Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Untouchable review

I didn't bother with Untouchable last year because the only Nakama Yukie show I enjoyed was Trick. Every other show that I have seen with her in has been bad. She doesn't have the acting chops to do serious doramas and comes off too flat and she doesn't have the cool factor to make Gokusen work for me. Since its the lull period between seasons, I decided to give it a shot, not expecting anything and assuming that I'd drop it by the 2nd episode.

Imagine my surprise when Untouchable exhibited certain traits to a certain dorama that series that I love. Nakama Yukie playing a very flawed character. Lots of running jokes that don't really make you laugh but are amusing nonetheless. Mysteries and weird cult groups. A bigger mystery lurking in the background. Untouchable is Trick without Abe Hiroshi!

Basically, Nakama Yukie plays Narumi Ryoko, a former employee of the first rate National weekly magazine now working for third rate magazine, Untouchable. She comes of across various mysteries in every episode and solves them but her articles are always changed by her editor to eliminate any mention of a certain dark organisation. She has a one way infatuation with a former colleague Shiro (Kaname Jun) which is a constant source of comedy and a workplace rivalry with the visually pleasing Misuzu (Ashina Sei). Takafuji (Sato Tomohito) is her cameraman partner. Usually when the dorama lead is a female, the main supporting male characters tend to be a lot younger (usually a Johnny) and have no chemistry/acting. I was surprised when Shiro and Takafuji turned out to be interesting characters instead of 2D ones. Maybe having no Johnnys had something to do with it.

The mysteries follow the Trick formula. The first suspicion/explanation is always wrong and there's usually two twists in the story before arriving at the truth. The fun thing is that all the episodic stories are linked to the main story about the dark organisation. The later half of the series is when Untouchable turns into a sort of 20th Century Boys story as everyone is trying to find the identity of this person known as Anonymous who seems to be using the mass media for his own purposess.

I really like how they create plausible reasons to suspect certain key people as Anonymous instead of throwing lame red herrings at the audience that don't make sense after the truth is revealed and exist only as a misdirection. The final revelation makes good sense and ties everything up together. The one flaw that Untouchable has is that every episode has at least one huge logic gap . Its not that huge of a problem since its not that serious as a show but it is grating nonetheless. However, compared to Bloody Monday Untouchable small jumps in logic are easily dismissed.

I wished I had done my awards after watching Untouchable because I would have probably put it as the no.5 show to watch last year. Conspiracy shows aren't common in jdoramas and at the moment I can't think of any that's done it as well as Untouchable. And yes, Untouchable's producer is the same as Tricks's. Thanks to Sars-Heiwa for subbing this and Kudos to the writer for writing a fun mystery thriller that doesn't self destruct in the end.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Jmovie review: Amalfi: Rewards of the Goddess

Oda Yuji. Amami Yuki. Koichi Sato. Toda Erika. Otsuka Nene. Densha and the director of Suspect X, one of my favourite movies which would have been perfect if Shibasaki Kou's role had been edited out. Such star power and acting chops assembled in a jmovie is rare. Ok, I wouldn't consider Oda Yuji and Densha good actors but Oda is a movie draw in Japan. The reason for this movie is to celebrate Fuji TV's 50 anniversary. Kuroda (Oda Yuji) has just been transferred personnel of the Japanese Embassy in Italy. Hardly any background is given but he seems to be in high demand and is high skilled in everything. Yes, Kuroda is your Steven Seagal/Van Damme former Navy Seal character except they don't even bother to clarify what training he has had.

Yup, Galileo in another glorified cameo.

Amami Yuki is in Italy on a holiday with her daughter but she is kidnapped. Kuroda gets involved when the kidnappers call to demand ransom and thus begins a pretty exciting 1st hour of kidnapping drama. The first half of the movie is awesome. Lots of running around, trying to trace the kidnappers and high tension. Its pretty hard to fuck up a ransom movie. Through it all, Oda Yuji is super calm so we don't give a fuck about him and Amami Yuji is a wreck so we don't care about her either. Her total lack of brain cell usage in her decisions destroyed all empathy. I know most mothers would make the same decision in real life but this is a freaking movie. Characters need to exhibit some sort of logical thinking or else the audience will not care.

