Tuesday, December 13, 2005


STAR NO KOI _ **** _ Fujiwara Norika, Kusanagi Tsuyoshi _ Like Notting Hill in Tokyo _ instead of Julia Roberts, we have shapely Norika-san as Kirishima Hikaruko, star of such cinematic gems as "Plot"; instead of Hugh Grant, it's Kusanagi of SMAP as ham salesman Nakata Sosuke; instead of a bookstore, it's San Marco Ham; instead of wacky family and buddies, it's wacky ham hawking coworkers!

The show's director has a thing for long tracking shots _ pulling back from a Norika performance to reveal that hey, it's actually a set! It gives it a look distinct from the usual tv dorama.

I've never seen Norika act. She's no Matsushima Nanako (the bar which all JTV actresses shall be measured), but she holds her own. She has two expressions: the sheltered dumb movie star, and the zen-smiling actress betraying signs of intelligence. She even emotes well when they ramp up the dorama for the ep 8-11 third act.

Kusanagi plays straight man ham salesman Sosuke _ versed in Japanese archery _ whose chance encounter with disaffected movie star Hikurako will change his life for the next 11 eps. Best supporting actress (and uber-hottie) Hasegawa Ryoko is Koizumi Tsubami, Sosuke's coworker at San Marco, who has a soft spot for him.

Each ep is damn hilarious, and touchingly builds on the central relationship to conclusion _ something that lesser romance doramas have trouble sustaining through 11 shows. Veterans Toda Keiko as Hikurako's agent, Ukaji Takashi as the handler, and Morimoto Leo as a sagely, ham-loving arthouse director, along with the Ham shop guys round out the show.

Besides a great "love-conquers-all" story, you also learn a lot about ham, Japanese celebrity and talent agencies, and even some archery philosophy. The runaway ep, the archery ep and the stalker ep are standouts. Globe's dance-cover of "Stop in the Name of Love" is high energy like Alice DJ.

ITSUMO FUTARI DE (Always the Two of Us) _ *** _ Matsu Takako, Sakaguchi Kenji _ It's like Long Vacation-lite _ a co-habitation romantic comedy with Matsu doing pouty kawaii act and some guy _ oh it's Sakaguchi Kenji, who I guess was in KimuTaku's Pride, but I haven't watched it yet. Anyways she moves to Tokyo from the frigid fields of Hokkaido to become a writer, only to have gotten stuck with no money and nowhere to go except for the color-coordinated trendy Daikanyama pad of her childhood playmate Hachi (Sakaguchi), who happens to be single and has a spare bedroom. He's a writer and errand boy for tv host Fuwa Keijiro (desu), played by Nishimura Masahiko in full-smirk.

Hachi has a crush on dental nurse Yoko (best supporting hottie Hasegawa Ryoko who works in the same building. Matsu works at a ghetto game magazine publisher Matsu Publishing, which is on its last legs, and meets its flirty young chief Okuda Naoyuki, who started out as a bespectacled Kashiwabara Takashi (Shota of Shota no Sushi), but he drops out after the second ep because of illness (he had a severe headache, according to jdorama). He's replaced by Katsurayama Shingo, who's not bad, but you can't help but think the writers had plotted more for the character _ Mizuho and Okuda (as Kashiwabara played him) had mucho chemistry, which dissapated with the change. Matsu also befriends a cranky, reclusive bookstore owner who looks like Sonny Chiba, whose name I don't know.

Will these young, good looking 20-somethings achieve their dreams in the big city and find love? In a romantic comedy, it's not too hard to guess the answer, so it's in the execution. The show started with the ingredients for a great dorama, though some missed opportunities with plot and character development left it merely good, which is a testament to the skills of the ensemble here to lift what could be trite material in less capable hands. Its fun watching Matsu do her perky girl act, though her chemistry here with Sakaguchi was slight. Cool supporting cast too, including Sato Hitomi from Beach Boys as Matsu's best friend Yuko. The theme song "Always" is catchy.

It's a trip going from this to Star no Koi _ Hasegawa is one of
Kusanagi's coworkers at San Marco Ham, and Sato plays Kusa's country girlfriend in the first ep.

