Sunday, November 28, 2010

Juui Dolittle eps 1-5

I was planning to give Juui Dolittle a miss. The name enough to give me images of talking animals, childish jokes and the over-photoshopped poster didn't inspire any confidence. To my surprise, Tottori (Oguri Shun) does not develop abilities to talk to animals. Dolittle is merely a nickname given to him by his uni friend Hanabishi (Narimiya Hiroki) because he was so good in his studies. If I'm not mistaken, this is the first reunion between these two stand up alumni.

MILF alert in ep 1.

So if Dolittle is not about a vet talking to animals, what is it about? Basically Tottori is the Asada Ryutaro of vets, able to perform the most difficult surgeries that no vet would want to do. He charges a premium for his services and is always direct in his dealings with other people. Hanabishi a charisma vet who regularly appears on television who is excellent at diagnosing animals but is unable to perform surgeries because of a past failure.

Joining them is Asuka, (Inoue Mao) who came to Tottori to help heal her horse but has to pay for it with her body by slavishly helping him out in his vet clinic. Hhmm, sounds like the perfect concept for a JAV. Asuka's job is basically to say to Tottori 'why are you so mean/money-faced' at least 3 times per episode and of course play the nice girl act that she does so well.

I do have to agree that sexy is not a word to describe Inoue Mao.

The bad thing about Dolittle is the stories can be very contrived and try way to hard to pull at the viewers' heartstrings. Your enjoyment of the series will depend on your willingness to be so openly manipulated by a jdorama. For cynical bastards like me who prefer subtle manipulation like in Hachiko Monogatari, some of the storylines and dialogue just had me rolling my eyes. I sort of expected the show to be aimed at kids but I didn't expect the writing to be done by them.

For example, the dolphin episode with the trainer who keeps shouting 'boku wa muri desu' in order to do a story with the message about not giving up. The level of maturity of the writing is such that its like the writer is trying to hit the message of the episode onto the viewers' heads over and over again with a giant hammer. However, I do appreciate the difficulty of writing a series about animals and usually they have two animal cases per episode.

Kuninaka Ryoko makes ep 4 worth watching.

Probably the main thing I enjoyed about Juyu Dolittle was the acting of the three main actors. The interplay between the characters is fun to watch, especially between Tottori constantly abusing Asuka and Hanabishi and Tottori's friendship. Oguri Shun was too young to be cast in Tokyo Dogs but he doesn't look that out of place here. There is the main story of this evil chain of vet hospitals and someone who keeps on harming animals in the park. Perhaps is due to my low expectations but Juui Dolittle is turning out to be a surprising watchable dorama.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Iryu 3 eps 5+6

I am so happy that the series is finally back on track. It made me realise that the minimum thing that this series needed was operations with some sort of emotional investment from the viewers and what operation is more important than one where the hero of the series goes under the knife. Sure, we know its going to succeed but the exciting commentary by Fujiyoshi and Fuyumi and the awesome soundtrack

Speaking of soundtrack, the perfect example of how it just elevates the series to another level is that cheesy talk Asada has with the wheelchair kid in episode 5. With any other actor or with any other music, it wouldn't have worked but it was so well timed with the music. The way it the song rises to the chorus just after Asada says the cheesy main line is just so uplifting. I was just humming the song along the scene. Interesting to note that the tune is not in the OSTs of the first two seasons of Iryu. Its sounds a bit like the 'Origin of Silence' but is different.

With my misgivings about Iryu 3 turning Ijyuiin to the dark side so easily, the writer has shown that it was all in good cause, firstly to make Ijyuiin the man regardless of the fact that he runs like a fairy and to fulfill Asada's earlier foreshadowing that a team is a group where members can rise to the occasion and cover for each other when one is not there.

Something tells me pissing Kito sensei off is a bad idea.

All this erratic build up is about whether Team Dragon can exist without Asada and to put Ijyuiin and Kato in the forefront. The writer has finally given me a reason to like those two characters again. Watching Ijyuiin step up to the plate was fun after him playing sidekick for two seasons and him realising what it takes to be in Asada's shoes and the importance of the team to Asada. In addition to allowing Iryuiin and Kato to step into the limelight, this prevents Asada from being overexposed and saves him for the main event at the end of the series.

