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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Review of Kindaichi Shonen no Jikenbo - Legend of the Vampire

As a Kindaichi manga fan, I'm quite satisfied with the storyline by which maintains its usual standards. Given the fact that I have not read the manga for this particular case, I found that I enjoyed it much better than the previous drama series and SPs which I knew the cases beforehand. I guess for someone who had read the manga first, the level of anticipation and excitement while watching this SP will be much lower. In this case, I'm thankful that I didn't lay my hands on the manga first or else I would be nitpicking the problem areas while viewing.

I won't provide a synopsis or talk much on the storyline because this is a mystery/suspense story. Saying too much will only spoil the fun for you.

As for the cast, I am not very satisfied with the 3rd generation lineup. It's not really a matter of whether they can act well but it's got more to do with the essence of the characters which they failed to convey. For example, Kato Masaya looks horribly untidy and unkept which is totally from the Kenmochi in the manga. No doubt Kenmochi may be a middle-aged man, he was never unkept like what Kato showed in this SP. Besides, after seeing Kato Masaya in dramas like "anego" when he was a handsome and charming man, seeing that look of him in this SP is not something you can get used to. And he certainly does not have the ojisan look yet.

As for Kamenashi Kazuya, he was kind of boring in the earlier stage but things improved slightly when he started to investigate the case. Of course, you may argue that the setting and background of the SP is kind of different from the other 2 generations' works so Kamenashi may not appear very appealing in the beginning. In fact, I was put off by his frivolous appearance and his eagerness to shake off any links to his grandpa because he wasn't sure about his strengths or what he wanted to do in life. However, my point is that he did not exude the aura of Kindaichi Hajime's confidence even while he was cracking the case and I thought it was a pity since that segment is the best method to show his acting skills and the charm of Hajime. Just like what Amagi Seimaru-san, the manga's author said, Kamenashi is very different from the Kindaichi in the manga be it in terms of looks or how people feel about him as compared to Domoto Tsuyoshi who was the best match to Kindaichi. For someone who had been following the manga from Day 1, it's difficult for me to accept someone as radically different like Kamenashi to fit into the image of Kindaichi I have in my mind.

On the other hand, for Ueno Juri's character Nanase Miyuki, I think she did not have enough airtime to show the different sides of the role. She seemed to be a damsel in distress most of the time when I thought it would have been better to show her as someone who can be of help to Kindaichi. Ueno's image doesn't give the impression that she needs help at all. As such, it wasn't convincing enough for me to accept her as Miyuki. Besides, in terms of looks, she doesn't look so compatible to Kamenashi.

Now that I'm on the topic of the cast, let me tell you how I feel about the previous 2 generations' lineup:

1st generation:
Kindaichi - Domoto Tsuyoshi
Miyuki - Tomosaka Rie
Kenmochi - Furuoya Masato

2nd generation:
Kindaichi - Matsumoto Jun
Miyuki - Suzuki An
Kenmochi - Naitou Takeshi

I'm happy with the combinations of Kindaichi and Miyuki for both generations even though Domoto and Tomosaka looked much closer to the actual characters in the manga as compared to the Matsumoto-Suzuki combination. They have their strong points and there was chemistry in their interactions. To be frank, I still like Domoto's potrayal of Kindaichi after all these years. He's like the standard for future generations to attain but I've not seen anyone who can act as well as him in this role so far. As for Tomosaka, she's got that clever girl look and can show the strong and weak sides of Miyuki very well. If not for the fact that they are not young enough to play high school kids, I guess it would have been better to let things remain as status quo. Furuoya-san...image-wise, Kenmochi is a bit plump in the manga but his acting made it easy to accept him in this role despite the physical difference.

On the 2nd generation, Matsumoto's Kindaichi is more stylish than the manga character. The focus seems to be on the kakkoii side of him. The less academically-inclined side of Kindaichi wasn't as evident. Suzuki matched the requirements of Miyuki but her strength was more in the cuteness of the role. As for Naitou, he's a closer match to Kenmochi's image in the manga and his comical side makes him the best for this role so far.

On the whole, I enjoyed the SP more for its story as compared to the cast lineup. As such, I will give it 7 out of 10.

The following content may contain spoilers. Do not read further if you have not watched the SP or do not wish to read anything which gives the outcome away.

Actually, it's easy to guess the culprit in the drama versions as compared to the manga. This is because the culprit is played by a more well-known actor/actress as compared to the rest of the supporting cast. It is logical because they need a big name to play such an important role. However, this works against the drama since it will give the game away easily. Just look at the characters in each case and it's evident that the biggest name among them will usually be the culprit. In the manga, this problem is not an issue which makes it much more enjoyable. That is probably why I do not enjoy the drama versions as much as the manga or anime besides the fact that I've read through all volumes of the manga and know the storylines pretty well.

In this drama SP, we have 2 notable names i.e. Hoshino Mari and Nakamura Shunsuke. Even though I did not read the manga for this case, it's evident that either one of them must be the culprit. And another giveaway clue for Kindaichi cases is that the culprit is often someone who looks harmless or somebody whom you can never imagine to be the murderer. I think this is extremely easy for you to guess whom I'm talking about.

It's been some time since I saw Hoshino Mari in a drama. The last time should be in Ooku of 2004. She looks slightly mature and is still rather pretty. However, there are lots of other actresses who have similar traits so she seems to be having some difficulty getting leading roles of late. Maybe that's why she appears to be not as active in the drama scene. Seeing her in this SP was a surprise but as a supporting character, it does not offer too much room for her to show her acting skills. That's a pity in my opinion...

Monday, August 30, 2010

Review of Last Present ラストプレゼント

Cast
Kanzaki Kenji (Domoto Tsuyoshi)
Kanzaki Taeko (Kanno Miho)
Mizuhara Shosuke (Ito Atsushi)
Tateishi Ryoko (Yo Kimiko)
Hirayama Hideo (Jinnai Takanori)

Shown on 11 June 05, TV Asahi

Review:

To sum up this drama in one word: bittersweet.

In the first place, we all know that this is going to be a tearjerker but for me, I wasn't crying although I felt sad at some of the scenes. However, the mood of the drama isn't dark throughout the 1 hr 40 mins where you get really touching and sweet segments at how this couple met, fell in love and got married. To avoid spoiling the viewing experience, I'll try to refrain from talking too much on the storyline. You have got to watch it in order to appreciate the beauty of this drama.

Domoto Tsuyoshi really impresses me with his performance here. It's been some time since I felt this way about him since he irritated me to death with his image in Motokare and the indecisive character. He's a comedian who has yet to make it big and his wife has been very nasty towards him of late even though she didn't behave like this when their son passed away. He cannot understand why but he doesn't flare up at her. In order to avoid antagonising her, he even waits at the park in the bitter cold for her to switch off the lights before returning home.

When he finds out about her illness, he is very upset since he fails to notice the change in her health. Although he would have wanted to confront her and offered help, he respects her wishes and pretends to be unaware. However, he tries to show his concern by buying health supplements for her but she does not want to eat them. He also knows that her biggest wish is to see him succeed and takes part in the Comedian Newcomer contest on TV with his partner, Shosuke who is aware of how Kenji and Taeko came together.

On the other hand, Kanno Miho shines as the strong-willed Taeko who loves her husband so much that she would rather keep her illness from him. However, Taeko cannot control her emotions since she gets irritated at Kenji probably for two reasons i.e. to spur him to work harder before she dies and the other, her pain from the illness causes her to be short-tempered. When you see them together, it's as if they are a real life couple and sincerely care for each other. And when Taeko tells Kenji the things about their household and to take care when she dies, you can see Kenji turning red in the eyes but he stops himself from crying.

You really have to take note of the end of the drama where you find out the reason why these two people ended up together. Their meeting wasn't a simple coincidence after all and it feels so sweet when you see how fate has put them together. Although Taeko did die in the end, the warm feeling you get about this couple makes the drama not so dark after all.

Out of 10, this earns 9 marks. I didn't give it a perfect score since I thought that more could be explored on what happened to their son and the comedy scenes weren't too funny in my opinion. Well, maybe it's because I can't appreciate some of the Japanese-style jokes they had...

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Review of Akuma no You na Onna 悪魔のような女

Title: Akuma no You na Onna (A Woman Like The Devil)
Cast: Kanno Miho, Nakamura Tooru, Asano Yuko

This is 2 hr drama SP under the TV Asahi Sat night series. This time slot usually features mystery/horror short stories and the drama prior to this was the Kindaichi Kosuke and Akechi Kogoro which I reviewed earlier. It's not always that there are many big names in the cast and being a weekly thing, they certainly can't splurge on the production. Occassionally, there are bigger projects like the Kindaichi vs Akechi SP but I do see a lot of relatively unknown names in the cast for most of the series.