DENSHA OTOKO _ **** _ Ito Atsushi, Itoh Misaki _ Yeah, it's the My Fair Lady redone with otakus, the Internet and wall-to-wall Itoh Misaki fan service megahit of summer 2005. Sweet, sweet Itoh Misaki _ so hot and leggy, yet with so few lines, an emotional range limited to pout and pain, and little brain. Otaku dream girl indeed _ I don't think an anime nerd would know what to do if they're thrown into the kind of emotional train wreck from Tokyo Love Story.

Twenty-three year old Yamada Tsuyoshi, handle: Densha Otoko(Ito) is your typical home-bound ota obsessed with anime, video games and some drawing with carrots coming out of her butt called Mina. By serendipity, he rescues elite OL Aoyama Saori, handle: Hermes(Itoh) from being harassed by a drunk on the train. She took down his address and number, and sends him a set of Hermes tea cups; he with the help of a Web forum musters up courage to call her out for a date. Can an unsocialized geek hook up with a hottie like Itoh Misaki? With the help of dozens of forum posters throughout Japan, why not? It's all supposed to be based on a true story that sparked a multimedia wish-fulfillment mini-industry. Judge for yourself.

Tons of Mobile Suit Gundam references for the fans out there (bandai is a prominent sponsor). There are a few neat otaku cameos, but for me, it's all about watching Itoh Misaki looking hot. Soooo hot...

Ito as Yamada trying to woo her can be a bit infuriating, especially when he's stuttering, and he's really freaky in full ota mode. Not too much fat in the show _ there's some good character development each ep as we watch Densha go through an identity crisis in mainstreaming himself, heads online for advice and eventually strikes a balance between geeking out and an "adult" relationship. The last ep is a bit too long _ a lot of flashbacks and forum bonding.

Oguri Shun does have a SPEAKING role _ he doesn't just communicate in ascii art.

Also worth mentioning Shirashi Miho as Jinkama Mizusu, a client of Yamada's employment agency who can't quite keep a job and gets off breaking the balls of our hapless hero. She's spirited and not above straigtening out this smelly ota when he needs it. Sudo Risa (Nami from Yamato Nadeshiko) kinda reprises the same role here as Hermes' coworker, except she's desperate because she's 30.

It's a good time _ it offers hope to lonely otakus of all obsessions everywhere, though I wouldn't confuse this with real life.

NOW VIEWING: Kou Kou Kyoushi 2003

Sunday, November 27, 2005


TOKYO LOVE STORY (Tokyo Rabu Sutori) _ *** _ Suzuki Honami, Oda Yuji _ It's more of a U.S. nighttime soap drama than a typical Japanese plot-driven dorama with wacky comic moments. The characters are befuddling and infuriating because they're extreme manifestations of different kinds of love _ from needy to generous to self-absorbed and obsessive-compulsive. The show (and source manga) at its best is a keen study of all the fucked-up 20-somethings that are out there, in Tokyo or otherwise.

The sole doramatic high point is Suzuki's Akana Rika, the only character that's well-adujusted and kind (to a fault), perky and likable, sort of like Izumi Inamori's Hana in Pretty Girls brought to a human level. She works at Heart Sports, an athletic gear company Oda's Nagao Kanji just joined, and became immediately smitten with him.

The rest of the cast in thise doramatic love pentagon needs a good smacking, especially the two male leads _ long-haired Eguchi Yonsuke's Mikami Kenichi needs a haircut and some serious counseling to undo his borderline-socialpath behavior. And indeed, as a fellow d-addict said, Oda is the Japanese Ben Affleck. As white trench coat-bearing Tokyo new arrival Kanji, he can only register painful angst, and slightly less painful angst. He also has a slight overbite.

As the schoolyard crush for both Mikami and Kanji, Sekiguchi Satomi (Arimori Narimi) is REALLY annoying at first _ this wishy-washy kindergarten teacher more than the others enjoys sitting alone in the dark, but straightens out later. Sendo Akiho, as Mikami's borderline bipolar medical school classmate Nagasaki Naoko, rounds out the gang.

Overall, it's sometimes a drag to watch, but a few of the twists and the final episode make up for rough parts. One thing _ did Rika ever return Kanji's watch?

Now Showing: Densha Otoko

Sunday, November 20, 2005


PRETTY GIRLS _ **1/2 _ Inamori Izumi, Yonekura Ryoko, Katase Nana, Tanabe Seiichi _ A romantic comic dorama with great ideas _ a stew of magical realism, fairy tale romance, department store management immersion, and bubble economy corporate nostalgia. But it ultimately falls short because the writer couldn't decide whether the show should be a merry fairy tale or a penetrating examination of feminine psychosis.

