Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Jmovie review: Kita no Kanariatachi

Look at that cast! The Lady Joker duo, Moteki, Mitsushima Hikari, Miyazaki Aoi and Matsuda Ryuhei. The talent alone is crazy but Kita no Kanariatachi proves that at the end of the day talent can elevate a script but can't save it. The story is 20 years ago in a small town in Hokkaido, something happened and this teacher played by Yoshinaga Sayuri left the place.

One day, the cops come knocking at the teacher's door because one of the students got involved in a murder and she goes back and connects with each of the 5 students as the movie very slowly reveals what actually happened 20 years ago.

Sounds pretty interesting but the execution is lacking. Main reason is that whoever wrote this tried to force feed soap opera stories about each of the students while I was impatiently waiting for the main mystery to get going. Think your typical soap cliches and you'll find them here but it harms the pacing because of the lack of time. If this were a six episode series it might work but as a 2 hour movie, there is no time to build the characters and relationships up.

Its like the writer decided to do a soapie story every twenty minutes while dripping in bits of the main story. I was so close to stopping halfway. The only thing I enjoyed from this was the singing from the kids, especially some classic jpop songs. One of those tried too hard to be touching movies that it left me cold and hating it. I think Kita no Kanariatachi would have benefited from not having to spell things out so obviously in regards to the students' stories.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Dandarin eps 1-3

The many reasons why I loved the first two episodes of Dandarin:

1. Danda Rin is not an idealistic protagonist but rather an uncompromising labour standards inspector.

2. The show also talks about the negative repercussions of actions such as workers getting let go if they are identified as the whistle blower. Danda Rin is also aware of the possible effects but does it anyway.

3. Very socially relevant. I'm sure a lot of us have heard horror stories about working hours and restrictive leave conditions in Japan.

4. Danda Rin's colleague's don't hate her for no reason and are not inept but rather comfortable in the public service culture which the show makes fun of. Its not like without Danda Rin they would not be doing their jobs. Its just she's super proactive. The show doesn't ignore the fact that they already have their hands full without Danda Rin's special projects but it doesn't emphasize that as well.

5. Morning exercises are funny.... and probably true.

6. So many funny public servant lines such as 'the budget is our lifeline!'

7. Arguing about trivial issues in meetings.

8. Making fun of police doramas where the cast walk in a straight line trying to hard to look cool. That had me rofl.

9. Prosecution not wanting to take difficult cases and police not wanting to deal with minor white collar crimes and how Labour Standards people got them to help, lol. Not that you can blame them. Japan is a country where unpaid overtime and working weekends is normal.

10. Having to have an omiai with mothra to protect the chief's image.

11. John Romita Sr 70s style comic art intro to emphasis Danda Rin as a super hero and the old style marching woman woman.

12. Great cast. So happy to have a good Takeuchi Yuko show which Strawberry Night was not. Funny how the walking in straight line trying to look cool parody is exactly why Strawberry Night sucks.

Truer words have never been spoken.

13. The boss always says public servants shouldn't do this or that and a lot of it is true. Like if a teacher gets caught for drink driving, he can get fired etc.

14. Tied into what was previously mentioned, Danda Rin faces some difficult decisions like in ep 3 and I like that the show acknowledges both sides of the argument.


Not enthused the teacher from Gekiryuu is in this show as a lawyer who has Danda Rin pictures as her screensaver. However Gekiryuu made everyone in it look like a bad actor. The writer did School!, Dragon Zakura and Last Present. Hope the quality of the writing continues to be good.


Brilliant super hero cum parody dorama. As a public servant, I just find so many of the lines absolutely witty and hilarious.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Kagi no nai Yume wo Miru

Kagi no nai Yume wo Miru is a series of 5 short stories built around the title which translate to me as dreams without a key. 5 women with dreams that don't go exactly as planned or something like that.

