Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Yamato Nadeshiko Shichi Henge

Four guys, a girl, and a makeover... wait, scratch that.  It's really four guys, a girl and a beaten to death lesson about inner beauty and true love. I'm quite sure there's also a thing about "learning to love yourself" thrown in there to sweeten the pot.

Note: I  tried to keep the rest of the review spoiler-free but in the end, I couldn't. Whether or not the review even makes enough sense is something that cannot be guaranteed...was in a daze when I wrote this...  I suppose it's a side effect of  watching something that's designed to be "mind-numbingly fun".

You see, I wasn't particularly excited to watch anything from the winter 2010 dorama line-up, so finishing all ten episodes of Yamato Nadeshiko Shichi Henge comes as a surprise. It's juvenile and spastic but I saw it anyway. Blame it on the long election weekend. Blame it on a cold that wouldn't go away. Blame it on huge doses of cough medication... and most of all, blame it on New Moon. Yep, when it came right down to watching an insanely popular [but fatuous] vampire movie  OR watching another shōjo manga adaptation, I had to pick the lesser of two evils, so I went with Kame and the boys. After all, how bad can it be?

Turns out that watching this series meant violating an item in my Murtaugh List, specifically the one that  pertains to frying brain cells with indiscriminate viewing. For the last two years, I've been more selective of what I watch-- the objective was to basically avoid anything that was atrociously cute and dumb enough to  raze  massive cell death in my poor noggin. It's the reason why I wouldn't come near dramas such as Mei-chan no Shitsuji and Kaibutsu-kun, having learned my lesson from watching unforgettable gems like Itazura na Kiss and Hanazakari no Kimitachi e. But then again, as you know, there's always an exception. Tokusatsus, for instance are taken out of the equation. You can't really watch something that henshins into a masked fighting machine without being required to suspend a certain amount of disbelief. Same with hard camp dramas like Fuma no Kojiro and Boku to Kanojo XXX or obscure shows that, more often than not, are shown at midnight. But primetime dramas should always be held at a different standard... or so I thought.

I actually got to watch two episodes of this series last January just to check it out. I then decided to drop it after being assaulted by an endless parade of random events and characters but was later prevailed upon to watch it after being given a copy by a friend. So as I willed myself into watching, I suddenly remembered what threw me off the first time around...

It was that disco light-infused, musical number of an OP!

Come on, what the heck was that? Where's the ingenuity? Where's the art? Where's the truckload of cash intended for this part? (Because rhymes are fun.)

The whole thing begins with a shot of Kame in a white suit standing in front of the title of the drama  plastered in red neon and then cuts to a sound stage where all five characters dance to the tune of KAT-TUN's Kimi ga Kirai na Kimi ga Suki. It's just a weird spectacle as the four actors dance to the same choreography yet interpret it in different ways. Kame is grooving to it like it was the hippest thing in the world, he even does a body wave, just because he can; Tegoshi purses his lips and tries to put in some funk; Uchi looks like he's counting to the beat; and Miyao Shuntaro, the ballet dancer, does alright with the port de bras but totally sucks with the parts where he's required to pop and lock.

With contra tiempo moves that go against the music, the number itself comes with a sortie of jazz hands, sparkly effects and close-up shots. It's without a doubt another example of JE mind control at its finest as viewers are subconsciously fed the messages [above, left to right]: See me, Love me, Want me, Watch me-- as each character repeatedly makes hand gestures and beckons you to tune in every week. YOU MUST RESIST IT,  I TELL YOU! You must resist.  You...must...resist.... DAMNIT! I was all ready to start a crusade until my sister walked in and sang along to the song.  Didn't get to her in time... guess I should count myself lucky that she didn't dance to it (*sigh).

Okay, so back to the program...

The poor thing is so shy, she's always alone and doesn't have any friends.

