Thursday, July 28, 2011

Soredemo, Ikite Yuku eps 1+2

Do you really need any reason to watch this besides Sakamoto Yuji, the writer of Chase, Mother, Taiyo to umi Kyoushitsu, Watashitachi no Kyokasho, Itoshi kimi E and Last Christmas? Ok, kyokasho wasn't that good but that had nothing to do with the writing and more to do with Densha being miscast. Actually Densha should never be the main actor of any show. How about Mitsushima Hikari and Fukuda Mayuko, two of the best young talents in jdorama playing sisters?

Soredemo, Ikite Yuku is basically a revenge + love story. Hiroki's (Eita) sister Aika was murdered when he was young and the incident has had a profound effect on him and his family. Basically time had stopped for him. His parents divorced and the incident hangs above him and his family like an dark shadow.

Futaba (Mitsushima Hikari) is the younger sister of the criminal who killed Hiroki's sister. Her family is still constantly being harassed by people who find out about the incident. At the beginning of the episode, Futaba's boyfriend breaks up with her and her father loses his job. Her parents have gone so far as to officially divorce (though they are living together) so that the daughters are not on his register.

One thing that I can never understand is the whole Japanese thing of cursing the family of a criminal. WTF is the point of abusing and bullying innocent people just because they are related to a criminal? Surely there has to be a limit to collective or familial responsibility? Is the general consensus in Japan that parents are ultimately responsible for raising criminals? Its sort of similar to Ashiteru Kaiyo but is a much darker and more realistic look at the subject matter. Two families on each side of a crime and two of the children who get together.

Soredemo, Ikite Yuku is also a sort of character study of how people cope with a tragic incident. Hiroki has been basically sleep walking through life and has never fallen in love. He blames himself for Aika's death because he refused to go kite flying with her that fateful day and regrets being mean to her. His father tried to force his family to forget Aika which led to his wife divorcing him and is living just do die so that he can see Aika again. Hiroki's mom and brother and since moved on his mom is like in a zombiefied state unable to cry because nothing is more painful than losing a daughter.

Futaba's family is coping with the public resenting them as best as they can. The parents put on a brave face and have to make the difficult decision of sending the grandmother to a retirement home. Futaba has learnt to live with her 'fate' and has experienced bullying in school but still loves her brother and believes in him. The younger sister Akari (Fukuda Mayuko) is determined not to suffer her sister's fate.

There are a lot of nice emotional touches like Hiroki regretting his treatment of his deceased sister and wondering whether he should be glad she had been born and then Futaba telling him from her perspective that no matter how many times an onichan is cruel to the imouto, she remembers the one time he is kind. It speaks so eloquently of the Hiroki's relationship with Aika and Futaba with her brother.

Look at the size of the..... bottle of milk...hhhmm.

I kinda wished they did not reveal Futaba's identity from the get go but the scene at the end of ep one at the overhead bridge was nonetheless awesome. So much emotion and tension. Episode 2 teases the story going in one direction and then hits you with a revelation that makes you sit up straight.

Here's hoping Akari gets her own story arc.

This is probably THE dorama of the season. Can't think of anyone better to portray the emotionally scarred main characters other than Eita and Mitsushima Hikari. Hope the story doesn't slow down like Byakuyakou but there are certainly enough storyline possibilities to fill up 10 episodes. As long as the rest of the series is filled with angst, screaming, revelations and perhaps some violence, its going to be awesome. Do not miss this jdorama.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Hanawake no yon shimai eps 1 and 2

Hanawake no yon shimai title is pretty self explanatory, its the story of the four Hanawa sisters with a playboy of a father and the perfect mother. However, this is essentially a Mizuki Arisa dorama with her playing another eccentric character who has a huge influence on everyone around her. This time, Arisa is Takemi, the 2nd sister who is twice divorce with kids and has this magical ability to enchant any man in her vicinity. She also has a history of causing a lot of trouble for her sisters.

If I had three daughters who looked like this, I would lock them up in my nice big dungeon.

