Monday, March 28, 2011

Nagareboshi 9-10

The following conversation most probably took place at the HQ of Fuji TV sometime last year.

Fuji TV writer: I've got a great script for new TV series for Takenouchi Yutaka and Ueto Aya. Its going to be about a simple dude with a dark secret meets prostitute. Yutaka's sister needs an organ transplant and he goes into an fake marriage with Aya's character so she can donate since Japanese laws only allow anonymous donors or family members. We're going to have this interesting parallel with Aya selling herself and then moving to selling her organ.

Ueto Aya's manager: WTF have you been smoking?! We cannot tarnish her pure and innocent image! The most she will do is massages! Surely there are pure massage places in Japan that don't provide happy endings!

Writer: But they only exist in Akiba! What use is making her character a prostitute if we don't explore it!

Aya's manager: I don't care! I am the defender of Aya's purity and innocence!

Writer: (mumbling) That's why she always looks like an 18 year old girl pretending to be a grown up in doramas!

Aya's manager: What did you say?!

Dorama boss: I said Snakes and Earrings never did Yoshitaka Yuriko's career any harm. She was naked and even did multiple S&M sex scenes! Isn't it time to stop protecting her and see if she can take on more than just two dimensional nice girl roles?

Aya's manager: Aya will never be a slut like that Yuriko! I knew she was a slut from the moment I saw her in Kita Yoshio! Aya is as pure as a mahou shoujo! Ok, the most I can let you do is to make her reveal her belly. You happy now you sick writer! (mumbling) If I could I would lock her up in my basement so that she can never be soiled by evil men.

Inagaki Goro's manager: I'm reading the script and it says Goro will play this evil brother who is very possessive and manipulative of his sister. It is against SMAP's image to play pure evil characters and I demand a redemption storyline for him at the end!

Writer: This would not make sense because he is an evil person! I mean he lets his sister prostitute herself to pay off his debts! Think of the strong emotional scenes we can mine from this!

Aya's manager: I demand no mention of Aya being a prostitute after the first two episodes! I refuse to have Aya screaming at Goro saying, "I sold myself for you for a year and you never say anything. And now I want to sell an organ to pay off your debts and you want to stop me?!" Its too heavy for the Japanese audience and such dirty words will never come out of Aya's innocent mouth!

Goro's manager: I agree! Yutaka should not have a dark secret and lets make him a boring nice guy so we can have more screen time for Goro. And I refuse to allow Goro to look and act like a bum. This is against the SMAP image. All SMAP appearances in doramas must be in clothes that cost more than a mobile phone and they must have half a jar of hair products in their hair. All SMAP characters must be suave ladies men.

Writer: Its important that Goro act and look like a despicable bum! The audience has to hate him and if his more of swindler than he's just an irritating character! We need to show that Aya's life is so fucked up and that Yutaka is the only one who can stop her self hate and cycle of self destruction! It is essential for audience empathy and to create tension!

Aya's manager: Weren't you listening you idiot? Its against the SMAP rules and Aya rules. Why don't you just write a dorama where everyone becomes stronger and becomes friends with each other in the end without all this tension and conflict.

Goro's manager: I want you to get rid of the mass media finding out Aya is a prostitute in the script and instead of Goro trying to make money by selling his sister, I want you to make some story about him trying to protect her and don't give me that it doesn't make sense nonsense. Bloody Monday didn't make sense and the mindless fangirls loved it! And make Goro sleep with a nurse so that we can counteract all those rumours about johnnys.

Writer: I'm going to Wowow.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Jmovie review: Confessions of a Dog/Pochi no kokuhaku

When I first read about this movie on Twitchfilm, I knew I had to get it. A movie about police corruption in Japan that was so close to the truth that it wasn't released there? If there is one thing that Jmovies need is more realism instead of the usual warped anime style world. Confessions of a Dog is an epic 3 hour movie about a big bear of a police officer, Takeda played masterfully by Sugata Shun. We see him in the beginning as an earnest and gentle soul who helps this young woman who his partner at the koban/police box tries to harrass. This earns him the attention of the police chief who promotes him to be a detective.

