Thursday, February 24, 2011

Youkame no semi eps 1-4

Youkame no semi tells the tale of Nonomiya Kiwako (Dan Rei) who is having an affair with a married co-worker, Akiyama. Akiyama keeps promising that he will break up with his wife Etsuko and Kiwako believes him. Kiwako finds out she is pregnant but Akiyama convinces her to undergo an abortion on the basis that he would lose more money from the divorce and it results in Kiwako not being able to bear any more children. Akiyama finds out his wife is pregnant soon after and the divorce is off. Etsuko confronts Kiwako and declares that she has known about the affair and mocks her for having the abortion. One rainy day, Kiwako enters Akiyama's home and steals away the baby Erina/Kaoru.

The main reason I decided to check out Youkame no semi was that its suppose to be like Mother. In the sense of a woman running away with someone's child, it is. However the huge difference is that in Mother, the woman is saving the child from her abusive mom while in Youkame no semi, the main protagonist is committing a very serious crime with no moral justification. Just because Akiyama lied to her indirectly causing her to be barren and his wife mocking her does not in any way, shape or form give Kiwako any sort excuse for stealing Akiyama's daughter.

The question must be asked, can the main protagonist of a story not commit crimes or be a villain? Of course there are many stories where the main character is a bad guy and the story is either an examination of the bad person's character or a worse person appears therefore making the main character the hero by virtue of being less evil. However, Youkame no semi does not portray Kiwako as a villain. In fact it very similar to mother in that it is about the 'adopted mom' learning how to be a mother while on the run from the law.

I'm watching Kiwako trying to survive and connecting with Kaoru and all I can think of is 'you just fucking deprived a family of their daughter and you deserve to go to prison for a very long time because of the suffering and pain they must be going through'. Its like she's a nice person who made a very vile decision but the show tries to portray Kiwako as a nice and sympathetic protagonist when her major crime just cancels out whatever good things she does.

There is a sort of side story set in the present of a grown up Kaoru (Kitano Kii) who has become pregnant and Kiwako is in prison. I think its suppose to build up some sort of parallel story with Kiwako's journey but I don't see it. Kaoru seems to make a big deal of her father's affair with Kiwako but all I can think of is 'so what?' This series is based on a popular novel and they are going to do a movie version with Nagasaku Hiromi but for the life of me I cannot bloody understand the point of the story!!!

It is impossible for me to feel empathy for Kiwako. It is impossible for me to hate her because the dorama portrays her as a nice person. Youkame no semi is not a character study show dealing with her emotional pain as she tries to justify her actions. The show could work if she did it out of vengeance. In fact ,Youkame no semi would have been a lot more interesting if Kiwako abducted Kaoru out her hate and her desire to cause pain and suffering to Akiyama. Fuck, they could have easily made it so much better but for some reason she has to be boringly nice, having no discernable reason for kidnap when all that was required was her to do it out of spitefulness. A story of a hateful crime leading Kiwako to learning to love Kaoru works so much better for me than the 'heroic journey' or a child kidnapper who's excuse was she just couldn't put the baby down.

Monday, February 21, 2011

School!! eps 1-5

Such and inspiring and eye catching name for a dorama, especially with the two exclamation marks! Sarcasm aside, I first tried to watch this dorama weeks ago. The first scene was of Naruse (Eguchi Yosuke) doing his last tunnel construction job before going to his new job as the principal of his old primary school. I thought the show would be different from the usual ex-random occupation turned teacher doramas since being a principal would involve different stories.

Lolicon alert!

Naruse turns up in school and we are treated to the same generic group of teachers that populate 99% of jdoramas. You've got the same group of seemingly useless teachers who are afraid of the parents and lawsuits. You've got the hot young teacher who gets pissed of with our antagonist and of course becomes his unwitting sidekick, here played by Kitano Kii.Not to mention cowardly vice principal teacher who is the defacto head of the teachers and your usual classroom bullies.

However, the main antagonist Kirihara (Nishijima Hidetoshi) is not your typical cowardly opportunistic villain. He is actually the best teacher in the school and though he is at loggerheads with the idealistic and headstrong Naruse, he actually makes arguments that make sense and Kirihara admits that arguing with Naruse is useless because Naruse just states parallel points without refuting his argument.