Yamato Nadeshiko Shichi Henge plays like your run-of-the-mill shōjo manga  complete with a generous selection of off-kilter characters, an unlikely premise and an array of not-so-funny gags. It belongs in the company of dramas that have a rocky beginning (due in part to a host of wtf plot devices) and an ill-fitting end. Similar to shows like Ryusei no Kizuna and Atashinchi no Danshii, this is a drama that keeps you wondering where the hell it is going, before belatedly deciding on which course it was gonna take. It has something that would resemble a story, but has nothing of real value to fuss about because as fun and loopy as the anime and manga may be, seeing it in live-action can be a tad disturbing. Trust me, there are so many things in this show that can make you cringe.

Like any teen-oriented drama that has a reverse harem scenario, the story wouldn't be complete without the presence of a certain number of ikemen which, according to experts, could range from a minimum of three boys to as many as having three dormitories' worth of men. In this case, we have four.

With your powers, I want you to make her into a Yamato Nadeshiko.

In an opening sequence that's as outlandish and full of conceit as the introduction of the main characters in dramas like Hana Yori Dango, Hana Kimi and Yukan Club, the four men comprising the harem are capriciously profiled to have attributes so desirable that their mere presence make women weak at the knees. There's Kyouhei Takano (Kamenashi Kazuya), who's loud and brash, quick to anger and yet still the most popular of the four. Next is kind-hearted Yukishijo "Yuki" Toyama (Tegoshi Yuya) whose curly locks and childlike persona bring out the maternal instinct in women. Also present is quiet and reserved Takenaga Oda (Uchi Hiroki), heir to a traditional family skilled in ikebana. Rounding up the group is suave Ranmaru Morii (Miyao Shuntaro), a wealthy playboy who spends every waking moment with a different lady in tow.

They're the F4 of Yamato Nadeshiko Shichi Henge, otherwise known as the "Freeloader 4". They're four college guys who were offered free room and board in a luxurious mansion on the condition that they turn  the landlady's niece into a yamato nadeshiko or the epitome of the ideal Japanese woman.  Sounds simple, right? How hard could it be for four guys with well-coiffed hair and plucked eyebrows to perform something like a bishonen-eye type of makeover?

If she's not sick, then what is it?

The answer: VERY HARD, especially when the subject of the makeover does not want to cooperate.

Meet Nakahara Sunako (Oomasa Aya), wallflower extraordinaire. She's a hikikomori of the horror girl variety, the type who hides behind super long bangs and one who has a strange fascination for horror movies, skulls and blood. She's insecure and withdrawn, often seen lurking in a black hooded cloak and is unusually comfortable sleeping in a coffin. Content with being shut away from the world with only three anatomical dolls to keep her company, Sunako doesn't see the point of changing her way of life.

To make matters worse, Sunako can't stand to be in the presence of beautiful things and dazzling creatures, making it doubly hard for her housemates to even come close. If forced to look at one of their faces, her nose bleeds and her head hurts. She'd scream "MABUSHEEEE!!!!" as if blinded by intense light, administer a head butt and slink away into the dark.

The quartet try their best to change her but they just don't have the power to hold her down. Why? Because Sunako has superhuman strength and she can invoke the power of GraySkull. Remember She-ra: Princess of Power? Well, she's sort of like that... When enraged, the sky darkens and a cold draft fills the air, and suddenly Sunako has the strength of ten men shortly after becoming a human lightning rod. All anyone has to do to flip on that switch is to yell "BuSunako" at the top of his lungs and/or until a major artery on his neck comes dangerously close to making that fatal pop... and KABAM! Pow! Whack! She's the goth chick with a vengeance. That, more or less, is the drama's S.O.P.

By the time I finished episode 3 it was clearly useless to rate this drama according to a standard criteria. It's one of those shows where you either get with the program or just smartly tune out. To do otherwise would be like pretending to not know that the story itself was based on a shōjo manga.

Episodes 1-5 cover all lengths of crazy as the stories revolve around a stakeout of a host club, magic mushrooms, a rabid fan, a kidnapped doll, a geriatric suitor, a runaway bride, a box of chocolates and a ghost from Rome that resides in the [Lockheart] mansion. To analyze all these things would be to dwell on  insignificant matters  that don't have answers-- like how come the gaijin spectre speaks Nihonggo or why Sunako doesn't get electrocuted... simply put, it's all a waste of time. To consider these things outside of the writer's purpose to bring Sunako and Kyouhei together, I repeat, would just be a waste of time. The best way to watch this show is to check your brain at the door and just go along with the ride.

