Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Jin season 2 eps 1+2

Jin is back, or rather the story of Jin's time-slip adventures in Edo continues! Jin puts a nice spin on the Dr Blackjack/Iryu super surgeon formula by making him more of a MacGuyver in feudal Japan. It was fun watching him try to perform surgeries with limited tools and cure diseases that we take for granted today. The endearing triangle love story with Saki (Ayase Haruka) and Nokaze (Mizuno Miki) was fun to watch as well. The guy who stole the show was of course Uchino Masaaki as Sakamoto Ryoma. Jin is one of those rare jdoramas that took an interesting concept and managed not to fuck it up by miring itself in mediocrity. It probably helps that all the characters had passed puberty so they could cast people who could actually act. Thank the jdorama gods that they didn't decide to make Jin some 18 year old looking kid who had somehow done his medical degree and years of practical training to become a surgeon. *cough* Code Blue *cough*.

Season 2 is more of a continuation of the story, rather than a sequel. The mystery of how Jin got into the time slip, the connection with the baby fetus and the identity of the man in bandages have yet to be solved. The one storyline that I am most looking forward to is whether Jin will be able to save Sakamoto Ryoma from his demise. I love the Shinsengumi taiga dorama and am looking forward to see the story from Ryoma and Jin's perspective.

Episode brings us up to speed with Jin's story and he is presented with a new problem to tackle in Edo; beriberi caused by eating only rice and thus the lack of vitamin B1. Jin's solution was the introduction of donuts into Japan! Its a shame that meat was scarce in those days of he could have introduced Burger King or even better, KFC! He starts selling donuts which apparently sold like hotcakes but his clinic Jinyu-do was still broke. Were they selling the donuts without making profits or were the ingredients so expensive that the regular people would be priced out? How are the other doctors of Jinyu-do surviving without a salary? Jin clearly said that Jinyu-do would make money from selling donuts to the imperial house, is it because they could then charge them a premium?

The above question don't really bother me because the whole purpose of the story about Jinyu-do's financial troubles is basically to have Saki pawn of all her valuable to keep the clinic afloat, thus giving her a role and purpose early in the series. I'm happy to see Nokaze back in the series but at the same time, she needs something to do since she's no longer flirting with Jin.

When the idea that Jin would present the donuts to the Imperial Princess and he might become doctor to the Ooku came up, I saw brilliant flashes of how Jin could be the greates harem jdorama set in the Edo era! He's already got the innocent but disowned daughter of a samurai family living with him as well as a former Oiran. Now he might possibly be getting access to the Shogun's own personal harem!? Could Jin be on the beck and call of several thousand women who live in the Ooku and the only guy they probably have contact to would be the Shogun? The infinite story possibilities.

At least it will make up for Jin not having relations with either Saki or Nokaze. He's been there two years and he has not done it with either of them which is just completely illogical. Unless of course he's worried about STDs and is unable to make condoms. I am pretty sure having sex with other women in a time period where his girfriend has not existed does not constitute cheating. Plus the only way to ensure Miki exists in the future is for Jin to be her great x 6 grandfather.

There is also this question of how long Jin would remain in this Era. After the end of episode one, I think the answer is clear as long as he stays away for climbing trees and falling down stairs. If he had been smart, he should have dragged Shozan sensei's body from the fire and done and cut open his brain to see if he had the fetus tumour.

On a serious note, the first two episodes have been awesome. Jin gets to interact more with history and season two doesn't feel like a mere rehash of the original series. They've kept up the standard from the first season and how good Jin will ultimately be rests in the ending. I have not read the manga since there is no scanlation so hopefully it is a good one. Please excuse me while I go throw myself off the stairs. On second though, Australia in the 1800s won't be fun place to be.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Jmovie review: 13 Assassins / Jusannin no Shikaku

Takashi Miike is probably the most famous of Japanese directors among western Jmovie fans like me but at the same time probably the most polarizing. Yatterman was crap, Crows Zero 2 was boring and Zebraman 2 parodied all that was good in the first movie. On the other hand he made Ichi the Killer, Gozu, Zebraman, Sun Scarred and Audition, 5 movies I really enjoyed. Watching a Miike movie is like high stakes gambling, either you're gonna get a classic or you just end up wishing some producer would be powerful enough to rein him in.