Of course, in typical Mizuki Arisa fashion while she is an inconsiderate sister and will engage in stupid fights, she will at the end inadvertently save the day or two something cool. Think of her as the reverse Saito-san. This selfish character who is a source of much comedy who will perhaps accidentally right wrongs. Like Saito-san, its fun to watch Takemi impose her will on others.

Takemi is the light and joy of this dorama.

The bad part of the dorama are the three sisters because their stories are so fucking boring, especially Kawashima Umika's. OMFG, you have not seen the worst bad acting in jdoramas until you have seen the guy playing her love interest. He is so fucking bad that he makes Fukada Kyoko look like Mitsushima Hikari. I propose all Japanese tv stations set up a department to issue acting license to make sure that people in jdoramas possess a minimal level of acting ability because a statue would be a better actor than this guy.

I like this view.

Back to the boring three sisters. Its unfortunate this dorama is not called 'The interesting Hanawa sister'. Hanawake no yon shimai would have benefited greatly from following the formula of Mukodono, sprinkle a little bit of backstory for the sisters but deal with each of their issues in their own episodes so as to ensure that the interesting character is involved in their stories to keep the show interesting.

That looks like Umemiya Masako. By the jdorama gods, she has aged.

Episode 2 ends with a major cliffhanger and I am sticking around to see where this goes. In summary, the more Mizuki Arisa this show has the better it is but unfortunately, the 3 other sisters get too much screen time. Imagine a GTO dorama where half the time, its the adventures of his 3 boring underlings. Check it out for some laughs but do make use of the fast forward button. If you haven't seen Saito-san, watch it instead.

Need name of actress.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Jmovie review: Gantz

Gantz is one of my favourite mangas. Its is a story where people who have died are called to participate in this life or death game whereby they have to kill aliens within a certain time frame and the only way out is to score 100 points. Someone who reaches 100 points can also choose to resurrect someone or gain a more powerful weapon. What makes the manga so fun is not the violence and nudity but rather you grow very attached to the characters and anyone in the story can and will probably die. The other thing is the sense that anything can happen.

The famous image from the manga. Hhmm, where's the dog that liked to lick Kei?

A lot of things in the manga just don't make sense and you wonder whether the mangaka is putting story elements in for fun or does he actually have an explanation for everything? Its a manga where ultimately, its quality will be judged by how well the ending can tie everything together.

Somehow Watanabe Natsuna's face doesn't fit Kei's.

Gantz, I am happy to say is a pretty good action movie. Of course Battleship Yamato makes every action CG movie look good but I am quite impressed that the makers of Gantz did not fall into Yamato's pitfall. If the movie were to follow the manga, the cost for a movie would be at least $100 million dollars. The manga has action scenes that only a combination of Michael Bay and Takashi Miike can dream of.

This view however, matches her character as Nino sits and contemplates the meaning of life.

Gantz the movie has probably didn't even have Yamato's budget so they had to rework the story to fit its budget and the film makers did the smart thing. They tried to minimise the use of CG throughout the movie and save it for the big finale. Even then, they would use more reaction shots. Yamato did the opposite and blew its wad in the first 10 minutes of the movie.

Yoshitaka Yuriko knows how to overload her character with enough sweetness and kawaiiness to give me a heart attack.

Such sacrifice does affect the story as well. Only the two leads get to see any action Kurono and Kato get to see any action which is kind of sad as it gets rid of the team feeling from the manga. One of my favourite characters, the ojisan is in the movie but he does nothing whereas in the manga, he is an awesome supporting character. He does get to say his famous line from the manga though.

This is not the manga Gantz. There is no way that they can do anything close to the manga with their budget. The best way to enjoy this movie is to think of it as a Gantz story set in an alternate universe. The one thing missing in this movie for me is that Kato never really got to show his leadership skills. I also liked how they raised the characters' ages. The downside is that we lose Tae's lolitaness but Yoshitaka Yuriko does her best bringing forth Tae's innocent qualities.

Looks 10 times better than all the crappy CG in Yamato and 20 times more exciting.