Barring all logic and common sense, these episodes can be light and funny, they might even be good enough to strike a chord with its intended audience, which I think are tweens. Obviously, if you're looking for something profound and dramatic, look elsewhere, my friend. If you're not willing to overlook a lot of things and get on with the silly, don't even try it, just walk away.
Yamato Nadeshiko Shichi Henge  thrives on equal doses of silly and crazy, [as if you didn't know,] with a lot of grating and annoying elements thrown in between. Some of the comic sketches can be funny but most of the humor surrounding Sunako and her situation fall flat because of bad timing as some [supposedly] comedic sequences happen a beat too late or last for more than a few seconds. A good example of this is that scene where Sunako is seen tapping on the window pane. The surprise factor can only last for a few seconds, if not handled carefully, you're just left with dead air [insert yawn and crickets]. Another reason why it fails to be funny is because some of the things portrayed were simply unsettling, like Sunako's protracted moaning and groaning. It's more funny-weird bordering on creepy than funny-haha-- something that the writer and director failed to distinguish.

What's great about it though is that anyone who watches it has a pretty good idea of what to expect. No one's gonna die or have an unfortunate accident, and Sunako's going to find true love plus a rockin' skull bracelet at the end. No surprises...  unless you count the part wherein all four boys dress in drag with a fully made-up Kame as their undisputed queen.

Assuming you get through all five filler episodes, which can be quite a long slog,  the second half of the series is actually where each of the characters get designated an episode to "flesh out" his story. Conflicts are thrown in to make things interesting but like any show that's lean on content, each problem is resolved rather easily-- the landlady and her son have a heartfelt discussion,  Sunako and Kyouhei would duke it out, and the boys  settle their differences by wrestling around a pool, calling  it "male-bonding". Furthermore, Yuki gets to reaffirm his commitment to his long distance girlfriend (Motokariya Yuika) and Takenaga gets to be the heir and boyfriend to the sickeningly [pa]sweet Noi (Kanbe Ranko).  Even Ranmaru the Casanova gets  an intriguingly short story arc with the appearance of a family-designated, stone-faced fiancee in Tamao Kikunoi (Asami Reina).

Now before you get excited thinking that this show is headed somewhere, let me pull the breaks and remind you not to overthink this. Because that's all you're gonna get. It's best to just sit back, relax and enjoy the show. If at any point you feel like standing up and getting a life, then more power to you.  For those who will stick around to see it through, then get ready because there's a mad scramble of a story ahead of you.

Stupid complexes... you can just blow them off!

Screenwriter Shinozaki Eriko (Cat Street, Kurosagi, Daisuki, Tomorrow) decided to tackle each character's "complexes" in Episodes 6-9.  It's a welcome relief from the chaos and inanity of the previous episodes, however placing all of them together in the latter part of the series came out to be a desperate and poorly conceived move. For one, it assumes that people would stick around long enough to see it; and two, it meant rendering a different treatment on the episodes such that some scenes would have to depart from the  show's overall light and cartoonish mood. And while this style and treatment may have been true and consistent with the manga, where the main story was also told near the end of the series, the writer could have easily endeavored to present a more solid narrative by slowly easing the viewers into the story rather than bombarding them with strange wacky adventures at the show's onset. Only by toning down the crazy antics did the characters had room to grow, but by then the show was already at an impasse, it had nowhere to go. (Again with the rhymes.)

As a result, episode 6 turned out to be quite weak and forgettable (in no way will Kame's haircut be considered a milestone), while episode 7 had remnants of events already featured in shows like Nobuta wo Produce and Hana Yori Dango. On the other hand, episodes 8-9 appear to be oddities with extended sobfests (Kame, cry me a river...) over Kyouhei's tortured past  that did not blend well with the ludicrous [hello, ghost possession #2] storyline  that ran parallel to it. There was too much drama and a lot of cheese, and since the writer was constrained to make use of earlier plot devices (e.g. unstable villains, restless spirits, the child narrator, cheap lightning and laser beam sfx), episode 10 ended up as a back-to-basics episode  showcasing, of all things, a candid-camera-human-trafficking-fashion-show. Yep, a candid-camera-human-trafficking-fashion-show... you have to see it to believe.