Takeda is loyal to a fault even up to letting the police chief decide his daughter's name. We see montages of Takeda doing the usual police work of catching criminals until we see him get involved in a suspicious police raid on Chinese gun smugglers where he drives away the buyer. Takeda is given money for his troubles and he writes in his diary that the money is a bonus and is not illegal. Five years later, he used to doing dirty work for the police and is completely transformed. The other two main characters of the movie are a newspaper photographer and the owner of a bar, Kusama who join forces to dig deep into police corruption but are met with resistance at every point not just by the police but by people who participate in the system.

The true story of Confessions of a Dog is a detailed look at how corruption in the police works. You get to see uniformed police working at the koban do stuff like harrass females and talk about having sex with them in exchange for letting them go. You have police selling drugs and staging fixed raids with the cooperation of foreign mafia in order to make themselves look good and get promoted.

Confessions of a Dog shows that probably the biggest obstacle to curbing the problem are the 'kisha clubs' where all the major newspapers copy and paste specially prepared police statements. Basically the newspapers are a tool for police propaganda and have completely no interest in provoking them. Even the tabloids and gossip magazines dare not invoke the wrath of the police. So much so that Kusama at the end had to go to the internet and foreign press in order to get his story out.

Confessions of a Dog is more of a study of the system of corruption where the police, politicians, media and courts are involved in a system of using fake justice to make money. Coming from a much more corrupt country though, what is shown in Confessions of a Dog is hardly surprising to me. Nothing in the movie beats the government abusing and killing suspects, opposition party members and Mongolian models and getting away with it.

While the performances are great, with the running time of 3 hours, it is not focused. The movie's main objective is to inform while entertaining takes a back seat. It should have been a stronger character study of Takeda slow descent into a fully corrupt cop. Yamazaki, who is 'related' to the chief and has an fantasy scene at the end would have made a great character study as well. Hints about his story and character are dropped throughout the series and I just wished the director would have spent more time hinting about how the corruption works and delved into the characters instead of the other way around. Its like the director purposely kept the characters at arms length from the viewers while I would have liked to get into the characters' heads more.

As a movie to entertain, Confessions of a Dog is lacking because its first concern is to inform and detail corrupt police practices. As a piece of social film making, it is a very brave one and but I wouldn't call it a must watch. I have to admit though, most the movie played like a join the police force promotional video. Join the police force and you get to blackmail girls for sex! Not only that, the police are very happy to pay off hush money for any allegations of rape!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Tetsu no Hone eps 4+5

Towards the end of ep 2, when Tokiwa Doken won the bid, I got really excited when Ogata proclaimed that their price was too low and Tokiwa Doken was basically ignoring profits. The boss of Ichitani-gumi then surmised that someone must have been backing them in order for them to be willing to take the project at a lost.

Here was Tokiwa Doken, proclaiming that they are clean and doing things above the law when in fact they are a front for someone else. I thought it would be just like politicians running an anti corruption campaign but using it get rid of opposition party members and rivals within their own party. I was enthused at the prospect of Tokiwa Doken and their anonymous backers being the true villains of this show.

Unfortunately, I was wrong and Tokiwa Doken were who they said they were. I understand the need for red herrings but in this case, the Tokiwa Doken red herring presented the possibility or a very layered story when in fact the story of Tetsu no hone turned up to be a much more straightforward one. Did I miss an obvious clue somewhere between the end of episode 2 and the ending where the suspicions of how Tokiwa Doken won the bid were cleared?

To say that I felt that the wind had been taken out of the sails is an understatement. I had at the end of episode two seen Tetsu no Hone for what it was not and paid the price for it. The question now is, why did the writer leave such a purposefully misleading ending for episode 2? Now that I know what Tetsu no Hone is, it is difficult for me to have an opinion because my expectations were completely wiped out.

If they had cleared out the Tokiwa Doken red herring in ep 3, I would not have minded the way the story went. Still, Tetsu no Hone will be remembered as the dorama that showed Koike Teppei could act and that is quiet an achievement.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Jmovie review: Beck

I have not watched the anime nor seen the manga.I've heard my friends mention it and all I knew before watching is that it is a band movie. Beck starts off like your typical Japanese story with generic high schooler Koyuki who is a loner and bullied in school by a band. He runs in to Ryusuke, a guitarist who had returned from living in the US played by Mizushima Hiro. He and very kawaii sister Maho (Kutsuna Shiori) are not that proficient in Japanese and regularly use English in their conversations.

