Sunday, August 26, 2018

Kaito Yamaneko (2016)

Tonally defective yet thematically complex, Kaito Yamaneko has this skittish energy that runs counter to the weightiness of its socio-cultural commentary resulting in one bifurcated mess of a series. It lends itself to sharp changes in mood, characterization and storytelling---so unnerving that even a Kamenashi Kazuya apologist would have trouble defending it. Unleashing a cascade of what appears to be utter nonsense amidst its bipolarity, it is consistent in its inconsistencies and yet curiously steadfast in advocating the identification and practice of core values even as it lumbers wearily to its befuddling conclusion.

It's easy to dismiss it as a loonier version of those page to screen adaptations of suspense thrillers that went off kilter (e.g. Bloody Monday and Jiu) but on closer inspection, it's more like the jdorama that has something to say but doesn't know how to say it.... or does it? The show in itself tackles too many social maladies and references historical events pertaining to Japan to be brushed off as whimsy or coincidence. Kaito Yameneko is zany, offensive and culture-specific, which leads this particular reviewer to believe that all the insanity and shaky tirades are intentional and should be taken as no less than satire disguised as pointless, childish entertainment.

Much like GTO and Gokusen, the main character of this series is someone who acts with righteous zeal and whose loud, fervid demeanor belies a capacity for brutality. Made out to be extremely abrasive, the great thief Yamaneko (Kamenashi Kazuya) is not exactly a lovable character---cartoonish to a fault, he wets his pants, sings out of tune, and wears flip flops during winter to air out a chronic case of athlete's foot. But make no mistake, he's out on a mission. As rogue agent turned ferocious ally of justice, he's out to take down a legendary crime boss and leader of the country's shadow government, Yuuki Tenmei. In the process, he exposes corruption and wrongdoing, steals from the rich to give back to the poor, deriding both the offender and victim for lacking in principles and  being empty at their core.

Using the Stray Cat Detective Agency as his cover, Yamaneko tackles each case with the help of a kindly den mother (Otsuka Nene), a talented high school hacker (Hirose Suzu) and a reluctant but gullible magazine reporter (Narimiya Hiroki). Secretly working alongside them is his former handler, turned police detective, Sekimoto (Sasaki Kuronosuke), who obstructs the investigation every time detectives Kirishima (Nanao) and Inui (Ikeuchi Hiroyuki) get too close for comfort. It's all fun and games with ridiculous heist sequences until someone dies, a mysterious woman with a vendetta appears and the villain manifests himself in a spindly life support system helmet. When Yamaneko comes face to face with a ruthless mercenary known as the Chameleon, a modicum of danger and intrigue is introduced to the series only to have the tomfoolery resurface with renewed force.

Kaito Yamaneko is frustrating to watch as it shifts gears from one moment to the next without prior warning. Even when the chips are down and blood is spilled, the show makes room for a light-hearted intermission. Much like how socio-anthropologists and cultural psychologists write about theories on the search for identity in Modern Japan, the show is continuously at odds with itself, unable to determine whether it's supposed to be a slapstick caper or a wannabe political espionage thriller. The action sequences are likewise plagued with this schizophrenic touch, some being decently choreographed fight scenes, while others resembling a mix of the hammy 70s Batman scuffles with a little bit of the Three Stooges' smacks, slaps and kicks.

Replete with annoying shenanigans and cruel impassioned sermons, it can grate on the ear and try one's patience but at the same time one can also tell that it's intended to reach a particular audience. It makes mention of issues particular to Japan and paints a rather dim and sad picture of a society wherein the youth pass on the blame and do not take responsibility for their actions, where parents betray and give up on their children and politicians view their constituents as dumb sheep fit to be manipulated. The antagonist is virtually a phantom that is symbolic of a rigid but obsolete economic and social system that once provided wealth and prosperity but now struggles to cope with changes in the global age. The hero, being representative of a value system of a bygone era, is someone who is of equally questionable relevance and lost in the fray.

Kaito Yamaneko is the type of show that can be deconstructed in a number of ways---it has lofty ideas beneath a barrage of distractions, probably designed to soften its message and make it agreeable to a wide audience. Is it interesting or entertaining enough to pass off as a light, harmless series in the same vein as a Lupin III live action adaptation without need of figuring out the context in which it was made? Sadly, it's not. It's too jarring for a serious viewer and too abstruse for a casual one.  


Read More

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Scatterbrained Musings

So what have I been watching?