I don't watch the dramas from this time slot most of the time but the cast got me interested so I gave it a try. Well, the production quality cannot be compared to the amount of investment given for regular season dramas and it does the cast a big disservice since the storyline is so flimsy that it doesn't take a genius to find out what's going on. The people who are supposed to die don't die and come back for the culprit and then the real baddies get scared to death by their victim.

The story is so "uninteresting" that I almost fell asleep for the first 45 minutes or so. It is only when the murder takes place that things start to heat up a little but when you get to the ending, I guess you can't help but curse at the stupidity.

I'm usually quite critical of mystery/investigative dramas and I did see rather good ones before and those were relatively low-budget ones which did not boast of big stars. The thing about these investigative dramas is that the culprit is usually a big name so you can easily identify who is the murderer just by looking at the cast. That kills the fun but you have to realize that they can't let a supporting actor/actress be the culprit anyway.

This drama is not really recommended even if you have time to kill. I forwarded through most of the drama at the beginning portion and finished it within 1 hour. I should have used that time to watch something else...

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Review of Yo ni mo Kimyou na Monogatari Spring 2005 SP

Anata no Monogatari (Your story)
Starring Konishi Manami
Story: One day, Mami comes across a 15-part video at the rental store about her life entitled "Anata no Monogatari" (Your Story). Mami realizes that the video contains footage of what happened so far in her life like the proposal from her boyfriend and how he subsequently broke up with her. However, when she wants to find out what happens after that, she realizes that Vol 9 had been rented out. As a result, Mami embarks on a search to locate that video...

Gentaiki Tokukouyaku (Instant medicine for fatigue period i.e. to cure boredom in a relationship)
Starring Yusuke Santa Maria, Inoue Waka
Takuya (Yusuke) has a wife Miyuki who cannot be considered as a beauty and because of the fact that they have been married for some time, he doesn't regard her as a woman anymore. One day, he comes across an instant medicine at the pharmacy which makes him imagine that Miyuki has changed into a beauty (Inoue) and this makes him extremely happy as his dependence on the medicine increases...

Maboroshi no Shonen (The imaginary/visionary boy)
Starring Kuroki Hitomi
Nahoko (Kuroki) is a career woman who has a doting husband and cute son. One day, she discovers that she is pregnant again. However, she realizes that it would be impossible for her to go back to work after her maternity leave and that this would affect her family's ability to repay the loan. As such, she contemplates having an abortion when strange things start to happen around her...

Bijokan (Beauty Can)
Starring Tsumabuki Satoshi
Yuta (Tsumabuki) who does temp jobs is left alone at home for the time being when his live-in girlfriend, Haruko goes on a business trip. A weird old man moves in next door and Yuta is puzzled by the fact that many beautiful woman keep visiting him in large numbers. His curiousity gets the better of him and Yuta breaks into the next door apartment to find "bijokan" (beauties in a can)...

Chakuri Net (Secrets Net)
Starring Suzuki An
Aya (Suzuki) is a senior high school student who loves sharing gossip/secrets among her friends. However, she keeps getting dissed by her friends for saying things which are not new to them thus Aya is quite unhappy at being left out of the clique. One day, she comes across a gossip website which is catered for those who love to know the secrets of others or wants to share a secret. Aya is attracted by this and signs up for the website. She starts to get engrossed in revealing and searching for the secrets of people around her...

Among the 5 stories, I would say that the entertainment value for most of them has attained the usual standard but the Kuroki Hitomi story is rather predictable and a bit boring in my opinion.

The Konishi Manami and Suzuki An stories were eerie and have the message of you are responsible for what you do. In the former's case, curiousity killed the cat while in the latter's case, she was going overboard which led to her downfall. Tsumabuki Satoshi's case has a tinge of ironic regret while Yusuke Santa Maria's story is quite entertaining. It's the only part which has a high humour factor as compared to the rest.

I won't go into the details on the story so please watch it if you can.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Review of Akechi Kogoro vs. Kindaichi Kosuke Drama SP

Cast:

Matsuoka Masahiro, Nagase Tomoya, Uchiyama Rina, Hirata Mitsuru, Horikita Maki, Yo Kimiko, Zaizen Naomi etc.

This is a 2-hr special from TV Asahi shown on 26 Feb 05 featuring two famous detectives Akechi Kogoro and Kindaichi Kosuke. Besides the two leads played by Matsuoka Masahiro and Nagase Tomoya, there are a number of familiar faces like Zaizen Naomi and Uchiyama Rina.

Again, I won't go into details on the case which personally, I feel that is lacking in something. Somehow, what I didn't like was the ending where you find that most if not all of the parties of interest are involved in the case as the criminals. Well, that's probably the main grouse I have on this drama.

It's fun to see Matsuoka and Nagase together in the same drama since they belong to TOKIO and are known to be buddies. Although the title suggests a battle between the two detectives, I don't feel any sense of rivalry between them. It's more of a case of both of them working together to solve the problem. Besides, it's more of the case about Akechi disliking Kindaichi for his unconventional image and way of doing things. What's also interesting is their contrast in image, Kindaichi being unkept and quite frivolous but Akechi being image-conscious and cool. Matsuoka gets to drive a cool sports car, has a big bungalow to live in and has a dog named Kobayashi-kun but Nagase lives in a messy place, wears clothes not fitting the modern setting.

I watched a Kindaichi Kosuke drama SP (review also in this forum) before watching this. Sad to say, Nagase does not perform as well as Inagaki Goro Goro where he has more room to develop the same role. Although I understand that the emphasis is to contrast Kindaichi with Akechi, I get the feeling that the developments of the case take centrestage and the two detectives don't get as much airtime as they should. Unlike Goro who has almost undivided attention right from the beginning to the end, the two leads don't have a chance to show what they are capable of so it's quite a pity. Other than that, the production quality is pretty good considering that it's a once off project and the Wide Gekijou airs every Sat on TV Asahi. If they do something of this scale every week, it's going to drain a lot of resources for the TV station.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Review of Inugami-ke no Ichizoku 犬神家の一族

This is a 2 hour drama SP on one of the famous cases solved by Kindaichi Kosuke who, as many people know, is the grandfather of Kindaichi Hajime. Anyway, I'm not going to talk about their relationship or the family background but this drama SP has an interesting interpretation on how Kindaichi Kosuke became a detective.

Apparently, he went to US when he was young but ended up being a drug addict due to inability to find a proper job and was looked down by many people. However, the turning point in his life came when he managed to solve a murder case in the hotel he was working in and the owner decided to sponsor Kosuke's studies in the University. When he returned to Japan, he gained fame by setting his own detective agency and solved a number of high profile cases.

That was the first section of this SP which touched on Kosuke's life but the real action is right after that. He is asked to go to Shinshu (Nagano, in present day) at the request of a law firm's employee which is tasked to handle the inheritance of Inugami Sayohei. The employee claims that a series of murders could happen and seeks Kosuke's help. However, the employee is killed when Kosuke arrives in Shinshu...

I won't go into details on the case since it would spoil the fun especially for such investigate dramas. Well, Goro was quite funny as Kosuke who is really unkept and scratches his head repeatedly. As the dandruff keeps falling, you really have to marvel at Goro's willingness to shed his usual Prince Charming image to take on such a role. I guess since the traffic offence incident and this being one of his comeback dramas, Goro seems to have ditched his stereotype image so as to prove his worth as an actor. The other more familiar cast members to me would be Kato Ai and Nishijima Hidetoshi who acted in Ooku. As for the story, it was pretty good and full of twists but it still made sense. For those who like investigate dramas or like Goro, this should be worth spending 1 hour plus (minus the CMs) to watch.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Review of Nurseman ga Yuku ナースマンがゆく

Finally finished this drama (8 episodes)... but somehow, it's left me wondering whether I should have watched it in the first place.

Well, I watched the first series before so watching the sequel seems like a logical thing to do BUT I must say that most sequels do not fare very well in my personal opinion no matter what the ratings say. Maybe that's why I'm not watching the second season of Gokusen even though the ratings are very high for a NTV drama. Primary reason would be the lack of interest in the cast (students are mostly Johnny Jrs) but anyway, that's not what I'm trying to get at even though both dramas are from NTV. Nurseman ga yuku was made because the first series fared reasonably well (at least above NTV's expectations) so they actually wanted to make this sequel just for that reason. I really think some of these TV management people should understand that the sequel is usually in a disadvantage as compared to the original series, often suffering from the problem of a stale topic being revisited. There is only so much that can happen so unless you have a good story like what Kyumei Byoto has done, I would prefer to see things remain as it is.

To be frank, the first series was just OK in my opinion, nothing spectacular except that it was fun to pass time. And since I like Mabo, I must say that I would probably not have watched Nurseman in the first place without him. As for the sequel, it's more of a continuity issue and I can anticipate that there should not be any sequels given the lacklustre ratings.