EPISODE 1 (Karashina Kana)

Nice girl meets rich kid who has big impossible dreams and she falls in love. Nice girl faces reality and abandons her dreams but still has a thing for the dreamer. The good thing is we have a couple of sex scenes and love hotel action. The bad thing is its basically about a girl in love with a hopeless dude and I didn't care about the dream part.

EPISODE 2 (Narumi Riko)

Domestic violence episode. At this point I'm thinking is this series about nice girls and their abusive boyfriends? The first quarter was pretty funny with a nice dose of dark humour and the three friends competing sexually but I didn't really care about the story after that.

EPISODE 3 (Kimura Tae)

Now this is the dark humour story I want. Insurance woman investigates fire and interesting and funny stuff happens. We get to hear Kimura Tae's thoughts and she plays such an interesting character. Recommended.

EPISODE 4 (Takanashi Rin)

OMG, really good episode. I recommend everyone just watch this story of friendship. Its a flashback story about Takanashi Rin's character Michiru and a transfer student. Rumours start about around about transfer student's mom and usually in jdoramas, its just gossip but in this story, it turns out to be true. The interesting thing is that the mothers still allow their daughters to be friends with the transfer student. Quiet a change from the 'you are related to a criminal so you must be bad' thing we usually see.

I love the scene where Michiru faces the intruder and then realises that she was the only one who didn't know. Not to forget when Michiru catches the transfer student doing what her mom does. Transfer student not acknowledging her. The sudden ending got me pissed off at the beginning but after thinking about it, its very appropriate. Not because of the uncertainty but the emphasis their friendship and their failures to acknowledge each other in the past.

I can easily see them tacking on half and hour on this and turning it into a great movie. All the episodes are 50 minutes but this felt the longest in that so much happens and you can't summaries it in one sentence.

Before I had heard of the word ahiru guchi, I knew it as the Hirosue Ryoko smile.

EPISODE 5 (Hirosue Ryoko)

Mom desperate wants a kid, gets kid but kid won't stop crying. ZZzzzz.


What would have made the series better is if the stories were sort of linked. Doesn't have to be in a meaningful way but more than just hearing about the previous story in the news. Just watch ep 3 and 4. If you like love hotel action, then eps 1 and 2 are for you.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Looking at Fall 2013 Jdoramas



WOWOW Police and conspiracy show with Omori Nao, Tanaka Rena, Mimura and Kinpachi sensei? Hopefully this will help Tanaka Rena forget she was ever in that abomination Gekiryuu. Please be good. Please be good. Please be good.


Just realised this show is finished. Look at that cast. Downloading now and can't wait to watch.



Funny concept of island hopping doctor who falls in love easily. Its got Matsuda Shota and Arakawa Yoshiyoshi. The bad thing is that its got Takei Emi who brought down the Kenshin movie with her unnecessary monologue.


A dorama about making games? Not something you see everyday. Could be very interesting depending on the script.


Reasons to watch - Tabe Makiko + Mimura + writer wrote Last Present and Lunch no Joou and Detroit Metal City
Reasons not to watch - Kame + writer wrote Buzzer Beater


Takeuchi Yuko + show about Japanese workplace practices? Could be interesting. I want to see it deal with Japanese doing unpaid overtime and not being able to take more than a few days or at most a week off work.


When I see Kitagawa Keiko, I am instantly reminded of Lady. That show marked a new low in stupidity for spy jdoramas. The preview for Dokushin Kizoku does give off the vibe of three KDO like characters getting together. There's a possibility it could be a Nojima Shinki style smart and funny show. The writer also wrote Koi ni Ochitara and Unfair so can't really tell. Might be watchable but I would not bet on it.



Kimutaku hasn't been responsible for any show being decent since Pride (I still can't get over what he did to Karei Naru Ichizoku) and Suspect X would have been perfect without Shibasaki Kou. From the writer that brought us the Keizoku series and Yanpapa. The only way it could work if its as quirky as Keizoku and Kimutaku stops playing himself. These two have no goodwill from me to want to find out.


She can't act and doesn't have screen presence, wtf is she still getting pushed?

