Sunday, December 28, 2014

Lost Days

Six college friends go on a winter holiday trip to relish what they deem to be their last carefree days of youth, only to find their so-called friendship tested and fractured by malice and jealousy. Conceptually, Lost Days explores the seemingly delicate nature of relationships; bringing to the forefront suppressed feelings of anger and uncertainty that each person feels when they're seeking acceptance within a group. The series takes place in a mountain cottage and covers a 10-day period within which these individuals sort out their issues with dire consequences.

It begins with a road trip organized by tennis club president, Shino Yuta (Seto Koji) and his best friend Takano Natsu (Yoshizawa Ryo). With them are model student, Rinka (Treindl Reina), level-headed Mana (Kojima Fujiko), sassy junior student, Satsuki (Miyoshi Ayaka), and resident good girl, Miki (Ishibashi Anna). They spend a fun-filled afternoon at a ski resort, laughing, joking and snowboarding before deciding to retire to a mountain cottage owned by Miki's parents. Upon arriving there, they are surprised to find Miki's older brother (Kiriyama Ken) already taking up residence. And though Miki appears visibly troubled by her brother's presence, the rest of the gang, at first, does not find anything particularly unusual about having an  unexpected companion.

They all try to make nice with each other as night falls but things soon take an unexpected turn when the power goes out, the keys to the car go missing, and personal affairs get exposed. Cabin fever kicks in and tensions rise as the characters find themselves forced to confront each other with malign intentions at play. Busy fighting and accusing each other of suspicious and repulsive behavior, these six individuals remain unaware of a murder that took place in the mountains and an ongoing manhunt for a killer on the loose.

When one of them almost freezes to death after being locked up in a tool shed, Yuta takes it upon himself to investigate who's orchestrating the group conflict and why this person appears to be hell bent on driving a wedge between his friends. He finds disturbing evidence that point to the involvement of Miki's brother but is unsure of how to proceed with the safety of his friends being a major consideration.

Lost days basically finds a group of friends engaged in a leisure activity and brandishes them into a scenario that would allegedly turn deep-seethed  insecurities into an act of violence that would result in the untimely death of one of these bright-eyed youngsters. However, despite its promise of suspense and peril, what it is really---is an excruciatingly slow-paced drama that insinuates a far ominous series of events than what actually unfolds on screen. Each episode drags on as if it's longer than it's actual runtime, making its viewers feel like they lost an indeterminate number of hours.

The series tries to build up suspense by playing up the paranoia of its six characters, invariably spending time to showcase their agitated dispositions. With the exception of the two boys in the club, a lot of what's said and done by their female counterparts is misunderstood, further emphasizing the superficial and feeble nature of their proclaimed bond. There's an apparent lack of empathy and an unwillingness to listen, even if the the conflict presented could have been easily resolved by placing insecurities and doubts out in the open. More than one person is guilty of sowing discord in the group and though it's easy to speculate the motive behind fomenting distrust, the explanation provided at the end of it all is petty and, in the alternative, underwhelming.

Lastly, given the offhand introduction of an unknown variable (i.e. a serial killer evading capture), it's easy to assume that a much sinister cause for concern is afoot but this promising storyline is squandered and inexplicably left to the last few minutes, untouched. Lost Days takes too much time tracking the movement of frenemies engaged in childish spats, with whole episodes allotted to thresh out matters of no real consequence. And even though there are allusions to creepier and more disturbing elements such as voyeurism and an unhealthy form of sibling attachment, all of this is overtaken by flimsy romantic entanglements that do not pay off in the end. Seto Koji and Treindl Reina are the best of the lot but their efforts to lend a sense of realism or urgency to the supposed tragedy that would later befall the group is lost in an uneventful string of sluggish storytelling.

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Thursday, December 25, 2014

Pinjo no Merry Christmas

Pinjo no Merry Christmas is a three-part miniseries that came out in 2012. The production itself is primarily light and colorful; lending a sense of frivolity even if the story is yet again about a woman desperate to find love in time for the holidays. It incorporates an array of materials that can be found in your local stationery store, being a cleverly disguised ad campaign and a wistful tribute to writing paraphernalia that, of late, seem to have been consigned to the use of a limited segment of the market (i.e. the random scrapbook enthusiast). The mini-series offers an interesting marriage of product placement and metaphor, ultimately drawing on the idea of how falling in love---like greeting cards---can be a hard sell past a certain age. 

Holidays can be doubly hard for singletons. It's the time of year when they're forced to reexamine their solitary existence, when joyous festivities heighten the need to share one's life with someone, and with the cold winter comes the need to hold that special someone close. With Christmas just around the corner, Matsubara Kaede (Kanjiya Shihori) is experiencing both an emotional and professional slump. It's been years since her last relationship and she terribly misses the giddy feeling that comes with being in love. To makes matters worse, she's been tasked by her superior to come up with a promotional slogan that would set hearts aflutter and boost sales of greeting cards at a time when she's devoid of inspiration. 

During a routine dinner hosted by high school friend, Irie (Tsukamoto Takashi), fellow guests and confidants, Rinko (Hiraiwa Kami) and Akari (Tanimura Mitsuki) come up with a plan for Kaede to fire up her love life. They send an email blast to all of her contacts, informing them of a change in address, hoping to come up with a list of prospective dates, if not an actual love match. The scheme works and soon enough Kaede's forced to explore the possibility of establishing a new relationship with either a dapper business associate (Hirayama Hiroyuki), whom she's worked with a year earlier, or an extremely friendly office courier (Nakao Akiyoshi), six years her junior. 

Taking the advice of her friends, Kaede ventures into the dating scene but turning on her "love switch" proved to be difficult when the seemingly perfect gentleman fails to make her heart skip a beat and when polite pleasantries are misread as an indication of romantic interest. She genuinely wants to find love but finds the whole process tedious and bothersome. She's not even sure if she'll ever fall in love again. In an effort to recapture that elusive feeling, she accedes to an invitation from an ex-boyfriend (Kaneko Nobuaki) to meet and catch up, maybe even rekindle an old flame.  

Like any romantic comedy intended for the holidays, this mini-series has its Christmas elements and love dilemmas down pat. Sets are awash with lights and festive decors, while all the characters are warmly clad in cardigans and sweaters. The ceaseless push of stationery and writing paraphernalia as egregious metaphors and narrative pieces are a mixed bag---at times amusing and thoughtful but likewise disagreeable when utilized repeatedly without direction or purpose. Nevertheless, during its most dismal turn  (with the heroine drowning her sorrows in wine and crying her eyes out) such devices secure audiences into thinking that no ending for this mini-series would suffice except a happy one.

The uncertainty and embarrassment that comes with Kaede's purposeful search for love is depicted through plausible scenarios and though her misadventures can feel rather tedious, at least they're resolved  without excessive drama. The mini-series ultimately resorts to the trope of having Kaede find Mr. Right under her nose with the resulting match (though not totally convincing) being an acceptable outcome. Pinjo no Merry Christmas rightly dodges the need for a big romantic reveal, opting for quiet moments that exhibit genuine affection, expressed through comfort food and constant companionship. It would have been more winsome had the one true pairing been more apparent from the very first episode, but the third act does try to make up for the lack of gumption.

Overall, Pinjo no Merry Christmas is interesting in the way that it forces the use of office and art supplies, including related merchandise, into the thick of the drama. Its very premise seems to argue that love, as all other things of personal importance, is worth all the fuss. And what's the best way of showing that you care? Well, the message is simple---take the time to send a greeting card!
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