Saturday, April 16, 2016

Tsuki ni Inoru Pierrot

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 taking courage to take risks, it easily 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 single. 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 there's no mistaking that fact that Shizuku's story is better carved out. Perhaps, 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.   


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Friday, April 01, 2016

Teddy Go!

With major networks favoring police procedurals and crime dramas to fill in their programming slate, Teddy Go! is a slight a 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 who 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 created 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 uneven, 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.    


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Sunday, March 27, 2016

Tensai Tantei Mitarai SP

Another seinen manga gets a live-action adaptation in Tensai Tantei Mitarai--- a special with a premise that bears a striking similarity to Gatiss and Moffat's reimagining of Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock, even though its modus is really more in league with network precursor, Galileo, in  terms of exposition. Fuji TV appears to be testing how receptive people are to another detective series, making case file Kasa o Oru Onna a soft pilot for a future series or at least the first installment in a series of television specials featuring yet another genius consulting detective.

Tensai Tantei Mitarai features two childhood friends who, in addition to sharing the same living space, share a penchant for detecting and solving complex mysteries. Mitarai Kiyoshi (Tamaki Hiroshi) is a neuroscientist, who inexplicably spends his time aiding the police in solving cases as a civilian consultant while his flatmate, Ishioka Kazuki (Domoto Koichi), is a crime novelist, who documents every criminal investigation that they've figured in. Cold and supercilious, Mitarai tends to rub people the wrong way but it's quickly established that he, along with his affable investigative partner, have a reputation for cracking the most baffling cases, thus making them an indispensable component in local crime enforcement.

The special begins with a midnight caller going on the the air to recount how a woman in a white dress caught his attention in the midst of a downpour. This rainy tale is relayed by Ishioka to a bored Mitarai, who immediately discerns the commission of a crime based solely on the curious behavior of the woman as described by the caller. The police are notified and true enough, a murder is found to have taken place in the area where the woman was spotted. However, instead of one victim, two bodies are found---one of which turns out to be that of the woman in white. Intrigued by this unexpected twist, Mitarai and Ishioka assist in the investigation, working alongside long-time collaborator, Detective Takahashi (Katsamura Masanobu) and the ever skeptical Detective Kashikawa (Sakai Maki).

Judging the show by its initial offering, it gets brownie points for the original way it introduces the case using an utterly random diversion such as retelling a story heard on the radio. It's a fresh take on an opening sequence, slightly ominous and vicarious in tone, yet demonstrative of the type of cases that Mitarai and Ishioka stumble upon. The mystery is set up nicely within the first few minutes, the main problem is that even though the show is successful in stirring up one's curiosity, whatever interest is derived from it eventually wanes because of the dry and dour pace of the special.

By piecing together clues and reviewing a slideshow of photographic evidence, Mitarai is able to formulate an explanation for every bewildering aspect of the murder case ahead of everyone else. He comes by such answers with relative ease and unparalleled certainty, providing a plausible narration of events even though the same may not be logically apparent or immediately conceivable to the audience. In doing so, the show treats its viewers with a certain level of condescension, with one character having a monopoly on the lowdown of the case. 

Tensai Tantei Mitarai is the type of show that relies heavily on armchair sleuthing, it's like a procedural drama minus the likable ensemble cast. The fact that the lead character is aloof and cerebral indirectly strips the show of its humanity and the audience is reminded of this intermittently when the veracity of the guesswork done is announced in percentages. It lacks the thrill and danger that usually accompanies stories of this genre, which in turn detracts from the force and fury of the commission of the crime. This is one of those cases wherein the show is simply too occupied with being clever to the extent that it marginalizes the viewer and it's unintentionally stripped of any emotion beyond feeble attempts at wry humor.

Perhaps the biggest letdown is that the duo eventually unravel a case driven by an unfortunate series of events culled from a news incident that is belatedly introduced and ancillary to the crime in question. The suspect is easily identified and there's very little build up towards pinning such person to pay for the crime because Mitarai has an exclusive handle on how the mystery unfolds. His languid and indifferent demeanor  (in spite of proof to the contrary), overpowers the inquisitive attitude and earnestness of Takahashi and Ishioka, making the show such a chore to watch. The emotional blows do not land as intended because of the phony artifice of the show and its characters, making it difficult to care about the perpetrator even in the presence of mitigating circumstances that led to the homicide of a despicable person.


