Sunday, April 26, 2015

Orient Kyuuko Satsujin Jiken (2015)

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. 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, 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 (2015)

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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