Saturday, June 30, 2012

Cleopatra no Onnatachi

I wouldn't have tried Cleopatra out without Jung and bframe5's recommendation. I remember seeing the posters on JR trains with the characters looking at their own mirrors thinking no way I was watching this dorama. The first thing that hit me when I started watching was the eye candy. Kitano Kie in tight pink nurse uniform? Yes please!

The second thing was trying to figure out what the dorama was about. Poor doctor Mine sensei (Sato Ryuta) comes to a cosmetic surgery clinic from a University Hospital for money reasons and he is appalled by the perfectly healthy people having surgery done on them for the sake of looking better. I spent too much time in the first two episodes trying to figure out what Cleopatra was trying to say about plastic surgery rather than enjoying the eye candy, I mean story.

Mine sensei is not a full blown idealistic character which is good. In the first episode, we get a range of patients including ranging from very vain to girl who just wants a mole removed to husband who thinks his wife is too beautiful after cosmetic surgery. It was uncomfortable viewing in that there is a lack of cynicism in the dorama for a subject matter that is controversial but I suppose for the staff, it is a fact of life for them.

Episode 2 is basically setting up the characters' backstory especially Mine sensei with his if he isn't gay why is he staying with his gay friend who's making advances on him all the time? There's also the story with the mom wanting her 'ugly' looking daughter to get double eyelids. WTF. Basically the whole episode was setting up Mine sensei's mother complex.

Episode 3 is basically when Cleopatra finally finds it voice with the story of a twin sister who wants to change her appearance so she doesn't look like her sibling. The dorama is most fun when its about the quirky patients, not when its about the staff. We've got the hair transplant episode, the funny Ashina Sei breakdown episode, Kitano Kie suicide episode and then the final two episodes to wrap things up.

The humour is what makes Cleopatra go. Its a dorama that shouldn't take itself too seriously. The ending was a head scratcher though because surely Ichii sensei can fight for at least 50/50 care. She's the one with the bloody money or does Japanese family law not have room for shared care of a child? I don't get the correlation of divorce = mother abandoning her child. It felt like a forced tie-in to Mine's mommy issues.

In summary, Cleopatra no Onnatachi is a surprising very watchable dorama once you get past the first two episodes. One of those rare doramas where the middle part is actually the strongest. Could have been a must watch but its I see Cleopatra as a case of glass being half full rather than half empty like the recent Wowow doramas.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Jmovie review: Kisaragi

I mentioned Kisaragi in my review of Short Cut and thought that I would do a quick skim of the movie before I went to sleep. Turns out I couldn't bring myself fast forward and was totally absorbed in the movie. I still remembered the twists and turns and who the characters actually were but its just such a fun movie to watch the second time. I just spent the whole movie thinking this is one of the leanest movies ever in terms of efficiency. Every bit of dialogue with the purpose of setting the next reveal up or sowing the seeds for something down the line.

Kisaragi is the tale of 5 fans; Guru, Oda Yuji, Snake, Yasuo and Ichigo Musume coming together to observe the one year anniversary of the death of Kisaragi Miki, an idol who committed suicide. However, one of them believes that Miki was murdered and the killer is among them. The whole movie is set in one room. There are flashback scenes but  they are short are more to illustrate what happened and give the viewer a quick visual image. Similar to the first season of Shinya Shokudo where everything happens in one place and anything that happens outside is described.

There's a lot of humour in Kisaragi, especially with Oguri Shun's character arc and the ending. I've got absolutely no complaints about Kisaragi and I think its flawless. Could have sworn I wrote a review for it but I can't seem to find it. I probably wrote about Kisaragi in the comments. Usually mystery movies aren't so fun with the second viewing but my second viewing has helped me appreciate Kisaragi's great script more.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Kare wa Imouto no Koibito

Kare wa Imouto no Koibito is BeeTV drama starring Ishihara Satomi and, Michishige Sayumi and one dude who always plays forgettable supporting guys in doramas. If I'm not mistaken BeeTV is some channel for mobile phones and it KIK actually ran in 10 minute episodes. My main interest in watching this is to see Michishige Sayumi. If you don't know who she is, watch this. Guaranteed to make you laugh.