Kuroki's sad past is finally revealed though he was yet to turn good. I forsee a joint catheter-heart surgery operation for the last episode. They've started building up what could be the final surgery of the series which is a good idea. Episode 7 will deal with an operation which is personal to Kato sensei so we get more personal stories with the team. However, I think that the Kato story should have been saved for later and writer should do stories about the new nurse, Hibiki and the intern Fuyumi.

Hibiki is part of Team Dragon yet we know nothing about her so there is not reason to care about her. Fuyumi has basically been the commentary partner of Fujiyoshi and plot explainer with long haired doctor but for all the screen time she has been having, she deserves an episode for her story. I loled at Kito sensei using the mabo tofu line on Noguchi. Seems like he will be back later but the last two episodes have made me realise that for Iryu, human villains are mere salad dressing. The true bad guy is the operation and as long as there is a hook for the audience to latch to, that's all the show needs. 

Entlassen, Mr Noguchi!

Eps 5 and 6 is an example of the writer wanting to tell a certain story and not really starting it off in the right way but because its a story worth telling, it pays off. Of course this does not apply to all jdoramas but the Iryu series has never had any problems with execution and it was a matter of season 3 finding its own legs to stand on.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Jmovie review: Solanin

Solanin is a movie for the early 20s audience and is based on a pretty successful manga, from what I can gather. Meiko (Miyazaki Aoi) and Taneda are recent university graduates who are currently drifting in life. Meiko works as and OL and does not enjoy her job because her boss is always harassing her. Taneda meanwhile is jobless and is supported by Meiko because he plays in a band with two uni-mates; the drummer is the son of a drugstore owner and the bassist is still in uni because he knows that one he starts working, his life is over.

The first hour of Solanin is pretty much a lot of early 20 angst. Meiko wants to quit her job but is worried about the future. Taneda doesn't know what he wants and is just drifting through the life in a daze, living the perfect lifestyle that I can only dream of. He doesn't like it when Meiko tries to move him move forward because who wouldn't want to continue their uni lifestyle where you actually have time to do nothing. Basically Taneda and co don't want to let go of the band because it represents their youth and yet the band cannot take them where they need to go.

The first hour didn't work for me primarily because there's not much chemistry between Meiko and Taneda. You get two people at the lowest point of their relationship so its understandable but then there's way too much angst and whining that I don't really care about the characters. I'm just watching the movie thinking what's the point of the story? Then 80 minutes in the movie, we finally get the Solanin is about.

I'd be crying tears of happiness too if I were taking Miyazaki Aoi for a ride.

Taneda dies in a motorbike accident. Yes! Now I have to just get past the crying and moping part and then we get to Miyazaki Aoi's awesome performance of AKFG's Solanin. So here's Solanin in a nutshell, 80 minutes of whining, 20 minutes of crying and then final 20 minutes of Meiko learning to play with Taneda's band so she can give an awesome performance at the end.

If only they had cut at least 20 minutes of whining. I know its important for the second half but it was just a constant 'woe is me, I don't put effort in my band, don't have a job and live off my girlfriend'. Essentially the movie was supposed to build up Taneda and his relationship with Meiko before killing but to me it was already lifeless to begin with.

Despite my whining and negative comments (something in common with Taneda), I still this its a watchable movie saved by the awesome though slightly cliched second half, supporting characters and of course Miyazaki Aoi.   

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Iryu 3 eps 2-4

Things are not looking good for Iryu 3 right now. The first problem is lack of a distinct villain.Yes, Noguchi was the bad guy for seasons 1 and 2 but he hasn't done anything bad. Sure, he wants to make Team Dragon irrelevant but whatever his reasons might be, Noguchi is not doing anything bad or underhanded. His plan is too basically bring in Kuroki, the Asada Ryutaro of catheterism and make Meishin a catheterism  specialty hospital. Its become a sort of surgery vs catheter debate but nothing has been put forward to argue against the new emphasis on catheter treatment at Meishin.

So which high school did you come from?

The only thing mentioned was that it can be high risk but are its not like the operations that Team Iryu has been have been a walk in the park either. One might question the storyline that there are no surgery patients in Meishin as surgery is still necessary for a lot of cases like tumours etc but that can be explained as patients not coming into Meishin for anything other than catheter treatment.

The one thing keeping me entertained.

