Monday, January 30, 2012

Shokuzai ep 2 and 3

Episode 2

First thing that struck me about episodes 2 and 3 was that they didn't draw me in as much as episode 1. I think that the main reason is both episodes are solo stories whereas episode 1 had two main 'damaged' protagonists interacting with each other while the viewer tries to decipher what they are about and what is going to happen. Episode 2 is more straightforward.

Koike Eiko is Shinohara Maki, the 2nd of the four girls. Maki was the class president and you have a flashback of her trying to find a teacher after discovering Emiri's body. However, she could not find anyone and afterwards decided to no longer run for class president and say that she could not remember anything about the incident.

Maki was the responsible student of the bunch but she blames herself for not being able to get a teacher and has repressed her memories of the incident. However, she continues to live with the promise to Emiri's mother and has become a primary school teacher. Maki has become an overly strict teacher and we find out that it has to do with her search for right and wrong. As a responsible student, she always knew the difference between right and wrong but Emiri's incident has caused her to question her actions.

There is a superb action scene at a pool which is the highlight of this episode. I'm a sucker for one take action scenes. Its not the Old Boy corridor fight but its still fun. Maki finally gets affirmation that her actions are right from society but deep down her search for right and wrong and her strictness only serves to bottle up her feelings from the incident.

One thing I don't understand is why the teacher would punch Maki at the end?  She defended his actions and despite her reasons, she did save the students and him. Its not like she threw him under a bus? The punch is a comical scene that seemed out of place with its only purpose to tease to audience at the end.

Episode 3

From the emotionless Maki, episode 3 is about Akiko, played by Sakura Ando (Love Exposure). Akiko was gifted a beautiful dress which she wore on the day of the incident. Akiko's mother blamed the dress for getting her involved in the incident. Her reasoning is that the dress was too good for Akiko and that the killer was after Akiko but luckily Emiri was there. Akiko's parents see themselves as lower class people and forbade Akiko from wearing 'luxurious clothes'.

So Akiko grew up with the idea that she is a bear and a bear should wear bear clothing. While Maki seemed detached because she repressed all her rage and frustration, Maki pacifies her feeling of guilt by not living her life. She lies around at home, playing retro games and her Wii and doesn't have a job. The story picks up when her brother returns home with a wife and step daughter.

I really like the tension of episode 3 with questions about Akiko's brother. I think that a lot of her discovery about her brother was all in her mind. That she was seeing things that were not there. That she was so desperate to escape from her imprisonment like Emiri's mother said. That the niece not wanting to go back was more to do with the warehouse being a cold and scary place to live. That the niece not wanting her head patted was more to do her not yet accepting Akiko's brother as her father.

Ok the one with the brother at the game center is a bit harder to explain. Maybe it was something innocent like the brother at the vending machine and somehow her mind created certain actions and a sense of dread for her. Akiko basically has no contact with the outside world and maybe she seized on her brother as a manifestation of the killer but there was no one else.

Shokuzai eps 2 and 3 are still good, just not as brilliant as the first one. Can't wait for the last two because its going to have Ikewaki Chizuru (Summer Snow/Josee, Tiger and the Fish) and Ito Ayumi!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Saigo Kara Nibanme no Koi eps 1+2

With a name like second last love, Saigo Kara Nibanme no Koi seems like yet another obasan dorama. The lovely Koizumi Kyoko playing playing a single career woman who works as a jdorama producer. I am getting sick of obasan doramas because they always stick to conventions and the characters never get past stereotypes. A lot of them look the same and sound the same.

Not so with Saigo Kara. First off, Koizumi Kyoko really infuses her character Chiaki with a lot of personality. She's passionate of her job, wears her emotions on her sleeve and the scene where she admonishes this young writer about her script is so funny. I would say the big difference between Saigo Kara and other obasan doramas is the energy that Chiaki gives out. I feel like the plot is not driving Chiaki, she is the plot.

Saiga Kara is not your prototypical obasan dorama because its a KDO-ish love story with Chiaki running into Nagakura Wahei (Nakai Kiichi), a widower working for the Kamakura city council. Its KDO-ish in that they argue all the time and it is very entertaining. You know the drill, boy meets girl, they fight all the time, hate each other's guts and of course fall in love. The important thing is chemistry and whether the barb trading is entertaining, which Saigo Kara is. The most important thing that KDO did was of course make the two character really interesting and complement each other.

Saigo Kara is also a family drama. Chiaki moves next door to the Nagakura family and gets involved with them. Asada Ryutaro is the free spirited brother of Wahei, with a secret that is pretty obvious in the 2nd episode. Uchida Yuki is Iryu's twin sister who is very strange and seems to have communication problems. Lastly, Ijima Naoko is the oldest sister who is married and is prime canditate for the obasan drama role of wife who gets cheated on.