The "you" that you hate...is the "you" that I love.

Of course in the middle of all this is a love story... a love story that happened between an angst-ridden pretty boy sporting a feathered shag and a socially inept ghost girl with a heavy fringe. Believe it or not, it's a match made in heaven-- shōjo manga heaven that is. He's a glutton, she's a superb cook; he doesn't like crowds, she's a shut-in; he hates women who worship his face, she can't stand to look at his face... they even share a superficial sense of self-loathing, albeit manifested in different ways. In each other, they find a sense of comfort and joy, they even manage to confront their personal demons to learn about the greatest love of all (no doubt a valuable lesson which they could have picked up just by listening to any number of songs, say, one by Whitney Houston or Christina Aguilera).

Like your typical Byronian hero, Kyouhei has had a big chip on his shoulder ever since his pretty mug deprived him of his mother's love. In a world without restraining orders, sexual harassment suits and rules against illegal assembly, not to mention rational thought and maybe mirrors, his God-given [and/or cosmetically enhanced] good looks began to take a toll on his family and affected his self-esteem. With a psychologically depressed mother  who doesn't want anything to do with him and hordes of women, and the occasional man,  after him, the only thing left to do would be to mutilate his precious face and move to  Gotham City... (Oh the bane, the horror!)... but that thought never occurred to him, so plaid  shirts and glasses it is.  Sunako, on the other hand was just unlucky in love. After being rejected and called ugly, she withdraws from society completely and finds comfort chatting up a storm with dear old Hiroshi. 

So these two lost souls develop a strange affinity because they both suffer self-image issues. It plays off like a classic case study where two people with similar issues are subjected to some form of group psychotherapy; both benefiting from an exercise of psychological projection and transference. Oddly enough, it's a pairing that works, with each holding up a looking glass for the other...  that's about the extent of my hack theory. The relationship was by no means well-written-- a lot of it seemed forced (at least until episode 7 rolled in where Kame lay claim on his woman "Korean style" by grabbing her by the wrist and dragging her away, I guess it looks cooler that way hehe)-- but the fact of the matter is that  no two characters in the drama were as troubled and no two characters could have understood each other more. It's weird, but true.
The acting in this series is of a low caliber but then again one cannot really expect them to perform well given the material they were given. Characters were largely underdeveloped, so the best that most of them could do was to look cute and project into the camera, which is like a license to overact. 1-2-3 Shock!

Having played the role of a cocky yet sensitive guy before, it's no surprise that Kame pulls off Kyouhei with the right amount of angst and swagger. Nothing new there. Uchi comes off as bland as his detached and bookish character while Miyao Shuntaro looked rather ugly with all those tight shots he was getting (too many Ojisan Home Alone >> NOOOOO!!!!!).  As a relative newcomer, his Ranmaru is flamboyant and irritating, was probably told to play things up for comedic effect but was totally found wanting. I think he should stick to dancing; maybe if he lets me throw tomatoes at him doing a  fouetté en tournant,  I  might find the heart to forgive him. Meanwhile, Tegoshi's Yuki did nothing more than wink and pout and act all cutesy-wootsy as if that would last him until he's 30. But the one who had the hardest job was Oomasa Aya, who had to make Sunako funny, weird and endearing--  something which she barely pulls off  concealed by a black cape and a curtain of hair. Sunako came alive only in the latter episodes when you get to see her "real face" and not the one that was made over, a sorry plight for an actress who was given her first breakout role.

