Tuesday, December 31, 2013
I finally got started on Amachan, my first asadora after all the recommendations. Its the story of a young girl, Aki who for some reason doesn't enjoy living in Tokyo and begins to fall in love with her mother's rural hometown of Kitasanriku after her mom played by Koizumi Kyoko is called there on the pretense that Aki's grandmother was sick.
The Amachan in the title refers to female divers of the village who Aki's grandmother is the head of. All the divers/ama are in their 50s and 60s and they are a dying breed but Aki thinks that diving for sea urchins is pretty cool and enjoys hanging out with old ladies living without a fibre optic net connection.
Written by Kudo Kankuro (Manhattan Love Story, Tiger & Dragon), Amachan is a breeze to watch. It never feels like its wasting time. I've been rewatching Patlabor and that show is not made to be binged. The story in Amachan is simple and its about country life and the effects of young people leaving but it never feels contrived and the dialogue and people feel real. *cough* Umi no Ue Shinryoko *cough*
The 156 episode count is still pretty intimidating though. Can Kudo Kankuro sustain my interest for another 142 episodes about this cheery girl and the colourful cast of characters? Will the storylines become more complicated soap opera-like or will Amachan maintain its fun innocence? Why didn't the snack's business boom after Koizumi Kyoko became the mama? How the hell did the snack survive without some decent looking women?
Please don't tell me Ijyuiin becomes Aki's love interest because that is so wrong. I know he looks 18 but after years of playing Ijyuiin in Iryu, I can't imagine Ijyuiin with a high school girl. I enjoyed the 12 episodes but its way too early to give it a must watch considering how much further we have to go.
Sunday, December 29, 2013
Wife thinks husband is cheating on her with younger girl but husband is actually helping the girl who is his colleague with her exam to be a full time employee. Wife and girl meet up, get into an argument and some random witch makes them switch bodies. I remember reading about how Otto no Kanojo's ratings were so bad that they cut the episodes short and how the stations do not like publicizing the number of episodes before hand.
Body swapping doramas always pop up every so often and to me its almost a bulletproof concept as long as they hit the right notes and keep both role swaps equally interesting. Unfortunately, in Jdoramaland casting people people who cannot act happens all the time and this time we have Kawaguchi Haruna as the wife in the young body role. She just doesn't give out the feeling that there's a 40 year old woman in that body somewhere.
Its not really her fault though. While there are funny bits, especially with the continued misunderstanding, Otto no Kanojo feels so boringly by the numbers as if designed to safely appeal to everyone that its a lifeless husk of a comedy wannabee. I basically skimmed through the series after the first two episodes and the only thing keeping the skimming was the continued misunderstanding by the wife about the affair which the writer. Stay away.
Tuesday, December 24, 2013
I can't believe Fuji TV is making another Iryu after the haphazard 3rd series. Having an original story by the writer of the very boring Zettai Reido series is not a good sign. I think I have Perfect Report sitting on my hd somewhere. Are they trying to destroy my great memories of seasons 1 and 2? Zettai Reido was a sterile Monday afternoon Police series. Have they run out of manga stories to adapt?
As much as I love the cast, I have very little faith its going to be a decent series. Well as long as Hiroyuki Sawano is still doing the music. I'm listening to the awesome Iryu soundtrack and looking up the composer. I knew that he was the same dude who did Triangle but I didn't realise he also did the music of Marks no Yama, Lady Joker, Suitei Yuuzai, Link, Hachi-One Diver and Shingeki no Kyoujin!
Good on WOWOW on getting him to do their jdoramas. Nice to know the composer of the greatest Jdorama soundtrack ever also did two of the best jdoramas ever in Marks no Yama and Lady Joker. I guess anytime a dorama ends with super powerful and exciting music, its probably Hiroyuki Sawano.
Monday, December 23, 2013
OMFG, there is so much I want to write about this dorama. No Con Kid is a story of friendship using the history of gaming in Japan to tell the stories. There are just too many gaming references that make me mark out so I have to confine this post to just episodes 8 and 9 which are the Virtua Fighter 2 episodes.