Acting wise, we've the awesome foursome of Koizumi Kyoko, Nakai Kiichi (Kaze no Garden), Iryuu and Uchida Yuki. That is some serious acting chops. Ok, Sakaguchi Kenji is not that great of an actor and certainly not in the class of the other 3 but he's better than most.

While Saigo Kara looks like an amalgam of genre's, it is very funny and very well written. Even the dialogue between Chiaki and her two friends talking about middle age female problems is funny and entertaining. When was the last obasan dorama that was funny? From the way they compete and console each other to Chiaki calling them traitors 1 and 2 I can't remember when a dorama where obasan discussions did not sound like a dry commentary on mid life crisis issues.

There's a lot of humour in the first two episodes and they are set up by situational humour, not slapstick which is hard to do. Like this old man complaining of Chiaki taking photos of houses and giving Wahei this gravure magazine which created some funny situations in ep 1 and 2. Or like the Nagakura family overhearing Chiaki's phone call.

The writer is Okada Yoshikazu who has written a lot of doramas and movies, Muri na Renai an entertaining drama about a middle age not famous actress and old dude. That show had some pretty good dialogue as well. He also wrote the Ima Ai ni Yukimasu movie, Mada Koi wa Hajimaranai and Flowers of Algernon. Pretty impressive though the above shows weren't notable for great dialogue. He seems to be channeling Nojima Shinji level of entertaining dialogue.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

WTF Kaseifu no Mita 40% rating

I can't not write about Kaseifu no Mita getting 40% rating for the last episode. The last time it happened was Beautiful Life back in 2000, back when KimuTaku was king of ratings. As I wrote at in my 2011 fall roundup, I just find in incomprehensible that Mita managed to average 20+%. WTF is so entertaining about watching this stupid badly acted family giving stupid orders to Mita over and over when they know that she will take it literally and cause havok?

As I said, the definition of stupid is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. I could see it working if the show was more black comedy instead of trying to be cute comedy. I kept watching until episode 7, hoping that having Natsushima Nanako, Suzuki sensei and the writer of Jyoou no Kyoushitsu would turn things around.

Episode 7 was supposed to be this huge payoff with Suzuki sensei breaking down but it was so artificial and contrived. The dialogue and the characters just never felt natural. The whole scene with Suzuki sensei trying to bawl his eyes out and trying to say dialogue that belonged in an afternoon soap opera. It just did not have that heartfelt conviction. Well, the whole build up sucked anyway. I could understand if the characters get desperate enough that they felt they had no choice but to use Mita but the desperation was never palatable.

I tried to watch the remaining episodes just to see what caused the 40% viewership but clearly I am unable to see in Mita what 40% of Japanese like. What I see is just a family dorama that tried to manufacture touching moments without organic execution. Its like the director pointing to the audience. "Here's rousing music with some corny lines and bad crying. Aren't you moved?"

I am moved when the characters feel real. Characters feel real when they have a personality, not a distinct role like Urara. Character have personality when the dialogue is flows naturally and the acting is good. Compare the kids in Mita with the kids in Suzuki sensei. Sure they say stuff that seem outrageous for middle school kids but the acting is so good that the characters believe what they are saying and its not just for the sake of setting something up.

It is interesting to note that unlike the big rating doramas back in the 'golden era', Mita is not a romance story. Off the top of my head, there haven't been good straight forward boy meets girl doramas with the exception of KDO. now that's a show that deserves to get 40% rating. Perhaps something about family values in Mita that has captured the attention of Japanese audiences?

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Suzuki sensei ep 6

I've got a bunch of doramas and jmovies to write about but right now I want to write about the show I had the most fun watching. Yes, Chucks is back and after a long wait, episode 6 is out! I tried watching it raw but there were bits that I couldn't get and Suzuki sensei is one show where the dialogue is very important. Episode 6 deals with the aftermath of ep 5 where Takechi went nuts and is now on a sabbatical from school.

In order to smooth things over and get Takechi back, Suzuki sensei suggested that Konno, who was one of the main rivals for Ogawa bring Takechi the newsletter. Nakamura volunteers to go with him but Kawabe Ayaka hijacks Suzuki's grand plan. Suzuki sensei is similar to Doctors in that it is about human manipulation but we get to see the thought process and things never go according to plan.

So Ayaka visits Takechi and the next day she shows up at school with band-aids on her neck. I won't spoil what happens but suffice to say episode 6 is a dialogue about breaking up and sex, specifically nama (raw) sex. Whether or not one agrees with Suzuki sensei's view, his delivery just makes it a hoot to watch. His acting here is so much different in quality from his acting in Mita. Goes to show how important great dialogue and and well fleshed characters are.