3. 49

WTF!!!!! Why is Nojima Shinji writing this? Either he must need money badly or someone's got pictures of him with an AKB48 girl. Dead father possessing son's body could be funny if the show doesn't look an idol promotion. On second thought, this should not be subbed because I cringe at the thought of watching basketball in jdoramas because its not a sport you can fake. I checked the Japanese wiki just to be sure. WOWOW, what are you doing? Surely you can pay Nojima Shinji double for whatever he's making to write this? Just had a look at the CM and no way this can good. Nojima Shinji WTF?


Couldn't finish the first series and I'm sick of Sakai Masato's overacting although in this case its appropriate since its a comedy. Legal show that's less about law and more about sentimental parables, no thanks.


This show lost me at 'Despite the heartrending pain he has been through, he still tries to believe in people. The look in his eyes unsettles criminals and gains the trust of tight-lipped parties involved in cases.'


I love legs as much as any guy but this is getting ridiculous. Obviously legs rate well enough in Japan.


Gourike Ayame as a detective? Um, how old is she? Old enough for police cadet school but detective? Next thing you know, Ueto Aya will be playing a police detective.


I like the supporting cast and would give it a try if it were an NHK or WOWOW show. Lol at Moriyama's gangster hair.


WTF. WTF decided she could act?

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Pan to Soup to Neko Biyori Eps 1+2

Just when I was thinking WOWOW needs to branch out from doing ensemble cover up doramas, we have something very different. Pan to Soup to Neko Biyori is director Matsumoto Kana's third work after Mother Water and Tokyo Oasis both of which I have yet to watch although Tokyo Oasis has been sitting in my list of movies to watch for some time. Sigh, I need to take one month off and just binge on my backlog of jmovies and KFC. It seems like Matsumoto Kana is a director of good repute and she's got a two actors who are always in her shows; Kobayashi Satomi and Kase Ryo.

Pan to Soup to Neko Biyori is a very laid back dorama about this older single woman Akiko, played by Kobayashi Satomi who quits her job as an editor and takes over her mother's store after her mother passes away. The director doesn't have a strong visual style like Koreeda but its similar to Going My Home. The good thing is that its only 4 episodes so it won't drag like Going My Home did. I wonder if Koreeda wanted to do 10 episodes or whether it was studio mandated? If he had done it with WOWOW as a 6 episode series, he would have a smaller budget but it would have been much better.

Pan to Soup follows Akiko as she decides what to do with her life with her mother passing away, reopening her mother shop and the various characters that she interacts with such as the other business owners in the neighbourhood.  I would have liked to see more of the challenges of opening the shop such as applying for permits and attracting customers cause a sandwich and soup for 1200 yen is bit too much. I think this is going to be more about Akiko's journey of uncovering who she is rather than a business dorama. Pan to Soup to Neko Biyori is one of those shows where you can't judge it until it ends. For now, its been an enjoyable and relaxing two episodes but nothing has gotten me excited yet.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Furueru Ushi

Furueru Ushi is last show on my list of jdoramas that should be subbed for last season. Took me a while to get around to it because its intimidating to watch corporate conspiracy doramas without any subs. The good news is that its more of a straight forward police investigation dorama than complicated corporate story. You can guess what the conspiracy is and its more of a procedural discovering the cover up done by a cop and reporter.

We've seen WOWOW do these type of shows before including police reluctance to investigate. Suspicious murder leads to famous chain supermarket and then to this meat processing company and the various parties trying to cover things up. The question is whether Furueru Ushi can keep the quality consistent? Last year was the year of WOWOW doramas starting strong and faltering with the exception of Hitori Shizuka. This year we've already had the incredible Lady Joker and I'm happy to say WOWOW have produced a solid show.

Furueru Ushi never reaches the excitement of Lady Joker but it never collapses under its own weight like Suitei Yuzai. It has to do with the audience knowing more than the characters and waiting for the characters to catch up to the audience's knowledge. However, once things get clearer, Furueru Ushi becomes more interesting as various parties start acting more in their interest.