Like any other jdrama viewer, I tend to watch an ongoing series from time to time. Black Pean was a show that I watched religiously for weeks during its 2018 spring release until I found myself one episode short of completing it. After the penultimate episode, I just couldn't muster the interest to see it. It was just too repetitive for my liking and the central debate posited about human skill versus technology did not only feel moot and academic, but it was driven up to extreme illogical reasoning. I also couldn't shake off the feeling that the revenge plot was borne out of a misunderstanding, making that storyline one empty, dissatisfying tidbit. Of course, I could be wrong about this but I'll find out eventually if and when I finish it. 

In contrast to the disappointment that was the ratings juggernaut for the spring season, Aino Kekkon Soudanjo turned out to be an amusing, quasi-musical oddity. I personally found it to be quite entertaining and I attribute this to the fact that I saw it without any expectations whatsoever. Furthermore, actor Yamazaki Ikusaburo was rather exceptional in keeping the same level of energy in each episode, regardless of his co-stars' performance and no matter how silly the scenario.

Another welcome surprise was Ossan's Love. As the lengthier remake of the television special bearing the same title, the series had more meat in its story, in my book being the first BL story to get mainstream treatment with Tanaka Kei and Hayashi Kento playing the male leads. With there being more LGBT[Q] characters in Western television than ever before, jdramas have slowly followed suit featuring members of the said community in a more positive light. They've been represented well in dramas like Nigeru wa Haji da ga Yaku ni Tatsu, Kuragehime and Tonari no Kazoku wa Aoku Mieru---a far cry from the tortured and beleaguered characters in Last Friends, Sunao ni Narenakute and progenitor, Asunaro Hakusho. There's one more season to go, but for this year, in my humble opinion, the best of the lot would have to be NHK's Joshi teki Seikatsu. Brazenly realistic, touching without being melodramatic, the mini-series has a rather progressive take on the life of a transgender woman.

Opting to dig into my drama archive, I likewise saw Anata no Koto wa Sorehedo,  which is about an extra-marital affair pursued by childhood acquaintances. The show chronicles how the betrayal and the lies impact the marriage of two couples but the supposed love which triggers the illicit relationship does not take as expected. This was a terrible misstep for the likable Haru, who was outperformed by Naka Riisa at every turn. Programs like these are often regarded as guilty pleasures but this series felt more like a tedious viewing exercise.

Rounding off this list is the Japanese drama remake of the 2016 Korean series Signal. A crime thriller with a bizarre twist courtesy of a portable radio transceiver, the premise appears to have been culled from the 2000 movie Frequency but it slowly establishes a difference agenda, playing with the idea of the possibility of changing events in the past and how such changes can affect the future. Detectives from different time periods converse as the clock strikes at 11:23pm, encouraging each other not to give up hope but I was rather of the mindset that the show was headed towards a dismal conclusion. Fast-paced and engaging, it's bogged down by histrionic performances and an ambiguous ending.

Will I be writing full reviews of any of the foregoing?

I really can't tell. Right now, the first order of business is to put my Kaito Yamaneko and Meishi Game reviews to bed. I'm trying to streamline the reviews and cut down on screencaps so this might take a while.

Read More

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Writing Sucks

Getting back into blogging is harder than I thought. After taking a break from watching Japanese dramas and East Asian movies for about a year, I was at a loss of where to begin. There's a wide selection of shows available and that doesn't even include the older dramas that I have yet to watch in their entirety or the ones that I need to revisit in order to finish writing draft posts that have remained unpublished for the past six years. 

Those fairly familiar with this blog know that I don't post reviews of anything that I haven't seen fully which means regardless of whether the series is good or bad, I hold on to the bitter end before I even consider to write about it. But you see, writing has always been particularly difficult for me, so unlike the truly gifted ones who manage to consistently provide quality content, words don't flow as easily. As years go by, I've realized that I have equal trouble writing about the shows that I love and despise---extremely cautious not to oversell the former while not too dismissive of the latter, fearing my inability to give a show or series the fair shake that it deserves. Even though I try to be as objective as possible, these drama reviews will always have a subjective element to it. Like they say, it's all a matter of taste.