Lots of great shots of Italy and surprisingly the movie is like a tourist warning about pickpockets and kidnapping there. I was impressed with the first half. Amalfi doesn't look like a cheap dorama production and looks very solid. Then the second half came and we have this stupid 'action' scene with guns that fucking does nothing for this movie. Its a complete waste of time and completely stupid. Kuroda had no good reason to do what he did. Its like the writer decided, hey we just killed the tension from the kidnapping story so we need something to kill time until the ending.

Toda Erika probably realising that her character is redundant.

And what a pathetically stupid ending. It was all some stupid elaborate plan to shut down computerised security for some function. The whole chain of events of the plan cannot possibly be planned. Even if we accept that the plan may be possible, we get stupid terrorists who seem to want to reveal the truth rather than get revenge. Maybe someone should tell them that they can create their own website or even go to the press with their story. All that crazy planning to get the system turned off and they couldn't even execute their plan at the end or foresee the fact that if they want justice, they shouldn't kill him.

Toda Erika's character is totally useless in this. She serves no purpose in this and her lines should have been given to various other characters. Otsuka Nene is basically a cameo. I can't say to avoid this movie at all costs because though the movie falls apart in the second half, its was pretty enjoyable for me to watch a Japanese movie with such technical competence in the way the movie looks. Perhaps part of the reason is that it was completely shot in Italy and they used Italian crew members. On the other hand, its because the movie looks good and has so many stars that the flaws in the script are greatly magnified. Amalfi: Rewards of the Goddess is a movie that tries to do to much that it doesn't know what it is. Ransom movie in the first half but the second is neither a triller nor an action movie.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Fumo Chitai ep 19

What a glorious ending! My pet peeve with Fumo Chitai was I never understood what Daimon saw in Iki or why he was the protagonist for this story. The only success he ever had up to this point was the Luckheed thing. The Chiyoda thing failed because of Satoi and Sarvestan thing was looking like a horrible gameble by Kinki. Iki never did anything superbly strategic or amazing enought for me to say now I understand why Daimon wanted him. All the breaks that Iki had have been due to Beniko. If I were Iki, I would be giving her whatever she wanted. Everytime Iki was in a pinch and needed some shortcut, it turns out Beniko knows the right people and saves Iki's ass.

Despite all this, Iki kept rising and rising in Kinki Corp to the point of Daimon even throwing Satoi away. That's like breaking the basic rule of hero/videogame advancement. Small victories should lead to bigger challenges and each victory culminating to the final boss. Its as if Iki leveled up without really slaying any dragons or used a cheat code to jump all the way to vice president. And in the middle of ep 19, when Iki finally, finally had his two victories, I finally realised that Fumo Chitai wasn't about Iki succeeding.

They didn't even afford the fact that the Chiyoda deal going through much celebration and was only mentioned in passing. It was more about the struggle. It was about contrasting and comparing Iki's Military life and imprisonment in Siberia with his mission in Kinki Corp. It was about the struggle. It was about Iki trying to fulfill his mission while having to make compromises in order to survive/reach his goal. The mission that Daimon wanted him for and that Iki had sworn to.

Before Kinki, Iki only knew to lives, that of a militaryman and prisoner. The former was about following orders to the letter and the latter about doing what was necessary to survive while maintaining one's sanity and dignity. Now the business world has become his battlefield except the reason he was doing it was because he wanted to follow Daimon's orders and serve Japan. In a sense Iki only knows how to live to achieve the goals of an organisation and country. Even after years of imprisonment, he places very little value on his own self. Like Dr Forge said, Iki is trapped in another Siberia of his own making, living his life the only way he knows how.

Fumo Chitai isn't a fantasy dorama where the hero concocts a master plan to beat everyone or pull a rabbit out of a hat. This is a realistic show about Iki trying his damnest to make the right decisions and sticking to his guns even when things don't look bleak. Iki isn't a superhero. His luck is that he knows the right people. All he is a smart businessman trying to compete with other smart businessmen like Samejima.

