Saturday, October 15, 2016

Dias Police: Ihou Keisatsu (2016)


Dias Police conjures up Tokyo as a city teeming with illegal immigrants, living on the fringes of society, under the protection and guidance of an underground government. By procuring the services of such government, undocumented aliens, political refugees and criminal fugitives alike get a new lease in life, finding for themselves a safe haven on foreign soil. They coexist and thrive in one district, following certain rules of conduct, forming a community that looks after their own.

Peace and order is enforced by one man named Kubozuka Saki (Matsuda Shota), who plays the role of trouble shooter, dispute broker, neighborhood patrolman and criminal investigator. Widely recognized and referred to as the sole member and self-appointed chief of the dias(pora) police, Saki investigates and responds to any incident involving any member of their community. He identifies malefactors who pose a threat to their way of life and occasionally puts himself in harm's way just to save those in his ward. His duties range from giving street directions to the elderly, to facing off with hired assassins and gang members, to catching the culprit behind a string of murders that specifically target foreigners. Along for the ride is his sidekick, Suzuki (Kenta Hamano), a former bank employee who's on the lam for allegedly embezzling funds.



The series basically follows Saki and Suzuki on the job and on the trail of unsavory and dangerous characters in five cases served up in two episode installments. What sets this apart from other dramas is that it touches upon delicate issues that one won't normally see on prime time television and refrains from making any grandiose lectures, allowing each episode to speak for itself. The cases dealt with are gruesome and lurid in nature---the show features organ harvesting for profit, human trafficking, black market trading and hate crimes, all in a span of ten episodes. These scenarios are presented with honest brutality, often mitigated by some form of hilarity, in addition to some ridiculous maneuver on the part of the dias police that would send the bad guys running. The outcome of each incident is often oversimplified to the point of incredulity but each episode has enough disquieting imagery to hammer in the injustice, hostility and peril that these illegal immigrants face on a daily basis.

As a dark comedy that indirectly castigates the country's insular attitude, Dias Police essays an alternative to a homogeneous society by showing the potential of a diversified community. The series tries to bring this vision to life by having a supporting cast of foreign actors converge in a restricted locale, exemplifying a melting pot of cultures and ethnicities. Furthermore, the overall set design has a retro-ghetto vibe to it that does not lend itself to a specific time period which deceptively makes the show feel current without committing itself to a specific time frame. It has a unique look which is dingy but whimsical, where back-alleys and seedy rooms give way to a specialty restaurant abuzz with friendly folk, and crime scenes are paled by a roof deck where a replica of the Statue of Liberty looms above a group of women doing basic yoga poses.


No matter how serious or dire the storyline gets, or how may trigger warnings it may set off, the show is simply unable to shrug off the comic attributes of its source material. And while it has its share of human scum and violent thugs, there are also numerous characters in it seemingly lifted from the pages of the manga that make the show skirt reality. The sickle-wielding female enforcer, the conspicuously dressed and inked assassin, the large-nosed male porn-star wannabe and the silver-haired xenophobe leader are just some of the characters that make this series a tad outlandish and laughable. Combine that with the ways in which the only police officer in town comes to the rescue armed only with his wits and the odd household item (e.g. hand drill, mouse trap and a lighter), Dias Police tows the line between crime drama and satire, and it doesn't work all the time since over the top acting inevitably undercuts the drama. 

Another thing that might bother viewers is that the series ends without revealing the true identity of its protagonist when such information was treated to be of some value or, at the very least, a point of interest in the story. The episodic format provides very little by way of character exposition despite constantly showing Saki in action. His roots remain a mystery and all that is known of him is that he speaks several languages and is resourceful enough to perform his job effectively. It has been alluded to that he arrived in Japan as a war refugee, but beyond that, the question of how and why he came to be the dias police does not appear to be of particular concern to the series. 


