Monday, March 30, 2009

Jmovie review: Okuribito/Departures

Been wanting to watch this movie not because it won the oscar for best foreign movie but because I really want to see Hirosue Ryoko in something good. Her last too jdoramas have been disasters and the last thing decent show I can remember her in was Little DJ though her role as very minor. Its great for Japanese cinema to get some recognition besides the usual Kurosawa and Ghibli accolades.

Okuribito is a movie about cellist Daigo (Masahiro Motoki) who loses his job in the orchestra and moves back to his deceased mother's house in the country with his wife Mika (Hirosue Ryoko). He stumbles upon a job add to send people off on their journeys. Thinking it was an ad for a travel agency, he takes his first step into becoming an encoffiner, a person who specialises in preparing a body for the coffin.

You mean Yasuko to Kenji was just a bad dream?

There was a jdorama last season, Shigeshoshi that dealt with embalming but it was so bad I could only watch a few episodes and just couldn't be bothered reviewing it. Encoffining is more than just dressing up a body to make it look good before it is placed in a coffin. It is a ritual for family and loved ones to say their final farewells.

A smile that would melt the iciest heart...

Okuribito deals with many interesting issues such as societies reluctance to deal with death. Everyone around Daigo views his profession with contempt. Not just his friends but his wife Mika as well. They view it as a dirty job because they view death as something that unnatural or not part of everyday life. It is something that people choose to ignore and only deal with when the time comes. People who make their living from the deaths of others are for some reason viewed with contempt as opposed to doctors who make their living from the physical ailments of others.

The other underlying issue is about relationships between parents, their children and death. I won't say much in order not to spoil the movie but I really love it when a movie structures its themes well and and delves into them throughout the movie. That said, I thought the scene at the back of the 'incinerator' was unnecessary and the speech about gatekeeping was hitting the nail too hard as it doesn't fit in with the subtlety of the rest of the movie.

Masahiro Motoki does an excellent job as Daigo. You'd believe that he could actually work as an encoffiner after watching Okuribito. He's cello playing looks solid too. He does a great job at playing Daigo as someone who always internalises his emotions until they spill out uncontrollably. Hirosue Ryoko shows that she's still a good actress when given decent roles. There's a couple of scenes where its all about subtlety and my favourite is when she finally sees Daigo working working as an encoffiner. The silent conversation between their eyes is all that is needed.

The movie slows down a bit because we have to see Daigo do his encoffining a few times but each is necessary for the climax of multiple storylines/themes of the movie. I wish Daigo's boss Sasaki (Tsutomu Yamazaki) had more to do. The first encoffining scene was hilarious. I enjoyed Sasaki's talk with Daigo about the importance of his job because he does it in a roundabout way without spelling it out in bright neon lights.

Do not approach this movie with high expectations. It will not blow you away but it will move you and give you stuff to think about. Its a good movie but not among the best that I have seen. I just hope that no one decides to make a jdorama based on the movie!

Friday, March 27, 2009

Jmovie review: Legend of the Doll

Where has Kijima Noriko been all my life?

Legend of the doll is the first of the Akihabara trilogy of films and the last one in the series that I watched. I wasn't expecting much since its the first one but as long as it was not as bad as Sundome, I would be happy.

This makes me want to buy on of those pillows shaped like Airu's legs in the above picture. Look them up on j-list if you're interest.

From the name of the movie, it is easy to surmise that it is about a doll that comes to life. It is a really popular shounen genre and encompasses robot girls and video girls. It is the classic shounen romance of a generic guy and not so human being. If you have always wished someone would make a jdorama out of Video Girl Ai or even Chobits, this movie is for you.

I wish I had this great a view everytime I came home.

Ryota, our generic main dude one day gets his hand on this model kit and proceeds to craft this figure out of it. Waking up, he discovers that the figure has become a living doll, Airu, played by gravure idol Noriko Kijima. She addresses him as goushujin-sama and seems more like a robot aka Chobits. Ryota tries to get her to talk more normally and through the power of television, it is easily achieved. If I have learned anything from this Akihabara trilogy, its that if a living doll/catgirl/maid/succubus etc shows up in your room without communication skills, just turn on the tv and she'll be talking normally in a day.