I'm currently 2/3 way through The Barren Zone, the novel on which the dorama is based on and it is a captivating read. 3/5 of the novel deal with Iki's imprisonment and there is a lot missing from the dorama especially about the Japanese prisoners being brainwashed into being Socialists. The reason offered in the novel why the Japanese prisoners were so easily brainwashed was that they were unable to think individually and will always follow the majority. This backstory makes the accusation of Iki being a soviet spy towards the end of the dorama even more profound and shows how serious the capitalist vs socialist war was at that time. What is shown in the dorama is not even half of what Iki suffered in the novel. The novel however, ends with the Luckheed story, just like the movie.

Whether or not there are more books, I'm not sure. If there are, they don't seem to be available in English. :( As I've said in my first look at Fumo Chitai, I wished they had spliced the whole Siberia thing into the series instead of just putting it in the beginning. The novel has been a fun read because there's a lot more information about Iki and thoughts and sufferings. If I had experienced what he has been through, I wouldn't want a high pressure job. I can really see that the problem with the adaptation is that a lot of what pertains to Iki is conveyed through the narrator in the novel. Overuse of the narrator in the dorama would have made it more a documentary style acting out rather than a dorama.

Ep 19 gave me the ending that I wanted and at the same time showed me that what the show was actually about was very different from my expectations. All my doubt and worries about this series were washed away. Thanks to Chuks for subbing this must watch dorama.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Jdorama Spring 2010 previews

Tsuki no Koibito

Well, Kimutaku is coming back in the only genre he is good at which is roman dorama. Its got a harem of chicks with Shinohara Ryoko, Kitagawa Keiko and Lin Chi Ling. Guess which of the 3 chicks can't act? (hint: her initials are LCL) The last Kimutaku performance I enjoyed was Pride which was ages ago. Karei naru ichizoku and Love and Honour showed how bad he was when a role demanded depth. I'm still checking this out of curiosity and hope it nowhere as lame as Mr Brain.

Zettai Reido

I don't care how frilly Ueto Aya's hair is, there's no way she can convincing play a police seargent. Might check out the first episode but my spider sense tingles at the thought of her in a police show.

Team Batista 2

I didn't watch the first season for good reason, the movie was really good and there is absolutely no way the tv show can match Takeuchi Yuko + Abe Hiroshi. Save your time and just watch the two movies.

Rinjo 2

I liked the first series. It had police procedures that made sense and no characters trying to pose for the camera. Too bad Hatarakiman's chief is no longer in it. Sadly, no one has offered to sub it but I'll definitely get the HK dvd if it isn't.


Matsuyuki Yasuko (Suspect X) as teacher who bonds with her student who is being abused. Could be epic since its got acting talent or it could end up in mediocrity because it doesn't want to push the envelope like Aishiteru. Chances are the latter but the concept has lots of potential.


I'm gonna give it a try for Tadano Hitoshi. Its not like jdoramas are full of adult shows.

Sunao ni Narenakute

Ugghh, twitter dorama starring Eita and Ueno Juri by the writer of Orange Days. On the other hand, she also wrote Tatta Hitotsu no Koi. I would watch its a fun show like Love Shuffle but its probably going to be a show about emo characters I wouldn't care for.

Pro Golfer Hana

Could be fun. As much as I despise Kota Rosa's forehead, sports doramas are not common and as long as it doesn't suck too bad and has a couple of laughs per episode, I'll be along for the ride.

Keishicho Shissonin Sosaka

Finally Sawamura Ikki gets his chance to play the lead in a missing persons cop show. Its got Samejima and Kita Yoshio so this show won't be lacking in talent. No subber so far but this is a must try show in my book. Please don't make it a squeaky clean show like Hancho.

Yankee-kun to Megane-chan

Sounds like the jdorama version of Karekano. Yankee guy used to be good student while the good girl used to be bad. Could be fun.

Keibuho Yabe Kenzo

The Toupee cop from Trick gets his own show! I love Trick so this is a must check out for me. HaroRangers is subbing it. Gee, how long have they been subbing Runaway?