RATING:
IMMIGRATION ISSUES
COMIC BOOK VILLAINS
DIVERSE SUPPORTING ACTORS
TRIGGER WARNING

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Sunday, September 11, 2016

Strawberry Night SP (2010)


Strawberry Night is the first book in Honda Tetsuya's popular detective series which features a hardboiled female detective, constantly at odds with the rigid, patriarchal system of her chosen profession. Adapted into a standalone special in 2010, this 2-hr feature provided audiences a taste of the kind of brutal and gruesome cases that comprise the author's brand of macabre fiction and similarly introduced a dark and complex heroine in Lieutenant Himekawa, whose single-hearted focus in her work can both be admired and despised. It also marked the beginning of a string of adaptations which came out in the form of a television miniseries in 2012, followed by a full-length motion picture in 2013 entitled, Strawberry Night: Invisible Rain, and then capped off by another t.v. special on the characters following the events of the film.

In 2016, the book, Strawberry Night, was translated into English, published under the title, The Silent Dead. With the book now available to a wider audience and the series having reached the end of its run, it's as good a time as any to revisit the special and see how it stacks up against the other made for t.v. offering in the series.

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When a body wrapped in a blue plastic tarp is found near a pond in a Tokyo suburb, Lieutenant Himekawa (Yuko Takeuchi) and her squad from the homicide division of the Metropolitan Police are called in to investigate the unusual circumstances behind the crime. It's a baffling case---the man who was brutally murdered came from a modest background with no known enemies, and it's a complete mystery as to why the body, with its stomach carved out, was dumped in such a conspicuous place. The case takes a rather bizarre turn when a second body is found with the same signs of torture and cause of death, but there appears to be nothing to connect the two victims together.



The police's only lead is an exchange on a message board discussing a site on the dark web, which has Himekawa convinced that they're dealing with a methodical killer with a high body count. She alerts her superiors of this possibility but has trouble convincing them of the merits of her theory. With her right hand man (Hidetoshi Nishijima) stuck behind a desk and rival detective, Katsumata (Takeda Tatsuya), breathing down her neck, Himekawa has to struggle against professional impediments and personal prejudice to usher the case forward, bringing to light a world where death is proffered as a spectacle.

The Strawberry Night SP is a solid adaptation of its source material, being arguably the best of the lot, simply for supplying viewers a structured story. It also happens to be the only one in the series that offers a sense of closure to the case, all the while touching upon issues such as social injustice and apathy, law enforcement inefficiency in criminal apprehension and gender discrimination.

Well-paced, with the deductions made being logically sound, this television special, for the most part, is an engaging mystery that also makes use of the more sinister aspect of the dark net. It has a perpetrator that exploits the dichotomy of life and death, attracting victims to witness a person's demise as if it were performance art---the most chilling part of it all, is that these people were willing participants and patrons to this Sunday theater, who can even be considered as accessories after the fact.



There is sufficient information provided about the protagonist, the killer and the victims to make this a well-rounded effort. The motivation behind the killings might be a bit extreme but it's often the type of existentialist dilemma that is featured in this sub-genre of Japanese television and cinema. The material does not shy away from everything that's vile and sordid and for this reason credit should be given to screenwriter Yukari Tatsui for keeping the story moving and intact without relishing the gory details. Furthermore, director Yuichi Sato's command of every frame provided subtle hints and sufficient exposition to the case without giving away the big reveal of the identity of the sought after criminal. It's a twist that not many will see coming and this is probably one of the few times when the endeavor to misdirect viewers really pays off. 

But perhaps the highlight of the show is not so much the commission of the crime---which is horrific in itself---but rather, the depiction of how the traditional policing model in Japan can hamper the resolution of cases. Extremely bureaucratic and political, police officers and detectives are shown to be mired in jurisdictional and intra-agency rivalries, often withholding information and reluctant to cooperate with each other. The Iron Gun's unorthodox methods of securing information provide a nice foil to Himekawa's intuitive reasoning and impulsiveness, turning the special into a contest on which detective will first crack the case. 

Entertaining though it may be, the Strawberry Night SP is far from perfect, given a weak third act and an overbearingly defensive heroine. Given her traumatic past and present hostile work environment, it's understandable how an ambitious woman like Himekawa would have a chip on her shoulder but it is quite unsettling to see her lashing out indiscriminately at people who care and support her. There's also quite a leap in logic at the very end on her part when the mastermind is uncovered and an unearned display of empathy towards a virtual stranger that is somewhat puzzling to say the least. The gallery salute and the insertion of a ghostly apparition seem out of place with the overall tone of the series and lastly, there are a number of questions  left unanswered regarding the true status of Himekawa's relationship with a certain colleague.  