Sayumi is the only shining light in Momusu nowadays, not that I really keep track. Their music has been so bland for so many years and they've stopped being the best HP! group a long, long time ago. However, Sayumi's TV persona is awesomely funny and in KIK, she plays Ishihara Satomi's devilish cute younger sister who sets her eyes on her sister's high school crush. Satomi is of course playing the innocent, dojikko older sister.

The whole thing runs like a two hour movie and plays pretty well despite being joined from 10 episode segments. Its pretty much standard shoujo style story but I very much enjoyed the humour which mostly consists of Sayumi being the cute devil that she was born to play. As expected, Sayumi really steals the show and Satomi does a decent job of being the nice sister and the only person who is aware of Sayumi's true face. Nothing special but pretty watchable dorama movie.

Amaeta koe. (sweet voice)

Ue mezukai? Up eye something.

Body touch.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Short Cut

A Wowow produced Mitani Koki directed dorama special starring Nakai Kiichi (Saigo Kara Nibanme no Koi) and Suzuki Kyoka (Karei Naru Ichizoku)!!!!! Why hasn't this been subbed? I had to watch it. How could it possibly fail?

Short Cut is a huge experiment in film making. Its a 2 hour story shot continuously with one camera. In other words, its a stage play with no cutting or editing. Mitani Koki movies are sort of like plays with extravagant sets but one movie that could have been done in one cut would be Kisaragi which was basically a play set in a room with 5 people trying to solve a mystery. Could have bloody sworn I wrote a review of Kisaragi. I'll definitely get around to it.

Short Cut is the 2 hour period where a husband and wife decide to take a short cut through the forest when they car breaks down on the way back from a funeral. Nakai Kiichi is his usual whiny self and Suzuki Kyoka is the wife who grew up in the wild, so to speak. The camera follows them for two hours as they argue can stumble their way through the short cut.

I spent more time thinking how much rehearsals they had to do and how they had to time and place the cameraman who I'm assuming is Mitani Koki at certain spots for each part. There are no breakdown of scenes. Its one continuous shot so the cameraman has to be able to walk along with them without interrupting anything.

Its an impressive and praiseworthy attempt except that there's no bloody story there to keep my interest. Lots of whining and bitching by Nakai Kiichi and Suzuki Kyoka going 'look at that' every few steps in the forest looking for something to interact with so she can be a jungle girl. Its like those plays/movie where it takes place in one room like Kisaragi. There was to be a story/discussion that can keep the audience enthralled. Unfortunately there is none.

By the time the third person shows up, I've completely any admiration for the camera that had been continuously shooting. There are so many contrived situations in this dorama special to pad up the running time. I couldn't be stuffed watching the second half. Ambitious idea but Short Cut is a one shot dorama without a decent script to back it up.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Learning Japanese 2

I wrote a post about my efforts in learning Japanese in 2010. I'm still going at it, though changing my approach. A huge part of my Japanese study was playing games like AKB48 and various Japanese RPGS on PSP, looking up words that seem to appear often and hopefully through seeing a kanji again and again, I will automatically learn it. Finished Jeane D'arc last year which was a decent RPG. Gave Terra Phantastica on Saturn a go and the Japanese was way too hard and too old with too much political dialogue.

One thing I realised is that I only learned to recognise the shape of kanji. Give me another similar looking kanji and I was lost. Plus, I would expect certain words in the context of a game and so I could barely recognise those words outside of a game.

Take for example: 波 彼 疲 度 渡

Confusing, ain't it? That's nami, kare, tsukare, do, watasu and I'm pretty sure there are more look-a-likes.

Since I came back, I've started learning to write because its probably the best way to learn to differentiate similar looking kanji. Its proven very useful and sometimes I'm surprised to notice certain elements in kanji that I recognise but never realised how it actually is written.

My kanji recognition is all over the place since I'm studying based on words that appear often in RPGs and not the kanji grade chart that most people do. I've got a kanji recogniser app on my phone which is very useful. Just draw the kanji and it looks it up for you. Problem is, the stroke order has to be correct.