What got me upset was that the themes and so-called "moral lessons" from the 2nd series is very predictable and there's really not much character development. It's as if I can predict what's going to happen next and that's not fun at all. I can't say which cast is much more appealing since I didn't like Abe Natsumi and Uehara Takako in the first but adored Kobayashi Satomi since she was very interesting. However, in the second series, Karina, Sato Tamao got on my nerves so much that even the appearance of Zaizen Naomi did nothing to soothe the irritation.

I'm not saying that you should skip this sequel but I just feel that the time spent on this could have been used elsewhere. Well, not even Mabo could reduce the disappointment of watching this so you can imagine how unhappy I am with regards to the quality of this drama. It really makes me wonder why I wanted to watch the sequel in the first place when I had a hunch then that this is heading nowhere. I should have given up after Ep 1.

Ratings for the entire season:

1) 11.5%
2) 10.3%
3) 11.8%
4) 6.7%
5) 8.6%
6) 11.0%
7) 8.0%
8) 9.7%

Average: 9.7%

I dread to look at the ratings above...It just goes to show that sequels are mostly jinxed and rarely exceed the predecessor. Sometimes, people must know when to stop in order to spoil whatever was good. I remember Nurseman got average ratings of 16% in its debut season which was an unexpected good result. However, the number of episodes for the sequel is lesser than usual (which gives the indication that NTV cut the drama shorter so as to cut losses) and a single digit average would seriously dent any chances of it ever making it back to our TV screens...

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Review of Ace wo Nerae エースをねらえ

Initially, I had given this drama a miss since I wasn't too interested in Ueto Aya in the first place even though I do like tennis. And after the "strong" recommendations from friends who had watched it, I have finally watched it. Well, I must agree with the general view from my friends that this is entertaining but I wouldn't say that it is an all-time favourite for me.

For those who like Ueto Aya, you really have to watch it because she's quite cute (in the opinion of a fellow female like me) so I guess guys would probably melt under that kawaii-ness. At least I think she's more natural and easy on the eye as compared to predecessors like Fukakyon who tries too hard at times. Although I am very sceptical at how "good" her character, Oka Hiromi had become in the span of 1 year (I think the manga used 2 years to develop her character though), at least she was quite convincing towards the end as a good player but I won't say that she looked as good as what Oka is supposed to be.

Talking about the tennis skills, personally, I think Yoshizawa Yu, Sakai Ayana and Matsumoto Rio looked quite convincing as strong players. Ishigaki Yuma seems good but somehow, his footwork seems weird to me given that he keeps losing his balance and slides on the court. And the funny thing to me is that Sakai Ayana never ties her hair up during the match (wouldn't it get in the way?) and how Matsumoto Rio's hairstyle never crumbles even after a tough match. Well, no point reading too much into this since it's fiction after all. In contrast, Ueto always gets dirty and sweaty throughout the series.

I think the series is good in a sense that they do not let the characters display "unbelievable tricks" which would reduce the logical aspect of the story. At least the strong players seem like ordinary people after all. E.g. like Sakai Ayana's character, Midorikawa Ranko has a trick called Dangan Serve. She made it look quite convincing though and it's logical to have a high speed serve like that. Imagine if they introduce a lot of gravity-defying skills which needs a lot of CG (e.g. how they made Matsumoto Rio's role, Ochou-fujin pause while hitting a ball in the OP), it would be hard for me to stop laughing at those tricks in the drama.

On the whole, this drama would be suited for the following (in my opinion):
1) Ueto Aya fans
2) People who play or like tennis (not to pick up pointers though)
3) People who just want to watch an entertaining drama without doing too much thinking into the plot

Ratings for the entire season:

1) 13.7%
2) 15.3%
3) 12.4%
4) 12.7%
5) 11.3%
6) 12.9%
7) 11.7%
8) 14.8%
9) 14.2%

Average: 13.22%

Monday, August 23, 2010

Review of Ooku - Dai Issho 大奥 第一章

Please note that this is not to be mistaken with another series with the same title, Ooku which features Kanno Miho. The cast from this latest series stars Matsushita Yuki, Takashima Reiko, Seto Asaka, Kyono Kotomi, Nonami Maho, Hoshino Mari, Kimura Tae, Nishijima Hidetoshi, Kaneko Noboru etc.

Basically, Ooku is the name of an "organization" whereby a group of women work to serve the shogun (general). The story basically depicts the struggles of women living within this system and focuses on one particular lady, Oofuku (the later Kasube-sama or Lady Kasube) who rose through the ranks from a nursing maid to rule the Ooku. Oofuku was the wife of a bushi, Inaba Masanari who was down and out. She tended to the household and had to take care of her three sons at the same time. However, she was constantly ridiculed by her husband's concubines who refused to obey her. One day, when her husband's friends tried to rob them and one of them tried to force himself on her, Oofuku was driven to the edge when she saw one of the concubines looking on and mocking her for her plight. Her rage made her kill the robber and the concubine. To save face, her husband divorced her and made her leave the family. Oofuku then had to seek refuge in a relative's house in Kyoto. It was there when she heard that the shogun family was looking for a nursing maid to take care of the yet-to-be born heir to Hidetaka (the next-in-line after the current shogun, Ieyasu) and Oofuku, being from a family of status in the past (her father was killed for being a rebel against Oda Nobunaga) and had some education, was chosen by the shogun for this post. However, Oeyo, the wife of Hidetaka bore a grudge against Oofuku as she felt that with her presence, she could not take care of her own son and started to make life difficult for her and her own son, Takechiyo. She even practised preferential treatment when another son was born. From then on, Oofuku, treating Takechiyo as her own son, tried to protect him from harm and were at loggerheads with Oeyo during their numerous clashes in Ooku.

The story can be broken up into two sections i.e. the first being Oofuku vs Oeyo (Takashima Reiko) and the second being Oofuku vs Oman (Seto Asaka) who was to become Iemitsu's i.e Takechiyo's favourite concubine. I wouldn't want to go into too much details as the description above is just what happens in Ep 1 only and that's just the background of how Oofuku got into Ooku in the first place.

What I found very interesting about this drama was the fact that the plot was very intriguing and engaging even for a period drama like this. I must admit that I don't know much about Japanese history except for a few famous historical figures like Miyamoto Musashi, Oda Nobunaga whom have been played countless times on TV. However, even though the story touches more on the struggles of women surviving in Ooku and the fights between them, it's done in a very tasteful manner. Besides, the cast have done pretty well and their costumes are really elaborate with beautiful sceneries as the setting. Thus, I would definitely recommend this as a much watch even though I have never been a fan of Japanese period dramas. This has definitely changed my impression of this genre and I look forward to the sequel since the story is definitely unfinished with Iemitsu having 3 sons and 4 concubines.

Ratings for the entire season:

1) 16.6%
2) 16.3%
3) 19.1%
4) 16.6%
5) 19.4%
6) 17.6%
7) 15.2%
8) 17.8%
9) 18.2%
10) 15.8%
11) 20.3%

Average: 17.53%

The second highest rated drama in Autumn 04 behind Last Christmas. Generally good ratings but they fluctuate within a 5% range. Somehow, the earlier episodes seem to have better figures and that's when they pit Matsushita Yuki vs Takashima Reiko. Frankly speaking, I also think that this was more interesting that Matsushita vs Seto Asaka.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Review of Toubousha 逃亡者 (Runaway)

Shown in Summer 2004, TBS, Sundays, 10pm

Cast:

Nagai Tetsuo (Eguchi Yosuke)
Mineshima Ryuji (Abe Hiroshi)
Ozaki Kaoru (Mizuno Miki)
Nagai Junko (Toda Naho)
Onizuka Saki (Nagasawa Masami)
Kunie Masumi (Kato Koji)
Kurusu Keisuke (Harada Yoshio)
Onodera Chiaki (Katahira Nagisa)
Gunji Naomi (Bessho Tetsuya)
Toudou Natsumi (Kurokawa Tomoka)
Igawa Takako (Harada Mieko)

Theme Song: Toki no Fune by Matsu Takako

I have to say that this is one of the best dramas I've seen recently. Frankly speaking, there are a lot of suspense/investigative dramas which lose steam towards the end but Tobousha is very consistent and holds my attention from beginning to end. Just when you thought the truth is out and you know the identity of the killer, a new twist pops up and gets you all confused again. Besides that, fantastic acting from the cast simply makes me stay glued to the screen. If I had more time, I might have finished the drama in one or two days but I took more than 5 days to do that because I was busy with work.