I was expecting Street Fighter 2 to appear in No Con Kidsince its started the fighting game boom. Arcades were slowly declining to due home consoles but fighting games brought an element that gamers could not get at home. The ability to challenge anyone or be challenged anytime with one's skills determining whether they got to continue playing. I love how they shoot ep 8 like a Western cause fighting games are the modern equivalent of a Western shootout.
I'm happy Virtua Fighter 2 got to feature in No Con Kid cause I was a huge VF fan and VF2 was to my knowledge actually incredibly popular in Japan. The story in episode 8 is that Watanabe game center has a strong VF2 player called Riman and people from other arcades come to challenge him to no avail. It was the start of a revolution because before then, games were about high scores or co-operative play. Then the 3 Heavenly Kings come to challenge to top player and they kicked his ass.
The 3 Heavenly Gods are based on the Tetsujins back in the VF2 days. I was not in Japan but I knew the names of Bunbunmaru, Shinjuku Jacky and Ikebukuro Sarah. VF2 was so popular and these players so good that I remembered reading Sega had them do 100 people kumites. This was back in the day before the idea of a professional gamer even existed. I remember reading online that Sega even made Shinjuku Jacky a replica of the Jacky's jacket. There were little or no videos at this time. The only thing available was information from the net and it made me love VF2 that much more.
The above youtube clip is legendary story of Bunbunmaru vs Daimon Lau. The Tetsujins from Tokyo had heard of this strong player in Kyoto called Daimon Lau and they went down to challenge him and got their asses kicked. Bunbunmaru wins the first match but apparently they Tetsujins lose the next 60 matches. Compared to nowadays where videos of top players were readily available and information sharing (and whinging) is easily done online.
In No Con Kid, Kid defeats the best player of the 3 Heavenly Kings so that his young friend can play Xevious cause everyone was placing their belongings on the game table. With the VF2 boom at Watanabe game center, the other customers' are unable to enjoy the other games because of the huge number of onlookers. Kid's only intention was to clear space around the Xevious machine so he could teach the kid but he ends up becoming the default best VF2 player in the country by defeating the 3 Heavenly Kings. Sniff, such a beautiful story.
In episode 9, Reiji does a tournament where the winner gets to challenge Kid. This is similar to the above youtube clip from a Japanese tv show where players fight for to challenge Bunbunmaru. Think about how popular VF2 must have been to get tv airtime. At least Taiko Drum Master seems to be a staple of Japanese variety shows. Nowadays even Daigo can only get a documentary on tv. There's no way a Street Fighter tournament will be shown on free to air although its the most popular game in the world. Starcraft and Korea are another thing altogether.
Kid no shows the tournament, and he and Reiji end up fighting over the direction of the Watanabe game center. Reiji realises that fighting games are the money makers and an the arcade needs strong players to attract people. Kid says that Reiji is doing this at the expense of their core customers, people who love retro games as Reiji has gotten rid of Xevious. Its keep the core customers happy because they will be loyal versus try to get as popular as possible.
Fumi can see both sides of the argument and can only watch on as Reiji challenges Kid at VF for Kid's name. Kid throws the game and Reiji tries to take Kid's place as the top VF2 player but the 3 Heavenly Kings don't acknowledge him and walk away. For a 1am dorama, No Con Kid is one of the most lovingly crafted jdoramas I've ever seen. The Bunbunmaru vs Daimon Lau info was taken from this post at VFDC.
Sunday, December 22, 2013
While Yuusha Yoshihiko was a great love letter to Japanese RPGs, No Con Kid is a love letter to Japanese gaming in the 80s. While I did not grow up in Japan, Japanese games and 80s anime and tv shows like Ultraman were such an influencial part of my childhood and this child is pure nostalgia for me. While there's no anime and tokusatsu in No Con Kid, its the whole pop culture vibe that permeates this show that makes it so nostalgic.
No Con Kid which is short for No Continue Kid, tells the story of three friends; Kid the best player at this game center, Reiji the son of the owner of the game center played by Hotoke from Yuusha Yoshihiko and Haru, a girl who is the second best Xevious player at the game center. It was a time when games were about high scores and no internet to share hints and tips. A time where fellow arcade gamers shared tips in a notebook at the game center.
I love how they use actual games in this dorama not just as a backdrop but also to tell stories with a couple of game face offs. Street Fighter 2 better be in future episodes because that game really changed arcade gaming. Episode three with the line about the pacman safe spot is so kokoii! Watching this show is just 80s nostalgia porn.