If there's one thing of note in this production, it's the drama's use of light. It seemed that director-producer Ishii Yasuharu (Hana Yori Dango, Smile, Ryusei no Kizuna, Byakuyako) used all his previous [lighting] experience in order to shoot Yamato Nadeshiko Shichi Henge in keeping with Sunako's point of view.  Because all four boys were always bathed in light-- sometimes it was unfiltered, at times it was harsh, at other times washed out and a few times warm. It was like one giant lighting experiment, where scenes, especially at the beginning, were either shot too bright or with hardly any light at all (which goes to say that some scenes appeared to be dark and stuffy). What's interesting about it is that as the series progressed, the sharp, glaring backlight was slowly replaced by a soft incandescent glow. The way the scenes were lit changed dramatically, just as Sunako changed and eventually became comfortable enough to be herself around her newfound friends. That's about the only thing that really stood out for me in this series.

In conclusion, Yamato Nadeshiko Shichi Henge is much like that new ride in the amusement park that you didn't want to take (because it was too flashy, it looked lame, and kids were in line for it, oh and  maybe you caught sight of a grown-up barfing after getting off it....) but your friends talked you into anyway. So when you're already strapped in, what's the use of complaining? Just enjoy/endure it for the duration of it's run, then try to walk straight like your head isn't spinning.  Would I take another ride on it? HELL NO. And with that, I close this show.    
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Thursday, June 17, 2010

Sophie's Revenge

After gaining international recognition in Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,  Zhang Ziyi has gone on to make projects that consist of critically acclaimed films, box office misfires, and the occasional Hollywood blockbuster, turning in performances that are either truly memorable or downright forgettable. With the face of an angel and a smoldering gaze that underscores a raw sensuality, Zhang Ziyi has had relative success in roles as the femme fatale (The Banquet, House of Flying Daggers) but somehow always appeared inadequate in portraying characters which required a certain level of emotional and intellectual depth (Purple Butterfly, Forever Enthralled, Horsemen). Hers is a body of work that yields itself to mediocrity (Jasmine Women, Memoirs of a Geisha) and yet just when you're about to dismiss her as another pretty face, she'll turn around and surprise you as she did in Wong Kar-Wai's 2046.

The fact that her filmography includes movies like Rush Hour 2 and Princess Racoon only goes to show how  sought-after she's become [having worked with well-known directors], and that regardless of any shortcomings in her acting, what Zhang Ziyi  aims to accomplish is to diversify the roles that she play. 

When I was young, my mother told me a woman in love is foolish but a woman rejected is crazy...

In Sophie's Revenge, Zhang Ziyi in the titular role Sophie, is a kooky cartoonist who was unceremoniously dumped by her surgeon fiancé  Jeff (So Ji-Sub) for actress, Joanna (Fan Bing Bing). Heartbroken and humiliated, this Sophie resorts to braving the cold and clinging on to ledges just to spy on her ex. Tortured by memories and severely defeated after watching the happy couple [yes, stalking will do that to you],  Sophie ends up sulking for days until her friends (Ruby Lin and Yao Chen) intervene and tell her in no uncertain terms to start over by drowning her sorrows in work. Jumping at the chance to publish new material, Sophie decides to exact revenge and make use of her experience as the basis for her "Love Handbook". She then sets this plan in motion by formulating a step-by-step program to win back her fickle ex, implementing steps one and two of her strategy to disastrous results.

 My mother also said, men must choose the right career; and women marry the right guy. What she meant was a woman's job is to find Mr. Right.

Devastated over back-to-back failures, Sophie attends a Halloween party with her friends where she gets rather drunk and disorderly. There, she meets Gordon (Peter Ho), a photographer, whom she discovered that Joanna rejected in order to be with Jeff. In her drunken stupor, she enlists Gordon's help, believing that their combined efforts would increase the odds of orchestrating a break-up. Will Sophie finally get her revenge? Better yet, is Zhang Ziyi even up to the challenge [of doing a romantic comedy]?

Writer-director Jin Yimeng's vision of Sophie's Revenge appears to stem from a patchwork of  popular romantic comedies, drawing its main premise from the Meg Ryan movie Addicted to Love and ripping off key elements in Jean Pierre Jeunet's Amélie.  Touted as China's first contemporary romantic comedy [ergo chick flick], this joint-project from Beijing Perfect World Co. and Korea's CJ Entertainment, along with  Zhang Ziyi's financing, has a production value that could easily rival the best that any country has to offer, with a bright, candy-colored palette [think jellybeans] courtesy of cinematographer Amando Salas and state of the art computer generated effects. It's gorgeously shot with a cast that wears trendy clothes and takes pretty pictures but judging by style and content, Sophie's Revenge has nothing wholly original to offer.