This year I've finished Fire Emblem Kakusei, played 10 hours of Labyrinth no Kanata and am now 50 hours into Legend of Dragoon. My kanji vocabulary is expanding ever so slowly and I've got a long way to go. I really want to play Zettai Zetsumei Toshi 3 but that's going to be a whole different set of vocabulary since its set in the present. The problem with writing down kanji many times is that I can't have long sessions because I would end up with too many kanji to remember.

Some head scratching kanji stuff :

- mukashi/past   借り - kari/borrow. Add the hand element and past becomes borrow?

辛い - can be read as karai/hot or tsurai/painful. WTF.

If you watched SPEC, satori can be written as 覚り or 悟り . Who was the wise guy who decided that one word can be written in two different ways? Not as bad as those kanjis with 3 or more meanings.

覚 or え (oboe/remember) is one of the most confusing kanjis for me.

Put the two versions of satori together and you get 覚悟 (kakugo/prepare)

Put a different hiragana and it becomes める (sameru/wake up).

put fu in front in it becomes 不覚 fukaku/failure.

売る (uru/sell) + 糸 (ito/string) = 続く (tsuzuku/continue) ???

売る (uru/sell) + 言(iu/say) = 読み (yomi/read) ???

 Sigh, the road to learning Japanese requires so much work and is so slow...

Of course reading doesn't help me with my speaking. Sometimes I can read a sentence but it doesn't make much sense to me. I think I need to watch more doramas with Japanese subtitles. I'm really weak with verbs. Even when watching raw I just catch the subject and object and can guess the verb without paying much attention to it.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Hamsapsukebe awards 2011

Now that I finished watching Pandora 3, its time for no prizes for my favourite doramas and performances from last year.  Hopefully I've watched everything worth watching. The only two caveats could possibly be Shitamachi Rocket and Co Ishoku Coordinator. Both are unsubbed and would be pretty hard to watch since they would involve lots of technical jargon though jdrama weblog has written detailed synopsis. Can't get HKEng subbed Wowow doramas so maybe I'll give them a go some time in the future. Forgot to look for Kazoku Hotei when I was in Japan. :(


I can't believe 40% of Japanese thought Mita was good or at least tuned in for the last episode.

I can't believe Suzuki sensei has an average rating of 2.16% An incredible dorama is on TV and the ratings actually slide done. Where are the Japanese reviews and blogs telling people how good it is?

I still can't believe they screwed the middle Jin 2 up. That's what happens when you write Nakatani Miki out of the story.

I can't believe how brainless Watashi ga Renai Dekinai no Riyuu is. What is more unbelievable is that I lasted 7 episodes.

I can't believe there are 4 seasons of Hancho and they rate pretty decent. Talk about rewarding mediocrity.

I can't believe Takei Emi is getting such a big push like as if she's bonking all the producers. She's like the second coming of Horikita Maki.


Jin 2 - The ship got back on the path towards the end but it was too late.

Kurumi no Heya

Is - Unfortunately not based on the Masakazu Katsura manga but still watchable.

Don Quixote

Last Money ~Ai no Nedan~ - If not for the johnny guy, it would have been a pretty good dorama.

Shinya Shokudo 2 - Not as good as the first one.

Pandora III

Madonna Verde - Haven't watched the last 2 eps. Could end up sucking.


Ono Karin as Kawabe in Suzuki sensei.

Kawabe is the most important student in terms of performance and she absolutely sold me that she was playing a real character and believed everything she said. Ogawa was the central character storyline but no acting was needed for her. Suzuki sensei would have failed without Ono Karin's fearless acting.


Takashima Masanobu as Moriyama sensei in Doctors

I guess the most of award is due to the writing but Moriyama is the most memorable supporting character from last year's doramas. There is not subtle acting here but the character does his job well. Moriyama inspired me to write this post about memorable jdorama characters.

Shout out to Kazama Shunsuke who played Futaba's sister in Soredemo. He is one johnny beside Nino who can act.


Mitsushima Hikari as Toyama Futaba in Soredemo Ikite Yuku

There is no one else to give it to. Whoever gives it to Matsushima Nanako in Mita is an idiot.


Can't choose between Eita and Hasegawa Hiroki.