What I found very impressive was the scale of the production where the filming is very Hollywood movie style and not commonly seen in Japanese dramas. Due to the fact that the police had to catch Nagai (Eguchi), there were some scenes where they had many policeman running after him complete with helicopters and police cars. I think hiring those extras would probably jack up the costs quite a bit besides getting a number of big names in the cast. The overall effect is a visual treat and with the compelling story line, it was a joy watching this drama.

Among the cast members, I think Eguchi, Mizuno and Abe have put up a brilliant performance. First of all, Eguchi is very appealing as the runaway who still looks good even while running away from the police and the real killer who wants to make him the scapegoat. One thng I can't comprehend is where he got the sunglasses from. I don't remember anyone giving him that but who cares as long it looks good on him? As usual, he does a fairly good job and even better than what I saw in Kyumei 3. Maybe it has to do with the role, he definitely has more room for development as Nagai Tetsuo.

As for Mizuno Miki, I would never known that she's so "athletic" if not for her role as Ozaki Kaoru. All along, she has always given me the image that she's quite demure, mature and gentle which arises from the roles she's acted in so far. However, Ozaki is quite different from her past roles as Mizuno gets to run like mad on the streets, holds a gun to shoot people, hit people and get whacked at the same time. Seeing her run on the streets shows a different side of Mizuno and she could jolly well aim for action roles in future.

Well, the best in my opinion should be Abe Hiroshi who is sinister, extreme and yet in the end, we see that he's just acting cool to hide his true self. He's a good actor who can take on serious and wacky roles like Trick. I was starting to think that he was getting stuck in comedy roles for a while but thankfully, Tobousha came at the right time to show his strength as a serious actor. Personally, I feel that he's the most outstanding in the cast and you've got to see it for yourself to judge how good he is.

Ratings for the entire season:

1) 16.2%
2) 13.9%
3) 14.6%
4) 13.5%
5) 12.2%
6) 12.7%
7) 12.9%
8) 13.5%
9) 15.5%
10) 15.3%
11) 16.2%

Average: 14.22%

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Review of Hikari to Tomo Ni 光とともに

This drama talks about the struggles and learning process of a family who has an autistic son. It is not a tearjerker as what it seems because the mood of the series gets more optimistic and cheerful as it progresses. In my opinion, it is only the first episode where you will cry at times and feel quite sad.

Cast:

Azuma Sachiko (Shinohara Ryoko)
Rio Satomi (Kobayashi Satomi)
Azuma Masato (Yamaguchi Tatsuya)
Sakura Toshiya (Takeda Shinji)
Aira Kaoru (Suzuki Anju)
Kawami Jun (Ichikawa Mikako)
Azuma Hikaru (Saito Ryusei)
Azuma Takako (Takahashi Keiko)
Yabuki Hajime (Watanabe Ikkei)
Yabushita Megumi (Igawa Haruka)

Do not read on if you do not wish to find out spoilers about the drama...

Sachiko and Masato are an ordinary couple who are eagerly expecting their first child just like any other couple in the world. However, they did not expect that the birth of their son, Hikaru is the beginning of a long-term struggle and learning process for them and the people around them.

Sachiko starts to sense that something is not quite right with Hikaru when he turned three and still do not call Mama and Papa. Masato feels that it is OK since he himself only started to speak after 3. However, Sachiko cannot get rid of this nagging thought in her mind. When the family moves to Yokohama due to Masato's work commitments, Hikaru cannot keep still in the Shinkansen and even runs away from his mother after creating a din in the taxi they were taking. Sachiko is shocked to see Hikaru on the rooftop of a building and Rio who is being stood up on an omiai happens to see Hikaru and saves him from falling. Rio is a teacher with a primary school and suggests that Sachiko bring Hikaru to a doctor as he might be autistic. Much as Sachiko is in denial about Hikaru possibly being autistic, she decides to bring him secretly to the doctor as Masato does not think that Hikaru is abnormal. However, when the doctor announces that Hikaru is indeed autistic, Sachiko slips into denial mode again and hides the truth from everyone, still holding on to the feeble hope that Hikaru would recover with time. She finally breaks down and confesses to Masato about Hikaru's condition just as they are going to attend Masato's dad death anniversary ceremony. He is taken aback but tells her to keep the truth from his mum for the time being. Hikaru goes into outburst mode again during the ceremony so the truth is exposed with Masato apologising profusely to the guests with regards to his son's behaviour. On the other hand, Sachiko is blamed by Masato's mum, Takako for "causing" Hikaru to be autistic due to her inability to bring him up properly. It was so sad to see Sachiko crying because autism is not caused by a single factor and is an issue to do with the brain's development. And they had a voiceover of Hikaru who speaks to Sachiko about him defying her expectations and not being a "normal" child who can be what she wants him to be.

From then on, Sachiko brings Hikaru to a special school for autistic children at the recommendation of Rio so that Hikaru can attend a normal primary school in future. And the story progresses from Ep 2 when Hikaru enrols in the school which Rio is working in and begins his learning process to accept and live with others.

This drama offers a very detailed look into how autism is and clears the misconceptions of people commonly associated with autistic people. It is something inborn and has to do with the brain's development in a sense. Sorry, but I'm not very inclined in medical matters but the idea I get is that this is something beyond our control and that there is no definite cause for this condition. And this has got nothing to do with upbringing too. However, people misunderstand this as the parents' responsibility thus when everyone start blaming Sachiko for Hikaru's condition, even Masato implying that in the initial stages and refusing to share responsibility in helping his son, it was quite sad to see her putting up a fight alone. When everyone starts to understand the condition, things are no doubt made easier for Sachiko.

Personally, I think that this is a really heartwarming drama which is meaningful at the same time. Shinohara Ryoko is very good as Sachiko while Kobayashi Satomi fares well too as the very patient Rio-sensei who is humourous at the same time. The little boy playing Hikaru is the same guy who acted as the younger version of Waga Eiryo in Suna no Utsuwa. He's quite good for his age but somehow, he seems to play those roles who speak very little and keep to himself. Hopefully, he will act in a more cheerful role the next time I see him. He's quite promising among the more popular child actors, I would say.

Ratings for the entire season:

1) 16.3%
2) 16.0%
3) 13.9%
4) 12.6%
5) 14.8%
6) 14.4%
7) 17.2%
8) 15.2%
9) 15.1%
10) 15.4%
11) 18.3%

Average: 15.38%

Friday, August 20, 2010

Review of Ningen no Shomei 人間の証明

Apparently, this is a very famous series which has been made into a movie before but I'm not too familiar with this though. It could have been shown long before I started watching J-dramas but anyway, that's not the main concern here.

It's been some time since I watched a suspense drama so when I managed to lay my hands on this, it was really a wish come true since Yutaka is one of my favourite actors and this looks like a quality drama in terms of the cast and plot. Story-wise, I don't want to give too much away since it would spoil the fun for those who have not seen it yet. My only comments for this would be that it's a logical development of events and is not a far-fetched story. Besides, with the quality acting especially Yutaka vs Matsuzaka Keiko in the last episode, I don't feel like I've wasted my time sitting through this drama.

If you are looking for a clean-cut Yutaka, you are going to be quite disappointed since his image is somewhat like the Shinji-look in Long Vacation, with the beard and rugged look. Besides, his character as Munesue Koichiro is a hot-blooded cop with a violence tendency due to a childhood trauma so you won't see him taking great care of his appearance. Nevertheless, he still looks very nice in the simple black tie, white shirt suits throughout the whole series, complete with sunglasses. On the other hand, Matsuzaka Keiko plays Koori Kyoko dresses up to the nines as the wife of a politician who decides to run for office since her husband is ill. She's also a writer of a bestseller series and symbolizes success for married women. This sort of contrasts Munesue and Koori as people belonging to two different worlds but they cross paths under the most extraordinary circumstances i.e. a murder.

Ratings throughout the entire season:

1) 15.9%
2) 12.6%
3) 11.9%
4) 11.7%
5) 11.0%
6) 11.4%
7) 9.8%
8) 11.3%
9) 11.5%
10) 13.3%

Average: 12.04%

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Review of SHINOBI

First of all, I must say that the storyline is almost non-existent. What is more interesting would be the breathtaking scenery and the elaborate fighting scenes.

Oboro (Nakama Yukie) and Gennosuke (Odagiri Jo) are lovers but they do not dare to come out into the open because they belong to two feuding clans i.e. the Iga and Koga respectively. Although Gennosuke wants to tell his father who's the chief of Koga about them, Oboro is not that optimistic about being able to stay with him. Before Gennosuke can do anything, he finds out from his father that Tokunaga Ieyasu, the lord who has unified the land, calls for a battle between Iga and Koga to select the clan to serve him. This means that Gennosuke has to fight Oboro against his wishes. As his father dies due to a fight with Iga's chief who happens to be Oboro's grandmother, the lovers are then forced to embark on a journey of killing each other's best shinobi once they become the chiefs of their respective clans...