Supernaturally optimistic Noyama Hana (Inamori) is a vagabond who wandered into struggling Ginza department store Andrew's. Partly through happenstance and design, this wildflower gains the trust of HR Director Ino Shouko (Katahira Nagisa) and company president Takamine Ryotaro (Utsui Ken), and is unleashed to rescue the store with hands firmly planted on the ground, revamping one troubled department at a time, at least for the first five or so episodes.

Hana indirectly butts heads the president's son Takamine Ryo (Tanabe), who as the executive director is trying to cut costs and line up financing to save the debt-ridden company. But at what cost? For dad, not if it means losing Andrew's soul.

Hana's less-than-willing best friend Jurai Ayumi (Yonekura) is a doormat of floor sales girl who has a crush on Ryo that borders on stalker-like obsession. She dreams of being Cinderella _ finding her prince in the executive director who doesn't even know she exists.

The third pretty girl Araki Rieko (Katase) works at the store information desk _ a friend to the two leads in a glorified character part.

So Hana's out to make everyone happy over nine episodes _ she has to save the department store, hook-up her friend with the president's son, who needs to see the errors of his heartless Nikkei bottom-line ways, reuniting son with father.

Well, she succeeds in two out of three. How so? Because the writer failed to pair-up Ryo with Ayumi convincingly _ he's still a bit clueless, she doesn't really overcome her wimpiness. She never really earned the right to be with her prince and you wonder how she will get by without Hana.

The Ayumi plot alone would've made the show unwatchable if not for veteran Inamori's warm and kawaii performance as Hana. She injects spunk and spirit into what could easily be tooth-rotting sweet with a less capable actress. Her antics light up the screen, adding a splash of color to the grays and blacks trailing Ayumi.

But we don't get enough of her. Instead, we have to slog through Ayumi _ the most weak-willed, annoying and self-absorbed character ever penned for dorama. (Seikiguchi from Tokyo Love Story comes close, but that's another review.) There's some hinted depth to Hana _ she may not be all THAT happy _ but it went unexplored as the writers push to wrap up the show. (Maybe it's low ratings.) The best part of the show remains forever out of reach.

Also, a great plot twist in episode six quickly ran out of steam. It's too bad _ all the pieces for a quality dorama are there, they just didn't quite come together.

GOOD LUCK!! _ *** _ Kimura Takuya, Tsutsumi Shinichi, Shibasaki Kou, Kuroki Hitomi _ Lightweight Kimutaku fare that doubles as a recruiting film/commercial for ANA. Don't look for any real serious dorama like Beautiful Life here _ it's just some not-too-severe baggage that plays out like a relatively smooth international flight with a just slight bumps along the way. Besides, I don't think the brass at All Nippon want to show their airline in any other light than glorious: caring cabin crew ready to counsel the needy; tough-as-nails pilots and co-pilots ready and willing to go the extra mile to deliver passengers promptly and safely to their destinations; all professionals laboring on behalf of the rising sun.

(In fact, the sunrise above the clouds is almost a fetish for Kimutaku's character. What was he implying with that speech on peace and conflict? Hmmmmm...does he merely wish for peace or is it more of a Neo-Con peace by any means necessary kind of guy? What's Kimutaku's stance on Japan's role as aggressor during WWII? Does he yearn to see the rising sun above East Asia once again or does he merely aim to influence policy by peddling SMAP's soft power? We'll never know...)

Anyways, Takuya is ANA co-pilot Shinkai Hajime, another in a his repetoire of kohais with potential but needs guidance. Ready to whip this punk co-piloto into a captain is Kouda Kazuki (Tsutsumi), the no-nonsense pilot/flight auditor with a low tolerance for imperfections and a hint of baggage. Nicknamed "cyborg" by fellow pilots, he's the hurdle between Shinkai and that fourth stripe.

Kimutaku doesn't break any new ground here _ it's a stock dorama character he has been playing since Long Vacation, only the occupation's different. It's Tsutsumi who's the stand out. In a pitched-perfect peformance as the semi-tragic Kouda Captain, he inspires contempt and sympathy in equal measure. Only a veteran actor of his stature could pull off this balance.

