Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Yonimo Kimyona Monogatari Fall 2010

Regaling audiences with bizarre tales for over two decades now, Yonimo Kimyona Monogatari  has often been referred to as the Japanese equivalent of The Twilight Zone---albeit dispensed in smaller doses following a standard five-story format and broadcasted yearly over at Fuji TV. If you're around my age, another likely comparison would be the 1995 remake of  the scifi series, The Outer Limits, except this show does not have any particular preference as to genre. It can cover fantasy and science fiction, sometimes even the paranormal or the occult, the only standing requirement for each segment is that the stories must have a "strange premise" with a corresponding twist, and of course, they have to be introduced by television host, Tamori, in his signature dark shades.

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Assembling a list of contemporary stars to appear in material based on original stories contributed by some of Japan's best-selling fiction writers (e.g. Kyogoku  Natsuhiko, Higashino Keigo and Miyabe Miyuki for this particular episode), Yonimo Kimyona Monogatari is the type of show that caters to a finicky, inattentive audience that prefers fleeting, inconsequential tales over the usual drama series format or the virtual spookfest that is Hontou ni Atta Kowai Hanashi.

With 4-5 stories crammed into a 2-hour special, it is categorically an uneven collection of vignettes that tend to fall short on either story or budget due to the basic constraints of its format which can either be a limited running time or an extremely ambitious story capsule. Most segments tend to have an abrupt ending and some may not make complete sense at all, but despite its many shortcomings [like its penchant for wonky opening sequences with foreign talent in tow], remember that this piece of television also has its share of gems. It's entertainment that transposes the traditional short story to a more visual, modern medium, and for as long as there are stories to tell, this program will continue to have its viewers.

Story 1 : The Nasty Door

In the first segment of this fall SP, destitute and down-on-his-luck Hikita Keiji (Eguchi Yosuke), who has lost his will to live, gets a chance to turn things around when he is invited to spend the night at a hotel that grants its guests eternal happiness. Where the hotel is located and how one gets an invitation no one knows, but as the urban myth goes, luck and success would accompany the visitor who's willing to steal the happiness that belongs to another for his own.

A well-constructed tale of myth and mystery, this story by Kyogoku Natsuhiko has the badges of a typical Yonimo Kimyona Monogatari segment, being self-contained, slightly predictable and yet complete in itself. Like any fairytale, it's increasingly clear that there's a price to be paid for every wish granted and what awaits Keiji is an unspeakable fate.

The dark green walls of the hotel suite and the other guests in period garb lingering in the lobby add to the eerie atmosphere and while the ending comes as no surprise it's worth noting that everything that happens in the story thereafter is foretold by an elderly gentleman (Sasano Takashi) who has similarly taken up the hotel's offer. 

Story 2: The First Step

Providing comic relief to an otherwise sad and cynical collection of tales, the second segment is basically a love story prompted by two gods and the elimination of a pet phrase. Fun and breezy, story no. 2 is perhaps the only segment that promises a light-hearted theme and delivers a happy ending, making use of the holiday season to deliver the message that love goes beyond any denomination.

Shinozaki Hajime (Ohno Satoshi) is a timid salaryman who has always believed in thinking things over and taking one step at a time. His overly analytical and irresolute ways prevent him from making a decision and this habit of his has also prevented him from advancing at work. His girlfriend (Tanaka Rena), whom he's dated for five years, is at the end of her rope, waiting for him to pop THE question. In a bind over his professional and personal life, two gods---the god of marriage (Ito Shiro) and the good of road safety (Endo Kinichi)---offer to help him. 

Story 3: Bookmark of Love

Twenty-three year-old Kuni (Horikita Maki) develops a crush on a young man (Takezai Terunosuke) who uncannily resembles Sally from the band, The Tigers.

One day, she follows him into a bookstore and sees him pick up Rimbaud's "A Season in Hell". Leafing through the book's pages, she discovers a bookmark. Thinking that the said bookmark belonged to "her Sally", Kuni impulsively writes down a note in an attempt to get close to him and is later thrilled to receive a reply, not knowing that she would soon be corresponding with someone who's long been deceased.

Drawing inspiration from films like Somewhere in Time and Il Mare, this third segment is a conventional mix of romance and nostalgia set against the sepia backdrop of 1960s Japan. The story plays with the notion of a love that transcends time, as the protagonist establishes an incredible connection with a kindred soul. The overall impact of this love story would certainly vary depending on one's exposure to material of the same ilk, for as short notes are exchanged in lieu of text messages, this is one tale that's actually more like a footnote than a memorable chapter.

Story 4 : The Instruction Manual on Murderous Intentions

The fourth segment concerns a former ad executive named Kitani (Tamaki Hiroshi)  who deliberates on murdering an old colleague (Tsukamoto Takashi) by making use of an instruction manual on murderous intentions.

Arguably an odd and roundabout tale of revenge, this dark comedy is a fictional representation of what it's like for an ordinary individual to decide to take a person's life. It's a meditation on the motive and means to murder, which in a way, includes the internal, if not moral, debate over the cost and effect of putting one's murderous thoughts into action. Filled with grim/violent/pathetically laughable sequences that detail the step-by-step process of acclimating one's self to the prospect of gaining the ultimate form of revenge, this adaptation of a Higashino Keigo story comes with animated illustrations, screen texts and public service announcements/reminders that feature instructions on the basics of murder.

Final Story : Burnt Offerings

Last but not least is another tale of revenge, this time involving a grief-stricken older brother's (Kagawa Teruyuki) crusade to avenge his sister's death. Coming to his aid is a mysterious co-worker (Hirosue Ryoko) who willingly offers the use of her "gift" to seek retributive justice from his sister's killer who still roams the streets.

Perhaps the most melodramatic of the five stories featured in this special, Burnt Offerings is in part a love story and a paranormal thriller all rolled in one. It has a rather tragic and somber tone to it, and whatever glimpse of hope that springs from the relationship that grows between the two characters is undermined by their objective to exact revenge on an unrepentant killer. The story has familiar elements to it that may make it seem a bit cliché but the competent performances of the leads convincingly translate the fear, uncertainty and loneliness that haunt these two characters and their shared mission.


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