopsis on d-addicts wiki says:

Azusa the wife, Otaro the husband, and their only daughter Suzu. They live in a little public dwelling in Tokyo. They're a fairly ordinary family of three living a normal but happy life. That is, until they move into that house. Then all sorts of frightening experiences escalate and involve the entire family, developing into incidents that will give goosebumps. Would you be able to defend your precious family if a major disaster should suddenly occur? The topics in this series are family and life itself, the ultimate topics for everyone. This drama uses the form of a horror suspense show to depict the bonds within a family.

We need more good family suspense shows! I can't guarantee this will be a good show, but at least its not some crappy star driven jdorama where actors have enough chemicals in their hair to poison a river. Its a 7.33 gig torrent currently sitting at 5 seeders and 24 leechers so who knows how long it will stay healthy. Gryzze was kind enough to start seeding due to the subs. Download it now before you can't get decent speed anymore. It will not be popular among fanboys/girls so get in there now. Spread the word around.

If you're worried about whether the subs will finish, you can check out their page here. They are at ep 6 of ghost friends so they can sub at a decent speed. Besides, the one reason someone would sub an old dorama is because its good and they want to share it. Hopefully my download will finish in two more days so I can write about ep 1 and finally get back on SF4 online.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Ningen no Shomei eps 1+2

I had the first episode of Ningen no Shomei sitting in my HD for a long time. Its funny how I always notice the new torrents for current shows but will subconsciously ignore any who I don't know because I'm not looking for it. I don't even downloading the torrent! I noticed it was subbed by HaroRangers, the subbers of Runaway, looked it up on wiki and could not believe that I had not noticed this show. It has Natsukawa Yui and Takenouchi Yukata in it!

Believe it or not, the guy in the middle is suppose to be black.

First, I need to talk about one very bad part of this show. Ikeuchi Hiroyuki aka Kunio from GTO plays an American named Johnny Hayward. Nothing wrong with that except he's supposed to be black. Yes, a Japanese actor who is supposed to be playing a black man because he wears an afro, smeared some dark colouring on his skin and can't even speak proper English. Unfortunately, Ningen no Shomei is not a comedy. I cannot comprehend the rationale for Kunio's lame attempt portraying an African-American. He looks nothing like one and sounds nothing like one. Worse, there are a lot of scenes shot in the U.S. and I cannot comprehend how the other actors felt when the director told them why Kunio's face was smeared black. The acting for the scenes in America are soapy quality but I'm just impressed this show had the money to go all the way there to shoot this many scenes. When a jdorama goes overseas, its just for the outdoor shots and all the interior scenes are shot in Japan.

Matsushima Nao as a bad girl is 10X hotter than her boring nice girl roles in Koi ni Ochitara and Ryokiteki no Kanojo.

Good news is, Johnny Hayward does early in ep 1 and the rest of the show is pretty good. Takenouchi Yutaka is a cop and the central character of the story. I don't know whether its all the crappy police shows I've seen this season but I am so happy that the police procedural stuff in Ningen no Shomei is pretty good. They go through every facet of the incident, trace back steps etc etc. A lot of Japanese cop shows skip on the details and spend time building up the twist/revelation thereby jeopardizing the whole story if the twist/revelation is easily foreseeable/does not make sense. Although there are antagonists for Yutaka, they are not stupid idiots like all the other wannabe comedy cop shows.

My favourite line of the series so far and it made me lol. As long as there are plenty of witty lines, I'm happy.

Natsukawa Yui is Yutaka's osana najimi who is a reporter. Her role in the story is not clear yet. Actually, how all the characters fit into the overall story have not been revealed. Ningen no Shomei is a collection of stories. You have Yutaka investigating black Kunio's death. You have the famous wife of a Diet member running in his stead. You have a couple involved in a kidnapping and a man in a wheelchair searching for his wife. How some of these stories are related is revealed in ep 2 but the interesting thing is to see how it will all tie up together.

Actually Yukata's investigation on Kunio is the one story that could fall apart. The whole Stroha and Kiss me clues could turn out to be really stupid. You have to watch to understand what I am talking about. The acting is decent and so is the directing. It doesn't have the generic jdorama camera shooting in a studio set look. Actually, I don't care if Stroha and Kiss me turn out to be the most idiotic clues ever. As long as the don't have a scene of 300 police officers standing outside a building to catch a lone criminal, I'll be happy.

The late Ogata Ken is in this show as well.

Its way to early to judge Ningen no Shomei as its more of a mystery dorama type show but the first two episodes what been encouraging besides Kunio just saying three lines in English so far. Actually the four letter word has been uttered in the two episodes at least three times which must be like a record for Japanese doramas. Give Ningen no Shomei a go if you're after a serious show that will hopefully keep us all guessing until the end.