MILFilicious Kuroki-san is chief flight attendant Togashi Noriko, who shares a past with Kouda and is Shinkai's mentor. Ogawa Ayumi (Shibasaki), ANA's ONLY female mechanic, is a good foil for Shinkai _ she's blunt and has bad people skills, and it's up to Kimutaku to cut through her baggage with witty banter and win her heart. Still, as Shibasaki played her, she looks pissed off half the time _ maybe the role demands it.

There's a random plot twist in episode 8, perhaps because the writers realized they had cleared the show's only running subplot, but still had two more episodes to go. Ride on Time is a catchy song. Look for Takenaka Naoto as Jane Naito, a flirty captain who likes loud shirts and drops in random foreign language pharses in conversation. Good times.

Now Showing: Tokyo Love Story, Bewitched in Tokyo (Okusama Wa Majo), Gokusen 2

Sunday, October 23, 2005


H2~Kimi to Itahibi (The Days With You) _ *** _ Yamada Takayuki, Ishihara Satomi, Ichikawa Yui, Tanaka Koutaro _ Baseball teen romance that plays like dorama by way of the WB, based on Mitsuru Adachi's manga and starring some of Japan's A-list, post-jailbait idorus. Kunimi Hiro (Yamada) thought an injury had ended his baseball pitching days after junior high _ but it wouldn't be much of a show if he didn't overcome it real quick (unless we're watching a death dorama, which we're not).

Needless to say, he does within the first 40 minutes, and we're off to the real story _ Hiro and friend/rival high school star hitter Tachibana Hideo (Tanaka) both have the hots for aspiring sports journalist Amamiya Hikari (Ichikawa) _ Hiro and Hikari grew up together; but she's Hideo's girl. Meanwhile, Hiro's baseball club manager Koga Haruka (Ishihara) pines for our talented pitcher, but he wouldn't give her the time of day for like 11 episodes, even though he wouldn't had made it back to the pitcher's mound without her.

They're almost as mean to the characters in this show as Matsushima Nanako's Sakurako was to Otsuke in Yamato Nadeshiko. Sure, it ramps up the teen angst, but it kind of stretches the whole suspension of disbelief thing _ like why does Koga, who's like rich, take this crap for THREE YEARS?! Is Hideo so dense that it takes him THREE YEARS before he begins suspecting his best bud and his girlfriend may be more than "just friends"? Then again, if you're looking for naturalism and reality in a J-dorama, you'll have better luck finding for those pesky Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.

The leads and supporting cast range from passable to exceptional (especially Ishigaki Yuma as Kine Ryutaro, the comedic third-wheel/relief pitcher trying to break up Hiro and Koga) _ all except for Tanaka, whose Hideo doesn't do much until last couple episodes. Overall, the high production values _ the dorama played in winter 2005 _ and the whole underdog trying to make it to the Koshien national high school baseball championships plot thread makes it engrossing weekend viewing.

GOKUSEN _ **** _ Nakama Yukie, Matsumoto Jun _ Yamaguchi Kumiko (Nakama) _ "Yankumi" _ lost her parents at a young age and becomes a teacher to honor her father, a school teacher. Which is all nice and fine, except she's the maternal granddaughter of 3rd generation Oedo family boss Kuroda Ryuichiro (a wise, dignified Utsui Ken), and she's tapped to be the 4th generation heir. Still, she turns her back on the thuglife, only to become homeroom teacher to the worst bunch of onscreen peroxide punks since GTO.

Underneath the highlights and hairspray, they're good kids, and it's up to Yankumi to set them straight yakuza style. World weary bishonen Sawada Shin (Matsumoto) leads a troubled class 3-D that includes GTO alum Oguri Shun. The rest of the exceptional ensemble includes Itoh Misaki and Nakazawa Yuko as coworkers/convenient goukon partners, and Namase Katsuhisa as Sawatari Goro, the head teacher with the wicked pompadour who rules Shirogen High School with an iron fist. Throw in a couple of cuddly yakuza playing against type and Sawamura Ikki as juvenile detective/potential love interest Shinohara, and you have the foundation for a great show.