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Sunday, April 26, 2015

Orient Kyuuko Satsujin Jiken

Agatha Christie's 1934 novel, Murder on the Orient Express, gets its first Japanese adaptation even though certain details are ill-fittingly transposed and dramatic tone is chucked out the window. The special works best closely following the lead of its 1974 cinematic version but the extended back story, which spans an extra two and a half hours of screentime, is arguably superfluous and does nothing to correct the unintentional injection of humor to an otherwise dark and grisly scenario. Fans of the mystery novel might rejoice at this latest incarnation but the innate weakness of the original story remains intact, along with the show's flippant treatment of its resolution. It's certainly an unusual pick for a two-part television special but its star-studded cast is certain to attract interest, given that the project marks Fuji TV's 55th year of broadcast television.  

In this version, legendary protagonist Hercule Poirot is reimagined as Suguro Takeru (Nomura Mansai)--- a tall, lean and fussy private detective, sporting an upward-turning moustache, eager to get back to Tokyo from Shimonoseki Station after assisting local authorities in solving a case. Through the help of ministry official, Baku (Takahashi Katsumi), he is able to secure a sleeping berth on a luxury line initially thought to be fully-booked. The famous detective's passage aboard the first class carriage is not without incident, as his sleep is interrupted because of the constant movement of people in the carriage. 

The next day, businessman Todo Osamu (Sato Koichi) is found dead, murdered in an adjacent compartment. Along with Baku and a surgeon (Sasano Takashi) who's willing to lend his medical expertise, Suguro sets out to find the perpetrator whom he believes is still on board the train. He begins his investigation by interrogating all 13 passengers who occupy different stations in life, seemingly unrelated to each other. By piecing together clues found inside the victim's compartment and assessing the demeanor of each suspect, the great detective is able to relate the present case to a tragic incident concerning a prominent family, which in turn leads him to uncover a conspiracy to commit murder in the first degree. 

The story is constructed in such a way as to showcase Suguro's powers of observation even though the same suffers from an inherent weakness in the text by reason of the number of coincidences drawn and the far-fetched leaps in deductive reasoning. Thematically, it serves to demonstrate how individuals can be considered equally guilty of committing a heinous act to dispense their own brand of justice. There's an underlying debate in it, a moral question of whether there are indeed instances when it is acceptable to take the law into one's hands and render judgment against one who has escaped prosecution. 

The special goes through the motions of establishing the narrative of telling a tragic tale, condoning a form of summary execution but it lacks the weight accorded to the ethical dilemma of the scenario presented such as can be seen from the 2010 version starring David Suchet.  The adaptation fumbles by failing to explore the moral scruples that accompany the decision of killing a man in cold blood. Very little is said about the rule of law, divine punishment and perdition, making the revelation of the actual killing such a gruesome sight. It unintentionally makes light of the situation by imbuing characters with a nervous energy, reiterating resolve with gruff indignation, sometimes odiously treating the whole murder scheme like a game or enterprise. 

Writer Mitani Koki tries to remedy the dispassionate and limited portrayal of such a diverse group of characters by allotting the second half of this 2-part special as a means to tell the story from the perspective of the perpetrators. An extended back story is provided perhaps to justify the use and lengthen the exposure of its impressive cast but there's very little value-added to the show's 5-hour long runtime.

For those not in the know, Murder on the Orient Express is a grim and inopportune tale of revenge that is originally set overseas, in Eastern Europe. Transplanting this famous mystery to Japanese soil robbed it of the exotic locale and the cultural/ethnic diversity that would have placed religious and socio-political beliefs as compelling factors that contribute to the outcome of the story. Meanwhile, viewer empathy for the array of characters is restricted given the large cast and the cluster of story lines in need of dispatch. Nomura Mansai's performance borders on parody while of the lot, veteran actresses Kusabue Mitsuko and Fuji Sumiko inevitably steal the show as the rest of its stars fade into the background. 