Nino is the one Johnny who can act and he does an awesome job as Kurono. Kenichi Matsuyama didn't impress me but that's more because Kato was whining and crying all through the movie without showing the leadership and self belief that he had in the manga. Not to hot on the actress playing Kei though. She didn't have strong screen presence and there are plenty of more attractive actresses/gravure idols with a more Kei like bust size.

I hope this Aisha ad was not done merely as a nod to the Reika character.

There is of course a to be continued ending and it seems that the second movie will take a very different route from the manga. I bloody hope that Reika is in part 2. My hats off to the makers of the first movie. A really think they did as good a job as they could have. I was impressed by the action and CG sequences. Storyline sacrifices had to be made but I'll always have the manga. Bring on part 2!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Marks no Yama

Marks is the show that made me not do a best of 2010 list because I knew it deserved to be on it but I couldn't put it on the list without watching it to the finish. I stopped at ep 3 and decided to wait for the whole series to be subbed before I rewatching as it takes too much trouble to remember the storyline between releases. Besides, a dorama this good deserves to be watched in one go. Rewatching the first three episodes, I am just goddamn awestruck but how bloody excellent it is, especially after watching something as horrible as Space Battleship Yamato.

Granted, Marks is a thriller/mystery tv show and Yamato is a big budget sci fi story but the acting and camera work are miles apart. Even when you know the twists and turns,  the way it is presented is so exciting. The way the camera moves into a conversation puts the viewers in the midst of a discourse and allows them fell the energy of a conversation. Even the soundtrack where they use variations of the same music in each episode just makes the excitement much more palatable.

Even when the audience already knows certain facts, it is how certain characters find out about it that is exciting. I would say that the first three episodes are as close to perfection as possible. There are certain minor things like how they could ascertain what the murder weapon was using a plasticine head as there are many similar objects but the way the story unfolds is done masterfully.

We get to episode 4 and the story slows down a bit. There's nothing left to reveal and then we get a lot of personal story scenes which I find time wasting. Its pacing of the first three episodes where something is always happening feels like it starting to slow down to a halt. Looking back at the last two episodes, its not that nothing really happens.

I think I was waiting for one final revelation, one final twist. Instead we get a sort of anti climatic conclusion. No confession from Kita Yoshio. Instead, they gave him a karmic ending that bloody doesn't make sense. It actually got my hopes up in that what if he were the one who actually gave Marks the instructions? But no, they have to do the he gets caught because he finally acts crazy in the end. Would the fabric of the world of jdoramas explode if a villain actually gets away?

I must stress that there's nothing really bad about episodes 4-5. Its got its share of awesome moments but also moments where I'm thinking this does nothing for the story. Normally when the truth is finally revealed in a story, its action time. Instead we get two hours where half the time the story is at a standstill. They should have trimmed the series down to 4 episodes. Show the fate of Marks first and then everything else as a sort of epilogue.

Unfortunately, Marks is not this perfect jdorama it could have been. Its still bloody awesome and a testament that Japan has actors who can act and directors who use dynamic camera movements instead of the generic studio set fixed cameras. Marks no Yama is the anti-Boss and anti-Lady Saigo no Hanzi. Its a police procedural mystery show where things make sense, characters don't act like they are from a kids anime and villains don't twirl their mustaches. This is a must watch dorama, just don't expect to finish the show on a high equal to its first three episodes.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Jmovie review: Space Battleship Yamato

Yamato is the big budget science fiction KimuTaku movie from last year based on a classic anime. I don't think I've ever watched the anime but I remember seeing iconic images of the battleship when I was young. Influential sci-fi anime from my childhood would be Captain Harlock and of course Macross. I had no expectations of Yamato. I was expecting shoddy CG and crappy acting, especially with Kuroki Meisa co-starring and so got my expectations really low.

Yup, an actual gun thingie comes up to fire the Wave Motion Gun. I checked the anime and it was basically the screen and a stick with a trigger like a fighter plane's for aiming. Whoever the genius was who decided that an actual gun which can't even move is a better idea should be shot.