There's a handful of sites that provide drama recaps but I have always been partial to those that provide reviews and analytical essays. People may readily agree to disagree on the merits of a particular series but I do believe that reviews serve a purpose in the sense that they can be at times instructive, pointing out things and matters which one may have overlooked, and also affirmative in so far as a praise or critique may also align with one's personal observations. As conceited as it may sound, I believe that reading about other people's thoughts enrich the viewing experience, so dear accidental and/or sporadic reader, if you can spare the time, please do read on.

Read More

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Watashi ni XX Shinasai Promo SP (2018)

Shown three months prior to the screening of the actual full length feature, the Watashi ni XX Shinasai SP is nothing more than an extended movie promo for the live action version of Ema Tōyama's shojo manga, popularly known in English speaking countries as Missions of Love. The special capitalizes on the steady proliferation of love games in Japan, adapting a format that introduces the movie's characters in a slightly racy but PG-13 manner. Don't be fooled for the anime-like appearances and characterizations, combined with the outrageous scenarios presented, serve no other purpose than clickbait in the sea of pure love-high school romance themed manga adaptations. Suggestive and naughty, it can be perturbing for its nonchalant treatment of high school kids in compromising, illusory situations---making this particular promo a tease in another sense of the word.  

If you happen to belong to the more mature and discerning segment of the viewing demographic, it would be best to steer clear from this thing. If you're a fan of the manga or simply a curious cat with time to spare, be advised that you can likewise skip the promotional special and just watch the movie to get your fix. This 4-part feature has little to no artistic or entertainment value, it contributes nothing to the original story, except being a sad representation of a growing trend which incidentally speaks of an underlying social issue. [1]  

The popularity of these female-targeted love games has been tackled by recent dramas such as Otona Joshi and Watashi ni Unmei no Koi Nante Arienaitte Omottetaand despite their formulaic nature, both have directly and indirectly championed the supposed healing effect and soothing impact of these escapist diversions on the lives of  countless women, old and young alike. Not interested in making any such commentary, this promotional special is simply content with providing straight live-action sketches of the so-called romantic encounters and courting rituals that serve as the cornerstone of these games. To do this, the SP follows the romance gaming exploits of high school student and popular web novelist, Himura Yukino (Tina Tamashiro), who's looking to inject some love and romance in her published work. At the behest of her editor, she tries out a love simulation game to find out what makes people's hearts beat faster in order to meet the demands of her readers. She goes through four (4) levels of the game, interacting with characters whose profiles match the boys around her.

In this virtual world, class representative Shiguro (Yuta Koseki), cousin Akira (Kanta Sato) and fellow web novelist Dolce (Daichi Kaneko), all vie for her love and attention. Now imagine a shojo manga chapter unfolding with an interactive spin, much like those Choose Your Own Adventure books of yore, wherein the protagonist is given pretend control over the outcome of the story. The simulated game more or less operates in the same manner by giving Yukina ridiculous game options and subjecting her to every love scenario cliché. 

Regardless of whether you consider the whole proceeding as an over the top fantasy or a useless delusion, the show mimics the modus of a love game by having our heroine thwart the advances of the school heartthrob, her childhood friend and her cocky work rival. Done with deadpan precision, the male actors deliver their lines as one would expect of 2d characters, while the lead female character is shown to make choices that have no bearing or consequence in her real life. Mostly annoying in its predictability, not to mention disturbingly creepy at how characters easily infringe upon each other's personal space, this promo special is an effective reminder of why such stories should remain firmly rooted as animated figures on the mobile screen. After all, exaggerated ardor and forced proximity in this day and age are merely flights of fancy. 


Read More

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Miss Sherlock (2018)

Miss Sherlock reimagines Arthur Conan Doyle's beloved investigative tandem as an incongruous pair of women solving mysteries and preventing crime in modern day Tokyo. The latest in a long string of interpretations, this HBO Asia/Hulu presentation makes plenty of references to the original works and endows its characters a certain degree of similarity, but altogether feels like a different show on its own. Top billed by familiar faces, and produced with enough style and care, it's one of those series that you would expect to love but somehow don't.  

There's just something amiss and faulty in its execution---so while there are amusing alliterations and superficial elements to it that remain recognizable, the core element, which is the partnership between Holmes and Watson, gets lost in the gender and race alteration. The series tries to provide a new take on the relationship but the cultural transposition somehow makes the bond between the two less evident and unconvincing. As a result, you have female counterparts that are like Holmes and Watson but they're not Holmes and Watson per se.