At least they worked Kitano Kii's youth into the story by making her a 22 year old part timer who couldn't get a job and got in through her connections.

I think I only watched the first episode half way before dismissing it as another generic and unimaginative dorama  like Misaki No 1. Needing to take a break from the stressful game Catherine, I decided to finish off the first episode and it turned out to be an ok story about a kid who couldn't do his multiplication table, known as kuku in Japanese. Ep 2 is about a primary school hatsukoi story so it always cute. Episode 3 is about the relationshp between a poor and rich student which was ok. All three episodes had your typical moralistic, preachy endings but it surprisingly it didn't make my skin crawl.

I'm pretty kids nowadays have no idea what GTO is.

At this point I'm asking why I am being drawn into watching School!! I've seen the subject matter and characters too many times and it doesn't do anything innovative but somehow the quality of the writing seems to rise about its generic concept. Maybe its because the purpose of the show was not to showcase idorus who play the students? Then ep 4 and 5 arrived with the GTO story and I was hooked. Its not the story of an incompetent teacher but the story of a teacher who tried really hard and failed and that is something you don't see in your usual school jdoramas. Ep 5 made me realise something, that School!! is not concerned about forcibly making their characters look cool. It is a dorama concerned with telling good stories and telling it well.

Future gravure idoru material.

After finishing episode 5, I quickly looked up the writer and it turns out to be Hata Takehiko, who also wrote Dragon Zakura which I should have realised from the running while reciting the kuku in ep 1. The best compliment I can give School!! is that it has taken what looks like generic characters from your usual school dorama and given them un expected depth coupled with very solid writing. School!! is not in GTO, Jyoou no Kyoushitsu or Kinpachi Sensei good but so far it better than most school jdoramas. I would say its on the same level as Medaka and Dragon Zakura; its not must watch but its a certain charm and doesn't offend a cynical bastard like me. I leave you with my favourite piece of dialogue from School!! which was said by Miki-chan as advice to Naruse which was not just very funny but served to define Naruse's character:

Germans think before running.

English people think while they walk.

Japanese run like the people around them.

And educators these days have a meeting before they run.

So, which one are you, Naruse-kun?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Taisetsu na Koto wa Subete Kimi ga Oshiete Kureta eps 1+2

What is it about?

School teacher Kashiwagi Shuji (Miura Haruma) wakes up one day to find an unknown girl in his bed. He claims he remembers what happened but has to rush to work. Kashiwagi then hands his keys to the girl and asks her to leave it in his mail box. We soon find out that he is engaged to Uemura Natsumi (Toda Erika) and the young girl, Saeki (The daughter from Gold) is actually a student in his class! Not to mention Saeki has some weird disease and is friendly with the nurse played by Uchida Yuki.

So its a high tension dorama about an affair, right?

Nope. The first episode which runs for an hour is mostly typical high school stuff with lots of time going to the students. In other words, someone wanted a long first episode, probably for rating reasons and to squeeze more ads in. Most of the stuff has nothing to do with the hook of the show, which was Kashiwagi waking up with a student in his bed.

Ok, first episode might have been very boring but surely the show picks up on the second episode?

Nope. You get another Kinpachi sensei story about two childhood friends, though it sort of correlates to the main hook of the series with a 'moral lesson' about telling the truth. While watching the second episode, I kept thinking about Jackie Cheung's July Rhapsody and how much better this story would have been as a movie. The one scene that caught my attention was the basketball scene between Uemura sensei and Saeki when Uemura sensei declares she knows something happened but she doesn't care.

Any reasons to watch Taisetsu na Koto wa Subete Kimi ga Oshiete Kureta?

Mostly Toda Erika. I really like her portrayal of Uemura Natsumi as a woman who keeps her thoughts to herself with her forced cheerfulness in front of Kashiwagi. For AKB48 fans, Shinoda Mariko is in it as Uemura's housemate, friend and ex-girlfriend of Kashiwagi. Its nice to see her finally play a character her age although she could still pass for a schoolgirl.

Second reason would be the possibility of a nice on the outside but steely woman who is determined to get married vs young girl who would do anything to destroy the marriage war. Whether that is likely is another story.

Any reasons not to watch this dorama?