What happens after that is a series of killings where the 5 best warriors from each of the both sides try to eliminate one another. All I can say is that almost everyone died but I won't go into the order of who dies first or last so as to prevent spoiling the story.

For me, the best performers in this movie would be Odagiri Jo, Shiina Kiipei and Sawajiri Erika.

Odagiri is simply too eye-catching to be ignored. This is supposed to be a period movie and yet his style shines through even in that outfit which seems to be made from scraps of cloth and a bright red coat. And the scene where he kills the numerous assasins who come for his life was like, "he didn't really move much and yet everyone died?" You've really got to watch this and check out Odagiri whether you are a fan or not.

Shiina Kiipei's image is outstanding in the sense that his hair is dyed white and he's supposed to be the 300-year-old monster from Iga who doesn't die at all. He simply gives me the creeps whenever he appears. Just standing there is enough to inspire fear in the viewer.

As for Sawajiri Erika, she spoke less than 10 lines and yet she catches my eye so easily. The X-factor, I guess? She plays Hotarubi, the sweet girl beside Oboro who can use fireflies to kill people without moving a single inch. Although Sawajiri's been plagued by rumours about her real personality being a far cry from her swetie-pie image, she really looks so cute and that screen presence will make it hard for you to take your eyes off her. (The Sawajiri Erika now is a far cry from her past.)

As for Nakama Yukie, I guess I've been quite used to her acting in Gokusen and TRICK that when she settles down to become a subdued Oboro, I find it quite hard to accept. No doubt she's very pretty and I like her interaction with Odagiri Jo especially at the beginning when they were hugging at the waterfall, sentimental scenes would still be the biggest issue she has to overcome because of her comedian-actress image these days.

On the whole, I would rate this 6 out of 10 for the aesthetics. If you are prepared to be forgiving about the storyline, I'm sure you will find it quite enjoyable to watch even if your motive is for the eye candy only.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Review of Hold Up Down

Frankly speaking, unless you are a V6 fan, I don't think I want to recommend this movie to you. I like some of the members, OK with the group in general but wouldn't call myself a hardcore fan though. That is why I can't bring myself to say that I do like this movie.

The first movie V6 did was also made by SABU but I forgot the title of that one. What I do remember was that there are some similarities between both movies:

- Nagano Hiroshi plays another car maniac again. Well, I know he likes cars but there's no need to put him in a similar role.

- Putting Sakamoto and Nagano together. The previous time, they were salarymen and now they are police officers.

- The whole story just seems quite nonsensical. A number of coincidences bring about changes to the characters' lives.

Other things worth mentioning:

- Okada seems to have the least lines among them since he was "frozen" during most of the movie. And what's with that hairdo?!

- Inocchi and Kashii Yui playing a train maniac couple. Those two are quite funny especially when they were discussing train trivia even though Kashii's role was supposed to take the statement of Inocchi who was arrested for robbery.

- Morita playing a guy who seems so troubled that he tries to seek divine help and ends up burning the church by mistake. And I still can't fathom why Ito Ayumi's role seemed smitten with him despite the only thing he has done being helping her to catch a robber.

- The crazy fighting scenes in that strange mansion/hotel. V6 members have their dancing backgrounds to help them with these action scenes but then it felt so funny rather than giving me a kick. For example, when Nagano and Miyake were fighting on the second floor which had no barriers and Nagano almost fell to the ground but he did a Matrix-style act to regain his balance.

- The ending part where Nagano quit his job and was eating some sandwiches with kindergarten girls. Oh, that looks so sweet! He looks so gentle and kind in this scene.

- Again, the ending part, where Inocchi and Kashii held their wedding by booking a train and the reporters were more interested in the antique train rather than the couple.

Somehow, it looks as if when it comes to group movies, there is a pattern. For example, the two V6 movies by SABU are of a similar style (equally senseless but I found the first movie still bearable) and the storyline is built on a series of coincidences. On the other hand for ARASHI, they seem to be stuck in those youth seeking dreams formula-type of films. Then again, their movies are produced by J-STORM which determines their directions so I guess it's not easy to change given that you are putting more than 1 member in the movie.

To conclude, I will only give this 3 out of 10. It's a must-watch if you are after some V6 eye-candy. Otherwise, forget about it.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Review of Touch

Original manga: Adachi Mitsuru

Cast:
Asakura Minami (Nagasawa Masami)
Uesugi Tatsuya (Saito Shota)
Uesgui Kazuya (Saito Keita)
Harada Shohei (RIKIYA)
Matsuhira Kotaro (Hirazuka Shinsuke)
Kuroki Takeshi (Uehara Kazama)
Hyuga Sayuri (Ando Nozomi)
Arata Akio (Fukushi Seiji)
Yabe Sonoko (Wakatsuki Chinatsu)
Okamoto-sensei (Tokui Yu)
Bucchou-sensei (Yamazaki Hajime)
Taiiku-sensei (Takasugi Wataru)
Asakura Shinobu (Ikuta Tomoko)
Tsuda Eiji (Honda Hakutaro)
Uesugi Shingo (Kohinata Fumio)
Asakura Toshio (Takuma Nobu)

To be frank, my only reason for watching this is for Nagasawa Masami. (Now that I come to think of it, my interest in her has died down considerably over the years. :-P)

And the reasons why I have a lack of enthusiasm to watch this:
- I don't understand and dislike baseball.

- My first encounter with an Adachi Mitsuru comic, "H2" made me worry whether this would be as bad as that. I couldn't even finish the first volume of H2 because I got so irritated by the constant monologue by the lead character Hiro and I knew nuts about baseball.

- The male leads didn't really appeal to me.

After watching this, I have only one word to say: BORING.

I won't go into details about my lack of knowledge and interest in baseball again.

The story is rather slow-moving and I found it too idealistic which is typical of stories about teenagers. The elder twin brother suddenly joins the baseball team and becomes the ace player, brings the whole team to the desired Koushien?! That's really too predictable.

Besides that, the triangle relationship between the twin brothers and Asakura Minami (Nagasawa) wasn't very interesting. First of all, it was easy to see whom Minami loved in the first place so there wasn't any competition between the brothers so as to speak. In addition, the way of showing their feelings was so subtle that I don't think the teenagers of these days would behave in this manner. Maybe it's because the comic was published years ago so if the whole structure was adapted faithfully in this movie, some developments may seem to be very different from the current society trends. That type of puppy love just doesn't look like what even junior high students would get involved...

Although the lead actress is supposed to be Nagasawa, I get the idea that Saito Shota has a meatier role because his character has more emotional developments. Nagasawa's performance is fine on the whole and she looks quite good in this movie. Only suggestion to her is to avoid one-piece dresses which do not show off the flattering side of her tall and slender figure. Frankly speaking, she's considered tall among the younger female actresses but in this case, the balance on screen seems quite weird because the twins do not have a huge height difference with Nagasawa. It's probably best to get a taller guy next time.

I would rate this 4 out of 10. If you are in this for Nagasawa, this might be worth a watch though but don't expect too much from the story.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Review of Shinku

Story
Akiba Kako, a primary school student on a school excursion, is called out by her form teacher, Ihara where she tells Kako that something has happened to her family. The two of them then take a taxi to the hospital where it is revealed that Kako's parents and younger brothers were brutally murdered by Tsuzuki Norio. Due to the suddency of this tragedy, Kako loses her memories of the 4 hours when she heard the news from Ihara until she sees her family's bodies where she will experience blankness in her mind for an undetermined period.

8 years later, Kako happens to hear from freelance reporter, Shiina who is still investigating the case, that Norio has been sentenced to death recently. Kako expresses her wish to meet the murderer's daughter, Miho. Kako gets close to Miho after knowing her at the bar where the latter works but hides her identity. However, Miho trusts Kako enough to tell her about her father being a convict on death sentence.

Miho's husband, Akira abuses her physically and Kako suggests killing him. When Miho suffers a miscarriage due to Akira's blows, this is the final straw for her who finally makes up her mind to kill him. In addition, she asks Kako for help to be her alibi.

However, on the day when Miho is due to kill Akira, Souko experiences the 4-hr blankness syndrome and this affects the progress of the act...

Cast
Uchiyama Rina as Akiba Kako
Mizukawa Asami as Tochiku Miho
Kohinata Fumio as Akiba Yukihiko (Souko's father)
Ogata Naoto as Tochiku Norio (Miho's father)
Uchida Asahi as Nakagaki Akira (Miho's husband)
Tsukamoto Takashi as Watanabe Takumi (Souko's boyfriend)
Hirata Michiru as Shiina Koichi (freelance reporter)
Minamino Yoko as Ihara Miko (Souko's primary school teacher)
Horikita Maki as Akiba Souko (primary school student)
Shimada Yoko as Tanaka-sensei (Souko's psychologist)
Tanaka Yoshiko as Saito Yoshiyo (Souko's aunt)

Theme song: Lights by Shinkyo Eri
Image song: Alice by Kitade Nana

Review
This movie didn't turn out to be as good as I thought because I expected much from a Nozawa Hisashi script and this was his last before he commited suicide. The suspense factor was sorely lacking and I thought more could have been done to make the pace faster.