Sure, GTO's done it with more depth, but that doesn't mean Gokusen is somehow inferior. Nakama can make speeches and beat up punks threatening her kids every bit as well as Soramachi Takashi in his signature role, and she looks cute and hot doing it (sans hair ties and glasses). She shows us that a little gangster wisdom with a bit of intimidation and violence can solve most of life's problems, including poverty, family disputes and trouble with police _ all done with generous doses of humor and manufactured pathos.

The Spring 2003 tv special that wraps up the first series packs even more fights and more speeches. Gokusen 2 _ so far _ seems to be for completists only.

BATSU KARE (One Boyfriend Down) _ **1/2 _ Takahashi Katsunori, Takashima Masanobu, Inamori Izumi, Maya Miki _ Four 30-somethings _ recent divorcees Kyousuke (Takahashi) and Shouko (Inamori), widower Youhei (Takashima), single woman Natsuki (Maya) _ deal with life and relationships as, well, 30-somethings in Japan. Yes, it's a comedy _ the two guys are mismatched best buds _ Kyousuke as the irresponsible playa lingerie salesman; Youhei is the neat, formal architect. Same with the ladies _ Shouko is pleasant and reserved; Natsuki is the sexy and tough modern woman who owns a gift shop where Shouko ends up working. They're all neighbors.

The four leads, reliable dorama veterans all, mix and match over 12 episodes until it settles to the not entirely unpredictable conclusion. We know who will end up with whom by the third episode _ the fun is in second guessing the writers and anticipating what comes next _ treat it like a dorama screenwriting wiki.

The guys' kohai, Masahiro (Amano Hiroyuki) is a hen-pecked insurance salesman prone to Maxim-lad ranting about women troubles. He brings his two sempai's dilemma into focus _ they're grown ups seeking companionship in women, but they yearn to be boys and for the freedom they are bound to give up when they meet the right one.

The individual parts don't add up to anything new, but the breezy story and solid performances are a pleasure to watch. It's like Breyer's vanilla ice cream _ there's better vanilla, but it's good enough (it's those black vanilla bits) for sudden cravings. Lisa Loeb's "Love Storm" sets the mood.


Tuesday, October 04, 2005


YAMATO NADESHIKO _ ***1/2 _ Matsushima Nanako, Tsutsumi Shinichi _ A love-or-money romantic comedy that's equal parts wacky-funny and dormatic, following the relationship complications between Matsushima Nanako's gold-digging flight attendant Jinno Sakurako, and Nakahara Otsuke, a debt-ridden fishmonger/MIT-educated mathematician played by Tsutsumi Shinichi.

Will Sakurako, who grew up poor in a fishing village and is now seeing a rich doctor, choose wealth or the poor fish-slicing diamond-in-the-rough with the heart of gold? Let's just say the show won't be breaking any new ground _ not a single character with a heart condition in sight, though there are a couple of medical emergencies.

The main couple is only moderately engaging _ they never develop the chemistry of such greato dorama screen couples as GTO and Azusa sensei (in fact this show packs plenty of in-jokes from Matsushima's earlier hit), or Senna and Minami from Long Vacation. It's probably because Sakurako spends most of at least 9 1/2 episodes shitting on the poor fish guy who can't seem to get his proof on.

But Matsushima Nanako's performance elevates this show above more derivative entries in the genre. She can flip from caring friendly sempai to manipulative "Goukon Queen" with a smile, and she pulls off the comedy and the sentimental, teary bits convincingly. "Perfect Woman" indeed _ Tsutsumi as the thankless straight-man doesn't stand a chance.

A strong supporting cast led by wide-eyed, kawaii Yada Akiko as Wakaba, a fellow stewardess who's smitten with Otsuke and doesn't mind he's poor; a smirking Nishimura Masahiko as best friend Dr. Sakuma; and Kakei Toshio as out-of-control drinking buddy Kasuya provide most of the laughs and some dorama, making this a well-worthwhile 11-episode ride.

Now Showing: Gokusen (that Nakama Yukie is one hot little number), Batsu Kare

Friday, September 16, 2005


TAIHO SHICHAUZO (You're Under Arrest) *** _ Hara Sachie, Itoh Misaki _ Like
fast food, this cop comedy starring two traffic patrol hotties in
high-hemline skirts working out of a station jam-packed with other
uniformed hotties fills the abridged winter dorama season with tasty but
empty calories. Talk about fan service, this anime-manga adaptation sure packs a ton in only 9 episodes _ we have hot springs, hostess bars, K-1 fighting, random guest stars galore. If it wasn't winter, I'm sure they would've done a beach episode too.