As romantic comedies go, Sophie's Revenge follows a foolproof formula that's designed to delight those in search of shallow, mindless entertainment. It's chic and trendy, furthermore it makes no attempt to hide the fact that it was designed to appeal to a broader audience and should therefore exhibit a fresh, young vibe. So much so, that the film itself is devoid of any cultural identity and pays no homage to any nationality, almost as if it exists in a homogeneous society, oblivious of the long list of well-loved movies that are defined by a specific heritage and/or made more romantic because of a certain locale (i.e. My Big Fat Greek Wedding, When Harry Met Sally, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, Far and Away, Joy Luck Club, etc). By existing in a vacuum, it kind of loses its heart; and by trying too hard to appear Westernized, it simply doesn't have that spark. This movie doesn't have that ability to create a niche for itself in order to tap into a person's consciousness primarily because the viewer is struck by this strong sense of déjà vu-- such that everything you see in it has already been done before, only it was done better.

It's a perfect example of a movie wherein style got the best of substance as the storyline remained wafer thin and the characters turned out to be no more than broad sketches that evoked little or no empathy. Jin Yimeng's ode to the talented and eccentric woman comes off as as an ode to the severely neurotic, with Sophie being a decade-late, pale and inferior imitation of David E. Kelley's Ally McBeal.  Equipped with a hyperactive imagination, Sophie is gawky and awkward, more so, desperate and superficial as she  doggedly subjects herself to consecutive acts of idiocy. It takes quite a long while for her to even remotely look normal and that, I'm afraid, is severely overshadowed by zany sequences and disturbing hallucinations that would earn anyone entry to the nearest mental institution. As a movie that claims to celebrate the modern  Chinese woman, its female characters seriously lack depth. They're flighty and irrational, and they seem to be used to living a life of excess.

Much of the comedy is lifted from half a dozen other films (Two Weeks Notice, My Best Friend's Wedding, America's Sweethearts to name a few) but lumped together, all the token comic sequences  turned out  unfunny and uninspired. So Ji-Sub barely registers on screen as he struggles to phonetically enunciate his Mandarin lines while the sultry Fan Bing Bing is left to make the best out of an otherwise thankless role. Peter Ho is quite decent but considering that his character is the only one that's sane doesn't make that much of an accomplishment.

You need a psychiatrist.

And what about Zhang Ziyi, you say?

Well, she stumbles, she falls, makes faces and does just about everything in her power to elicit a laugh that  I myself, am embarrassed to watch. While Audrey Tautou's Amélie was full of  childlike wonder, Zhang Ziyi's Sophie was plainly unstable, possibly even mentally deranged. She does not lend herself well to physical comedy as she does to choreographed martial arts sequences so slapstick comedy might not be the right way to demonstrate her versatility as an actress. To be blunt, the girl just  doesn't have what it takes to be funny. Her desire to expand her three expression arsenal which consists of: #1. a come hither stare; #2. a prepare to die glare; and [my personal favorite, which is a lethal combination of the previous two expressions--] #3. the black widow eye (which loosely translates to "I'm horny so you'll die later"), is a goal that fell out of reach when she decided to do a movie without any distracting sharp weapons and fancy costumes. She doesn't have the acting chops to make an unlikeable character likable because her appeal and charisma always came from playing characters who were by nature cold and inaccessible. To go against that without adequate preparation is pure hubris on her part. Here's to waiting for expression #4. 
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Thursday, June 10, 2010


A leak from a secret foreign military facility that stores a deadly chemical agent kills off the inhabitants of an island and forever alters the lives of two boys who survived the said incident. In commemoration of the 80th year of the kamisama of manga, brace yourself  for yet again another disappointing adaptation of a Tezuka Osamu classic---this time in the form of the gekiga-inspired  MW. If you thought that 2009's Astroboy bore little or no resemblance to the essence of the robot boy with the cow lick and go-go boots that you knew and loved as a kid, then brace yourself for another travesty as the people of Amuse Soft Entertainment and Studio Swan bring you a sanitized version of the serialized tale of a cold-blooded killer and his religious confidante.