RATING:
WELL-PACED CRIME PROCEDURAL
TROUBLED, COMPLEX HEROINE
OFF-PUTTING GHOSTLY APPARITION
WEAK THIRD ACT

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Sunday, August 28, 2016

Dokushin Kizoku (2013)


Dokushin Kizoku is a romantic comedy series that is more like an homage to classical Hollywood films than an earnest depiction of contemporary single life. It has elements of the quiet, pristine romances prevalent in the Golden Age of cinema, at times, being out of touch with present day reality, often caught up in scenarios that would have otherwise been tolerable if this were made in a different century.  It starts off with three single people with individual reasons to detest marriage and steamrolls its way to the rigors of the movie-making business and yet, it does not really make strides to push that particular subplot. At best, it's about how one self-proclaimed bachelor for life meets his one true love and reconsiders his view on marriage....but to say that's all there is would be myopic. The series is predictable to a fault and though it is peppered with sweet moments and lots of movie references, such timid intimations of love between the lead characters may not be enough to tide die-hard romantics through eleven episodes of near misses and forced endearments.

Hoshino Mamoru (Kusanagi Tsuyoshi) is the head of a film production company who relishes his time alone. He goes out on dates but pays the women no mind, firm in his opinion that matrimony and sharing his life with someone would be nothing but bothersome. Temporarily living in his apartment is his brother, Susumu (Ito Hideaki), who continues to carry on a dalliance with a revolving door of women even though he's about to be taken to the cleaners by his ex-wife. Though different in demeanor and attitude towards work and women, the Hoshino brothers agree on one thing---there's nothing more precious than being free and unhampered, for nothing beats living the single life.


Trouble brews on the horizon when the screenwriter they contracted fails to produce a script for their latest venture. With the company's investors ready to pull out at any moment and their aunt (Dewi Sukarno) imposing Mamoru's engagement to aristocrat, Genouzono Reika (Hiraiwa Kami) as a condition to providing financial support, the brothers scramble to salvage the impending movie project. Susumu decides to pass off a screenplay written by aspiring writer, Haruno Yuki (Kitagawa Keiko) to the investors as a quick fix, but Mamoru objects to the said plan as a matter of principle. To keep the company afloat, he acquiesces to the arranged marriage and offers Haruno an internship to familiarize herself with the movie business while working on her screenplay.

Matters of the heart and work soon collide as Haruno attracts the attention of the Hoshino brothers. She gets swept off her feet by the younger and personable Susumu; slow to realize how the older and introverted Mamoru would be a better match for her creative sensibility and reticent personality. Though alike in many ways, these two inert individuals take a rather long and awkward path to finding each other, and not without the intervention of meddling bystanders and concerned well-wishers.



Contrary to its title, Dokushin Kizoku is not really about the swinging single life. Yes, it's a love story that takes root during the course of a movie production but, in its own way, it's also a circumspect tribute to cinematic endeavors in general. It has protagonists who are certified cinephiles who share a strong belief in film, not only as a form of artistic expression but also as a medium that captures the imagination and opens up worlds that would otherwise have been out of reach. On the business side of things, each episode takes audiences through common problems encountered in putting together a movie project such as working with divas, hosting premieres, soliciting advertisers, casting choices and securing location permits. The series also manages to present the veritable conflict between the commercial and creative demands of the industry, including the existence of the proverbial casting couch, however, it often falls back on clichés, as if totally oblivious to the consequences of a breach in contract, the threat of a sexual harassment suit or the oft-discussed complications of having a workplace romance.