There's a WTF twist near the end which would have been awesome if the mastermind had been more 'evil' because that would have explained some plot holes. Unfortunately someone grows a stupid conscience and snatches defeat from the jaws of victory. Sigh. I like that the mastermind never went into anime gwahaha muahaha mode but it should have been his plan all along to get rid of the son and he never wanted to save him.

I really enjoyed the acting from the supporting characters in this one. Namakemono-san as the director of the supermarket made me double guess whether he was the same actor as the smiling Namakemono-san from Woman right The most impressive performance is Furuta Arata as the slimy and dangerous president of Meat Box. Seriously, they should have cast someone like Furuta Arata in that Kaibutsu dorama special instead of someone like Mukai Osamu. I guess Kaibutsu will always stick in my mind as a show that could have been great with the right casting.

While I won't rate Furueru Ushi a must watch, I'm happy with its consistency and that it didn't try to do too much or get too cliched. Not every dorama can be Lady Joker and most should not even try to do something so complicated and nuanced because they'll just fail miserably. We've already seen so many cover up doramas from WOWOW including Soratobu Taiya. I really want to see them excel in other genres. IMHO Furueru Ushi is better than the Pandora series for me but below must watch level.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Sakamoto Yuji - Soredemo Ikite Yuku interview Part 2B

Finally halfway done! This is the juiciest part of the interview so far and makes me want to watch Mother after this. It also makes me question had happened with Woman's script because Sakamoto Yuji did Soredemo Ikite Yuku without restraints. Anyways, all corrections and comments are welcome. My translation is a bit rough in the beginning but the second half was much easier to translate. Hope the 2nd half of the interview is as easy. Original interview can be found here.

Abiko: Did they come out of Sakamoto-san’s head or influenced from feedback from an actor? I’m interested to know which one.

Samakomo: Let’s take Mitsushima Hikari as an example. Normally when you see her acting, words fluently flow out of her nonstop but I like the acting when someone has difficulty with their words. Character who feel strongly about something about something but cannot express themselves well. I think that's where Mitsushima-san is at her best, or most captivating, so that's the kind of dialogue I went with. When I see this type of dialogue on television afterwards, I think, ‘this person said some interesting things’ and it is this type of model that I wanted to do.

Abiko: I see, so you get those type of inputs. In the case of novels, of course there are people who set up their models before writing but for me, I start from zero and I don't write with a model in mind. This difficult to write style of dialogue erupts in this dorama because because you use the novelist way of writing. Without this type of conversation (where characters don't express themselves well), the meaning cannot be communicated. The atmosphere before and after or the colour of the actor's face all are important parts of the dialogue. However, all of that looks natural.

Sakamoto: Yes.

Abiko: Especially in regards to recent tv doramas, I think they over explain things. No one actually talks like that (in real life). I find it painful to watch. However, Sakamoto-san's script feels like its creating distance from the viewer (making it more difficult for them to follow). For example it won’t explain why a character says ‘yes’.

Sakamoto: For as long as I’ve done television, its probably at the top of the what type of script one is not supposed to do. Fundamentally, television is about (characters saying) lines like ‘This is what I'm feeling now’’. Then there is the problem of having to tell the viewer "What is next" so that they understand. As well for dorama creators, there is a question of whether that is a fun thing and a lot of creators face that dilemma. In my case, because of of my age, I don’t really care about dorama taboos and I’ve been breaking them recently. This time I sincerely didn’t try to follow the rules of dorama and wrote whatever was appropriate for the subject. I could do it because the producer was of the same opinion.

Abiko: This is an unusual case, isn’t it?

Sakamoto: The producer was someone who had always been doing variety shows. After doing them for 20 years, he had finally come into the world of doramas and was just happy to be doing doramas. As he was the producer of the variety show Warrateiitomo! He had nothing to lose and nothing to hope for. He said, “For the time being, do whatever you want!” Usually television is for people who wash plates while watching. This time, I made the dorama for really pay attention to what they are watching! On that point, the producer and I never wavered and creating a dorama where if you don’t watch attentively, you will not understand what is happening.