I must confess that I took one look at the cast of this movie and made up my mind to see it. I was already 30 minutes into watching it when I decided to stop, get hold of a copy of the manga and familiarize myself with the story. There was just something amiss about it and I couldn't shrug off the feeling that I was missing chunks of the narrative, so I had to go and see for myself if there was something to it. Lo and behold, I wasn't imagining things---there really was more to it, sadly, a lot of things didn't make it to the big screen. 

The movie begins in the midst of a cover-up in Okine Mafune Island where nerve gas MW leaked from a secret U.S. military facility and killed a majority of the island's inhabitants instantaneously. To spare itself from a public relations nightmare, the Japanese government, in league with the American government, embarked upon a conspiracy to wipe out any indication of the accident. Within hours, the whole village was torched, and helpless civilians were gunned down and buried in mass graves. Relatives of those massacred were later bribed to occupy positions in high places and the island was slowly re-populated. It's as if the incident never happened and anyone who can attest to the existence of MW and it's dangerous effects were either long gone or over it---all, but for two boys who escaped to the mainland.

Sixteen years later, survivor Yuki Michio (Tamaki Hiroshi) grows up to become a shrewd and successful investment banker who, unbeknownst to most, is suffering from the side effects of the MW gas he inhaled as a child. Calm and collected, he goes about committing heinous crimes against the people who conspired to cover-up the incident in Okine-Mafuno Island under the pretense of seeking justice, all the while indulging his insatiable need to kill. The only person who knows that he's leading a double life is fellow survivor, Garai Yutaro (Yamada Takayuki), who sought solace in the Catholic faith. In him, Yuki confides his evil thoughts and deeds knowing that his childhood friend would dare not betray him, much less break the confessional seal.

Owing Yuki a debt of gratitude for saving his life, Garai becomes an unwilling accomplice to the crimes perpetrated. But Yuki's killing spree doesn't go unnoticed, as an investigative journalist (Ishida Yuriko) begins to piece together the common denominator for the seemingly random series of crimes. Also closing in is a detective (Ishibashi Ryo) who begins to suspect Yuki's involvement in a recent kidnapping case that played out in Thailand. Now, Garai has to make a choice between doing what's right or doing right by his best friend as it turns out that all Yuki ever wanted was to find the MW and take the whole world down with him...

Packaged as an action movie, Director Iwamoto Hitoshi's (Nobuta wo Produce, Tatta Hitotsu no Koi, Jyou no Kyoshitsu) big screen adaptation of the Tezuka classic has its fair share of chase sequences and narrow escapes. MW has all the makings of a decent crime/espionage thriller with bullets flying, a hidden chemical warfare agent, and an ever increasing body count but ironically, none of the intrigue and complexities that made the original material a work of notoriety. Screenwriter Oishi Tetsuya, who also handled the duty of bringing Death Note to the silver screen, devotes too much of the movie's running time establishing Yuki as a criminal mastermind while neglecting to explore his often twisted, and beguiling relationship with Garai. Stripped of any political underpinnings or character exposition, the movie ended up cutting way too many corners in adapting the manga and was particularly careful not to dwell on the darker, more sinister elements of the story. In doing so, viewers who are unfamiliar with the original work remain unaware of how much of a psychopath Yuki is, nor will they even begin to appreciate the significance of Garai's sacrifice.