13 Assassins received a lot of good reviews from festival screenings the world over. Phrases like Miike's best movie and Miike's Kurosawa got me really excited. Ater all, I think Miike works best when he is constrained by a script and not allowed to run loose. What better way to limit Miike than a remake of samurai movie?

The first half of the movie is fucking awesome. Koji Yakusho probably most well known from Shall we Dansu? plays Shinzaemon, a samurai who is tasked with getting rid of the half brother of the Shogun played wonderfully by Inagaki Goro. I would never have thought that guy could play a decent villain after watching his horrible performance in Nagareboshi. This is a revenge movie and like Sun Scarred Miike does a masterful job of making the audience want to see Goro get his comeuppance. It helps that Goro is happy to get his hands dirty and truly make his portrayal of Lord Naritsuga such a despicable character. Miike limits his reputable use of gore and blood in the first half to good effect. I've always said less is more and when you use less at the best time, it has a much stronger effect.

First half is about Shinzaemon gathering his 13 Assassin to kill Goro and Miike does an admirable job of letting the audience know them with of course the main characters getting more screen time. What drives this first half is mostly the desire to see them succeed and the difficulty of killing the Shogun's half brother who is guarded by 70 men.

Shinzaemon and co make a stand at a village and I'm getting ready for what reviews call 40 minutes of superb non-stop action. Then we find out Goro called for reinforcements and now our 13 Assassins have to kill 200 people in order to get to him. 200 people? Really? 70 I can buy. One assassin just needs to kill 5.4 baddies. With 200, its 15.4 people per assassin. Numerical, its not that tall of an order for action movie heroes accept this is 200 people at the same time. Of course, they set traps such as setting crappy cg bulls on fire and huge sliding gates which can magically shut. Not to mention wasting explosives on blowing up a house when they can easily bury it in the ground and blow the legs of 50 people after herding the baddies to the spot. Still, the good guys manage to reduce 200 baddies to 130 after shooting at them with arrows from the roof. Somehow, it never occurred to the Assassins to prepare at least a couple of thousand arrows so they don't need to fight the 130 in hand to hand combat. Still, I can still accept 13 excellent swordsman taking out 10 unskilled peons before they die.

The second half is bloody, violent but way too incoherent. 7 samurai worked because it was 7 guys against a small band of bandits. To tell the story of a fight between 13 dudes against 130 that makes sense requires masterful visual story telling such as a sweeping eagle's view of the village fight to see how the forces are divided and conquered. They've got a built in explanation in that most people in that peaceful era don't really know how to fight with swords but the execution of the fight just felt so haphazard and quickly went downhill after the excellent 'minna koroshi' scene which reminds the audience what the 13 Assassins was fighting for.

To make matters worse, the 13 would need to kill 10 people each to finish off the remaining 130. There are fight scenes where it seems like one dude would kill at least that number so shouldn't the fight have been over in 10 minutes since it took some time before the first assassin feel? Unless of course the guy who mentioned that there were 130 baddies left purposely threw a smaller to give his mates some courage and there are actually 500 which it looked like there were 500 during the final battle. We should have seen quickly dwindling numbers and baddies in great fear 3 minutes into the fight as the 13 Assassins have divided the main force. If you were 1 of 130 baddies, sure you would be confident but if 13 assassins took out 5 people each in the first 3 minutes, 65 people less would be very noticeable especially with the baddies split up and fighting the 13 on separate fronts.

To me, the greatest sin that Miike did in 13 Assassins is the same for all his crap movies; over indulging himself in whatever he wanted to do. In Ryu ga gotoku, he loved the Majima character so much that the main story was a forgotten footnote. In Zebraman 2, he decided instead of continuing to be a homage to tokusatsu, he decided to parody the homage and reduce it to meaningless crap. In 13 Assassins, he got so caught up with making it an uphill battle of 13 vs 200 people that he turned it into a repetitive fight of 13 vs 500. I actually just realised why the fight sequence didn't work for me while skimming it while writing this review. Editing even 5 minutes out of it would have done wonders. The overlong death scenes didn't help either.