As for the acting, Mizukawa Asami was much more natural than Uchiyama Rina thus she left a stronger impression on me. Somehow, when Uchiyama takes on leading roles, I always find this problem of her not having a commanding presence on screen to take charge of the situation and it gives me the feeling that she's being led around by her co-stars instead.

One particular person to mention is Horikita Maki who plays a primary school student although she's already a senior high student. As such, it was hard to get rid of the nagging thought that she wasn't acting her age but her baby face made it a little easier to adapt to the setting. Besides, she did quite well in the earlier part of the movie before Uchiyama moved in to sour the whole thing.

On the whole, I'll give this 6 out of 10 because the first half of the movie (excluding the part when Horikita Maki was around) nearly made me fall asleep.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Review of Densha Otoko

Well, if you are looking for laughs, this is quite good since it offers lots of humourous moments. This is a good stress reliever too. The highlight of the story would be how the netizens help Densha Otoko to cope with the problems of trying to woo Hermes. Even though I tried to read the novel once and was put off by the format of Net chat dialogues being displayed as it were on the 2ch forum, the presentation style was much easier to accept in the movie. The words would not appear as static subs at the bottom of the screen but were blended into the set or scenery so as to make it more natural. I felt this was a clever way of making the movie more lively.

As for the romance part, I thought it paled in comparison though. I wouldn't say it's due to a lack of chemistry between Yamada Takayuki and Nakatani Miki but it's the movie itself that didn't give a lot of time for this subplot to be explored. As such, I kept feeling that Hermes didn't feel as much for Densha Otoko as implied. Maybe the drama had more time for this development but I'm not sure since I didn't watch it.

One thing to note, if you are watching the DVD, wait till the credits end and you will see the drama version of Densha Otoko where Ito Atsushi and Ito Misaki appear. Yamada Takayuki also appears as a passerby who drags the drunk guy away but he's wearing casual clothing as compared to the suit he wore in the drama. I guess they filmed this part on different days.

I feel that this movie seems to be a one-man show for Yamada Takayuki. He's the most outstanding in the cast (of course, since he's the lead) where he shows the transition of Densha Otoko from an otaku to a good-looking guy. Comparing this to the first time I saw him in a drama i.e. Psychometrer Eiji 2 which was his debut project, he has really improved a lot over the years. Maybe the only issue which will impede his growth as an actor would be his boyish looks. He just doesn't feel like a working adult to me even though he plays a systems engineer in this movie. As for Nakatani Miki, she's OK but her potrayal of Hermes was outshone by Densha Otoko. Considering that she's the female lead, she didn't appear a lot in this film so there's no way of finding out more about Hermes or seeing her show depth in this character. What a waste!

I do not like the idea that the movie is trying to bring across i.e. you need good looks and a total makeover to woo the girl you like. Due to the fact that Yamada looks horrid in the otaku outfit and suddenly becomes a handsome guy, it's as if saying that Hermes will never love him if he had remained as before. I just don't feel too comfortable with this message.

On the whole, I would rate this movie 7 out of 10. This is supposed to be a love story but the romance factor was so low that I felt like it was an online guide to teach you the rules of courtship.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Review of Tokyo Tower

If you are watching this just to see Okada Junichi and Matsumoto Jun, it's sufficient eye candy if you are prepared to ignore the storyline which is rather senseless. Just to name a few, a full nude view of Okada's back, bed scenes involving Okada and Kuroki Hitomi, Matsujun and Terajima Shinobu...

Just to cut the story short, Okada plays Toru who is involved with a married woman, Shifumi who is his mother's friend and they have been sleeping together for the past 3 years since Toru was 18. There's a 20-year age gap between them and Toru seems totally obsessed with Shifumi. He waits at home for her phonecall which is usually around 4pm even though he should have an active social life as a young university student.

On the other hand, we have Matsujun playing Koji who is Toru's ex-classmate and he enjoys playing around with older women especially those who are married. He has a girlfriend, Yuri and yet gets involved with a housewife, Kimiko who is frustrated with her husband who takes her for granted. In addition, he has a ambiguous relationship with Yoshida as he slept with her mother during the senior high school days thus causing her mother to commit suicide and him being walloped by Yoshida's father. When Yoshida appears again during a class gathering, Koji starts to panick as she keeps pestering him and even throws a billard ball at him, causing Koji to pass out.

Basically, we have these two guys getting involved with women whom they should not have laid hands on in the first place. Somehow, it didn't feel like a love story but it seems more like a sex flick being disguised as a love movie. Just see how many bed scenes we have in this movie. I totally lost count of this during this 2-hr long movie. In Koji's case, he doesn't seem to really like Kimiko or Yuri especially since he's together with Kimiko primarily for the sex. In Toru's case, he seems to be in a worse condition as if he cannot live without Shifumi who thinks it's time to stop their unusual relationship. I guess that's the only sign which reminds you that this is supposed to be a love story. However, I just cannot get rid of this thought in my mind that Kuroki used to play Okada's mum in Oyaji and when they appear in bed scenes, a chill runs down my spine. On the other hand, Matsujun's combination with Terajima Shinobu seems fine as she's supposed to be a housewife with lots of built-up pressure from her husband, mother-in-law and daily household chores. Koji's attraction towards Kimiko is more of the sexual aspect so her plain appearance doesn't bother me too much and I didn't really wonder why Koji got involved with her in the first place.

I won't recommend it to anyone looking for a love story. If you are watching it for the visual effects or just want to ogle at Okada or Matsujun in adult roles, this might suit you.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Review of Ima Ai Ni Yukimasu

This was dubbed as the No.2 movie in Japan last year behind Sekai no Chuushin Ai wo Sakebu as one of Jun-ai (pure love) movies which enjoyed immense popularity. Starring Takeuchi Yuko and Nakamura Shido (a famous kabuki actor), the storyline is rather simple and minimal dialogue is used. This was also the movie which was said to have made Nakamura smitten with Takeuchi and tried to woo her. Not a verified rumour though... (Side note: I wrote my review on 31 March 2005. In just five years, the two leads in this movie went through a brief courtship, a short-lived marriage and parenthood.)

Anyway, the story is narrated by a 18-year old senior high Year 3 boy who is watching the rain from his classroom as he recaps the love story between his parents and what happened one year after his mother died when he was 5. As a result, the person who does the most talking is the son and there are less than 3 lines spoken by Takeuchi and Nakamura although they are the leads of his movie. Most of the dialogue is spoken by the narrator or by subs rolling across the screen. We see the characters' expressions and get to know how they feel through the words on the screen instead of them speaking.

The parents met each other when they were in Year 2 of senior high and were sitting next to each other for 2 years. The boy liked the girl first but he was too shy to make the first move. Besides, the girl appeared uninterested in relationships so things between them were icy-cold. One year after they graduated, the boy decided to call the girl out so that she can return the pen he left in her autograph book when he signed a message for her on the last day of the school. The boy makes use of this opportunity to make known his feelings and they started to date since then. However, the boy had to quit school because of a illness and even wanted to break up with the girl. Nevertheless, the girl decides to stick by him and they get married and give birth to a son. Although they thought that they would be happy from then on, the girl dies when her son is 5 and promises to return in the rainy season to see her husband and son. One year later, father and son happen to meet a woman who looks like the dead wife and mother and they live together for 6 weeks before the woman disappears again...

What's interesting about this movie is the use of minimal dialogue and the overall melancholic yet sweet mood. With the use of words rolling across the screen, it gives a different feeling as compared to hearing it from the characters. Although the wife/mother died early, when we see the love story between her and her husband, it feels really sweet and that we can sense the happiness she experienced while she was alive. One memorable scene was when the guy was sending her home and he told her to put her hand in his pocket to feel warmer. Then he proceeded to hold her hand and that's how they got started. After that, the words roll saying that he took 3 years to hold her hand, would they take another 3 years to kiss? Somehow, it feels really sweet like puppy love when we see the love story development between the leads and for Takeuchi fans, this is a must-see since she looks VERY VERY sweet in the movie. I have to admit that I'm not a big fan of her especially after Fukigen na Gene but she has got to be one of the few actresses in Japan these days who can be so sweet and yet gutsy in her drama roles.