In this version, the titular character Sherlock (Takeuchi Yuko) is a female consulting detective working for the police department under the authority of Lt. Reimon Gentaro (Kenichi Takito). Highly intelligent with a petulant air about her, she has a reputation for being rude and disagreeable but her ability to piece together information and crack cases is matched by no other. Comprising the other half of this sleuthing duo is Tachibana Wato (Kanjiya Shihori), a doctor who just returned from a volunteer mission in Syria, currently in search of a new direction in life. Polite and well-mannered, she finds herself sharing a house with Sherlock and tagging along each adventure under the pretense of keeping her eccentric flatmate in line. Together, they face danger and solve mysteries, forging an unlikely friendship that Sherlock keeps denying the existence of until the very last minute.

The series has three (3) standalone cases that involve a missing bride, a vandalized artwork in public exhibition, and a family curse that allegedly compelled a mother to drink her child's blood. The remaining five (5) pertain to a series of crimes instigated by one person who goes by the moniker Stella Maris, otherwise known as The North Star, who guides wayward individuals to their true calling.

Keeping up with the times, Miss Sherlock updates the business of the main adversary from being the leader of an organized crime syndicate to charismatic head of a full blown extremist-terrorist group. The perpetrators are victims of abuse, social misfits and misguided social justice warriors that no longer respond to logic or reason, making each encounter with an adherent unpredictable and dangerous for Sherlock and Wato. 

Giving Sherlock's nemesis the ability to alter people's thoughts and perceptions, gives the character a new passive-aggressive slant. To this extent, the show explores the thesis on how brain trauma can turn people into violent criminals and how emotionally scarred individuals can be made vulnerable to manipulation and suggestion. The downside to it is that the crimes as committed lacked refinement, most of them, impulse-driven. In effect, the criminal mastermind prompts people to act without making room for exigencies, thereby guaranteeing the failure of each mission at the hands of our dedicated duo. 

The manner of the commission of the crimes and the resolution of certain puzzles also don't hold up to scrutiny despite the laborious set up of certain scenes. For instance, a weaponized smart pill is only lethal up to the time of the carrier's next bowel movement, the specs to a nuclear warhead written in blood on the wall of a prison facility would have long been erased using bleach as a cleaning agent, and how spreading a virus without discussing the mode of transmission from the infected host comes off as a huge contrivance, particularly when he's dispatched in a wide open space without incident.

Even without nitpicking at the cases, Miss Sherlock has one major flaw---and this is its inability to translate the strength and complexity of the relationship of the iconic characters from which this series is based on to the present adaptation. This plaid and kimono silk incarnation is built on an unequal  and whimsical partnership, wherein Sherlock is the star and Wato plays second fiddle. A recent interview with actress Takeuchi Yuko even likened Sherlock's fondness of Wato to that of a pet. [1] Overall, the writers did not take into account the change in the dynamics of this friendship, with the script failing to convince viewers of the natural rapport between the leads. The gender reversal automatically affects the constitution of what is supposed to be the basis of female bonding, while the cultural relocation itself hinders characters from being too open and expressive. The character of Sherlock in this setting is too much of an anomaly, she sticks out like a sore thumb. Wato, in theory, exists to make her seem less severe and accessible but unintentionally comes off as too submissive and feeble. If the show comes back for a second season, the first thing that they should fix is the existing disparity in the roles assigned to these two characters, otherwise it will look inferior next to BBC's Sherlock and CBS's Elementary.


Read More

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Love Rerun (2018)

Love Rerun serves up a nonlinear narrative to an otherwise traditional and cliché-ridden love story about a girl, her unrequited love, and an ostensible do-over in the romance department. It basically plays up the notion of second chances and the futility of clinging on to a past love amidst a quagmire of work-related issues and awkward living arrangements. Fully showcasing its shōjo manga roots, the set up includes the drastic transformation of an insecure, mousy girl into a stylish beauty with a case of selective amnesia as the trigger for the character conflict. Sharing the same giddy and hopeful qualities of Proposal Daisakusen, viewers get to witness and revel at the main character's first blush of love, but it has none of the emotional nuance or dimension of Mou Ichido Kimi no Propose to elevate the flimsy material. 

Minami Sayaka (Nakamura Anne) has been in love with her childhood friend, Sagisawa Ryosuke (Otani Ryohei) for as long as she can remember. Single, about to turn thirty (30), and having absolutely no experience in love, she makes up her mind to confess her feelings to him on her birthday, hoping that he would see her as more than a friend.