What lovely eyes you have.....

There's no need to say how moe Noriko Kijima is. The abundant screencaps speak for themselves. She is the best of the three gravure actresses in terms looks. She looks absolutely stunning for her front and side angles and has a great body to boot. If you're looking for acting skills, go watch Okuribito or something. Though I must say I really hate the crappy overacting by the obligatory otaku friend.


Its funny how being the first of the trilogy, Legend of the Doll has more cosplay than the other two. I would think that they would push the envelope more in the latter movies but clearly Legend of the Doll is the most superior one in terms of fanservice. While Pretty Maid Cafe was more of a gravure video and Catgirl Kiki more of a story based movie with some fanservice, Legend of the Doll, achieves the right balance of both. The ending is kinda similar to Catgirl Kiki. Its pretty obvious they cast the girlfriend for nudity.

This screencap cannot do justice to the Kijima Noriko bikini scene....

I didn't like the WTF ending but it did add some poignancy to the movie. I'd much rather they went simple and straightforward like Video Girl Ai because the movie was too short to develop the relationship between Airu and Ryota. In the end, I had a lot of fun watching this cheaply made movie about your typical otaku fantasy and if you're interested in the Akihabara trilogy, watch Catgirl Kiki or Pretty Maid Cafe first and save the best for last.

I'm still waiting for one of my figures to come to life, as long as its not my Kazuma Kiryu, Guts or Geese Howard figures.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Hitotsu Yane no Shita season 2

Someone should go back in time and tell Eguchi Yosuke how crap the script for Triangle is.

Managed to acquire English subbed Hitotsu Yane no Shita s2 from Marspeach through trading. Its a very bad quality tv rip from what I assume is Hawaiian tv but I'd sacrifice video quality for subs any day. Its basically like watching a jdorama off youtube. With this, probably the only old show left I want to see subbed would be Tadano Hitoshi seasons 1+2.

Matsu Takako = guarantee watchable jdoramas.

With season 2, the writer Nojima Shinji (Love Shuffle) is faced with following up one of the most succesful jdoramas ever and he does it by taking the kitchen sink approach; ie throw every conceivable jdorama angle/story and fit it in. There were times when I felt like I was watching a Korean dorama with a very big difference; the very fast pacing and great character arcs.

Koume has really blossomed in four years.

Nojima Shinji somehow managed to make all the pieces fit. There's your fair shair of cheesy and corny lines but there are some pretty memorable ones as well. Not to mention there are some simple overarching themes such as the one on human selfishness. The kitchen sink approach should fail but Hitotsu Yane no Shita manages to keep its head above water. IMO, there's no better example of a great writer than someone who manages to elevate a potential train wreck of a dorama.

OMG, Candy from Fighting Vipers. If only Sega would be FV3.

As I said earlier in my review of the raws of the early eps, Matsu Takako is a godsend to season 2. She just fits in with the Kashiwagi family and the sassy disposition of her character Miki is a great contrast to the more subdued characters of the two sisters, Koyuki and Koume. The addition of the effeminate Masumi however is a big head scratcher. Besides his story in ep 3, there is no reason for him to be in the rest of the show. His role as story facilitator can easy be assumed by various members of the Kashiwagi family at different times. He is basically dead weight and I was hoping all series he would die in a car accident or something.

Fumiya getting some action.

Masaya (Galileo) is missing for most of the show and its fun to see Kazuya assume the mantle of second brother. The black sheep of the family comes into his own in season 2 and not to mention a very strong story arc with Matsu Takako. Every family member gets their time to shine. Koume may have gotten a bit shortchanged but I'm still in awe of how much stuff they've managed to pack into a measly 12 episodes.

Sakai Noriko = goddes of jdoramas

If there's one big complaint about season to is that An-chan makes some pretty bone-headed decisions in this show. Its pretty obvious that the decisions were more to do with lengthening storylines and pacing but stupid decisions just make him look like a gutless person no matter how the writer tries to spin it in the script. Besides that I have no other complaint except perhaps the ending.