Ito Tsukasa as I type this. :)
I look at all the games and props and think how much fun it must have been being the set decorator in this dorama. They even managed to procure the manual for Pole Position. I like how No Con Kid talks about the advent of the Famicom and whether it would threaten the arcade business as people could play Xevious in the comfort of their own home.
Episode 4 is about DragonQuest II being on sale with our two dudes having exams coming out. Best episode so far and I just want to blog about this series before I continue watching. I can talk more about the story after I finish watching.
No Con Kid is a dorama for people who grew up in a time when politicians used Game Centers as an easy target to get in the news. Its a show for people who have marathoned RPGs at a friend's place by taking turns because games are not cheap. Its a show for people who've played games again and again until they got good enough to easy clear the game. No Con Kid is a show for gamers who look back with fondness at a time when unlimited continues and regen health did not exist.
I have no idea how No Con Kid would play to people who aren't old school gamers. There are so many gaming references that make this story about 3 friends so enjoyable for me. If you think Game Center CX is one of Japan's greatest programs, this dorama is for you. I think basic Japanese is enough to watch this show so I encourage everyone to give it a try.
PATLABOR: THE NEXT GENERATION
Mano Erina + Patlabor = Wet Dream. Teaser trailer is out. So far so good. Hopefully it doesn't turn into another Yamato. Hopefully Oshii Mamoru will keep the CG shots to a minimum like Gantz since it only has a budget of $20 million.
Mano Erina + Sono Sion didn't turn out as good as I hoped but it feels like a godsend with my favourite idoru first working with my favourite director and now acting in a movie sequel to one of my favourite old school animes directed by the dude who directed GiTS. Its coming out in Japan as a seven part movie series starting in April. I'm sad Mano-chan quit singing but its worth it for Sono Sion and now Patlabor!
Friday, December 20, 2013
Kanata no Ko was the next dorama on my to watch list after Dandarin based on the fact that its directed by Omori Tatsushi who directed The Ravine of Goodbye and of course its a WOWOW show which means no Japanese subs. :(
STORY ONE - THE MUMMY
I had problems understanding this episode and had to watch it three times to understand. In the beginning of episode, we see a flashback of Sakai Maki as Hitoko who we see running out in public with her sick/dead daughter in her arms. Moving on, we have Hitoko trekking up Mount Fuji with 4 other people lead by Arata as the guide. Hitoko is struggling at the back when she sees a mirage of her dead daughter.
It seems like everyone on this climb up Mount Fuji has some dark secret. We've got an old lady who just wants to fill out her lottery numbers at the top facing the sun so she can have enough money to lay her husband's ashes to rest. We've also got an old guy carrying a 10 year old disposable camera that his wife who died in an accident once used.
There are flashbacks to Hitoko's childhood. Her mother's left her with her grandmother and the kids tell her about this mummy at a temple. The grandmother says that priest was buried alive to save the village. Flashback to grandmother being brought to the temple when she was young by her mother. There's a bamboo tube sticking from the ground which and Mitoko's great grandmother gets her answer from the priest though the bamboo. No idea why they don't just visit the priest in the morning when its a lot less scary.
Mitoko's mother walks out on her and leaves Hitoko with her grandmother. Back to grandmother flashback and the villagers have dug up the priest. Grandmother goes to temple and finds the people who dug up the priest. It seems that the priest was actually a criminal, probably a murderer. Mitoko goes to temple and finds the priest's mummy still there. Grandmother voiceover saying that the the priest can't even run from his sins in the ground or at the temple. I guess the theme of this series is running away from one's guilt or sins.
STORY TWO - FATE IS MORE UNBELIEVABLE THAN LOVE
I really love story two. On the way up Mount Fuji, our travellers encounter this dude who looks like he's in shock and we get flashbacks of his story with Mitsushima Hikari as his creepy, possessive ex-girlfriend and Tsurata Mayu, who doesn't look like she's aged at all as his woman of fate. Basically he dumps Mitsushima Hikari for Tsurata Mayu which causes her to go a bit psycho and then he finds out Tsurata Mayu is not a one man woman. That's what he gets for believing her fate muumbo jumbo. Shocked dude enters an unhappy marriage and stuff happens when Mitsushima Hikari reappears in his life. Looks like dude hasn't learned his lesson about mumbo jumbo and joins a religious sect.