I remember reading that the makers of the Yamato got Aerosmith to sing the ending theme and it didn't set of any alarm bells. Why go to all that trouble when you have plenty of awesome Japanese bands? What Aerosmith song is the most famous in movies? Yup, the Armageddon song. Yamato is a poor Armageddon plus Independence Day wannabe, incorporating the endings of the two movies.

Nothing wrong with that story wise except, well you know the part in ID4 where they somehow magically managed to infiltrate deep into the alien 'brain' and managed to upload a virus? Something pretty similar happens in Yamato and lets just say the ending of Armageddon is made so much sappier as well to the point that it feels like they are trying to milk blood from a stone.

Every space battleship needs a cool captain.

The CG is actually pretty decent in the beginning but later it becomes pretty bad, especially the green screen stuff and the humans vs aliens shoot out. Its pretty obvious they ran out of time or money. If I had a limited budget, I would be limiting my special effect shots and saving it for the most important scenes.

This shot makes me wish they'd use the money to do Irresponsible Captain Taylor instead. It would have been so much more fun to watch.

Despite the all star cast, Yamato just feels so emotionally flat with way too much overacting. Actually there was nothing really bad until we come to the shoot out scene that had the signs saying 'oops we ran out of money' all over it and then the film just collapses into a melodramatic mess. Yamato is movie that want's to be like a huge $150 million Hollywood blockbuster but it would have been better if they had tried to shoot the movie in a way that would best serve the comparatively limited budget.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Jmovie review: Cold Fish/Tsumetai Nettaigyo

From Sion Sono, the director that gave us the amazing Love Exposure comes Cold Fish, another movie that examines repression with results more akin to a Park Chan Wook movie. Fukikoshi Mitsuru is Shamato, a passive fish shop owner who comes home to a young but estranged wife and a daughter who does whatever she wants. It is a family that exists for the mere sake of existing but has there is no connection at all between the members. Making happy faces for the public while being miserable at home.

Very nice cinematography.

A shoplifting incident involving Shamato's daughter gets him involved with Murata (Denden) the owner of this huge fish shop who drives a Ferrari. He seems to take an interest in helping Shamato's family out and with Murata's overbearing and cheerful personality, Shamato can't say no. Murata offers Shamato's daughter a job at his shop which is basically hooters with the purpose of selling fish instead of beer and food.

IMO, boobs can sell anything.

There, the family meet's Murata's very sexy wife Aiko, played by Kurosawa Asuka. Things seem be looking slightly better for Shamato until we see that Muratas are not who they seems to be. To say more would be to spoil the movie but what follows involved murder, mutilation and lots of sex and nudity. I should just use that make this a one line review because the previous sentence should be enough to convince you to watch it.

How I wish I were that finger puppet.

I've always wished that the Japanese could do dark and violent comedies like the Koreans used to do well but the Japanese always had this invisible set of rules and sensibilities that prevent them from getting too gory in their movies and they are only left with B grade gore. Its like the mvie studios are saying movies can't be too violent because people go to movies to escape reality and audiences can only accept slapstick comedy and not dark, ironic comedy.

The hottest scene involving two women and finger puppets on film.

I have no idea how famous Sion Sono is in Japan. I should have mentioned his movies when I was there but I am pretty sure he is more famous overseas. He continues his trademark of using classical music that slowly becomes louder during climatic scenes and at the basic level of the movie goes back to the theme of repression that he handles so masterfully in Love Exposure.

This time it is about Shamato learning to be a man and his seemingly master/disciple relationship with Murata. Makes me wonder who much of Murata choosing Shamato is because he thinks Shamato is easy to manipulate and how much is because he sees so much of himself in Shamato that deep down Murata wants to save him. Got to mention Kurosawa Asuka. She is the very definition of sexy. She's like Kichise Michiko with boobs and she doesn't have to 'protect' her image because she's an actress more than a tv personality.