Best reason for this to be remastered on dvd.

Notice how the writer is the same as the one who wrote 101 Proposals? Well, its got an even worse ending. Stupid twist for the sake of a twist and completely destroying two fucking seasons of build ups. It nearly made me wish I never saw season 2 and just had the memory of season 1. They tried to make it work with a little foreshadowing and hints but it just felt to sudden, too unnatural.

In the end, if you enjoyed season 1, season 2 is still a must despite my complaints. This is the jdorama to end all jdoramas. All sorts of cliches and plots mixed with some of the best jdorama actors ever in a pretty coherent package. There will never be another show as big as Hitotsu Yane no Shita season 2 and be as good. One of the ways to judge how good a show is, is whether you remember the names of characters and I know the names of all members of the Kashiwagi family.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Jmovie review: Catgirl Kiki

The second of the Akihabara trilogy, Catgirl Kiki is a look at another otaku fantasy; the catgirl. I'm not really a fan of catgirls. I think they're more of a 90s anime type thing with such shows as Catgirl Nuku nuku. I think the appeal of catgirls is ultimately about the ear and tail being kawaii and maybe the representation of a domesticated girl.

Generic shounen main character finds cat in box and brings cat home. Cat turns into catgirl complete with clothes. Logic dictates that she should have had no clothes on but obviously the actress for Kiki is not a JAV actress. Generic guy then starts to teach her how to act like a human. Kiku learns how to speak the way the rest of us do, by watching television. If I had a catgirl, I would educate her through the use of education videos known as JAV.

Then generic guy hits upon an idea that I did not even consider; he buys a maid costume for Kiki to wear! Catgirl + maid = win. Next on the ladder is the schoolgirl uniform. This show is like the bible of what to do if your cat ever becomes a catgirl. Just make sure to check that any cats you take home are female. The second half of the show gets interesting and I won't spoil it. Catgirl Kiki goes into an interesting angle and though the execution can be lacking, I can't fault them for lack of trying.

Yui Kano who plays Kiki is perfectly cast IMO. She's got the neko look and manages to do all the cat stuff without looking embaressed. Actually I think her acting was pretty decent, particularly the scene where she realises that generic dude is a NEET. I love the whole adult novel scenario. I was laughing at the honey thing and her using of lines from the book under the sheets. I think Yui Kano would make a decent actress if she decides to branch out from being a seiyuu.

Catgirl Kiki is less gravure and more story compared to Pretty Maid Cafe. Its less fanservicey and more humourous. Definitely a fun way to spend an hour. And a word of warning or should I say encouragement; there is nudity in Catgirl Kiki.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Jmovie review: Pretty Maid Cafe


The last of the Akihabara Trilogy of movies, Pretty Maid Cafe is as stereotypical as they come but without becoming a parody of itself which mainstream otaku shows have a tendency to become *cough* Akihabara@Deep *cough*. Mainstream audience is so ashamed of otaku culture that the only way they can stomach it is to filter it by making way too much fun of otakus.

Pretty Maid Cafe's audience is unabashedly the otaku and it is not ashamed to of it. It is a dramatisation of the otaku maid fantasy. Anyone looking for great acting and witty scripts please continue watching Love Shuffle and everyone else looking for pretty maids and fanservice must watch this movie.

Hide just can't take his eyes of Misaki-tan's ...

No surprises with the plot; generic looking guy with otaku friend meets pretty maid Misaki-tan. Throw in a bit of Densha with an online-board, lots of fan service and of course a stalker for our hero to Misaki-tan from. Maybe I should start a company where people can hire stalkers to save girls from. Its probably the only way otakus can get girls to notice us.

Higashi Kotono's got an absolutely gorgeous side profile...

The star of the show is of course Higashi Kotono as Misaki-tan. The gravure idol turned JAV actress is a delight to watch on the screen thanks to her very beautiful face and obsolutely delicious melons. She is very similar to retired JAV actress Takako Kitahara. Very distinctive nose, huge and firm oppai and a bit chubby but that's expected. In fact, it is the beauty in imperfection that makes her appealing.