Episode two is so much easier to understand including all the mail messages compared to ep 1. I enjoyed Mitsushima Hikari's performance as she doesn't overact as much as all the yandere's in jdoramas. Despite the performances, its missing this haunting quality that Kurosawa Kiyoshi's Shokuzai had. It nearly gets there though. I guess the story is people will do anything to escape their guilt. Wait, was the 'priest' a prisoner or did he go under voluntarily? Can't be stuffed rewatching again. Anyone can clarify for me?
STORY THREE - KIDS DO THE DARNDEST THINGS
The story of Arata's character and the one eyed dude who runs the cabin at the top of Fuji. Flashback to one eyed dude's photo exhibition/ class reunion where we get a sense that there is a dark secret between Arata, one eye and two other friends. The two of the friends want to ignore what happened and live life as normal while Arata and one eyed dude continue to be tormented by the secret which led to them being on Mount Fuji.
Right now, the thread of this series is each of the main characters did something bad and are at Mount Fuji to escape it though I would not say story 2 guy really did anything wrong besides choose Tsurata Mayu over Mitsushima Hikari. Episode four seems to be about what really happened to Hiyako and her daughter. As much as I like dark and depressing stories, right now I'm pretty indifferent to the characters and story. I'm not sure if English subs came out for Ep 1 that it would completely change my opinion of the series like Lady Joker. Possibly I've been too preoccupied with making sure I understand this dorama since its a lot harder without Japanese subs and can't see the forest for the tress. Let's wait for episode 4 and see how it ties everything up.
Monday, December 16, 2013
Since I've been back, this is the only dorama that I've been making time for. Looking back at the series, its interesting how Dandarin basically follows the rules of the GTO conventions yet it never felt like it was ticking the convention boxes ala Fruits of Faith. This led me to pondering whether the cause was the unique subject matter, writing or a combination of both?
I think it has partly to do with the backbone of the individual episodes being about a certain aspect of labour standards rather than being about each colleagues' backstory. In your typical GTO clone, its basically about one colleagues sob story and they turn over a new leaf at the end whereas in Dandarin in not an open and shut case.
Secondly, its has to do with the parady nature of Dandarin. Its a super hero comedy that pokes fun at so many elements of Japanese working life issues and bureaucracy that it feels true despite not being realistic. Contrast that with Hanzawa Naoki which plays up the issues of corruption and bureaucracy in banking with a seriousness but acting like a comedy.
I had only two concerns with Dandarin. Firstly, that it would not be able to sustain the momentum and that the Dandarin backstory which hung over every episode threatening to derail it from a must watch to a watchable dorama. Good news is there are so many labour law issues for Dandarin to explore. Plus its based on a manga so I'd imagine the writer can cherry pick the best stories.
The Dandarin sob story didn't turn out to be a dud. It gave a nice explanation for who Dandaring is and her catchphrase but it did threathen to descend into too much moral argument though I suppose the last episode is more about talking to Japanese society about the country's ideas about what working life is about and why labour standards are important versus excuses that humane working hours and conditions are to the detriment of Japanese society.
THINGS I LIKED
- Episode 4. The human resource manager taking the fall and Dandarin feeling angry because the true decision maker escapes unscathed. Dandarin may be a comedy but its not a fairy tale.
- Episode 5 about the sweets shop. Issues of cutting corners and maintaining standards once a shop has become famous and seeking a satisfactory outcome for both parties.
- Caring about foreign workers in Japan. Lol. As if but that's what makes Dandarin a super hero. I love how the Thai and Vietnamese workers speak English when probably they would communicating in Japanese.
- Episode 7 about the factory worker who died on the way home from work. Its not just an interesting legal conundrum, I'm glad that it didn't have a happy ending plus it looks at Japanese aversion to doing autopsies as well.
- Episode 8. Promoting workers to managers running understaffed shops so that they have no choice but to work long hours and using excuses like training to cover up what is abuse of workers. I'm betting this probably happens a lot in Japan. Also looks at the fact that finding employment is difficult and many people feel like they have no choice.