Hara Sachie is the car nut Miyuki and Itoh Misaki is martial arts fighter Natsumi. Hara, last seen here in Beach Boys as the local with a heart condition, pouts and smiles a lot and has all the afterschool special speeches. Her character's on-again, off-again thing with motorcycle cop Nakashima (Nagashima Kazushige) provides most of the show's slapstick romantic tension.

Itoh towers over the rest of the cast like she does her Densha Otoko
co-star Itoh Atsushi. She's tall and hot and has more to do here than in her current hit, where she's more plastic model eye candy than breathing human. But the Shiseido spokesmodel's a hard sell as a super strong jock, no matter how many detachable steering wheels she rips out in a fit of pouty anger.

The last two episodes are heavier than expected for a comedy as the writers throw the girls' partnership in doubt, but they end the series on a satisfying note.

Now Showing: Yamato Nadeshiko; Batsu Kare.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

i married an amnesiac waffle lady

there was a cafe _ one of those converted from an old craftsman bungalow still standing around pasadena _ and she was serving belgian waffles with some kind of chicken salad or tuna or pink salmon filling, or at least that's what it looked like.

we decided to take her in _ this 20-something woman with her waffles _ because we could used the extra help with my wheelchair-bound grandmother, who is now no longer with us. but we think of her often _ sometimes in the waking hours, sometimes in sleep.

she said she is recovering from amnesia _ she was in a coma for a couple years after some unspecified accident. she woke up in 2005 with little recollection of those loved ones who kept vigil over her in those crucial months living between sleep and death.

but she still remembers how to use a light switch.

my mother hired her _ perhaps out of pity _ though anyone who thought of stuffing mayonaised chicken or tuna or salmon with capers into a belgian waffle is a rare talent in my book. ma also proposed i marry the amnesiac waffle lady.

a little embarrassed, i left for a stroll around the neighborhood _ a hodgepodge of fragmented places. there was the central plaza from san francisco's japantown, which empties into the stanley and mid-level markets of hong kong, another flea market flanked by towering singaporean shop houses and their 9-foot walkways, a slice of verona, and edinburgh knick-knack stands.

i put one foot before the other, deliberately losing myself between western tourists decked out in navy blue qing dynasty mandarin robes and feather caps and amahs hauling sacks of fresh fish and poultry from the wet market.

Friday, September 02, 2005

you know you're watching too much dorama when characters start appearing in your dreams.

Kyoko visited me last night _ she sat at that white Ikea chair by the window, inside that warm seaside salon from the final reel of Beautiful Life.

She recieved a fax, and let slip that same haunting smile Tokiwa Takako unleashed on the show to capture the hearts of dorama viewers around the world.

Kitagawa Eriko does NOT mess around...

BEAUTIFUL LIFE **** _ Kimura Takuya, Tokiwa Takako _ It's a tragic love dorama _ by the end of the first episode, you can tell where it's all going. So it's the journey that counts _ and writer Kitagawa Eriko has one doramatic ride in store. It starts out strong _ Tsuji the hairdresser and wheelchair-bound Kyoko meet cute, overcome their issues _ it's art for him; trust for her _ before getting together.

But the show starts to drag in the second act when they introduce needless challenges for the couple _ it's not that I don't like a little argument and conflict with ex's for dorama's sake _ they just added little to the relationship. I thought we already made it past their issues _ especially Kyoko's handicap-confidence problem _ in the first act. It's also here the chemistry between Kimutaku and Tokiwa Takako unravel _ maybe it's because they don't have much to do other than fight until the third act kicks-in over the brilliant last 3 1/2 episodes.

The last extended episode packs a lot of dorama goodness _ among them, one of the most touching makeover sessions ever commited to television. Some stuff should've played out in the middle to better endear the couple to the audience before the inevitable end. Still, the treatment fits the show's theme of quality-not-quantity.

I need another long break from heavy dorama...the next show'll be Taiho Shichauzo (You're Under Arrest!) with Hara Sachie _ the girl with a heart condition in Beach Boys _ and otaku dream girl Itoh Misaki from Densha Otoko. I just wonder what Kitagawa plotted for Orange Days _ that youth/disability dorama with Battle Royale hottie Shibasaki Kou...