Once again in ep 6, we have another great performance from a young actor in Ayaka. She is able to play someone in puppy love, desperate and the scene with Suzuki sensei in the infirmary reminds the audience that she is so childlike and yet talking seriously about something so adult. Couldn't they have gotten young actors of this calibre when they casted Mita?

The humour of the series comes from character saying unexpected things but they believe what they are saying. There's no winking at the audience as Suzuki sensei has to deal with issues that Kinpachi sensei would not touch. Actually Kinpachi sensei has dealt with some rather adult stuff but Suzuki sensei doesn't talk down to the audience. Its not preachy and not black and white. Suzuki sensei presents his opinion strongly but the audience is allowed to make up their own mind. Actually, you could say Suzuki sensei treats his students like adults.

Big cliffhanger at the end of ep 6. Just when things were going so well and I was looking forward to the students speaking their mind. Ep 6 has not dealt with the two big mysteries of the series. I'm guessing Asami got back with Suzuki because she knows he is trying to overcome his Ogawa obsession. As for whether Ogawa really has powers, we have 4 more episodes to find out.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Shokuzai ep 1

When I looked at the doramas that were being subbed this season, there was nothing interesting. Just your generic idoru vehicle crap. Thank the powers that be that Vulcan 300 decided to sub a Wowow dorama, Shokuzai. You can always count one Wowow to put story above pushing talento and to cast people who can actually act.

Shokuzai is about the murder of a primary schoolgirl Emiri and the 4 friends who were with her right before her mother. Emiri's mom, played by Koizumi Kyoko blames the girls because they cannot remember anything about the killer and makes them promise to atone for Emiri's death until the killer can be found. The audience can tell who the actor playing the killer is since he's a pretty recognisable and good actor.

Shokuzai switches to present day and we meet Sae, played Aoi Yu. The first noticeable thing is the muted colours, mirroring Sae's mental state. She avoids contact with men and jumps at shadows, forever haunted by Emiri's death. She runs into Moteki and you could tell there was something wrong with this person just by looking at him. He looks the same but the subtle differences in how he acts and speaks gives alarms bells.

Camera work is awesome. Reminds me a lot of Soredemo Ikite Yuku. Less movement but it doesn't utilise the boring studio set camera angles. Just allowing the acting the breath and carry the viewer. There is this great feeling of some great pressure bearing down on the characters and a very sterile feel to the dorama which sort of mirrors Sae and Moteki's relationship and his hobby.

Gotta mention the great lack of music. I'm just watching it thinking, "This awesome acting doesn't need any music to manipulate the audience". The lack of music also means that the audience notices whenever a the score appears and like the colours, Shokuzai also uses muted background music, like the foreboding cello? sounds when Moteki asks Sae to close her eyes or the low rumble when Moteki places restrictions on Sae's movements.

How good Shokuzai will be depends on the final episode but ep 1 was just awesome in terms of acting, directing and emotion. Kept me glued to the screen and eating up every scene. Just looked up the director Kiyoshi Kurosawa and he did Seance and Tokyo Sonata, two very good movies. Can't remember much about Seance since I saw it long time ago but Koizumi Kyoko was awesome in Tokyo Sonata. Congrates to Wowow for getting a great movie director to do a 5 episode series and big thanks to Vulcan 300 for picking this up.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Moriyama sensei and other memorable jdorama characters.

Moriyama is the Vegeta of Doctors; he is so good at being a bad guy and is so entertaining that I want to cheer for him. However, he cannot turn good because that would destroy what makes him fun to watch in the first place. Takashima Masanobu has been in so many jdoramas but I have never remembered his name and I will forget his name after this sentence. He is usually playing supporting 2D supporting characters that are not memorable with probably his best showing in Rinjo 2. So basically, I could never tell whether he was a good actor and I can say that his portrayal of Moriyama sensei was memorable and I'll probably always know Takashima Masanobu as Moriyama-sensei. Did anyone get the urge to play the Iryu soundtrack during the operation in ep 8 of Doctors?

There are two reasons characters become memorable; firstly they are so larger than life or so good that they carry a jdorama and secondly its a supporting actor finally playing a memorable character. You know a character is memorable/good when you know the character's name and not the actors. Sometimes its because the character's name is the name of the dorama but it would still have to be pretty good to be remembered. So let's have a look what what I think are career defining characters in jdorama!

If he continues to show great acting, I'm sure I'll end up remembering his name. Hopefully he doesn't do anymore bad overacting shows like Mita.

I hate Densha and Hermes in everything else they have done cause they can't bloody act. Densha was the perfect vehicle for their no acting skills. Whoever decided to cast Hermes as Otonashi Kyoko in the Maison Ikokku dorama should be shot. No, I have not seen it but I'm certain she does not have the acting chops to pull it off.

I think most people probably refer to him as GTO. The most charismatic jdorama character ever and a character so iconic I feel he's always under the character's shadow.