Hiro's English pronunciation is pretty good and Shiori was born in Australia so its a breath of fresh air to not have Japanese actors butcher the English language. Its is quiet refreshing to see them mix Japanese with English just as Malaysians speak our own brand of English mixed in with a lot of other languages though it comes off as very pretentious because they say full English sentences instead of mixing and matching Japanese and English more. There are of course some horrible English dialogue that made me cringe and questioned why the two actors who supposedly are fluent in English didn't correct it. Still, a marked improvement over your usual English in Jmoves/dorama where the gaijin does all the talking and the Japanese actor just says yes/no/thank you.

Beck has a gimmick which separates it from all the other band movies out there. The main character, Koyuki supposedly has this incredible voice that makes listeners see visions. The thing is, we never hear his voice. You get to hear the band or some violin music, people listening in amazement and psychedelic images and you have to accept that it was an awesome performance by Koyuki. I thought the final song I'd get to hear him sing but no. They didn't even bother to have the melody to the singing part.

Why didn't I go to high school in Japan????????????

IMHO, this is a very, very horrible gimmick. All they needed was a decent singer and the crowds reaction to SELL the fact that his singing is good. Its like wrestling. Even if a match isn't 5 star but if the crowd is so into it, the audience will buy into the match and the characters. Its as if the producers were worried that they couldn't get a good enough voice so they would just sell it by reactions. You can't fucking sell a wrestling match if the two wrestlers aren't wrestling can you?

The rest of the movie is filled with your typical high school/band stories involving bullying, friendship, working part time for money and your boring evil producer of rival band storyline. Personally all this stuff is just filler especially with the running time of 2 1/2 hours. Someone forgot that band movies are all about the music. You can pad it with all the character development stories you want but if you don't space it with great music, its doomed.

I may not have liked Solanin as much but my god, Miyazaki Aoi's performance of Solanin at the end of the movie was awesome and made it memorable. The vocal performance was even better than the AKFG's and wished they had released a Miyazaki Aoi version. Furthermore it was the story of the movie and the audience's reaction to her singing that sold the performance. The importance of good music cannot be overstated. Look at the second season of K-on. The music just wasn't as good and killed my enthusiasm for the anime. Whoever the smart guy is who decided to not have the audience hear Koyuki sing should be forced to apologies to viewers and Beck fans.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Keizoku 2: SPEC eps 9+10

 Zeizoku 2 has surpassed all my expectations. The chemistry between Toda Erika and Kase Ryo has been great. The villains that they faced have been interesting, they've done an excellent job of milking what limited money they have for the special effects and the writer has done a great job of pacing the series with cliffhangers, most notably the end of episode 9 which just had me going WTF and eagerly waiting for the subs for the final episode which luckily came quick.

The big elephant in the room was the brotherhood of evil mutants plotline which according to my experience with jdoramas, always turns out bad because in jdoramas, it is some unwritten law that villains of secret organisations have to laugh manically, posture a lot and monologue incoherent arguments more than necessary and for 9 episodes Keizoku has avoided all that. Despite my misgivings of the villain Ninomae being a kid, he has turned out to be a frightening villain because he does not act like a cartoon villain. I mean he cut of Saya's hand. How fucking cool was that and how much did we want to see Saya get her revenge? Plus the writer even took care of the evil brotherhood of mutants subplot by having Ninomae kill all of them.

It is awesome until we get the reveal of the true villain, someone who I think all the viewers suspected from the first episode. Guess what's the first thing the true villain does? Follows the rule of the cartoon villain and starts laughing while hopping like a rabbit before screaming at Sebumi. Why??????? Can jdorama writers not conceive of a villain that talks and acts normally? Is a villain a villain because he does evil things or because he hops like a rabbit while laughing at every opportunity? Are evil acts not enough or do villains have to distinguish themselves for the audience by behaving and talking like a retard?