Both great performances. Eita really impressed me and I was never impressed with his acting until Soredemo. Hasegawa Hiroki followed up his faultless performance in Suzuki sensei with Mita but even he couldn't even act to the horrible lines.


5. School!

Knows what it is doesn't try to be what its not but doesn't it very well.

4. Doctors: Saikyou no meii

Doctors is what happens when you take all your hospital dorama cliches and give the characters' brains. You end up with something intelligent unlike hospital doramas that make things stupider by making it more soap operaish. *cough* 37 sai *cough*

3. Yuusha Yoshihiko to Maou no Shiro

Very, very funny dorama made on a shoestring budget which further enhances its charms.

1. Suzuki sensei (tie)

I think I've said all I need to say about Suzuki sensei here, here, here, here, here, here and here. 7 posts on Suzuki sensei! Probably the only other dorama I've written so much about is Kekkon Dekinai Otoko. Suzuki sensei has plenty of subtext and undertones as well as being pretty funny.

1. Soredemo Ikite Yuku (tie)

Can't decide which one is better since they're both bloody fucking good. So good I have to consider both of them if I ever make a top 10 list which I'll never do cause I can never whittle it down to just 10. Soredemo is just a great emotional journey that shows you what they characters are going through instead of preaching it to you. Can't believe Fuji TV made something so good.

Sunday, June 17, 2012


SPEC: Sho is the dorama special before the movie that just come out in Japan two months ago. I really enjoyed Keizoku: SPEC and this is more of the same. Weird characters, lots of in-jokes and a story about super powers.  This is going to be one spoiler filled review so don't read if you haven't watched it.

First thing I want to address is that we finally find out what Toma's Spec is and what actually happened at the end of the dorama series. Its cool that all the characters get to come back but it does make Toma way too powerful. Someone please explain to me how she needs to pull everyone from the ground but Ninomae just appears next to her. Instead of powering Toma down or limiting her Spec, the writers decided to get rid of it.

However, I don't really buy Toma's reason for rejecting her Spec. Toma is like this logical person and she's blaming her powers for her brother and all the bad guys?! The doctor tells Toma there's no reason to erase her Spec because she's not forcing anyone to help her. Toma's second reason is that she doesn't want to be lonely again? She's worried that Sebumi won't hang out with her because of her Spec or that she would get kicked out? Don't really buy it. I know what they are trying to sell me because she does say she understands why Sebumi wants to win without using powers but you don't bring a knife to a gunfight.

Kitamura Kazuki joins the gang as a police officer from organised crime who acts too much like an overacting yakuza but brings a lot of added humour to the story. The story is pretty good with nice twists and people with some interesting powers. I've got a couple of nitpicks here and there but overall, its just very fun to watch. Reminds me a lot of the Trick series. Can't wait for the movie!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Indon movie review: The Raid / Serbuan Maut

No idea why the international name for this movie is The Raid: Redemption cause there's no bloody redemption in this movie, just plenty of ass-kicking, bone crunching violence. Its made by the same guys who did Merantau, which impressed me with the fight scenes. Thought I had reviewed Merantau but a quick search suggests I had not. Sometimes I write a review in my head but forget to type it down.

Yes, if you follow international movie sites, The Riad is very good as advertised. Not the best action movie in 15 years or whatever the reviews are claiming but it is very damn good. 20 Swat team members are sent on a mission to clean up this apartment building which is the headquarters of this powerful gang. Of course things go awry, lots of people get killed and its a game of survival for our hero Rama.

The fighting is awesome. Not as balletic as Tony Jaa movies but more brutal with gunshots to the head, lots of stabbing and neck slicing. Its grittier and has equal amount of moves that have me wincing thinking that has got to hurt. There's a fight where Rama uses a tonfa and a knife which is too awesome for words. Made me realise that in movies, the hero usually doesn't use knives but hey, this is like one man against 100 Indonesian parang wielding gangster.

The director really does a great job showing the claustrophobia of fighting in an apartment building. A few great scenes that do a good job of building up suspense and tension especially with the remaining police trying to hide from the bad guys. Nothing is scarier than a bunch of parang wielding Indons.