Before the intended date, she closes her eyes to sleep, only to wake up in a strange apartment, in clothes that she would not customarily wear and in such a fashion that she could only dream of. Shortly after, a man enters the room telling her to leave as soon as she finishes packing her things. She rushes out of the building in a dazed state to discover that it's three months later, she got promoted at work, was cohabiting with a man named Machida Shohei (Furukawa Yuki),  and that the said relationship was over. Apparently a lot of things have changed but she has no recollection as to how and why she got in her current state.

Utterly clueless with nowhere else to go, Machida agrees to let her stay with him until she regains her lost memories. She's back to pining after her precious Ryo-chan but this stranger of a man, who plays her reluctant host, has the inherent ability to move her in ways that she can't ignore.

Love Rerun opens with this fairly staged story hook that keeps viewers engaged and curious about what happened in those lost three months. What came about Sayaka's love confession? How did she get to be in a relationship with a younger co-worker? And more importantly, what caused them to break up? The series is at its best when it ties in Machida and Sayaka's past encounters to present events, making the whole affair a rediscovery of love as much as a perplexing breakup.

The missing pieces of the puzzle are rendered through flashbacks so sincere and tender that it's without question how Machida won Sayaka's heart. The fact that he knows the right things to say to prod her into action and takes notice of little things make it fairly obvious that he cares deeply about her but the reason why he keeps his distance is the show's biggest conundrum. Unfortunately, whatever intrigue sparked by its first half would slowly devolve into a circuitous array of hurdles as the main characters yield to misunderstanding and interference from supporting characters who are too quick to have a change of heart. It's a long, frustrating road towards a foregone conclusion and a disappointing reveal of the cause of the split---which is nothing that a mature and committed couple can't handle after a serious discussion.


Read More

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Demo, Kekkon Shitai! (2017)

They say there's someone out there for everyone---Demo, Kekkon Shitai! sets out to convince viewers that it's true. Following the so-called "konkatsu boom of 2009", marriage-hunting has become such an enterprise that it has spawned its own sub-genre in Japanese television, reflecting not only the changes in the concept of dating in the new millennium, but also, perhaps, in an attempt to inspire singles to eventually take the plunge and walk down the aisle.

Kuriyama Chiaki plays Fujita Haruko, an illustrator of BL manga who's reached her limit at being alone. She's spent all her adult life absorbed in her work that she's neglected to have a personal life outside of it. Realizing that she's not getting any younger, she sets out to find herself a proper husband. Taking advice from her assistant (Sano Hinako), she goes out of her comfort zone and starts attending matchmaking parties, group dates, and even accedes to go on a blind date.

Awkward and insecure, Haruko has trouble opening up about her life's passion. Her fear of being judged and rejected stems from a failed relationship with a man who was repulsed by her line of work. As a last ditch effort to give love a try, she ends up registering at a matchmaking agency in hopes of meeting Mr. Right.

Demo, Kekkon Shitai! follows the lead of other marriage-themed tanpatsu dramas like Ketsuekigata-betsu Onna ga Kekkon suru Hoho and Propose Kyodai wherein characters meet their life partners and conveniently tie the knot without consequence or deliberation. These projects are designed to be easy on the eyes, requiring not much thought or introspection, always ending with a picture of the happy bride and groom. They're short and uncomplicated, serving no other purpose than to rally support for a flagging social institution. They can be fun and charming as abbreviated romantic comedies but they're hardly representative of reality.

The problem with this particular offering is that while it hits all the beats and goes through the motions of a fast-tracked love story, it doesn't sell the fantasy or the plausibility of the union as well as its precursors. It suffers from poor characterization in the sense that viewers are told how Haruka loves BL manga without exactly being told why she made it her life's work. It's a relationship non-negotiable but it's treated more as a disadvantage than a hard line which should not be crossed. By the 25-minute mark, she's gone through at least seven prospective matches, all of them passing caricatures and stereotypes without any elucidation of  why they're considered to be unacceptable and unsuitable men. And therein lies the irony---for the supposed comedic parts of the story are made at the expense of similarly situated characters in search of their own happy endings.

It's also quite difficult to say whether it was done intentionally or not, but this one-shot special feels slower and longer than it actually is. So much time is spent searching and waiting for the person she's meant to be with that precious little time is spent in actually seeing them interact as a couple. It is assumed that they're compatible with each other but viewers don't get to see how Mr. Right influenced or changed her life for the better. 


Read More