He is in a lot of shows and his roles are never memorable except in Hachi One which was the first time he was the man and even then, it was memorable because of the supporting cast. Still a name that no one can forget and I can't be stuffed looking up his real name.

His character in Hitotsu Yane no Shita was always called an-chan so I have no idea what the full name of the character is. An-chan is memorable in that he is the centre and soul of this heart warming 90s series.

Can't remember the actor's name but Asada Ryutaro is IMHO, the coolest Japanese name ever next to Kiryuu Kazuma. If the parents of Japan had any sense, they would name their boys Ryutaro and play them the Iryu soundtrack before exams. Why hasn't Capcom or SNK made a fighting game character called Asada Ryutaro? He'll be an S tier character based on his name alone.

Ok I confess I had to look up the character's name but when I think Amami Yuki I think of the teacher in black.

A lot of people probably remember him from 101 proposals but I don't think many can remember the characters name.

Not a great acting effort but its one of those names I never struggle to remember.

He has been in every single dorama, don't remember his name but this was the one time he was not a supporting character and he did a memorable job.

One of the best anti-hero protagonists ever in the best jdorama about hospital politics.

The GTO of salarymen. Its either Kintaro or Tadano Hitoshi.

Too many memorable characters from Abe Hiroshi. Its either Jiro or Kuwano san from KDO for me.

A think a lot of people would refer to her as Yamkumi from Gokusen but Yamada Naoka is her one character that I enjoyed watching.


These two come in a pair and they really complemented each other in Saito-san and turned what seemed like your typical suburban housewife dorama into a great character dorama.

Another supporting actor who got to be the lead in this Trick spin-off and I'm pretty sure most people don't know his name. Great for laughs and lots of toupee jokes. I think he should be the supporting character in all non-Wowow/NHK cop shows to make them bearable .

Monday, January 16, 2012

Doctors Saikyou no Meii eps 5-7


I really like the idea of Sagara addressing the problems with doctors not respecting the nurses by fanning the flames of war, so to speak. The cause change, things must get worse better getting better or else there will never be a confrontation. I was hoping Sagara would put on the evil hat and didn't particularly enjoy him revealing his intentions to Miyabe. I can understand that its time to make her an ally but I'd rather watch him manipulate her and get her pissed off.

The good thing is that Sagara never need to preach. He just prods. However, I was hoping things got really worse and the way things came together in the end was disappointing in the sense that it was pretty generic. I can excuse it because of time constraints though. Perhaps the doctors vs nurses story should have been a two-parter. I just wanted to see Sagara act Moriyama and insult the nurses with Moriyama watching in shock and awe.

I liked the teasing of Moriyama becoming assistant director. That would present an interesting challenge for Sagara and a nice way to up the difficulty. Alas, it was not to be.


Very enjoyable episode. The super doctor Sagara stuck in a bind and the best part was Moriyama tempted to help out because he wanted to be able to diagnose something that Sagara could not. I'm loving his character more and more because his pride can be a source for good, comedy and he doesn't need to and shouldn't turn over a new leaf so to speak. Moriyama put his pride over sucking up to the magazine writer and I was laughing when he was struggling to put the x-rays back so no one finds out that he was looking at them all night.

I like the cause of Sagara's inability to diagnose. The cause is a nice way to challenge a super doctor without using mumbo-jumbo explanation, get Moriyama involved, do your usual feel good ending and get Miyabe out of the boring nurse uniform. Sagara uses the Top 100 surgeon report to great and funny effect on the doctors. Watching them all of a sudden act kindly to patients and staff while being mistakenly self aware that they are being observed is a hoot.


One episode away from the end and its sad when the members Team Moriyama blame each other for becoming more serious in their work because I would have loved to see a few more episodes of Sagara manipulating them. It was a signal that the story with the other doctors is done and its time for the main story.

I really like the main problem presented here because I would definitely agree with the father's stance. It is such a huge sacrifice and would lower his quality of life. No viewer can doubt what the ending will be but I hope it is not overly sentimental and will not ignore the negative consequences on the father's life. I'm happy that its an interesting moral dilemma that got me thinking.

Moriyama gets humiliated and I like how he is so aware of Sagara's manipulations. Moriyama is smart enough to know what is going on and he knows its a good thing but his pride will not let him accept it. That's what makes him a compelling character and I wish we have a few more episodes of Moriyama blowing his top as everything goes according to Sagara's plans and Moriyama being the one who knows what is happening. Like when he finally confronts Team Moriyama and asks them the obvious question of why they hang around him when he has not done anything for them. I like smart characters and smart but flawed character are even better.

Very sad that there's only one episode to go. I have a feeling that its not the usual 10 episodes because its not that easy writing schemes for Sagara to do. I'd rather a writer keep the episodes to whatever is necessary to tell the story than stretch and slow the story down.