As I've said many times, the hero is as good as the villain and right now, there is not villainy for Team Dragon to fight against. In fact Kato was looking very much the villain in ep 3 with her frustrations and trying to force the girl to go for surgery instead of catheter treatment. Having a hatred for surgeons, doing motion training in the basement and wearing black does not make Kuroki a villain. This lack of black and white distinction has left me indifferent to the story. I love grey area morality and characters but Iryu is definitely not a character based dorama. It would work if Iryu 3 were a copy of Shiroi Kyoto and the emphasis was on the friendship/begrudging respect between Asada vs Kuroki but its too late for that.

I see an airport runway in this picture.

Asada just keeps quiet because there is nothing for him to say, only that doctors must act in the best interest of the patient. This is where Miki is sorely missed. I can just imagine her asking Asada whether he would be ok with Team Dragon being broken up again. Finally we have new kabe onna nurse from USA but there's no background story on her and she hasn't added anything to Team Dragon in terms of chemistry. Also alarming is the new intern Fuyumi not having any impact on the series yet in the series besides acting as plot narrator sidekick with the long hair dude.

No airports here....

The basis of the fun in Iryu 1 and 2 were the team members and their stories. Each having their own personality and redemption stories and coming together in the end in a feel good team moment. Right now its just Noguchi having his own way and Ijyuuin deciding to wear black. Hhhm, where have I seen this before? Oh yeah, season 1. Zzzzzz. Talk about your petty jealousy issues after all he has been through with Asada but I'll be happy to accept it if it will lead to good stories. However, it is still not too late. Its only been 4 episodes and some of my favourite doramas have taken 6 episodes to get running.

Memo to writer: black does not mean evil.

First thing they have to do is get cracking on the new intern Fuyumi and the new nurse. They better be awesome stories and I want to see lots of cool operations from Team Dragon working in the ER. Actually I'll accept generic stories as the music will elevate the mediocre to awesome. We need lots of cool operations in the ER especially with Asada utilising unconventional methods. The lack of an operation in ep 4 really hurt the series. Catheter procedures do not make exciting viewing, not even with Iryu's music.

Second thing we need to do is make Noguchi/Kuroki the obvious villains here and the only thing I can think off is them overemphasising catheter operations and purposely hiding failures. Anything to make them look bad so that the audience can cheer for Team Dragon again. I can understand the writer going a different route for season 3. He probably didn't want to rehash the previous 2 seasons with formation of new Team Dragon and difficult operation every episode but the writer left out important elements of the formula which made the series so fun to watch, namely the coming together of a team and the simple feel good cool doctors doing impossible operations with evil Noguchi sneering in the background.

edit: Just watched ep 5. Really nice ending that got me pumped up for ep 6. Looks like the series may be taking a very foreseeable turn way too early in ep 7 but I think I know where this is going to lead.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Chase eps 2-6

Chase is an awesome show about revenge. Well, technically its not revenge since Murakumo wasn't really responsible for the airplane accident but Haruma needed someone to hate and blame for the incident. Not to mention that Murakumo is his professional nemesis. I'm glad the writer put that line in there because it also explains Haruma's daughter being so spiteful towards her father. After all she lost her mother and has all the while wondered why her mother would stick by a husband who continuously neglected his family.

The stories in Chase are so fun to watch. Ep 2 deals with smuggling money as jewelry out of the country and things don't go according to plan. Ep 3 is about Haruma's former colleague who has now defected to the other side. Ep 4 we finally start to see Murakumo's plan and one of Haruma's colleagues gets in trouble when his one past moral lapse in judgment is exposed. Ep 5 is when Murakumo's plans finally come to fruition.

A lot of the stories serve to show the difficult moral high ground that Haruma has to stand in order to do his job. While the audience may find him a bit bland, he has to be this man of principle because if he were not, he would be like his former sempai in ep 3 or his colleague who's past came back to haunt him. We have the side story of Murakumo befriending Haruma and when Haruma despairs, Murakumo is there telling him to direct his anger towards the world just as Murakumo is doing. Its like the devil saying, "the world is not fair, why should you be fair to the world?".

I love all this subtext. The characters are mirrors of each other with the difference being different circumstances influencing their actions. Murakumo is the classic villain trying to prove that the only difference between him and the hero is a bad incident but he does it without having some lame and too obvious monologue.