All I want is you beside me. No more terrible crimes.
In the manga, Yuki and Garai were not just fellow survivors or best friends, they were lovers. They were two people bound together by one traumatic experience; both were haunted by one incident that pretty much changed their lives forever. No two characters could have possibly been more diametrical in both physique and demeanor-- one is a man of the cloth, while the other a sexual predator; one subscribes to rape and murder, while the other believes himself doomed to suffer the fiery fires of hell. Tezuka's Yuki is beautiful, charismatic and irresistible to both men and women. He kills people without remorse and doesn't think twice about eliminating anyone who gets in his way. Garai, on the other hand, is a devout Catholic and a loyal friend. Despite doing his best to sever ties with Yuki, he always finds himself unable to refuse the latter's invitation to share the same bed. It's a dysfunctional relationship that knows no bounds, as a seemingly amoral and unfeeling person like Yuki possessively holds on to Garai and a supposedly just and upright man like Garai protects Yuki from the authorities. It's such a shame that the movie barely hints at this kind of devotion between them.

Most of the scenes that give a passing nod to the manga can be easily overlooked; they don't even make much of an impact. For instance, the part wherein Yuki dons a nun's habit while making a mock confession before Garai could easily be dismissed as pure whimsy, when in fact, it's demonstrative of Yuki's pathological behavior (Yuki supposedly hails from a well-known Kabuki family and is therefore skilled in impersonating women, in particular, his victims). The scene where a worried Garai plainly tells Yuki to stay with him implied the existence of a more intimate relationship, but the writers felt the need to undermine the same by later referring to Garai as Yuki's "favorite toy". These are but a few instances wherein a slight of hand could have been used to make the movie closer to its source material, but intentional or not, things were never really placed in their proper context.

Casting Tamaki Hiroshi as the charming and devilish Yuki next to Yamada Takayuki's somber Garai was an interesting choice. Both possess the physical attributes that make for a startling contrast to the two distinct characters of MW-- one being tall and slim, while the other short and stocky. It's quite unfortunate that Tamaki comes off cold and stiff as the manipulative Yuki when the character was written to be deceptively personable. He plays it straight and smart with hardly any sign of mental imbalance except for his bulging eyes, which is fine, really, except that it's a far cry from the Yuki who's supposed to be a cross between Brett Easton Ellis's American Psycho and Patricia Highsmith's The Talented Mr. Ripley. Yamada does slightly better by looking sufficiently tormented and morose, but then again, without the right back story, he ends up looking dull and pathetic.

Overall, MW is the Japanese equivalent of your basic Hollywood action movie where plot and character development take a backseat to expensive set pieces, numerous aerial shots, overseas location shoots, and even foreign bit players. The movie starts off with a bang and ends with a whimper as much of the build-up in the beginning is laid to waste as events become too incredible to ignore. It's good enough for movie night but it somehow leaves you with a feeling that you were shortchanged and that there should have been more to it. In this regard, the manga should serve as a pretty good companion piece. 

Photo Credits: Ki Image Gallery AsianMediaWiki/MW
Special thanks goes to the good people of Random Scans and Kickthekitty for their wonderful scanlation work and for providing links to Osamu Tezuka's MW.
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Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Jdorama Giveaway

Still on the subject of disposing of dramas that were collected over the years... but this time,  it's jdoramas that are up for grabs. It's an odd mix of the old and the new, they go as far back as five years. My sisters and I are done watching them so if you're interested in any of these dramas, then kindly refer to the post on kdramas because the same rules  apply.

  • Attack No. 1
  • Attention Please
  • Ace wo Nerae
  • Boku dake no Madonna  
  • Chuusingura 1/47
  • Ryusei no Kizuna
  • Ushi ni Negai wo
  • Fuma no Kojiro
  • Kurosagi
  • One Pound Gospel
  • Hanazakari no Kimitachi e
  • Taiyou no Uta
  • Celeb to Binbo Taro
  • Honey and Clover
  • Yukan Club
  • Jotei
  • Yamada Taro Monogatari
  • Dance Drill
  • My Boss, My Hero
  • Satomi Hakkenden
  • Gokusen 2
  • One Liter of Tears
  • Hanayome to Papa
  • Hotaru no Hikari
  • Innocent Love 
  • Yamato Nadeshiko Shichi Henge
  • Code Blue 2
  • Yasuko to Kenji
  • Giragira
  • Tatta Hitotsu no Koi
  • Last Friends
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