I have never wished more to be a bouncing ball than I do now...

Actually, her performance in Pretty Maid Cafe is very similar to Isoyama Sayaka in 2nd house. Another gravure idol who deserves to be in more doramas. There's an attempt to make the movie more meaningful but of course the script just completely fails in that regard because at its core, Pretty Maid Cafe is a essential a Higashi Kotono gravure video and for a gravure video its a pretty good one.

Credit the otaku dude for not overplaying his role as comedy guy and plot device.

That's what gravure videos should be. Just put some random crappy story into it to give it a narrative and give context to the eye catching scenes. However, that would destroy the purpose of gravure videos; quick and easy money with little production costs. Every otaku owes it to themselves to watch Pretty Maid Cafe and I'll soon watch the other two in the trilogy if I can find time from SF4, Ryuga Gotoku 3 and RE5. If you desperate want this movie after wiping the blood from your nose, google movie and rapidshare. Hhmm, mental note to self, look for Higashi Kotono JAV.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

HamsapSukebe jdorama award 2008

Its finally time to take a look back at jdoramas from 2008 and give kudos to the performances and shows that I enjoyed the most. Every year, I delay writing this because there's always shows that I am awaiting subs on and which could end up pretty good. Its unfortunate that the subbing of Osen, Kaze no Garden, Yottsu no Uso and Pandora have not been completed. I think Osen could end up being a very good show. Episode 1 Pandora is out and though it wasn't as good as I had hoped, it had potential to be a very interesting show about morality, politics and the big picture.

I know Engrish subbed shows for both of them are out but the horrible subs would take too much away from them so unfortunately Osen, Kazeno Garden, Yottsu no Uso and Pandora are not in consideration. Nagasaku Hiromi might have run off with best actress. I don't watch every Jdorama out there. I try to sample as much as possible before deciding which show to continue on. I avoid shows that I am 100% sure will suck because of the casting.

Best supporting actor:

Deer of Shika Otoko. Props to the voice actor and cg animators. No supporting character has been more crucial to a jdorama than the deer. Easily the most memorable supporting character last year.

Honourable mention: Have to give props to Kohinata Fumiyo for appearing in 3 jdoramas last season in a supporting role. I'm so sick of his face and yet he always does a good job.

Best supporting actress:

Easiest award of all and obviously has to go to Yoshitaka Yuriko for her portrayal as Shinobu in Ashita no Kita Yoshio and for saving Taiyo to Umi no Kyoushitsu. I'm eagerly to see what she can do acting wise in Love Shuffle. I hope they don't push her too soon to be a main actress because she is not ready.

Honourable mention: Fukuda Saki as Kotone in Daisuki!! She goddamn single handedly had Daisuki watchable. No idea why Karina won awards when Fukuda Saki was ignored.

Best actor:

Uchino Masaaki as Gonzo. Every actor I think is always looking for a career defining performance. Gonzo is easily the most fun and well developed character in 2008. From 2008 onwards, Uchino Masaaki will no longer be known as KimuTaku's brother from Love Generation.

Honourable mention:

Sakai Masaaki as Shogo in Muri na Renai. One of the best koukuhaku scenes ever. Great performance of Saite no Heart. Excellent portrayal of an old man being passed by time and seeking something to live for.

Abe Sadaou in OL Nippon. He impressed us as Arase in Iryu and nearly stole the show in OL Nippon. Props for his decent attempt at mandarin unlike most Japanese actors who end up butchering every foreign language.

Best actress:

This is the fucking toughest category in 2008. Lots of great performances but I have to give it to Mizuki Alisa for Saitou-san and OL Nippon. I'm ashamed to say I haave not seen her before last year, except for Kawa Itsuka Umi E which I don't remember a thing about. She's one of those rare actresses who can carry a show by herself. Hhmm.. maybe I should stop deciding tie breakers by giving it to actors who appeared in more than 1 show.

Honourable mention:

Natsukawa Yui as Kaede in Muri na Renai. I would watch anything with her in it. 'nuff said.