Kurashina Kana is never be meiwaku.

Oguma: Excuse me, I have a question I want to ask. Similar to Mother, this time the 7th episode had the killer and the lover’s recollection scene which lasted more than 30 minutes. Many doramas have recollection type scenes in them but I think that such a deliberate flashback are not done in other serial doramas.

Sakamoto: At the time of doing Mother, it was something I tried although there were dissenting opinions. In Mother’s recollection scene, the main character played by Matsuyuki Yatsuko did not appear. It was mostly acted by the abusive mother played by Ono Machiko. At that time, Ono Machiko wasn’t that famous. There were many people who thought that was out of place. In the first place, I didn’t intend to do that recollection scene. At the time that the dorama started airing, I received mail speaking ill of the abusive mother from people I knew. “She’s a pig who only knows how to depend on men!” 

Both: (Roar of laughter)

Sakamoto: Even now, I’ve kept that precious mail. (laughs) "A good for nothing for abuses her child!" I thought that she was misunderstood. So with that feeling, I had to explain it to these people although the dorama was already close to the ending…  Do you want to hear about some minor details?

Oguma: Yes please.

Sakamoto: At the 9th episode, Matsuyuki Yukiko’s character got caught, episode 10 was the trial and the 11th was the ending. Actually the whole of the 10th episode was supposed to be about the trial where the main character is judged but that was taken out and the recollection scene put in. I wrote the script for Ono Machiko’s character and then everyone became worried. (laughs)

Abiko: Is that because no one famous appeared?

Sakamoto: For the whole episode, the main character did not appear and usually the viewer would not accept it….

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Soko o Nantoka

Back in 2004, there was this fun little movie called Swing Girls. When I saw Ueno Juri on screen, I knew she had that certain something. Swing Girls also had Kanjiya Shihori and Motokariya Yuika. Talk about talent! Motokariya Yuika has always had supporting roles in a lot of great shows especially Gonzo and Lady Joker.  Her agent knows how to get her involved in good shows.

While I hate overpushed idols, I always like when actors who have paid their dues doing supporting supporting roles get a chance to show what they can do. When I was doing my write up on Lady Joker, I was thinking I have not seen Motokariya Yuika as the lead in any show, which lead me to Soko o Nantoka.

The gimmick of Soko o Nantoka is that Motokariya Yuika plays Rakuko, a new lawyer who grew up poor and is saddled with debts. In true jdorama fashion, she doesn't look like she's slumming it except for eating a lot of nukazuke. If there are two Japanese foods that I will never try, they would be nukazuke and natto. Like Tokkan, she is partnered with a veteran with a muddy past who doesn't like her at first as she grows into her job.

I really hated the first three episodes of Soko o Nantoka. Its a lawyer show in name, but its just another one of those trying to uncover something's true feelings/fix people's lives doramas ie Shinzanmono with the forced over-sentimental ending. Why do so many jdoramas fall into this pattern? I wanted to quit this show cause it just felt so cliched but kept watching for reading practice.

Soko o Nantoka is a pretty crap show until the chikan episode. Very much a dorama version of Soredemo Ikite Yuku. It had a sappy ending but it didn't feel forced. The last two episodes were pretty good too with Taruko sensei from Suzuki sensei in a two part story.

The second half was better when the stories got more personal and more shoujo manga-like. After all, Soko o Nantoka is based on a shoujo manga. The straight up 'legal' stories in the first half were less legal and more generic sappy stories. Its when the Soko o Nantoka is a straight up shoujo manga story with legal elements that it works better although the two best stories in the series, the chikan and fire story were more of the serious variety.

As for Motokariya Yuika, she's not Ueno Juri but she's not Takei Emi either. I want to see her play the lead in a serious movie.Watchable second half with three stand out episodes.