Then we get to the last episode and strangely, I didn't enjoy it much. Chase had so far been a thriller/cat and mouse series between tax inspector and tax evader. The tension and excitement of Murakumo executing his plan and Haruma hot on his heels. In the end Murakumo succeeds but fucking self destructs because he is too fucked up by his past and does not know how to deal with it. It becomes a Greek tragedy with Japanese cliches such as the protagonist reaching out to help the villain understand blah blah zzzzzzzz.

The twist is awesome and clearly Murakumo is a much more developed character and his self destruction makes sense but there was no excitement. Actually the tragedy is not really the problem. What happened to Murakumo was a tragedy of epic proportions. The main problem is that there is no final chase in the end. It was handed to Haruma on a silver platter. Who wants to see a hero finally triumph over the villain just because the villain is too screwed up by his past and doesn't know how to enjoy his hard work? It has be a challenge of high difficulty otherwise the protagonist is not a hero and the writer might as well have reduced Haruma's role and spent more time on Murakumo.

I want to declare Chase as a must watch show but the final episode is what I will always remember about this show. I think the writer just fell so in love with Murakumo's tragic past that it consumed most of ep 6 and left nothing for the other aspects of the series. Still, the first five episodes are bloody brilliant and I would not hesitate to recommend them. Just temper your expectation towards the end.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Nagareboshi eps 1+2

Wow. I can't remember the last Ueto Aya jdorama where its freaking obvious that she was miscast. Probably Attention Please? In Nagareboshi she plays Risa who is forced to prostitute herself in order to pay off her brother's debt. This is perfect casting for Ueto Aya because she has to wear sailor fuku for her job and she looks just like a high school girl instead of a 25 year old woman.

Ueto Aya playing a prostitute and all we get is a massage scene??!!

The brown hair and slightly unkempt look in Nagareboshi actually makes her look 20+ instead of a teen. So Risa's working to pay off debts when her evil brother played by Inagaki Goro comes back into her life and causes havoc. Just when she pays off his debts, he destroys her love life and gets her back in money trouble.

Someone needs to make an Ore no imouto konani kawaii ga nai jdorama.

Kengo (Takenouchi Yutaka) works in an aquarium, has a cute sister played by Kitano Kii like all Japanese dudes have and is about to get married Minako (Itaya Yuka). One day, Kengo's sister Maria collapses and it is discovered that her liver is fucked and she can only live for a year unless she finds a donor. Kengo and mom were not suitable to be donors and they furiously try to convince relatives to donote to no avail. Then we find out that there's a rule in Japan whereby donors must be relatives as to prevent people from paying for organs. Either that or hope enough organ donors die so Maria's turn on the list can come up.

Flashback to Koukou Kyoushi 2003. 7 years and she hasn't changed much.

Minako doesn't find out about Maria's illness until later and is asked to donate her liver if she is compatible. She consults with her parents who of course objects to it. I have no idea what the side effects of liver donation are but I am happy to accept it as it is a necessary plotline for the premise of the story. Kengo, who is running out of options saves the suicidal Risa and offers to pay her debts in exchange for her marrying him so she can donate her liver to Maria.

Are Japanese siblings always this close?

So the basic story of Nagareboshi is Risa going from prostitute to selling her kidneys in a sham marriage. So far I'm liking it because its more serious and darker than those sham marriage turn to love kmovies. The bright and happy Maria in hospital part with Matsuda Shota as her doctor and the kansai-ben guy I don't particularly care for cause its a bit too bright and happy and Matsuda Shota does not make a convincing doctor. Tanihara Shosuke should have been the doctor in this one instead of the sleep inducing Mioka.

So where does Nagareboshi go from here? Goro will continue to be the torn in Risa's backside and there will be some lame redemption scene for him at the end. The doctor will suspect and find out about Kengo and Risa's sham marriage and we'll have our ethical conundrum of the series. The synopsis mentions Kengo's dark secret so I'm looking forward to that. Overall, I'm pretty happy with the first two episodes of Nagareboshi. Not must watch but certainly full of promise.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Nihonjin no Shiranai Nihongo eps 5-12

After coming to terms with the fact that this wasn't going to be the second coming of 'Mind your Language', I found myself enjoying this series. Sure, sometimes I couldn't really understand the language stuff they were talking about (the show is after all aimed at Japanese) but most of the stuff is pretty interesting. My favourite episode would have to be episode 7 about the gaijin hunter chick. Come to think of it, this is the first time I've really seen the issue of gaijin hunters being explored in a jdorama.

