Saturday, January 31, 2015

Ando Lloyd

Kimura Takuya plays the dual role of genius scientist and futuristic android doppelganger in a CGI-laden science fiction series called, Ando Lloyd. Set in what appears to be an alternate version of present day Tokyo, the series takes on a clean, modern visual style which makes it feel different yet oddly familiar. With elements culled from a medley of works about sentient beings and technological determinism, it's a show that takes great pains to capture every bang and crunch of metal with aplomb while being totally oblivious to the importance of a coherent storyline.

Viewers get thrown into the thick of the action, making the series a high octane robot sentinel/assassin-battle extravaganza full of snazzy special effects, slow motion fight sequences and decorative fillers. It's the prime time equivalent of a tokusatsu with a bigger budget and pool of stars. But unlike its meager counterpart, the harried presentation of a back story and the aseptic relationship between its characters, rob Ando Lloyd of its tell-tale, mechanized heart. Things progress at such a rapid rate in the show without much rhyme or reason that viewers might even be justified in requesting permission for  its atomic disposal.


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As the story goes, Matsushima Reiji (Kimura Takuya) is a genius physicist who has made a breakthrough in his research on time and wormholes. He's come up with a theory that has given him access to the future, specifically, information on the place and time that certain people meet their deaths, including his own. Unable to alter the sequence of events, Reiji dies vowing to protect his fiancée, Ando Asahi (Shibasaki Kou), from the same group of assassins who got him. In his stead, an android dead ringer rises from the year 2113. Its mission is to keep Ando Asahi out of harm's way, under instructions that keeping her alive would significantly impact the future.  

Along with a cheeky repair unit called Suppli (Honda Tsubasa), the said android performs its task with unmatched certainty. Things, however, get complicated once its presence is discovered,  forcing it to assume the role of Reiji in front of a terrified younger sister (Oshima Yuko) and an inquisitive detective (Endo Kinichi). This proves especially problematic since it doesn't have any regard for the life of other humans, much less their feelings. 

The threats to Asahi's life keep on coming, while elsewhere, an unknown foe dispatches another android with higher technical specifications to watch and wait for an opportunity to eliminate Reiji's proxy. 

It sounds amazingly simple and forthright but the presentation of this story about how an android becomes the embodiment of love's transcendental nature is anything but. Ando Lloyd is such an ambitious series that it tries to pack in an unbelievable amount of detail and embellishments to a universe or mythology that is underdeveloped. A lot of the special effects utilized is indeed impressive for a television production but they're no more than accommodations---integrated to showcase the jdrama's coolness factor even at the expense of numerous continuity errors.

In this makeshift world, androids can wreak havoc and destruction without the notice of the general public, they can bend and break one moment, then inexplicably bleed the next. Equally puzzling is that human consciousness can be stored in a microchip even a hundred years after their physical death; much more, androids get decimated and miraculously resurrected without a backup system using a 3D-printer situated inside Reiji's desk drawer and a temporary OS upgrade can be triggered using an intra-cardiac injection, when in theory androids don't even have a cardiovascular system to speak of.  

The series looks and feels like it's written on the fly, operating under tractable rules, causing the viewer to raise questions, of which there are no satisfactory answers. The explanation provided to the compound question of why Asahi is so important to the future of mankind, as well as the why and how an android was utilized to protect her, comes off as hackneyed, sentimental blubber. In addition thereto, the love story in it doesn't really take root given Reiji's sudden departure. It takes five episodes before supporting characters are given something to do and another five episodes to sort out the main villain's agenda. And while it might be fun to see Kimura Takuya prop up and fall down like a broken toy without blinking, the whole cast is somewhat wasted in this because the whole project--- despite its gloss and energy---doesn't really make a lot of sense.


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Thursday, January 15, 2015


Hirugao provides a beguiling yet woefully trite profile of a Japanese housewife's life of quiet desperation, having for its subject matter the alleged popularity and propensity of domesticated women to engage in mid-afternoon trysts. Opening with a strong emotional hook, it effectively garners sympathy for its main character, playing out like an anatomy of an extra-marital affair. Be forewarned however, that the the story in itself is nothing special for stories about adulterous women tend to follow the same course and reach the same outcome. The series delves into scenarios so familiar that it's almost on par with scandalous blather found in gossip rags or spread through the neighborhood grapevine. 