Abe Hiroshi!!!!!! Need I say more? In a police show! Could this be Abe's Gonzo? Unfortunately, they had to fucking put Kuroki Meisa in this show. I can think of worse 'actresses' to pair Abe with so I have faith in his ability to carry doramas by himself. Its based on a novel so the story better be good. Could this be the first must watch show of 2010?

Most of the pics were stolen from http://jdramas.wordpress.com/ which I find to be a very informative site.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Majisuka Gakuen

In case you are wondering, the guy on Atsuko's left is not a guy, though she looks more manly than Yamapi.

At the beginning of Majisuka Gakuen, the following disclaimer appears: 'This drama is an extension of liberal arts and in some parts the acting of the characters may look unpleasant, but it would be greatly appreciated if it could be seen warmly.' The Diet should pass a law requiring this warning on every johnny dorama. Hell, the disclaimer should apply to most jdoramas. What the disclaimer does most of all is let me know that the creators are aware of their limitations and are going to do the best with what they have. So what exactly is Majisuka Gakuen?

Prepare to be very sick of the word maji when watching this show.

Majisuka is basically the female equivalent of Crows Zero starring the girls of AKB48. If you haven't seen Crows Zero, its a high school fighting movie. Basically about gangs fighting in a school or between schools. Maeda Atsuko plays a transfer student with the same name who is shadowed by her dark past. She wears glasses, doesn't want to get into fights but whenever someone uses the words maji (serious) when challenging her, she drops her glasses on the floor and becomes super butt kicking Maeda Atsuko.


If you've seen/read high school fighting manga/anime/movies, you know the drill. Transfer student reluctantly starts getting into fights, builds own gang and soon has the face the top gang in the school before finally the big face off against the big boss. This is pure violence dorama with cliched characters but the emphasis is to keep things moving fast and the fights interesting.

Itano Tomomi looks so kawaiii~~~~. Too bad she can't fight.

Considering it is AKB48 doing the fights themselves, one can't really expect anything much from them. This is the type of situation where I can approve of lots of fast cuts and close ups. Actually, the funny thing is, you can see how physically capable certain girls are depending on the fights. It is obvious that Kojiharu and Itano Tomomi do are very limited. Considering the skills of the girls and the budget, I think the director did a pretty excellent job of doing the fight scenes. There usually is a story to the fight and you can see the moves however weakly they are executed. I'm judging this with way different standards than something like high kick girl.

My ultimate kryptonite; the neko smile! In case you are wondering, her name is Matsui Jurina and she is only 13!

And of course the blood. The hallmark of Japanese B grade movies. No arterial spraying blood since but the girls get bruised and abused a lot. At least the midnight screening time is good for something. Actually comparing the quality of Crows Zero which was pretty successful to Majisuka, there's barely any difference. Lots of posturing and trying to look badass.

Maeda Atsuko does an OK job playing her expressionless namesake but it is Shinoda Mariko who plays the deputy leader of Rapapa, Sado who steals the show. I never thought I'd say this about a girl but she is kakoii. She's got screen presence and the only one in the show allowed to do any acting. I never noticed her in AKB48 until now but she's definitely on my radar. And yes, her name Sado comes from sadomasochistic.

I don't know whether it was lowered expectations or because of how crap Mendol was but I really enjoyed all the things that Majisuka did well. I can sense a level of dedication and care towards making Majisuka I rarely see in midnight doramas. Majisuka isn't a good show by any stretch. Cliched dialogue and one of the biggest plot disappointments in Nezumi's plan but its so bad that it is fun to watch. Lower your expectations and I hope you'll have fun like I did.

Forgot to mention I really love the behind the scenes stuff in the credits with Sakura no Shiori playing. For 25 minutes they try to convince you that they are this bunch of ass kicking students and next thing I'm having warm fuzzy feelings watching a bunch of idols rehearsing their fight scenes. Maybe I'm biased cause it evokes the classic Momusu girls next door trying to idol/actor gambatte feeling.