Of course gaijin are rarely cast as even supporting characters in jdoramas. Most of the time, its just a small cameo and make the actor look like he is overseas and can actually speak English. The only supporting gaijin character I can remember is Alan from Hagetaka. Doramas always do social commentary on stuff like hikkikomori, enjyou kousai etc but Japanese attitudes towards gaijin and the challenges that gaijin face in Japan is not something you often see. 

Episode 9 was pretty fun though you've gotta feel for poor Takasu sensei. Although he is Haruko's tormentor, he's not a bully and their exchanges are always entertaining. The rest of the episodes are just average though. I was eagerly anticipating Kinrei's story but unfortunately, her story is not what I was expecting.

The last episode is typical formulaic teacher jdorama fare. Teacher quits, students want teacher back, we get flashbacks to all the episodes with the theme song running in the background, blah blah. Its formulaic because it works and I've grown fond of the students and Catherine sensei. :)

Nihonjin no shiranai nihongo is not as entertaining as it could have been but it brings something fresh and different to the tired maverick teacher genre. If you have interest in the language and want to see a bit of social commentary on foreigners in Japan, I'd recommend this show. Nihonjin no Shiranai Nihongo has interesting content but the execution is lacking in ambition.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Shukumei 1969-2010 eps 1-6

 Arikawa Takahashi (Kitamura Kazuki) is a rising star in the finance ministry and has huge political goals. His family, or more specifically his mother runs 50 hospitals and is willing to give Takahashi the financial resources needed to achieve his dreams. As fate would have it, he receives an omiai offer for the daughter of Shiroi Shinichiro, head of the policy department. Shinichiro is in trouble because his brother in law's construction company who backs him up with funds is in deep financial turmoil and one needs money to play politics.

WTF is wrong with more than 2?

It seems like a match made in heaven except that Takahashi has previously in a 10 year relationship with Nobuko, (Eiko Koike) who takes the relationship very seriously and cannot accept the fact that Takahashi is entering into a political marriage. Shukumei starts off as a political marriage dorama with the crazy ex lurking in the shadows. At the end of episode 2 however, we get to the main reveal of the show: that Takahashi and his fiancee Naoko (Uehara Misa) are in fact siblings!

Oooooo, Fujii Mina saying rude things...

Yes, Shukumei is a story of politics and incest. The 1969-2010 refers to the beginning of the story when Takahashi's mom Arikawa Mina and Shinichiro were lovers during the student protests. The first thing I would have expected Mina to do when she discovered was to rush to Takahashi's apartment and tell him not to fuck his sister. However, she just tells him that she is against the marriage because of Shinichiro's precarious financial position because she does not want to reveal her past as a student activist where she used a false name and was imprisoned. She doesn't have good parenting skills because obviously kids never do what their parents tell them to.

There's only one reason Koike Eiko has a career and he's staring at them.

The most interesting part of the show for me was Shinichiro's reactions to finding out his future son in law was his son. He may have been horrified at the truth but Takahashi marrying his daughter was vital to his continued political survival. After all Naoko was basically the pawn in a political marriage. I think there was a hint of pride in discovering that he had a son who was not only successful but also wanted to him into the political world. I think the siblings creating deformed babies was the furthest thing from his mind.

I quite enjoyed all the tension in Shukumei. Takahashi and Naoko trying to deal with the Nobuko problem. Takahashi's bewilderment at his mother's sudden and seemingly irrational objection to the marriage. Shinichiro having to decide between career and family. The Prime Minister trying to buy over the construction company supporting Shinichiro. Takahashi having to appease his superiors in finance. And finally Mina, using Nobuko to drive a wedge between Takahashi and Naoko. I only wish that Fujii Mina had a more developed role than just playing the sounding board sister for Naoko.

I know there's a disproportionate number of Fujii Mina screencaps but everything else just looks... unattractive.

So far its been a good 6 episodes with Takahashi finally realising the horrible truth at the end of ep 6. Personally, if I found out that Fujii Mina were my sister, I'd be very happy. The bigger question is what happens next. The incest plot has slowly taken over all the political stuff and usually with this type of shows, it either ends with they are not really related ending or one of them has to die.

If you like your political doramas as I do with the heavy spicing up of the story with an incest storyline, Shukumei 1969-2010 is for you. I can't really rate this show as a must watch yet because its all dependent on the ending and who knows what might happen.