Takeuchi Yuko as Mio in Bara no nai Hanaya. She made the overly soapy script watchable.

Mimura as Mano Wakaba in Saitou-san. Saitou-san was a show that was so dependent on her acting and she really came through with her portrayal of the neurotic, desperate to please Mano-san.

5 must watch jdoramas from 2008

1) Saito-san

2) Shikaotoko Aoniyoshi

3) Muri na Renai

4) Gonzo: Densetsu no Keiji

5) OL Nippon

And finally the most important award, the hottest jdorama actress in 2008.

Shinobu gave me a foot fetish and I was afraid Renbutsu Misako would read my mind and scream in shock at all the thought I had while watching Nanase Futatabi. In the end, Kobayashi Ryoko managed to made me ignore the plot holes for most of Maou. Her anime eyes would keep me in a trance of euphoria and from noticing Maou's flaws.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Love Shuffle eps 1&2

Beautiful shot of Karina.

This has been a pretty bad season. Probably the worst season I can remember since people start fansubbing raws on d-addicts. As long as a season has a pretty good show or a couple of decent ones, I'm happy. Triangle was my big jdorama hope but unfortunately it looks beyond salvation and the less said about Arifureta Kiseki the better. Will Love Shuffle be good enough to save this season and give me a jdorama to look forward to every week?

Chiaki obviously liking what he's seeing.

Love Shuffle is a show about 4 couples who decide that they want to be swingers, except sex isn't the main reason. Its love. They all have problems with their relationships and rationalised that love shuffling would help solve their problems or at least sort out their feelings for the other party. I find it an intriguing concept because we can see how different they treat each of their lovesha partner for the week.

Shinobu, does an ace mean I can draw the line anywhere I like?

Casting is good. Chiaki from Nodame plays Usami, a salaryman who got his cushy job through his engagement to Kagawa Mai (Kanjiya Shihori). Chiaki basically plays the same role he does in all his shows, the wide eyed, meek person who struggles to deal with situations and problems he is faced with and he does it well. After all, his is the viewpoint the audience mainly sees the show through.

I wish someone could have told me this is what cameramen do when I was young.

Karina is an intepreter who cannot stand her rich geeky boyfriend. Her disregard for economic strength in men is explained by the fact that her parents are beareaucrats. After all, I doubt interpreters can afford to live in such grand mansions. Karina and Chiaki are the main characters in this show and that's a good thing cause they are the strongest actors in it. If only other shows would follow this rule of more talent = more screen time.

Lovely frame of Shinobu. Much props to cinematographer.

Matsuda Shota is a gravure photographer currently in a relationship with a married woman. Besides having everyman's dream job, he's the only one who doesn't seem to have any relationship issues. If I could take pictures of Ogura Yuko and Kadena Reon, every relationship problems would seem trivial. Rounding up the couples is Tanihara Sousuke who seems to want to match Kita Yoshio through appearing in multiple series each season and Shinobu from Kita Yoshio. They have a doctor suicidal patient relationship though there may be more under the surface.

Karina in swimsuit but don't get excited cause it sucks. Can't understand why she or the agency are so protective of her thighs. Its not going to soil her career.

Love Shuffle is all about slowly pulling back layers about the couples' relationships. Just when you think their problem is simple, a nugget of information is revealed that gives you a new perspective on their problems. Two episodes for every shuffle week and two more to deal with the aftermath. I have the mention that the rapid fire dialogue is fun to watch no small thanks to making the four best actors living in the same building so we get to see them more. Chiaki and Karina are the best developed characters and the chemistry between them is good. The only casting change I would do would be to cast Kichise Michiko as the okusan and Nino as the rich nerd.

She's got an extensive filmography so let's see what she can do.

I love the humour in this show. There's anime slapstick bleeding nose and manzai humour but there's also situational humour like peeing in a cup in the elevator. Well written comedy where its people's response to problems that is funny instead loud and obnoxious 'look at me, I'm overacting so it must be funny' jokes. If you have to watch only one show this season (and you should), make it Love Shuffle.