Dokushin Kizoku more or less tries to mesh what would have been a 50's prototypical romance with the supposed cutthroat film industry but is unable to adeptly present or explore each storyline from a fresh, unfiltered perspective. It, however, remains pleasant and wholesome, which is part of its old school charm. With inspiration culled right out of celluloid dreams and music invoking a myriad love stories, it's a wonder how few and far between the romantic scenes are between its one true pairing. Characters would often speak about romantic love and destiny, citing lines in verbatim from stock movies such as Sleepless in Seattle and While You Were Sleeping and even serendipity comes at play, but the material's too chaste approach and often languorous pacing somehow tamped the magic of its so-called meguri aetera. There's just not enough of either the love story or the workplace drama---with symbolic tokens conveniently forgotten and professional impediments easily brushed aside. What's good about it is that while it may lack originality, it does manage to recreate the type of story where love and intimacy can develop without physical contact and where the gravitational pull between soulmates is so apparent that third parties have no choice but to nobly step aside.


As a side note, Kusanagi Tsuyoshi's performance at the end of episode seven deserves mention for what comes across as a sincere and heartfelt admission, while Hiraiwa Kami gets major props for playing an initially annoying side character, who ends up saving the day by boldly proclaiming, "there's no such thing as fate". Now if only she lost the birdcage headbands...

RATING:
PRISTINE ROMANCE
GEEKY MOVIE REFERENCES
LIMITED OTP INTERACTION 
MEDDLING SIDE CHARACTERS

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Sunday, June 12, 2016

Stranger Bakemono ga Jiken wo Abaku (2016)


Television shows that feature supernatural creatures embroiled in crime investigation are nothing new. They tend to resurface intermittently considering that the combination of two genres provide some gothic flavor to a show that would otherwise just be another crime procedural. Forever Knight and Moonlight had the undead making use of their abilities to fight crime while the Korean series Vampire Prosecutor featured another creature of the night in search of truth and justice. Stranger Bakemono ga Jiken wo Abaku somewhat follows in this tradition by introducing two immortals that surreptitiously assist in solving a murder case despite their initial reluctance to get involved for fear of drawing attention to their kind. It panders to the idea of supernatural creatures mingling with common folk, unidentified and inconspicuous, whose movements are confined by a society of their own. What makes this different is that while similar shows are mostly about the search for meaning and purpose in the face of eternity or the atonement of past sins, this drama special curiously places stock on the need to dissociate from humanity and the ability to forget (--lessons which its male protagonist refuses to learn).

Misugi Akira (Katori Shingo) and his mysterious companion, Maria (Nakajo Ayami), arrive in Tokyo to fulfill a promise to admit Itou Kaori into their vampire clan when she comes of age. But they never get to meet the girl. For on the day of her 20th birthday, while waiting for Akira to pick her up, Kaori falls prey to a killer that leaves puncture marks on his victims and collects their blood. Akira, being in the vicinity of the crime, is taken in by the authorities for questioning and later released. He arouses the suspicion of Detective Saeki (Hagiwara Masato), who looks into Kaori's past and discovers a remote connection between them. To prevent the detective from pursuing this lead, Akira and Maria decide to aid the authorities and search for the criminal in order to prevent the exposure of their immortal clan.



Despite its flat execution, an ongoing debate about the nature of humanity is waged within Stranger Bakemono ga Jiken wo Abaku. From the point of view of beings that consider a lifetime as a mere bleep in time, humans are argued to be frail, petty and cruel, unworthy of concern and intervention. And while, initially, there are two focal points to this drama special's narrative, the ongoing manhunt for a serial killer only plays second fiddle to Akira's tale as a hundred-year old vampire dissenter. It takes a rapid detour from the investigation of a gruesome crime to uncovering the history and reappearance of a man thought long lost and dead. What it does quite successfully is to draw appreciation for a character whose thoughts and actions consistently reflect a strong belief in keeping memories alive, so much so, that he is unable to abide by the rules of the clan to distance himself from the business of mortals. It does quick work of heavy themes such as life, love and loss but acquits itself in explaining why a man on the verge of taking his own life would eventually choose to live forever.