Yup, Geronimo plays a spear wielding dude with a funny reason for joining the band.

If you like the Lone Wolf and cub movies where its just 1 man killing 50, 13 Assassins is for you. The manga on the other hand is more about the story and the fight is just an afterthought. If you like fight scenes that have to make a bit of sense and tell a good story, prepare to be bored. I can't fault Miike for lack of effort but he got too enthusiastic about the final fight and didn't realise his 13 men had actually killed 500 in the movie. I'm actually interested to watch the original to see whether they succeeded in doing the fight. Despite the brilliance of the first half, 13 Assassins is not even close to the classic 7 samurai.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Jdorama ramblings 18/4/11

School!! eps 8+9

I've already said my piece about why this show is the surprise of last season and deserves to be seen here and here. All that is left is the ending and does the writing deliver for the last episode! It is a succession of climaxes for all the stories built up during the course of the series with of course set backs to the main story; a formula that few doramas do properly. Doramas are all about payoffs for (usually) 10 episode build-ups and the final episode is most satisfying. The only complaint I have is that Eguchi Yosuke's final speech is way too long but it doesn't detract from the fact that the finish of School!! is exciting and well done.

Bravo to Hata Takehiko, the writer of Dragon Zakura. Out of all his doramas that I have seen, this is only his second one that I have liked. I dropped Joshi Deka, Hanayome no Yakudoshi and Unfair really quickly so I might be tempted to try them if I can finish all my movies and games. Definitely check it out.

Kita no Kuni Kara

I'm going to save my thoughts until the subbing of the series has ended with 3 more episodes to gobecause I'm going to run out of superlatives to describe this dorama. However, I am saddened by the fact that not enough people are watching this! The latest subs are sitting at less than 100 downloads which means that people have dropped the series! How can the subs for Lady have 3k downloads and Kita no Kuni Kara less than 100? As d-addicts, we have a responsibility to pimp shows like this to the masses who somehow enjoy watching doramas featuring 'beautiful' people in horrible stories.

853 eps 1+2

Low budget police show featuring renegade cop vs his stick by the rules superior. Like 99% of Japanese cop shows, its got a slight comedic and unrealistic bent but the thing that really gets to me is this police computer system that spits of information as if its an A.I. complete with cute voice. I know that Japanese like their police shows set in an anime world but surely a line must be drawn at realistic information gathering? Low budget means low expectations but some things cannot be overlooked.


Surprisingly, this dorama is being subbed and I did a review of it here. Long story short, its a very fun action dorama that manages to look more than its budget but is ultimately killed by its trying to be too smart twist. I still had fun and its recommended if you're looking for something different.

Marks no Yama ep 2

Its so good that the excruciating wait is pure torture! I am so tempted to watch it raw but I don't want to miss out on the investigation details! Wait for the subbing to finish before watching and you'll have one of the most glorious 5 hours of your life.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Spring 2011 Jdoramas

The jdorama subs are slowing down so lets look ahead at what shows await us.


Part two of the big budget dorama from 2009 that actually met expectations. Of course it helps that Jin had a cast who could actually act with Osawa Takao, Ayase Haruka, Nakatani Miki and of course Uchino Masaaki as Sakamoto Ryoma. Masaaki's Ryoma was so good that I just couldn't bear watching Fukuyama Masaharu's stilted portrayal of Ryoma in Ryoma den. The first season left many questions unanswered so while the doctor from future in Edo part is still going to be fun, they better have a good explanation for that baby.


Katagori Shingo, Kuroki Meisa and Fujiki Naohito in a dorama about a marriage consultant who falls for the girl he sets up. In terms of acting ability, this show doesn't have it but its by the writer of Dosokai, Pandora and Good Luck! so my prediction is it'll probably be a watchable show.


I love wrestling and the last time Ichikawa Yui showed she had something was in H2. Don't know why the fuck they have a Korean dude in this show, but he's playing a referee. I'll definitely give it a shot though. Daughter taking over dad's puroresu organisation has potential for lots of funny and interesting stories involving different personalities and wrestlers trying to put a match together. I expect to see stories involving wrestlers refusing to job, calling a match on the fly and of course working a match injured.