The only thing that really bothered me was how the movie ended. Just because a movie has lots of violence and gore doesn't mean that it must have a karmic ending. I know its kind of par for a lot of B grade and softcore movies but emotionally it was too nihilistic. Its not that great but its still better than most Japanese movies out there so I think its very worth watching. Just don't eat food at the same time. Now excuse me while I start looking for Kurosawa Asuka movies.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Jin season 2 eps 6-11

There were two and a half things that made season one so enjoyable. First was the quadrangle relationship between Saki, Jin, Nokaze and Ryoma with Nokaze and Ryoma being the fun characters to Jin and Saki's clean cut characters. Second was the MacGuyver + Iryu concept of this doctor struggling to practice modern medicine in Edo due to lack of equipment and medical supplies. Instead of Iryu's breaking through the boundaries of what a miracle surgery is, its refreshing to see someone struggle with simpler things. The half is Saki's mom who at the last episode reminded me that she is one stubborn jdorama mom who I just find entertaining.

In season 2, Nokaze and Ryoma were effectively removed from the quadrangle thereby leaving boring Jin and Saki to carry the relationship part of the story without them having much personality. Jin and Ryoma's relationship then changes into this brotherly relationship with Jin apparently having such a huge influence in Ryoma which is something I don't really buy.

I get the fact that Jin has shown Ryoma what no one would have thought possible but I'm not really feeling that bond, especially with Ryoma gone most of the time doing his thing. Its not like they were in some war and risked their lives together type of thing. They've been through a lot of stuff but there's just something missing. The best thing to connect them is Nokaze and she didn't need to be written out of the story.

That said I still applaud the writing for managing to tie everything up at the end. Nokaze got the end of her sort of character arc which really has been virtually non-existent in season 2. We get to see the answer to the question, can Jin save Ryoma from his famous death. We finally get confirmation of who the mummy guy is. The fetus in the head and voice talking I don't really get but most importantly they've got a nice time traveling explanation and left a cliffhanger for the last episode. In other words, despite -pacing issues, they've managed to tie everything up into little bows with some nice twists.

Jin season 2 is not as bad as Iryu 3 but nowhere is it an improvement or even on par with the first season and I would say it is not because of lack of trying. IMO, Jin 1 and 2 would have worked better as an 18/20 episode series so that the momentum from season 1 can carry the second half better and they could have trimmed the fat and show what people watch season 2 for, to see the resolution of the story.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Anime review: Mahou Shojo Madoka Magika

I've never written anime reviews since there are plenty of sites out there for that but OMFG, I had just watched one of the most awesome anime ever. Yes, you are not reading the title wrong, it is a Mahou Shojo/Magical Girl anime. My exposure to the genre before this has pretty much been the Sailor Moon live action, Cardcaptor Sakura and of course all the parodies that you get in anime.

Mahou Shojo anime are pretty much the same. Girl gets magical powers, has a cute animal companion, everyone dresses in outrageous costumes and they fight a magical villain of the week. I got interested in Madoka when I read that it was an anime made for the male audience and had lots of violence. Let me tell you that Madoka is good primarily not because of the violence nor because its made for an older audience.

Madoka IMHO, is the Watchmen of mahou shoujo anime. Not so much in the sense that its a deconstruction of the genre but but more in that Madoka has taken a lot of the concepts of the genre and turned them on it head. The distinct lines between good and evil. The idea that there is no price to pay for magical powers and that their lives are happy and bright.

The first two episodes play like your usual mahou shojo anime and the end of the third episode just had me immediately reaching out to start the next one. Trust me when I saw Madoka is a mindfuck not just because its a grittier mahou shojo story. There is actually a pretty awesome and epic story in there that will make you go 'woah' like Keanu Reeves. No stupid fillers and every episode is tightly packed with stuff happening and of course a cliffhanger at the end.

Can't really talk much about cause I don't want to go into spoiler territory but I am impressed that someone actually had the balls to defy conventions and push the envelope. Madoka is a work of art, from the awesome witch fights to the tight pacing. Just give it a try for 3 episodes and if the ending of episode 3 doesn't grab you, nothing will. You'll be watching Madoka thinking how mindfucked a little girl would be if she started watching it thinking it was your typical bright and happy mahou shojo anime.