First reason is Miura Haruma, aka the magical hacker from Bloody Monday. First of all, he looks way too young even with having an older style haircut trying to look older. Another fucking example of the Ueto Aya syndrome, casting actors who are too young just for ratings. If the intention of the makers was to cast someone who would like a young deer looking at headlights then they've succeeded. If you think this dorama needs an everyman teacher who may be young and in over his head but doesn't look like he could be the same age as the students, look elsewhere. Oh yes, the worst crime of all, zero chemistry between the teachers. WTF is Matsuda Shota when you need him? Maybe this producers actually wanted them to look more like brother and sister in a passionless relationship in order to justify breaking it up.

Pacing is bad because this feels like its going to be a kitchen sink dorama with the setting up of the students, Saeki's friend who used to work at a maid cafe, Uemura's housemate, Saeki's health problems and  Uchida Yuki as the nurse. So its going to be young Kinpachi sensei trying to save his marriage while solving everyone's problems. And why to the Japanese keep using basketball in their doramas when  no one in dorama land knows how to dribble a ball properly?

Problem no 3; we don't know whether Kashiwagi actually did it with Saeki. Saeki told the nurse she did it and there was bleeding but I wouldn't trust her. This easy and way too obvious escape plot device just hangs over the first two episodes creating further empathy. Its like killing a hero but leaving a very obvious way for the villain to escape his death. Its cheapens the death and makes the audience ask, why bother?


I am going to give this dorama one more episode in the hope of seeing some psychological warefare between Toda Erika and Saeki. I want to see this dorama go to dark places but sadly this dorama is called 'Taisetsu na Koto wa Subete Kimi ga Oshiete Kureta' which means important things were all taught by you which means moral lessons, lots of crying and forgiveness and the usual everyone gets stronger at the end bullshit. Its works for Kinpachi sensei because he has those kind, experience eyes that express empathy. This show has so far a story about an affair, void of suspense and chemistry with most of the time going to setting up filler side stories. Just for the record, I would never cheat on Toda Erika for that kabe kokousei from Gold.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Jdorama ramblings 10/2/11

SHUKUMEI 1969-2010 ep 8

Finally the incest storyline which diverted the series way too much from all the political lying, scheming and backstabbing is over and, we have only one episode left. I was thinking what type of ending could they possibly do with only one episode left but ep 8 brought back what I enjoyed about this series as the patriarch of the Shirai family, Shirai Shinichiro makes his political move. Ah politics. When no one really says what they want to say and are always thinking about how to turn setbacks to their advantage.

This scene screams I want season 2!

 I really loved the look on Shinichiro's face when the Prime Minister offered his resignation in exchange for his second son marrying into the Shirai family. I thought it was out of concern for marrying off Fujii Mina. If my daughter were Fujii Mina, I'd rather lock her up at home than exchange her for political power. Little did I know the depths of Shinichiro's thoughts during that moment.

 I won't spoil the ending but the end of Shukumei was the only possible ending after spending half of the series on the incest story and that is a set up for a second series. And it is a very exciting set up though I have not read any news about a season 2 yet. I seriously hope the whole purpose of the movie was for something other than setting up a second season. They showed the photo of the guy which was of an actor at the end credits so I assumed they had (intended to) cast him for the role in the future. If they wanted Shukumei to be a stand alone series, then I think they would have not bothered with the photo or just put a unknown person's picture.

KEIZOKU 2 SPEC eps 2-7

I keep waiting for this series to start sucking but its been surprisingly good. I love the reveal as to why Toda Erika is always wearing a cast in the show. Its been less about this secret organisation of evil mutants run by two kids and more find out the villain of the week and what powers he/she actually has. The writing has been solid and they keep coming up with interesting use of powers and ways for the Keizoku team to solve it.

He certainly looks overjoyed.

Ok, mostly your typical police show with Toda Erika ripping paper up and then explaining how she knew to the baddie but they've infused the dorama with enough quirkiness to make it different. I mentioned in review of ep 1 that I was not confident the brotherhood of evil mutants story could satisfactory with but so far Keizoku Spec has not made any missteps and have managed to keep things interesting each episode that I don't have time to ponder whether the series is setting up for an interesting ending.