For someone like me who doesn't like draggy love stories, this was suprisingly more interesting than what I had imagined. Although I don't like Nakamura with Takeuchi (he looks much older than to be Takeuchi's classmate), the story made the weird combination bearable. Out of 10, I'll probably give this movie a 7.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Review of Warai no Daigaku

Cast
Yakusho Koji and Inagaki Goro

Story
Set in Showa 15, that was the year when Japan embarked on its path towards World War 2.

In order to control the entertainment to its citizens, the Government sets up a censorship department to assess the stage drama scripts submitted so as to ensure that undesirable content is not shown to influence the citizens.

Sakisaka Mutsuo (Yakusho Koji) is a censorship officer who is always stern and never laughs. On the other hand, Tsubaki Hajime (Inagaki Goro) is a scriptwriter working in a stage group, Warai no Daigaku, whose job is to make people laugh.

Tsubaki submits a script which is a parody of Romeo and Juliet and Sakisaka is the officer in charge of approving this script. Sakisaka sees no meaning in showing comedy stage plays at this time when the country is at war. Thus, he makes things difficult for many of the scripwriters where some give up due to his unreasonable demands.

Tsubaki is different from the rest as he tries to amend the script in order to meet Sakisaka's never-ending demands. Although Sakisaka never meant to approve the script in the first place and could have rejected the script outright, he is slowly won over by Tsubaki's enthusiasm towards comedy in the 7 days they work together to amend the script. However, before Tsubaki has a chance to let this comedy reach the audiences, he receives a notification to be enlisted into the army...

Review
Looking at the cast, there's only 2 main characters played by Inagaki and Yakusho. And the set is mainly at the censorship office where there's only a table and 2 chairs. However, this being a comedy movie, offers much amusement which goes beyond the simple set and cast relationship.

Yakusho is an accomplished actor and shines as the stern Sakisaka who is slowly converted to accept comedy in those turbulent times. As for Inagaki, I think this is the role which I like most from him as he performs very well as Tsubaki who tries to convince Yakusho that comedy is good for the people. Since there's only the two of them throughout the whole movie, instead of being boring where's there a lack of different characters, the movie puts undivided attention on the development of these 2 people with vastly different stands which makes the focus of the movie consistent.

The humour is mainly based on the dialogue between the two of them and it's not a ridiculous form of cheap jokes. In addition, comedy brings the two characters together and gets them to appreciate each other's point of view. Sakisaka admires Tsubaki for his enthusiasm towards comedy and never gives up even though Sakisaka is deliberately making things difficult for him. On the other hand, although Tsubaki disagrees with the fact that comedy is a waste of time and is not required in these times, he also finds that Sakisaka might be a good comedy writer afterall. However, the ending of the story where Tsubaki cannot fulfil his wish of bringing the script created jointly by him and Sakisaka is quite sad and makes you regret that he doesn't have the chance to show this comedy to the world...

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Review of Pikanchi (Part 1 and 2)

There are two movies under the Pikanchi series i.e. the first being Life is Hard Dakedo Happy and Life is Hard Dakara Happy. The first series means life is hard but happy while the second means life is hard, that's why we are happy. It was about 6 months ago when I viewed the first movie so I'm making my comparisions based on what I remember and the brief flashbacks in the second movie which I just finished.

The first movie is set at Yashio, a small town in Shinagawa, Tokyo where the 5 main characters live in. The story basically revolves on their first trip to Harajuku which is downtown Tokyo and much more fashionable than their local area so they view it as a necessary stage to growing up. A series of events happen after that and the movie ends with them heading towards their individual goals.

The second movie is set at 3 years later when Takuma (Ninomiya) returns to Tokyo after his trip to California. I remember he left because he wanted to find what he wants to do with his life after his dad committed suicide. As he meets the rest of the guys, we get an update of what they are up to for the past 3 years. Chuu (Sakurai) met a fellow gangster Yayoi and did a dekichatta kekkon. Now he is a capable salesman with a 1-year-old son in tow and has stopped his gang activities. In order to take over his dad's food business, Bon (Matsumoto) went to learn the trade from a traditional Japanese restaurant but things are not going his way and he doctored photos to lie to his friends that he is doing well. Shun (Aiba) made it to Aogaku (Aoyama University) but he went to learn knitting and is currently running a successful knitting school. Haru (Ohno) is working in the local supermarket's food section and still living with the middle-aged lady. He was initially wooing her daughter but ended up having a relationship with the mother.

To be frank, if you are looking for a plot, I don't really see much of it here. Besides, such movies are meant for idol-watching rather than for a meaningful story although the concept was based on Inohara Yoshihiko's past. There's not much reference to him other than the part was Nino was asked to debut as a singer by a strangely dressed guy named Johnny. There is humour in this movie but that's only the first part. The moment when the focus shifts to the "justice prevails" theme where they try to stop developers from building Yashio Hills, everything goes downhill from there. The recap on the guys' lives especially Shun and Chuu's portions were the most entertaining in my opinion.

If you prefer shows like Kisarazu Cats Eye and Ikebukuro West Gate Park, I guess Pikanchi falls between these two extremes i.e. it's not as dark and serious as IWGP but it's not as mad and ridiculous as Kisarazu (not in a bad way). It's just that after watching the two movies, the central message is not very clear so it feels as if the story is not meaningful at all. For entertainment value and to see the guys together in one movie, this should be suitable for you.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Review of Azumi (Part 2)

Cast
Ueto Aya, Oguri Shun, Ishigaki Yuma, Kuriyama Chiaki, Kitamura Kazuki, Takashima Reiko

Story
The story continues from the last movie where Azumi (Ueto) and her sole-surviving friend, Nagara (Ishigaki) killed Kato Kiyomasa after a bloody battle. The sequel begins with the two being pursued by Kiyomasa's servant, Inoue (Kitamura) to take revenge for his master.

As Nagara is injured, Azumi goes to town to buy food and meets Gingaku (Oguri) who is the spitting image of her friend, Nachi whom she killed. Gingaku seems to have taken a liking to Azumi while she is quite confused about seeing Gingaku and remembers what happened between her and Nachi in the past.

Azumi and Nagara then meets Kozue(Kuriyama Chiaki), a ninja who brings them to meet Tenkai, one of the leaders in the Tokunaga clan. They then proceed to kill the last remaining member of the rival clan, Sanada Masayuki who is protected by a professional killing group, Ueno Koga headed by his mistress, Kunyo (Takashima Reiko). Gingaku also brings his group to help Azumi.

Kozue convinces Nagara to go his separate ways from Azumi so that she can be with Gingaku. However, Nagara fails to realise that Kozue is from Ueno Koga and gets killed by her. Kozue then looks for Azumi and the gang and claims that Nagara was separated from her when they were chased by the enemy. Kozue tries to kill Tenkai and is killed by Azumi instead when she finds out that Nagara was killed by Kozue.

Azumi tells everyone to back off while she goes off to kill Sanada Masayuki. However, she is tricked and falls victim to a sedating drug. Just as Kunyo tries to kill Azumi, Gingaku comes to her rescue and ends up being killed. When Azumi wakes up, she is very upset and goes off to finish her final mission...

Review
Well...I think the production quality is slightly more refined than the original and the gore level is somewhat toned down. However, there are still scenes where blood splashes all over the place e.g. when Azumi kills Tsuchigumo in the bamboo forest, he's torn into pieces and the blood splashes around. I really wonder if the human body can be slashed in such a manner that blood flows in such a manner.

And the fashion in this movie...Takashima Reiko with that armour simply makes me giggle. Azumi still looks good (her hair visibly dyed in black as compared to the first where Ueto's hair was tinted) and Kuriyama Chiaki looks nice in her costume. Too bad she was killed by the middle of the movie.

Another thing I'll like to bring up again is that everyone gets killed and Azumi is left alone again. And the way the ending is presented, it seems to offer some space for a third movie to be made i.e. what happens to Azumi after she completes her mission. Well, Oguri Shun is killed for the second time . I can't help but wonder why he is so "ill-fated" in this movie...

Overall, although I thought that the first movie was quite gory, it had a stronger plot as compared to the second which focuses too much on the killing. Thus, I enjoyed the original movie than the sequel even though it was 30 minutes longer. And if they do make a third movie, maybe they can improve more on the story rather than get Azumi to be a killing machine.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Top 10 movies ranking (8 Aug 10)

1) Karigurashi no Arietti

2) Toy Story 3

3) Kamen Rider W FOREVER AtoZ Unmei no Gaia Memory

4) Salt

5) Inception

6) Odoru Daisousasen THE MOVIE 3 Yatsura wo Kaihou seyo!