- Episode 9. The Doteyama episode and sneaky turn employees into contractors so you pay them less issue. Sometimes its less how will Dandarin solve this and more what type of ingenious labour abuse will the killer brother from Soredemo come up with? Did I mention Doteyama is one of the most entertaining bosses since GTO's principal.
- Episode 10 and 11. Minamisanjo-san's relationship with Dandarin never feels like a tacked on older actress with Johnny thing. (He's not a Johnny but you get my point) Its more about colleagues who have grown to respect each other.
THING I DIDN'T LIKE
Kazama Shunsuke's acting as smart lawyer who looks like a 19 year old. I loved his performance in Soredemo but his wide eyed trying to be evil overacting is a complete failure of channeling King Joffrey. I don't hate his character but rather I hate his overacting. I wonder whether the director or he is to blame.
That's the problem with Johnnys and Ueto Aya type 'actresses'. They can hit 30 but they can't or are unable to convincingly play that age. Kurimizawa's tacked on redemption ending just doesn't work for me.
Must watch. Very sad that its rated poorly. I guess Japanese audiences look at it and say what a load of fiction.
JDORAMA TOP EARNERS LIST
Its going to take me a while to get back into the jdorama groove but I just noticed jadefrost has two really good posts and top money makers in Jdoramas here and here. Its kind of a depressing list. Those who I think deserve to be on the list are bolded.
WARNING: Reading the lists below may cause depression and destroy whatever interest you may have for the Japanese entertainment industry.
1. Sakai Masato (13.2％) (3 million yen/hr)
2. Fukuyama Masaharu (12.9％) (3 million yen/hr)
3. Mizutani Yutaka (12.5％) (4 million yen/hr)
4. Kagawa Teruyuki (12.3％) (2.5 million yen/hr) Sometimes he overacts but he can be very good.
5. Kataoka Ainosuke (12.0％) (1.6 million yen/hr)
6. Nishijima Hidetoshi (11.8％) (2 million yen/hr)
7. Yakusho Koji (11.6％) (4 million yen/hr) Best actor on this list.
8. Watanabe Ken (11.2％) (5 million yen/hr)
9. Kimura Takuya (10.9％) (5 million yen/hr)
10. Sato Koichi (10.7％) (3 million yen/hr)
11. Matsumoto Jun (10.3％) (3 million yen/hr)
12. Oikawa Mitsuhiro (10.0％) (2 million yen/hr)
13. Oda Yuji (9.8％) (3 million yen/hr)
14. Ayano Go (9.6％) (1.5 million yen/hr) I'm starting to think he's way overrated for the amount of money he's pulling.
15. Okada Masaki (9.2％) (1.3 million yen/hr)
16. Mizobata Junpei (9.0％) (1.5 million yen/hr) Why is Hachi-One on this list?
As dgundam said, wtf is Abe Hiroshi and Moteki?
ACTRESS LIST aka THE INVERSE ACTING ABILITY LIST
1. Yonekura Ryoko (13.5％) (3 million yen/hr)
2. Anne (13.0％) (1.1 million yen/hr)
3. Ayase Haruka (12.7％) (2.5 million yen/hr)
4. Ueto Aya (12.5％) (2 million yen/hr)
5. Mitsushima Hikari (12.3％) (1.5 million yen/hr) Should be no.1 but at least she's making money.
6. Kanno Miho (12.0％) (2 million yen/hr)
7. Aragaki Yui (11.8％) (1.2 million yen/hr)
8. Nounen Rena (11.4％) (1.2 million yen/hr) I still haven't watched Amachan.
9. Koizumi Kyoko (11.1％) (3 million yen/hr) One of the best ever.
10. Shibasaki Kou (10.9％) (1.6 million yen/hr)
11. Dan Mitsu (10.6％) (0.7 million yen/hr) WTF is she doing here?
12. Horikita Maki (10.4％) (1.6 million yen/hr)
13. Nagasawa Masami (10.2％) (1.4 million yen/hr)
14. Yoshitaka Yuriko (10.0％) (1.4 million yen/hr)
15. Honda Tsubasa (9.8％) (0.6 million yen/hr)
No Hirosue Ryoko on the list but then her dorama choices have been bad. Where's Takeuchi Yuko?