And of course, Mano Erina appears in episode 7 which so makes my day. Thank the jdorama gods she plays a kawaii and genki fortune teller, two traits which she is good at as an idoru and I'm not talking about fortune telling. At least she doesn't look as awkwards as Nacchi and Ayaya when they are acting. I really enjoyed the joke where she tells the guy to chant Hello Project songs instead. 


Hanboshi is a series about a special investigation support squad consisting of a former systems engineer, a profiler and a kinesics specialist ie body movement. Problem no 1 is that they are suppose to be the support squad but they are basically doing the investigation for the other cops who are, you guessed it incompetent. No 2 is that they is nothing special about the first two members and the main character Kirishima serves as a walking lie detector.

Why must all cop jdoramas have the stupid walk parallel to each other scene?

Now, what right have I to complain about the special support squad doing the work of the police when Rinjo does the same thing? Well, Rinjo solves crimes by doing his job as the coroner, that is documenting evidence but taking it a step further by being able to make sense of the evidence faster than the other police. In Honboshi, their special skills are basically useless and ultimately crimes are solved through the gathering of evidence just like any police show. It would irk me a lot less if they were not a support squad but normal investigators with highly skilled backgrounds.

I liked the twist for ep 3 because I had a different 'reason' in mind.

Kirishima, the walking lie detector's only function in Honboshi is to say whether or not a person is lying by noticing whether someone is doing any physical movement when being questioned. What I've learned from Honboshi is to turn your eyes to the left when asked about some past action. The thing that really gets to me is, wouldn't experienced police officers have such skills as well? The head of the squad is basically turning to Kirishima every time and asking him whether a person is actually lying.

I just had to throw in another Mano Erina screencap.

I think the execution of the concept is flawed. If you want to do a series about profiling, kinesics or whatever skills that most police don't have, you need to do stories about crimes that cannot be solved without that particular skill. Its like those profiling movies where a profiler is called upon because there is a distinct lack of evidence and the police need some angle or cornerstone from which to conduct their investigation. In short, they did not need the special squad in order to solve the 3 cases. If you ignore the special squad part, Honboshi is pretty watchable and definitely miles ahead of Lady and Control.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Shinya Shokudo

 Shinya Shokudo is a show that has been recommended a few times by Jung and others in the comments and I finally got around the watching it. Shinya Shokudo means midnight restaurant and it is an eatery that opens from 12am to seven in the morning. The owner of the place is not given a name but is only referred to as Master and he has a scar running across his left eye.

 The only things on the menu are traditional tonjiru, beer and sochu. What sets this shinya shokudo apart from other places is that Master will cook anything else that is requested as long as he has the ingredients. The way the story works is that each customer has their own preferred dish and there is a story behind why they keep requesting the same food. At the end of each episode, the guest character will also give a tip about preparing their favourite food.

The first episode starts off with a story about a yakuza boss and his love for wieners. Something happens to the yakuza boss but nothing really happens after that and I'm wondering whether the people who recommended Shinya Shokudo were smoking weed while watching it. The second episode turned out to be a very nice short story about an enka singer. Forgot to mention that the episodes are 25 minutes so the storytelling has to be efficient.

Third episode was about the Ochazuke sisters. It was an ok but scary story about female friendship but I guess it was necessary since their are pretty important supporting characters. The series really picks up in the fourth episode with a story about a legendary AV actor and his apprentice The story has nothing really to do with AV but its freaking awesome. Someone needs to make a midnight dorama about the AV industry whether it be a comedy or drama because there's so many types of interesting storylines to do.

I get so hungry just looking at this.

Fifth episode is the butter rice story, which is beautifully written but OMFG, I so want some butter rice, except I can't be bothered cooking. I think I might get some take away rice tomorrow. I'm tempted to put a lot more butter and shoyu on it though. Oh yeah, don't watch this dorama on an empty stomach. Even if you are full like I was, make sure you have food nearby cause I just had to go out and get some supper midway through the series.

Sixth episode is the newspaper guy and idol story and at this point I'm thinking if they can just sustain the quality of the stories, this would be a must watch series. Suffice to say it really does all the way until the last episode. The last episode goes back and continues the story from the first episode. Its ok but lacks the emotional oomph from the most of the episodes, probably to make way for the ending which is very incomplete. We never get an explanation for Odagiri Joe's character and we are only given a hint as to the cause of Master's scar.