Based on a Korean novel about a workaholic dad who connects with his son only to learn that his son has leukemia, something 50% of characters in Kdramas have. I want to see GTO be in a good show, something that can make use of his charisma but this is not it. Solely aimed at viewers who love crying at crude and over-sentimental storylines.


Nagatsuka Kyozo as a judge who now has to deal with his family problems as his wife as passed away. Its got the lovely Mimura and most importantly, its by Ozaki Masaya, the writer of Shiroi Haru, Love Generation, Tadano Hitoshi and the classic KDO!! No other spring dorama deserves to be subbed more than this! Expect lots of witty conversations and interesting characters. This dorama needs to be subbed!


WTF are they making a sequel to such a horrible make believe cop show which could have had a good ending had they the balls to go dark. If you like police shows that don't make sense and characters that act like they are in an anime, this show is for you. The fact that Boss won so many awards is a testament to how pathetic the critics of jdorama are.


A dorama about the lives of 5 hot moms. The only negative thing I can say is that I hate watching the anorexic Kimura Yoshino on screen. There's a 99% chance this show is going to be about all their lives in upheaval, they'll all get stronger, nothing really dark and serious happens and we get a meh ending.


Daughter gets mom to be surrogate mother. Interesting concept and its got Kuninaka Ryoko who will hopefully get to stretch her acting ability. Should be worth checking out but sadly its not going to subbed.

I know there are a few more doramas but they don't deserve your attention for very obvious reasons. My excitement is mostly for Jin and if Kozoku Hotei is not subbed then I'll have to make do with a HK subbed dvd.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Youkame no semi ep 5

As I said in my review of eps 1-5, my biggest problem with Youkame no semi is that there can be no justification for child-napping unless its like Mother where the kid was getting abused and the authorities are slow to act. No matter how nice Kiwako is and how much she bonds with Kaoru/Erina, it is a relationship born of deception.

Ep 5 starts off by delving into an interesting part of the story, the difficulty of Kaoru/Erina integrating back into her family that she never really knew. Its like someone who was raised by society of zealots having to learn to live in modern society. This of course creates a lot of tension for Erina's mother who missed out on 5 years of her daughters life and now had to learn to connect with her daughter who had been raised by someone else.

Kaoru's mom is the interesting character here because she has been yearning for her daughter but in front of her stands a stranger. A child speaking with an island accent who has no bond with her beyond blood. Ultimately, the show is about Erina as she slowly regains her memories of her five years with Kiwako. Her happy childhood that she suppressed because she needed to hate Kiwako in order to make sense of her life.

Kiwako meanwhile is just a delusional woman who is so hung up about her five years with Erina. She has nothing to live for and her only source of happiness is found in her past. I thought the ending was appropriate but at the same time I just wonder what the point of Youkame no semi is? Erina coming to terms with her hatred for Kiwako? To show the audience how pitiful Kiwako is? Erina's mother doesn't get enough screen time to be called a major player. I just cannot see what the build up and purpose of Youkame no Semi is.

At the same time, I can't really hate it. Usually when something is as horrible as Taisetsu na koto, I watch with a lot of fast forwarding. With Youkame no semi, I paid attention to the whole show probably cause the acting was good but also trying to figure out how to appreciate the story. Storyline wise, its kidnapping dorama where the villain is portrayed as the heroine of a run away show. The only real tension and build up in the dorama is the anticipated 'reunion' of Erina and Kiwako which didn't give any real closure.

At the end of 5 episodes, I just could not find anything about Youkame no semi to latch onto. I think its some sort of emotional connection that probably only women can feel towards Kiwako. I'm interested to know what others have gotten out of this dorama.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Taisetsu na Koto wa Subete Kimi ga Oshiete Kureta eps 3-6

WTF didn't you say so 5 episodes earlier?