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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Second Love

With nothing else but the relationship of its characters to focus on, Second Love is a throwback to what appears to be a dying genre---the renzoku renai of old. Bucking the trend of breezy, quirky romances and sensational melodramas, the series features two people, brought together by a strong physical attraction, struggling to find common ground to keep an extemporaneous relationship going. But perhaps more important than finding love, it's also about letting go of old dreams and finding the courage to pursue new ones. Hence, more than a nod to its stars' previous works, the title is really more about starting over and following a new path in life.

The show takes a stab at kitchen sink realism by presenting ordinary (but extremely good looking) people stuck in a rut; and said "ordinary" people hooking up. There appears to be a conscious effort to ground the characters by placing them in humble and oppressive environments from the stevedoring dock where the lead does part time work, the hostile school laboratory where his counterpart teaches, down to his dingy apartment where the two fortify their union, bathed by the light of a faulty heater. Such attempts at realism and serious art, however, is dampened by abbreviated character development, not to mention the innate glitz and affectations of its lead actors. Clocking in at seven episodes, the tail end feels a bit rushed, with very little dialogue to communicate the conflict between the characters, but overall, the series seems to have benefited from cutting a lot of corners.

Out of work dancer, Taira Kei (Kamenashi Kazuya) spends his time doing manual labor and is about to give up hope landing his next big break when he catches sight of high school teacher, Nishihara Yui (Fukada Kyoko) against the backdrop of the setting sun. Smitten, he doggedly wooes Yui, whom he considers his savior and his muse. He bares his soul to the older woman and asks her if they could start seeing each other. Moved by Kei's sincerity and equally dissatisfied with the life she's leading, Yui accepts his feelings and decides to spend the night with him.   

They decide to move in together just as quickly as they jumped into bed the night they met. In each other's arms, they find solace but their relationship is soon put to the test when both professional and personal concerns need to be addressed. Kei gets an unexpected job offer and has to decide whether to take his friend's (Hayami Akari) advice to give up his goal to dance for a foreign company in order to be more financially secure. Meanwhile, Yui has to handle leaving behind an emotionally dependent mother (Asou Yumi) and thwart unwanted attention from a former lover, who happens to be a co-worker (Namase Katsuhisa).  

Second Love doesn't beat around the bush and presents its story in a forthright manner. Two people meet, fall in love and surmount both internal and external issues in order to find their way to each other. It's a generic love story which is in part romanticized because of the instant physical and emotional connection shared by the main characters but it's not a full-on fairytale either. The relationship for instance is anything but chaste; their past, checkered by failure and rejection. The series sets up customary story elements but cleverly side steps a number of dramatic clichés which is a pleasant surprise. 

Writer Ohishi Shizuka generally does a good job in conveying the thoughts of flawed, insecure characters, using voice overs as a means to indicate resolve, acceptance and surrender. In the case of Second Love, it's all about identifying one's limitations and learning to begin again. The injection of realistic components make up for the sheer pageantry of the show's contemporary dance segments even if it seems to bend over backwards to give its lead actor every chance to perform. Kei and Yui may possess extraordinary skill or potential but at least they're portrayed as ordinary people, behaving within the realm of reason. Even the secondary characters and their respective reactions are quite believable. As such, there are no drawn out dramatic scenes, no obsessed parents, scorned ex-lovers or villains in need of psychiatric help---which is pretty rare for a show in this genre. The ending is a bit of a cop out and some love scenes could have been edited out, but the given number of episodes feels just right for this story format.  


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Monday, April 20, 2015

Blog Update : Take Five

Oh my, how time flies. It seems like it was only yesterday that I decided to start a blog on a whim. If this blog were a child, it'd be running around in preschool by now.... But then again, it would also be severely neglected considering how bad I am at updating this thing. Bad analogy, eh?

What I'm getting at is that it's been five years since this sorry blog made its debut on the internet. Five years! Can you believe it? And I can't still get a handle on how to keep this thing going. With work and graduate school taking up most of my time, I haven't been able to write as often as I would want to. Nevertheless, I wish to thank those who drop by once in a while to check new posts and all those who stumble upon such random posts even during my long hiatus.