Plus the motives of the true villain just don't make sense. He just wanted to pit brother against sister? How did he know Ninomae had powers in the first place? Was he working for the organisation? It seems like the writer just wanted to portray him as someone who does evil things because he can and frankly I don't give a shit because there is no transfer of my eagerness to see Saya and Sebumi defeat Ninomae to them defeating the true villain. He did what he did for no particular motives and now he is obsessed with Saya? So what? I just feel there's too big of a gap between the true villain and Ninomae.

I didn't really like the final battle that much. Was the tooth bullet suppose to be funny? What happened to the other Spec people who were supposed to be protecting him? Saya firing the gun with her reattached hand was cool but couldn't she have tried to pull the trigger with her right hand as well despite the fact that the true villain stepped on it. It was still pretty cool though and the slightly ambiguous ending is awesome. Clues to the true villain's motives have been planted throughout series but Keizoku 2 just fails to arouse any sort of anger or desire to see him defeated. I think someone said it best 'in real life, it doesn't have to make sense but in doramas it has to'. Despite my whinging over the last episode, I enjoyed Keizoku 2 and I would recommend it.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Jdorama ramblings 7/3/11


We finally get to see this secret cartel of the six major Tokyo construction companies in action. Its interesting to note that the main reason the six companies are colluding is to ensure that government projects are spread equally among them in order that they all can survive. A slightly noble plan with the fact that the government will not accept proposals under their estimated budget so this prevents the 6 companies from having to undercut each other in order to win contracts. If this were Malaysia, all one had to do was to offer a huge kickback to the relevant Minister and have his family on your board of directors and your overpriced tender would be accepted on the basis that you are the most 'appropriate' company despite being a paper company with limited capital.

It seems that because of public pressure to stop bid rigging, there are plan behind the scenes to reduce the number of companies to 5. I don't think the puppeteers really want to stop this bid rigging with them backing an outside company that is somehow able to submit tenders at below minimum costs. Tetsu no Hone doesn't delve much into the pros and cons of bid rigging except with Heita starting to think that it may not be a bad thing. On the number of jobs equation there will always be the same number of jobs for construction workers but having less companies would mean less jobs available for admin and sales people.

Matsuda Miyuki 27 years ago in Kita no Kuni Kara....

and in Tetsu no Hone which came out last year....

I hope the show goes into the ethical questions of bid-rigging. However, they bid-rigging in Tetsu no Hone is different from what we usually associate with it. Usually we think of a group of companies banning together to keep prices high but in this case, they still have to meet the government's estimates and there has not been any direct kickbacks to Ministers. The twist at the end is awesome and really sets up a lot of questions. Is this part of the conspirators' plans are is the Prosecutor's Office acting on its own? I can't wait for the next episode to find out!


I was reluctant to label the series as must watch in my review for eps 1-5 but now I'm glad I did. School!! is not Misaki no.1 digging up old tired cliches and putting a different glitter on it. Ep 6 and 7 does not we have not seen before but the best description I have for why I love it is that it has heart. It doesn't stray away from your typical renegade teacher formula and the kids' acting are nowhere as good as Jyoou no Kyoushitsu but it just knows what it is and it does it very well.


My favourite character in this show is Hotaru. The daddy's girl who puts up with all the hardship and refuses to acknowledge her mother just because she pities her father. Its touching but so sad at the same time. Its quiet interesting that this show about a divorced family was made in 1983. It would be unthinkable for a family friendly show on say, American TV to be about separated parents back in 83. The fundamental right wingers and religious protesters would be up in arms about the destruction of family values etc. Only 7 more episodes to go to the end but I'm more excited about the specials. I'm looking forward to see how the characters grow up in the future.


Still waiting for it to be more than just your average jdorama cop show. Sure they bend the rules a bit but that's no reason to call this show Akutou/villain. Now if Togashi had actually pulled the trigger at the end of ep 4, that would have been worth it. One could argue that Togashi would have been done if the father had not asked him to stop but they show has not really lived up to its name yet. Bashing suspects, colluding with yakuza and concealing evidence just makes them everyday real life cops. The twist at the end was more WTF in that it didn't make any sense at all but we'll see. Its still a watchable series and I'm planning to stay until the end because there are too many hanging plotlines.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Tetsu no hone eps 1+2

Did you ever get your Lan Evo back?