It was pretty obvious that Shuji didn't do Hikari since the audience never saw even a glimpse of the alleged incident. The fact that Natsumi found out at the end of episode 2 and the secret was revealed in ep 4 meant that the writer has plans for this show, namely the predictable I have become stronger/mature speech so prevalent in jdoramas, movies and of course anime. It is now established that Taisetsu na Koto is not a fling dorama. The teacher-student affair was just a hook to start the show

However, the fake affair has taken 6 episodes to cover so its important to look closer at it with the revelations in ep 5.So Hikari who has hormone problems and doesn't have breasts dresses up in her dead sister's clothes and goes out and has sex with a random stranger. She then meets a very drunk Shuji, goes home with him and sleeps together in his bed. She blackmails him into believing that they had sex probably cause she likes him and would rather that be the truth than her sleeping with a stranger. So far so good.

Hikari then proceeds to make life a living hell for Shuji and Natsumi, tormenting the poor engaged couple and going so far as to send the picture to Natsumi. There is a big line between wanting to believe in a fantasy to cover her guilt and breaking up an engagement over something that never actually happened. Hikari is a psychotic girl who somehow feels a sense of possession towards Shuji while relishing in her powers to cause misery on others. Imagine if a male student did the same to Natsumi. What Hikari did was pure and simply evil. Hormone problems, divorced parents and a flat chest are no excuse for this spiteful little girl.

What does Mr nice-guy, Shuji do? Decides to come clean and leaves his fate to everyone else because he 'has no right' after what he has done. Actually I thought this was the most interesting part of the Shuji relationship was the most interesting, notwithstanding their lack of chemistry. She loves him but hates the fact that he always chooses the 'right thing' without seeking her input. I suppose what the writer is trying to do is for the fake affair to expose the relationship as superficial. However, this fails because of two things.

Yes, please.

Firstly, the Shuji guy is not the right actor for this job. He cannot emote with his eyes. He is such a deer in the headlights that they have to spell out his thoughts and emotions for him. Playing Shuji requires soulful and kind eyes. Eyes that can show pain and guilt and I can't really think of any young jdorama actor today who can do that well. An example would be Akai Hidekazu from Koukou Kyoushi 1993 who played the PE teacher. I remember watching an interview of one of the actresses who said that he had such gentle eyes that when acting with him it was so easy to cry.

The second thing is Shuji paying a lot of attention to Hikari with his lame 'she's got no one to support her' excuse to Natsumi.Which idiot in their right mind would throw away Toda Erika for a flat chested girl who purposefully made his life a living hell???!!! Sounds like Stockholm Syndrome to me. I am not really against this part of the storyline but it just feels artificial, too forced and the dialogue too wooden. Again it all boils down to acting and chemistry issues.

Wish she had told me that before I started watching.

What I am against is the Natsumi pregnant storyline. Surprise pregnancy is a plot tool usually done to further create conflicts in relationships but in this case its Natsumi wanting to keep a baby, be a single mother and learn to be strong blah blah blah. I couldn't care less and it just makes me bored. While the dorama is hinting at something more between Shuji and Natsumi, the introduction the megane dude who likes Natsumi makes the ending clear. Koukou Kyoushi this is not. What Taisetu na Koto is remains to be seen but the first half of the series has not been entertaining.

Forgot to mention two things that bothered me. First is Nishimura Masahiko's answer to the tomboy in ep 6 why teachers and students shouldn't fall in love. I can't fucking believe that the best answer the teacher gave was that it would be unfair on the other students because a teacher should give equal amounts of attention to all his/her students! What about things like abuse of role that gives teachers a lot of power over students? What about the fact that students are underaged anyway and is a crime? Seriously, WTF is the writer smoking? Is Taisetsu na Koto a fantasy shoujo romance or a realistic dorama?

It is pretty hard to forget shows horrible shows like Bloody Monday...

Second thing, school finds out about Shuji and they continue to let him teach so that he 'learns about the effects of what he has done to the students and his fiancee'? Is the writer trying to draw some parallel between the school and Catholic church or something? What about suspending Shuji pending and investigation or even a police report? Shouldn't someone be interrogating Shuji and Hikari to get the facts of the matter so that the school can make an informed decision?