Can't believe they shot this movie for $1 million USD. Goes to show its not how much you spend but what they do with it. If only Japan can do an action movie half as good as this. The ending makes me want to see the sequel. Can't wait for his next movie with Iko Uwais Berandal. The sad story is that they are trying to do a US remake of The Raid. The Raid is one lean, mean action movie that knows what it wants to do and does it well.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Pandora III

How do you do a story involving a proverbial Pandora's Box with a cast of characters which include The Cabinet Secretary of Japan, a neurologist who left Japan, a cop, a stewardess, a reporter, a homeless girl, a former political prisoner and a member of the SDF? You'll have to watch Pandora 3 to find out. Yes I've watched the whole thing. The ending of the first episode is so good that I could not wait for the subs. Jdrama Weblog has done a pretty detailed recap of all the episodes to clear up any things I could not understand which helped a lot.

I'm pretty sure if you're familiar with Wowow doramas, the greatest fear is that it does the usual petering off at the end. The answer is, parts of it does because there are a few story threads running through it. Everything is connected of course but some storylines are better than others. There are slight pacing issues but I can't discuss that without going into spoiler territory but suffice to say, I think its a very watchable but flawed dorama.

I'm very impressed with the directing. The scale of story is huge and they've managed to give things a sense of scale with their limited budget. Wowow have really gone all out on this one. Its certainly a lot better than the first two Pandoras which suffered from the fact that parables don't make good tv. Parables are stories to convey a lesson but they don't contain interesting characters. There's a lot of great things about Pandora but its just frustrating how its almost great. Don't expect too much and you're viewing experience will be fine.


The first two pandoras can be summed up as guy who play God/opens the box vs people who want to use it for their personal gain. In the end nothing really happens and its just a parable in how the road to hell can be paved with good intentions. Pandora attempts to fix this by making the story much bigger than the pandora's box of eliminating suicidal tendencies. In fact, the idea of how it will affect free will is hardly touched upon. Pandora III is about society and the blame game. It is about nationhood and finding meaning in one's life. It is about what people will sacrifice for their goals. Actually there are two pandora boxes in this story. Always beware of politicians justifying their actions by saying it is for the country or religion.

The main problem with Pandora III is that there is nothing much for Suzuki (Eguchi Yusuke) to do after the middle. He administers the chip and there's the part about him and his son. I love the scene where Kazumichi (Uchino Masaaki) straight up tells his son the truth. Its such an awesome illustration to show that Kazumichi is now a different person. After that, Suzuki is just a bystander. Sure he wants to remove the chip but he's not actively planning anything. Suzuki is only necessary for the ending but because he has a deeper connection to Kazumichi they give him more screentime. The whole thing of him getting captured, beat up only for Kazumichi to let him go has absolutely zero tension.

What kept Pandora III interesting is Detective Kanbayashi chasing after the person who killed his ex-wife and the reporter Tachikawa slowly uncovering the truth. To me, they are the main characters of this series along with Kazumichi while Suzuki is just needed to open and end the story. The cop and stewardess story is fun is a source of humour and tension. I liked how the cause of the murder ended up being the punchline of the series. The guest star in the final episode was unnecessary though.

Homeless girl and old man are in it too much thanks in part to the Suzuki kidnap story. They are just side characters representing two different generations who are railing against society. There's not much more to their characters and even if there were, it wouldn't serve the story or its pacing.

Oh yes, there is one other thing I felt was bad. Kazumichi's father's death scene was awesome. The wife dying was unnecessary. The SDF going straight choking her to death was extreme. I mean he killed the wife of the Cabinet Secretary who went hysterical but not the woman who knew he was a murderer? Surely SDF guy could have choked her until she fainted and then use restraints on her. I couldn't believe she was dead from that 10 second forearm to the throat.

If I could redo Pandora III, Suzuki goes back to Boston after meeting his son and comes back for the ending. We replace long debates and Suzuki's kidnapping with Kazumichi doing some nice political moves and him rationalising his thoughts to himself in the mirror ala Gollum. Not as disappointing as the middle episodes of Shokuzai but I am so sick of shows starting strong and stuttering to the finish. I have yet to watch the final 2 episodes of Tsumi to Batsu and hopefully it doesn't suffer the same fate. I probably sound too negative about Pandora III. Its pretty good but I want so much for it to be great.