 The last thing I need is another Ijyuiin dorama. I am sick to death of his goody two shoes idealistic characters. However, it is being subbed by WithS2 subs which brought us subs for Shinya Shokudo, Gaiji Keisatsu and Hagetaka, three of the best jdoramas I have watched in the past year, so there is no reason for me not to give Tetsu no hone which means 'bones of steel' a try.

At the start we are introduced to Heita (Koike Teppei) working at a construction site as part of the design division of Ichitani-gumi. He berets a construction worker for resting on some planks of wood. The worker like any reasonable person finds Heita's high and mighty attitude irritating and they start a fight. As a result, Heita is transferred to the sales division and this is when the show becomes interesting.

We are introduced to the weird and wonderful world of sales divisions of construction companies fighting for survival. Like any country its all about connections and Heita is brought around to as many government departments to introduce himself. Government departments receive so many visits that they have a box on the counter for sales people to leave their business cards.

Heita keeps wanting to go back into the design division and surprise, he discovers that all the companies are into bid-rigging! Now this is something I can sink my teeth into. I am from Malaysia and the name of the country should be right next to the word corruption in the dictionary. I have a friend who works in a similar job to Heita and the stories he has would make a good dorama. The only thing missing from Tetsu no hone is having to entertain business connections every night and interviewing young salesgirls so they can entice old men to buy property. Its nice to see a dorama address something bid-rigging except in Tetsu no hone its set up in such a way as to set up the villains of the story.

As to my concern of Heita being the typical Ijyuiin idealist, my fears were quickly allayed when he asks his girlfriend Moe whether there was such a thing as company loyalty. Heita was pondering whether doing something illegal for the sake of the company's survival could be justified. It was fucking music to my ears. You see, my problem is not with idealistic characters. My problem is that jdoramas are littered with idealists who refuse to even contemplate the reality of situations and somehow in the magical jdorama world, they are proved right.

Heita is still a good guy in Tetsu no hone, but he is a good guy that thinks. He is a guy who sees things from multiple angles and comes to a conclusion that whether it is right or wrong, he must do his job. You can see the emotions on his face as he struggles to confide in his idealistic girlfriend Moe dismisses corruption as an easy activity. You can see Heita observe the actions of the sales people from other companies as he tries to determine their true motives. I have to admit that I am surprisingly impressed with Ijyuuin's acting. Part of it is that the great script allows him to finally play a real, rounded character but he still needed to acting ability to pull of the Abe Hiroshi school of acting out multiple emotions without the need for dialogue. Don't get me wrong, Ijyuiin is nowhere near Abe's level but he has acting ability which is better than 99% of johnnies.

Heita does not even need to explain what he is thinking. He is fighting in a world where bid-rigging is a reality and there is no other way to win government contracts other than participating in it and cutting deals. If this were some lame Fuji-TV or TV Asahi dorama, Heita would win by preparing the best bids and make all the  corrupted people cry with a long, preachy monologue at the end but thank the jdorama gods a semblence of reality exists in Wowow and NHK doramas. I like that Tetsu no hone shows that while part of what Heita participates in may be illegal, it is definitely not easy and is even harder than a system where bids are selected on merit.

Episode 2 is awesome and it introduces a new villain. The best way to make a wolf the hero is to wound it terribly, give it some humanity and make the villain a wolf in sheep's clothing. Suffice to say the first two episode of Tetsu no hone are freaking awesome and I won't be doing a best of 2010 dorama list until the subbing of Tetsu no hone and Marks no Yama have been completed. Give it a go. You won't regret it. Make sure to get your friends to watch as well. It makes me sad to see so many people downloading subs for crap shows like Lady and hardly anyone watching Kita no kuni kara. Are dorama fans unable to discern horrible writing and acting or are my tastes so out of touch with the general dorama addict population? Huge thanks to WithS2 subs, without whom I might have given up jdoramas.