In terms of dramatic style and tone, it's quite similar to Cheap Love and Majo no Jouken which convey a certain restlessness in its characters who are far from content with their personal lives despite the artifice of leading a perfect life in suburbia. At its best, Hirugao draws attention to a double standard created as a result of a well-entrenched code of conduct that values duplicity and its corresponding effect on the family as the basic unity of society. This social commentary is eclipsed only by an overarching love story, so immediate and spurned by passion though admittedly short-lived. And while all this may seem initially intriguing, the series falters midway and falls prey to its own devices, resorting to tired melodrama. 

Hirugao brings together two married women, from vastly different backgrounds, and sees them through their respective love affairs. Sasamoto Sawa (Ueto Aya) is a plain housewife who's been married for five years. She works part-time at the local supermarket and waits on her husband (Suzuki Kosuke) hand and foot, even though she's often ignored and left cold in the marital bed, on top of being pestered by her mother-in-law to produce grandchildren. Sawa gets entangled with Takigawa Rikako (Kichise Michiko), housewife to a rich publisher, when the latter is caught in the company of her lover during a parking lot incident.

To avert any suspicion, Rikako wrangles Sawa into keeping up the pretense of being fast friends, coercing the younger woman to act as her cover. In doing so, Sawa learns more about Rikako's afternoon exploits and is likewise encouraged to pursue a relationship with a mild-mannered high school teacher (Saito Takumi) that she's taken a liking to. Meanwhile Rikako sets her eyes on a new target---a struggling artist (Kitamura Kazuki) who appears to be intent on rebuffing her advances.

What starts off as a game turns into something more serious as both women unwittingly find love outside of their marriage. There is nary a carefree moment, with Sawa and Rikako often scrambling to cover their tracks. It doesn't take long for them to realize that every stolen encounter with their paramour comes at a cost and the world is about to punish them for coveting that which belongs to another...

Capturing a rather hefty set of reasons as to why married women and/or men are driven to infidelity, Hirugao provides an almost alluring yet bittersweet take on women who dare to don the scarlet letter as a sign of protest. Writer Inoue Yumiko adapts a simple story, showcasing complex personal and gender-based issues, taking into account the cultural peculiarities of Japanese society. The overall result is that the series in itself takes on a divided stance despite being way more interesting when guided by its subversive rationality. At one moment it seems to advocate woman empowerment by referring to such extra-marital affairs as a form of equitable cheating, but for the rest of its run, it's all about the oppressive nature of staying in a loveless marriage. Despite all the talk about random hook-ups, truth and audacity, the show really is just another take on forbidden love.

Sawa's conversion from unwilling accomplice to unapologetic adulteress is a sight to behold. The first few episodes document her loneliness, hesitation and guilt beautifully, providing a romantic overture to the love affair. The temptation and seduction of engaging in the affair prove more potent than the actual transgression, as can be seen from Sawa's rejection and Rikako's stripped down and vulnerable plea in the rain.

Both women display an underlying resolve to seek happiness but they're never rewarded for wanting or dreaming of more, instead, they're condemned for their selfish behavior. Emancipated from her husband, Rikako falls into the same dilemma of being objectified to the detriment of her children, while Sawa irrationally runs away and awaits divine punishment. Ueto Aya tackles the role of Sawa with a maturity never displayed before, even if she doesn't exactly fit the bill of a dowdy bride. Meanwhile, Kichise Michiko and Kitamura Kazuki play up the sex and drama (at times to an unrealistic extent) against a cast that provide credible support to an overworked storyline.

For a series that begins and ends with a raging fire, Hirugao lets all sentiment and equity go up in smoke. It starts to drag as the two women make poor choices and act out like lovestruck teenagers at a time when they're called to address the situation like adults. Gone are the naughty innuendos that represent the repressed housewife and the rebellious streak that proudly enunciated the familial benefits of having casual relations with strangers. What prevails in the end is a certain feeling of helplessness that goes against the insurgent musings and actions of the show's women.


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