The main thought that I had at the end of Shinya Shokudo was that I want season 2! Out of 10 stories, I would say 7 are pretty good and that's a pretty good success rate. Shinya Shokudo is basically a very relaxing story about food and the meaning certain food to different people. Its a collection of wonderfully written short stories about human relations and I really got to like the characters throughout the series, even the Ochazuke Sisters and their constant nee~~~~s. Thanks for recommending me this show and to WithS2 for subbing this beautiful series. Perhaps when I next go to Japan I should wander around the alleys of Shinjuku to find this magical Shina Shokudo and get Master to cook me that stamina meal.

Jadefrost wrote a very nice summary for a few series this season here.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Akutou ~Juuhanzai Sousahan eps 1+2

Akutou starts off with this guy falling to his death in an alley from the top of a building. Four figures immediately surround his body and searched his notebook and mobile phone, looking for something. It turns out that the four people were police officers and the man who had died was their unit chief, Tokunaga. All 4 members are part of Unit 4, Criminal Investigation Department in Minato who have a reputation of high arrest rates and questionable practices.

Satonaka (Koizomu Koutarou, the son of the former PM) is the idealistic cop assigned to be the new unit Chief  and is warned that Unit 4 might have caused their chief's death. In short, Akutou is a story of an idealistic career police officer put in charge of a unit that actually does police work! They have informants in the yakuza and exchange information with them and actually beat up suspects like police all over the world do. More importantly, Akutou is not a dorama about a few able and idealistic cops who work for an organisation where their colleagues and superiors are incompetent!

Takahashi Katsunori starts as Togashi, the leader of the group with who is a single parent and lives with the mother in law. There is a mystery regarding his wife's whereabouts which serves as a nice cliffhanger at the end of the second episode. His acting is basically the same as in Tadano Hitoshi as the nice guy who always acts cool and is willing to bend the rules. I think he's too hard to look cool. It works for Tadano Hitoshi which is a comedy but Akutou is a serious show. I was hoping for something slightly different but he's mostly there for his charisma and to be the violent guy of the group so it doesn't affect the show to much.

Uchiyama Rina who I have not seen in ages is Iinuma Reiko, who is the evidence tamperer and forger of the group. Her story is that she's living with this freeter who frequently abuses her and her team members know about it. I'm intrigued to see what her backstory actually is. The megane dude is in charge of yakuza relations and I'm not sure what the fourth guy's specialty is but his backstory is him always making silent calls to his ex-wife and child.

Awesome premise and the execution is pretty decent but cannot compare with Gaiji Ketsatsu. It probably has 1/5 the budget of  Gaikoukan Kuroda Kousaku so I can't really complain.The stories for the first two episodes have been pretty standard though I enjoy the extra elements of violence, torture, concealing evidence and backroom deals. Most importantly, no unfunny sitcom like useless police. Satonaka as the naive and idealistic Chief is close to useless but he's sort of the necessary evil to act as counterpoint. His job is to oppose everything Section 4 wants to do only for them to do it behind his back and for Togashi to tell Satonaka that he is a rabbit and he should let the hyenas fight the hyenas.

 What the first two episodes have done are to set up future storylines. Will Satonaka be more of an ally for Unit 4 or will he want to shut them down as he is exposed to their tactics? Did Unit 4 really kill their chief? What happened to Togashi's wife and why would Uchiyama Rina's character let herself be beat up like that and why doesn't the team care? Way to early to say how good Akutou is  but its the only show this season that I find is worth watching. I know every season seems to get worse but this season is just full of generic and uninspiring shows. There's this bit towards the end of episode 2 where the show starts to get preachy and moralistic which just made me want to scream at them and tell them to stop sounding like a generic safe for kids show but luckily the episode ended with a nice revelation and set up for the next episode.

I can't call it a must watch yet but considering the other shows this season, Akutou tramples on all of them. Luckily, there are plenty of good jdoramas that are still being subbed. I'm eagerly waiting for subs for episode 2 of the excellent Marks no Yama, Kita no Kuni Kara is excellent, the subs for Gold have reached 5 episodes, Keizoku Spec is still holding my attention and Odagiri Kyoko is near its end. Give Akutou a try, it won't blow you away but its certainly worth your time.