Good characterization aside, the special does come with a number of problems. Foremost of which is that it lacks originality and imagination. It resorts to tired images of vampires and serial killers. The unnatural dialogue between the detectives (obviously hewn from a textbook on criminal psychology to profile the killer) combined with the regular-issued black attire and sullen disposition of the show's vampiric creatures just smacks of lazy writing. Most confounding is that it leaves out details regarding the origins and customs of the clan in question. Among these include making roses a daily nutritional source as a substitute to blood without explanation, brushing aside Akira's role and responsibility as consort, and opting to dress an exalted lady of ranking like a Gothic Lolita on her way to Comic-Con. Often bland and expressionless, with the occasional glare every quarter of an hour, the acting is far from good but it would also be a stretch to call it atrocious. While thematically strong, Stranger is ultimately guilty of cutting back on the finer points of the myth surrounding its supernatural creatures, when more insight on how and why they are so would have made this show infinitely better.



RATING: 
GOOD CHARACTERIZATION
UNDEAD HERBIVORES
ANCILLARY MURDER MYSTERY
UNTAPPED ORIGINS OF THE CLAN

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Sunday, May 22, 2016

Koi (2013)


This TBS drama special based on Koike Mariko's award-winning novel has two things going for it. First, it has the notoriety of a bestseller that has for its subject, a crime of passion, and second, it has a strong and recognizable cast of actors able to render this tawdry affair into an unforgettable piece of melodrama in spite of being a crime-exploitation. As a period piece, the special leverages a soundtrack designed to capture a decade marked by political conflict and changing social attitudes. In terms of motif, Koi highlights the reckless, sordid and ugly facets of that "one great love" which defies all reason and the early stirrings of misguided feminism. This is a love story stripped of any conventional romance, and even though it manages to put across its heartfelt sentiment depicting strong emotional ties, it does not appear to operate within the boundaries of a prescribed thesis to support or justify its characters' choices.

The special is full of characters that are hopelessly consumed by an amorous intensity that is rarely reciprocated. Koi recounts one dying woman's summer of love and unexpected devotion to a couple whose relationship she saw fit to protect at any cost. Set in the early 70s, the material has radical views pertaining to women, sexuality and marital relations, at times arguably championing a love that is fiery, relentless, and defiant---and by all accounts doomed. There are radical ideologies at play in this and an indication of an open relationship carried out behind closed doors, or in this case, off screen.
   


Novelist Koike Mariko provides a heavy-handed dig on different kinds of love and its many complications, but for all its histrionic declarations and liberal mustering, refuses to offer a solid message or a word of caution regarding its premise. Is it simply because the heart wants what it wants? Or that love comes with its own set of shackles? Is one type of love greater than the other? If so, then the show has difficulty navigating this self-constructed, murky terrain, and in the end, the material in itself appears unconvinced of the worthiness of personal sacrifice in defense of such credo and the murder committed in its wake.   

A middle-aged ex-con, named Yano Fumiko (Harada Mieko), is tracked down by a non-fiction writer (Watabe Atsuro) interested in learning what drove her to murder a man in the idyllic resort town of Karuizawa in 1972. Choosing to unburden herself to a sympathetic stranger, Fumiko shares memories of her youth, recalling a time when student protests broke out in the streets, cherry blossoms were in full bloom, and how meeting a university professor and his wife for a part-time job would challenge and eventually alter her perception of love and marriage. As a young woman (Ishihara Satomi), she admits finding herself instantly enamored with the dashing Katase Shintaro (Iura Arata), who was about to embark upon translating an erotic novel, and equally in awe of the latter's liberal, free-spirited half, Hinako (Tanaka Rena), who shrugged off social convention. In her mind, the spouses make the perfect couple; she reminisces of happy, carefree days spent together at a time when they took a shine to her.


From hereon out, the drama special tiptoes around the actual formation of this ménage à trois as Fumiko transitions from an outsider to playing the part of friend, little sister and lover to the Spouses Katase. Scenes are cut to favor the depiction of young, unrequited love even though it is quite clear that the relationships between the characters are far more complicated than presented. This can perhaps be attributed to the limitations of the medium in which the story is told but there are enough clues within the show to insinuate that Fumiko's feelings extended to both Shintaro and Hinako. There are subtle reminders utilized to communicate this to viewers such as shots showing an impressionable student smack dab in the middle of a handsome, urbane couple, a seemingly chaste kiss goodbye, teary-eyed assurances and an appeal, entreating each other not to disrupt the existing unit.    