7) Gekijoban Pocket Monster Diamond & Pearl

8) How to Train Your Dragon

9) Gekijoban Naruto

10) Konchuu Monogatari Mitsubachi Hacchi Yuuki no Melody

Review of Azumi (Part 1)

Cast: Ueto Aya, Oguri Shun, Ishigaki Yuma, Okamoto Aya, Odagiri Jo, Narimiya Hiroki, Kohashi Kenji, Kaneko Takatoshi, Eita, Harada Yoshio, Ryo, Takenaka Naoto, Kitamura Kazuki, Ibu Masato

Looking at the cast list, it's a mix of notable names within the industry in a single movie but some of them get killed within 20 minutes. What a waste of talent!

Let me provide a summary of the plot. Harada Yoshio plays a samurai from the Tokunaga family who picks up orphans in order to groom a team of assassins who will eliminate the threats to the Tokunaga control. Azumi (Ueto Aya) is one of them who is part of the team with her 9 other friends. They have been taught to accomplish a great mission and train everyday to be top class assassins. One day, Ji (grandpa i.e. Harada) tells them that they would begin their mission and the final test for them before they leave the mountains would be to kill their partners thus leaving 5 survivors in the team. After much deliberation, Azumi kills her best friend, Nachi who tells her to work hard for their sakes.

The team got down to work so as to eliminate the three threats to the Tokunaga family. They finished the first task easily but they flopped in the second task since the guy they killed was an imposter. In addition, their whereabouts had been exposed and the enemies get hot on their heels. One of their teammates, Amagi was hit by a poisonous dagger and Ji tells them to leave Amagi behind since he's going to die soon. Azumi refused to do so and doubted the meaning of killing these so-called enemies so the team left without her.

Unknown to them, their enemies released a killing demon played by Odagiri Jo who had been held in captive so as to deal with Azumi and her friends. One by one, Azumi's friends got killed and Ji is captured so as to lure Azumi to fall into their ambush. In the end, Azumi killed the enemies and proceeded to complete the remaining task of her mission together with her sole surviving friend, Nagara...

Well, I'm not a fan of samurai or period dramas all along but the way this movie is presented has been very different. In fact, looking at the image design of the characters and the cinematography, it feels like a modern way of presenting a constantly repeated genre. Especially for Ueto fans, it must be a treat looking at her sexy design and cool swordsplay which is very different from her usual cutie-pie roles in dramas.

Like I said earlier, the cast is made up of so many notable actors that even people like Ryo appear for one single scene and get killed, Oguri Shun appears for 20 minutes and gets killed by Ueto Aya etc. In the end, everyone gets killed and only Ueto Aya, Ishigaki Yuma and the enemy played by Kitamura Kazuki survive.

The gore index of this movie is quite high as you will constantly see blood splashed all over the screen and by the first hour, I was feeling tired at seeing all those bloodshed scenes.

It was only until Odagiri Jo appeared that things started to get better. He was wearing white, had white hair, a pale face yet red makeup around his eyes as if to emphasize the demonic streak in his character. He was constantly holding a rose and relished the excitement of watching people get killed. His last fight scene with Ueto was done in a glamorous manner where these two people fly all over the place and the screen keeps turning in 360 degree directions to show their fight from different angles. Too bad, he still got killed by her.... Oh well, baddies always die so there's no way Odagiri's role would have even survived in the first place.

On the whole, this is a pretty good movie for the visual effects (i mean the galore of actors and fighting scenes you can see, not the gore). Story-wise, I feel that it was not developed properly even though the movie was about 2.5 hours long. More could have been done to describe Azumi's internal conflict about killing people and whether they deserved to die in her opinion. Hopefully, the sequel will provide more depth to the storyline.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Review of Umizaru (1st movie)

This movie features the lives of a group of cadets in the Japan Coast Guard academy who are training to be divers or called umizaru (sea monkey) by the local people where the training quarters are located (near Hiroshima). Ito Hideaki plays the lead character, Senzaki Daisuke who was a salesman and aspires to be a diver because he thought that it would be an "interesting" job. Along with 13 other cadets, they undergo a tough 50-day training to become qualified rescue divers.

Basically, I felt a mixture of emotions with regards to this movie and I divide it into to three sections:

1) The first section - training of the umizaru
At the beginning, we see how these guys with their individual reasons as to why they want to become divers come together and undergo the tough training e.g. swimming with weights of at least 20 kg, holding their breath underwater for 2 min 30 secs. It's quite interesting to see how the training is like and I have to admire the Japanese for their seriousness when it comes to making movies of a specific occupation or theme. You can see that the cast did put in a lot of hard work and Ito Hideaki and Kaito Ken were so tanned meaning they stayed outdoors for a long time. It was the same when I watched the making SP of Waterboys when I saw how the cast of 32 boys come together and learn synchro-swimming from scratch so kudos to the cast of Umizaru for their hard work.

2) The middle section - death of a fellow teammate
One of the guys drowned when he was trying to save someone. As a result of this, Senzaki (Ito) began to have a phobia of the sea and was having thoughts of giving up. The funeral was sad and dark so it sort of overshadows the chirpiness and light-hearted mood in the early section.

3) The last section - the final test
This part took up quite a bit of time with the guys undergoing the test in order to pass the course and Senzaki ended up in some trouble with his new partner, Mishima (Kaito). I won't elaborate on what happened but the way it developed was quite cliche and expected. That's when I start to get bored with this movie.

Besides the conclusion being rather "traditional" and conservative, the other grouse I have would be the relationship between Senzaki (Ito) and Kana (Kato Ai). These two got to know each other on the streets and Kana thought that she slept with Senzaki even though she was already drunk when they reached the hotel. As their relationship got very limited air time, it's hard to see how they actually come to like each other so this part was not very convincing. And during the scene where they kissed on the bus, it sure was funny to see them doing that with Kana's bag between them. That was so unnatural in my opinion.

In all, I think Umizaru is an OK film, nothing really spectacular but still worth spending 2 hours watching it (especially the training part). It's just that I thought that it started well but ended really sloppily so it does the theme a big disservice. Besides, the characters' are quite one-dimensional so there's not much exploration of their internal feelings.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Review of Keizoku - Beautiful Dreamer

The movie picks up from the SP where it ends with Mayama (Watabe) being stabbed by Shibata (Nakatani) when she was under the hynoptic influence of Asakura. We know from the beginning that Mayama survived and is very much alive-and-kicking. Shibata also regained her senses and remembered all that has happened between her and Mayama.

A new case comes their way where they are asked to attend a party hosted by Kirishima Nanami (Koyuki), the daughter of a couple who died in a capsized ship incident 15 years ago. She has invited the survivors of this accident to take part in this party including Shoko (Okouchi Nanako), the daughter of one of the participants who had come to ask for the police to attend the party together. They head to Yakujin Island where there's a castle overlooking the sea. Nanami prepares a feast for them and during a card game, she predicts that one of the survivors would die and this really happened. Although everyone knows that she is the murderer, they do not have any proof thus Shibata and Mayama cannot arrest her. The survivors die one by one and things get missing too as Shibata tries to understand what is going on.

The case itself is quite engaging but this is just part of the major plot in this movie. As the title suggests, this movie has got something to do with dreams. After Shibata and Mayama solves the case, they are caught in a simulated dream by Asakura where they are almost tricked by the people they wish to be with most i.e. Shibata's true father and Mayama's younger sister who had already died. I wouldn't go into the ending but I must say that I'm glad it ended well. And since there's a clear ending, I doubt the series would be making any comeback in the near future.

Nakanai to Kimeta Hi DVD Box

Title: Nakanai to Kimteta Hi DVD
Price: 15,960 yen
Date of release: 11 Aug 2010
Total number of discs: 5
Distributed by: TC Entertainment
Total running time: 360 minutes
1st Press Premium: Notepad with famous lines in the drama
Special Footage: 177 minutes including cast interviews, discussions, unaired scenes, production press conference, trailers and end-of-filming images and 9 episodes of spin-off drama "XX to Kimeta Hi"

Friday, August 06, 2010

Announcement: Past reviews from the forum will be posted to the blog

From tomorrow onwards, you will be seeing some of my past reviews posted in the old forum which I used to manage.

I've been thinking of posting them here for some time but never got down to getting started. In case the forum at invisionfree gets deleted in future, I can still have my work archived in this blog.

For those who were previously members of the old forum, I'm sure you have read some of these reviews. Do bear with me as I work on this project and I hope you can give me some comments along the way. For those who only started following my reviews through this blog, it's probably a chance for you to pick up some old works to watch.

Top 10 movies ranking (1 Aug 10)

1) Karigurashi no Arietti

2) Toy Story 3

3) Salt

4) Inception

5) Odoru Daisousasen THE MOVIE 3 Yatsura wo Kaihou seyo!

6) Gekijouban Pocket Monster Diamond & Pearl

7) Gekijouban NARUTO

8) Konchuu Monogatari Mitsubachi Hacchi Yuuki no Melody

9) Chonmage Purin

10) The Last Airbender