Rundown-zoo was set up as a predominantly jdrama review site, so regardless of its number of readers or followers, it will remain as such, hopefully for years to come. I'll try to incorporate both new and old dramas, including a couple of specials this year; schedule permitting. As such, readers and guests should be guided accordingly:

1. Reviews are written only after watching a series in full.

2. Effort is placed to make each review spoiler-free with fanboy/girl raving kept at a minimum,

3. This year's posts will carry some conceit with the incorporation of a 5-star rating system.

4. The rating accorded is highly subjective and serves no other purpose than to reflect my personal preference.

5. Some posts will be antedated because the screencaps were prepared ahead of the actual review.

Thanks again and happy viewing. ;)

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Sunday, February 08, 2015

Time Spiral

The idea of being able to move along different points in time, of having the ability to change untoward events and prevent the loss of a loved-one are just some of the possibilities associated with the concept of time travel. Time Spiral  builds on the same premise that maybe the past is not etched in stone and conceives of a situation where one man tries to alter events yet finds himself unable to change the fate of another person. The series actually possesses an interesting treatise on destiny and free will subsumed by its portend mystery and drama. The problem, however, is that it reaches this conclusion in a rather oblique way. Of course, it doesn't help that the whole cast appear to be totally in the dark about where the story is headed---which accounts for extremely odd and mismatched acting choices.

The genre in itself requires a measure of good will and suspension of disbelief, and more often than not, in the absence of logic or clarity, its saving grace lies in the story's ability to capture the imagination and/or evoke an emotional response. Time Spiral  fails on both counts. Based on a web novel by Mizumori Eren, the cause for this drama's disorganized state is due either to a weak source material or a weak adaptation of the said material. Sluggish and mostly confusing, it can be described as a sci-fi fantasy series with a dollop of romance, even though the latter may not instantly be apparent or even convincing in the long run.

The series utilizes two narrative threads to track the movement of its two main characters, highlighting their various encounters with each other. It shuttles back and forth from 1999 to the present (2014), to the year 2020.

Aizawa Natsuki (Kuroki Meisa) is a graduate student in physics who tends to have debilitating anxiety attacks as a result of a childhood trauma. By her side is Yuki Kentaro (Hiraoko Yuta), a childhood friend who always comes to her aid and is highly protective of her. Ready to take care of Natsuki for the rest of his life, Kentaro decides to propose marriage to her but the same is foiled by an enigmatic stranger (Gackt), who aggressively pursues and lays claim to the former.

The said stranger is revealed early on as a time traveler. He is shown to have the capability to weave his way through time, going back and forth into the past and the future, trying to retrace his steps. His purpose is shrouded in mystery but he appears to be continuously working on changing the past, expecting a different outcome for the future. Unfortunately, all his meddling has brought about is a chain of consequences---none of which has led him closer to achieving his desired objective. This time around, he's fairly convinced that the answer lies with Aizawa Natsuki. 

Who is he? How is he connected to Natsuki? What are his intentions and how does she figure into his plans? More importantly, how does he travel through time? As a viewer, one can't help but come up with a barrage of questions at the onset of the series. The show just takes too many things for granted without even attempting to provide an explanation, plausible or otherwise. What's equally unsettling is that it doesn't subscribe to a particular canon nor attempt to supply a set of rules even though it touches on topics such as special relativity, the twin paradox and the non-linear theory of time.

The central premise of accidentally creating a snag in the timeline shows a hint of brilliance but the process or logic which leads the characters to this conclusion is clearly absent in its eight-episode run. Furthermore, the impetus for all these attempts to introduce changes to the timeline is so weakly portrayed that viewers will not wholly be inclined to root for it. On the upside, Time Spiral has two interesting scenarios to offer as a consequence of the main character's intervention. The kidnapping incident and the rigged clinical testing of a trial drug offer sufficient points of interest in contrast to the overarching love conundrum that is the show's primary focus. It could have certainly done away with Gackt's theatrical leering and his vain display of ear piercings, both of which---provide no further insight into how a professor of architecture devised a formula to travel through time.

From the phoned in performances of Kuroki Meisa and Hiraoko Yuta to Gackt's creepy attempts at seduction, the series never manages to hurdle its preposterous assertions long enough to appeal to the human emotion. There are better time travel dramas out there.  


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