All the above elements make for a compelling if not scandalous piece of television, if it were not for the need to downplay the sexual relations and controversial views of its characters on love. There's little to no dialogue about how and why Fumiko regarded the Katases with such reverence, adjudging the relationship as inviolable and whatever alternative to it as dirty and unacceptable. Without the necessary dialogue or disclosure on the philosophy behind the foregoing relationships, the driving force behind the commission of the crime becomes ambiguous and the choice to leave or stay in the present state of affairs nugatory. It remains unclear whether or not the work adopts a liberal stance on marriage, celebrating the concept of agency with an underdeveloped feminist agenda as subtext. Despite its theoretical shortcomings, Koi works because the actors in it sell the drama. In retro outfits, Tanaka Rena and Arata make a stunning, cosmopolitan couple believably worthy of envy and desire, while Ishihara Satomi channels both innocence and quiet rage, playing a young woman desperate to salvage a relationship. In conclusion, a working familiarity with the novel on which the show is based provides added complexity, whereas the intentional repression of any socio-political views render this drama special open to a number of interpretations. The viewer gets to pick which version they prefer.  
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For those interested to gain more insight on the relationship between the characters and the perceived significance of the period and place in which the story is set, see Mina Qiao's analysis of the source novel entitled, Sexuality and Space: Tokyo and Karuizawa in Mariko Koike’s Koi. You can also download the pdf copy of the article sponsored by the Japan Foundation here


RATING: 
ABSORBING MELODRAMA
CONTROVERSIAL VIEW ON LOVE
DYSFUNCTIONAL RELATIONSHIPS 
COMPELLING PERFORMANCES

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Saturday, April 16, 2016

Tsuki ni Inoru Pierrot (2013)


Kitagawa Eriko may have once  been hailed by TIME magazine as Japan's soap opera queen but her recent serials have not been well-received by a plugged-in generation inept at making meaningful connections. Lately, she seems to have gained better favor in crafting sentimental one-shot specials where her signature style provides enough emotional impact without falling into grating melodrama. Tsuki ni Inoru Pierrot is a good example of how her penchant to write unwieldy encounters between flawed, relatable characters is much suited to a short television format. Her brand of kismet gets more mileage this way.

In this special, the sale of a children's book entitled Tsuki ni Inoru Pierrot in an online auction provides the opportunity to bring two strangers together. Middle-aged receptionist, Tamai Shizuru (Tokiwa Takako), has surrendered herself to living a monotonous life, sharing a roof with her grandmother and mother. She's lonely and worn out, unable to imagine a life beyond their provincial town. But when a handwritten recipe is discovered wedged between the pages of the book she recently purchased, she decides to reach out to its previous owner, Tobuse Wataru (Tanihara Shosuke), supposing the same to be a keepsake. This thoughtful gesture sparks a personal correspondence between the two and they soon find themselves conversing about everything and anything under the sun. Shizuru is, of course, thrilled at the prospect of having someone to share her life with but she's uncertain of his feelings and equally unsure if the connection they have is real or just a passing fancy. 



Short, sweet, and brimming with hope, this drama special tugs at the heartstrings in the same manner as April Story highlighted the beginning of a new love. Kitagawa Eriko, however, provides a crucial difference in that while the latter featured a fresh-faced girl ready to explore the world, Tsuki ni Inoru Pierrot  has, for a protagonist, an older woman who's known heartbreak and been made timid with age. What's interesting about this is that it's not just a love story or some tale about having the courage to take risks. It captures the dilemma and lethargy of a character bound by filial duty and increasingly put down by people around her who, unintentionally or not, have shamed her for being an old maid. Tangentially, the special also takes a swipe at how the elderly are seen as a burden to society and how ageing can be treated with a certain level of derision.     

And while references to social ills and marginalized sectors have been a fixture in most of her dramas, what's consistent about Kitagawa's works is that her characters are always written to be all too human, portraying a sense of restlessness, if not having somehow lost their way. They're beautiful and broken, needy yet proud, and in this respect, Tsuki ni Inoru Pierrot's Shizuku is no different. Tokiwa Takako delivers a performance with a thorough understanding of the self-doubt and dedition that clutches at the heart of women of a certain age. She's extremely likable in this role, and there's a certain honesty and nuance in her acting that alerts viewers to Shizuku's past that made her retreat to a quiet life of drudgery. Tanihara Shosuke, on the other hand, plays the good guy to a tee. Receptive and kind, the fact that the leading man is a divorced father lends some dimension to the character but Shizuku's story is simply, better carved out. The best part of the show is the communication between the characters. It's a natural and free-flowing exchange of thoughts and feelings, personal and sweet without being utterly cloying. In a time when a dearth of emotional honesty is often supplemented by a display of histrionic outbursts in television and cinemas, this is indeed a rarity.   


RATING: 
SACCHARINE GOODNESS
SHORT FEATURE
LIKABLE CHARACTERS
SUPERLATIVE PERFORMANCE BY TOKIWA TAKAKO 

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Friday, April 01, 2016

Teddy Go! (2015)



With major networks favoring police procedurals and crime dramas to fill in their programming slate, Teddy Go! is a slight compromise and an unusual reprieve from such series stock. It's a four-part miniseries that is basically a murder mystery that plays out as an off-kilter comedy with a paranormal twist. At it's center is an immobile, innoxious, knitted bear with a myriad expressions, bringing about the cute and funny in a scenario that could have easily conjured up childlike terror associated with the very of idea of spirits inhabiting playthings. Thankfully, it doesn't veer off its light and silly path, providing juvenile humor without much thought as to the cause behind such phenomenon or the creepy nature of certain encounters.

Yamase Kazuko (Morikawa Aoi) is a freeter who just got dumped by her boyfriend and lost her job. She tries to blow off steam in a shooting gallery where she wins herself a knitted teddy bear, which she cheerfully takes home, only to discover the same to be inhabited by the spirit of private detective, Amano Yasuo (Aikawa Sho). The deceased detective suckers Kazuko into assisting him in investigating the death of a married couple whom he believes to have been murdered as a result of a cram school admissions scam. Together with Amano's old partner, Fuyuno (Hiraoka Yuta), Kazuko sets out to help Amano resolve his "unfinished business" in order for him to cross over and find eternal rest.



The narrative in Teddy Go! proceeds predictably and does not offer anything new to material of the same ilk. In so far as the main mystery is concerned, it parades the usual list of suspects and lets go of any pretense of making the case complex or overly serious, instead shifting the focus on the bond between Amano and Kazuko. There's an odd dynamic to the relationship wherein Amano calls the shots and hands out instructions but, in fact, he's utterly dependent on  the actions of a frivolous girl because of his newfound, cuddly, corporeal state. This is the part where cute meets fluff---and the prop steals the show for being able to convey different emotions, arguably better than its human co-stars. 

The murder case might have been facile and pedestrian but the show does something right in mining the humor and absurdity of having a tough, grizzly detective embodied by a harmless stuffed toy. Comic sketches have been built around this very premise and while the timing and execution can be a bit off at times, some of the punchlines do manage to land. Morikawa Aoi and Hiraoka Yuta work best acting alongside an inanimate object while Aikawa Sho brings as much attitude in voicing the knitted blue bear despite his limited screentime. Attempts at emotional sentiment generally come off as a misstep---the bit about the estranged daughter is pure filler and less effective in drawing a reaction compared to scenes involving a torn up toy or a spirit about to cross over to the netherworld. Childish and unpolished, Teddy Go! is for a younger audience that would wholeheartedly embrace its use of stodgy visual effects, occult caricatures and over the top acting. Older folks might not see much value in it but that blue teddy bear would certainly win over a lot of kids.    
    

RATING:
PEDESTRIAN MURDER MYSTERY
OFF-KILTER COMEDY WITH A PARANORMAL TWIST
BEST ACTOR IS A KNITTED BEAR 
UNEVEN COMIC TIMING




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