Tuesday, August 23, 2005


BEACH BOYS *** _ Sorimachi Takashi, Takenouchi Yutaka _ I don't know what it is about this dorama _ nothing really that doramatic happens. Just GTO and Animal Shinji hanging out at a beachside bed and breakfast. A young Yuki (Hirosue Ryoko) from Summer Snow is the spunky, tomboy granddaughter, a really tanned Inamori Izumi runs the local bar/karaoke and an old surfer played by Mike Maki walks around in old football jerseys and muscle shirts. There is a character with a heart condition...

It's mostly guest star of the week hijinks once the two Beach Boys settle in, though there's some real pathos with Inamori's Haruko character, who is waiting for a letter that may or may not come. The show's true allure is its premise _ a summer vacation for two guys looking for a place to start over, to live free as they want _ and the likable cast keeps it from being dull. You see the beginnings of Sorimachi's GTO act here, with the pointing in odd directions and such. Would get an extra 1/2 star if the copy didn't look like 3rd generation VHS, but I'm glad this great, older show is out there at all.

The Shortlist: Beautiful Life, Batsu Kare, Densha Otoko, Shomuni Final

Monday, August 15, 2005

More Dorama World !

GTO DORAMA SPECIAL ***1/2 _ Sorimachi Takashi, Matsushima Nanako, Katase Nana _ Standard greatest-hits compilation in the form of a new episode. The good is it picks up where the tv serial left off _ it's good to see Ekichi Onizuka's students and the rest of the old cast. The bad is it never hit on the subtle, plot-serving social criticism that distingushed this show from its imitators. We got the same afterschool special speeches, same teen angst, same punks getting beat-up, the sum of which is an average _ though comforting _ extended episode, not entirely unlike A Very Brady Christmas. The best part was that shopping scene when we met Uchiyamada's daughter's new boyfriend. Hokkaido? leads into the movie.

GTO: THE MOVIE ** _ Sorimachi Takashi, Fujiwara Norika _ This flick would've turned me off GTO had I seen this first. Yeah, he's out to save another school in a small Hokkaido farm town brought low by an ill-conceived investment in "Canada Village." But we've seen it done better on tv, and a subplot about a criminal in town went nowhere, other than as a device introduce the sweet, well-endowed Fujiwara Norika. Watch her run in 1/2 speed near the end _ it's an impressive sight. Some Shomuni cast members show up, but they don't do much. I think I'll pitch a country journal column to my editor...Miracle in Canyon Country. They were going to put a gravel mine there, but since GTO came to town, everything's changed for the better...

SHOMUNI 2 *** _ Esumi Makiko _ More of the same. A mix of guest-star and heart-string tugging character development episodes, though it sometimes feels like I'm just rewatching shows from the first series altered only with a few tweaks. Rie the fortune teller; Ume the brains; and Kana the sexpot each have a good spotlight show. Some of them even take Japanese corporate ethics to task. Just how many times can Manpan be close to bankruptcy? More times than you think in a 12 episode series. The last two episodes are gold.

Now showing: Beach Boys, Batsu Kare, Shomuni Final

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

American Gods

You are American Gods! You are mysterious,
intelligent, and creative. To the rest of the
world you may seem a little standoffish, but
really youre just a quiet person. Youre sort of
bookish and are intrigued by mythology and
fairy tales. You might be Wiccan or Pagan,
either that or youre unreligious. You have a
sarcastic sense of humor and are the kind of
person people like to talk to because youre
such a good listener.

*~Which Neil Gaiman book are you?~*
brought to you by Quizilla

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

(Or How I Spent My Evenings in July)

LONG VACATION **** _ Kimura Takuya, Yamaguchi Tomoko _ It's a seamless melding of romance, comedy and dorama complemented with the smooth, upbeat light j-pop/hip hop of Hinata Daisuke and CAGNET and well-drawn characters you don't mind hanging out with. Plus there's some real chemistry between Senna and Minami. I zipped through 12 eps in two days. La la la la la Love Song...

SUMMER SNOW **** _ Hirosue Ryoko, Dohmoto Tsuyoshi _ A tragic romance dorama that picks up momentum with the second ep cliffhanger, and never stops until it plays out its logical conclusion. There's a heartfelt lesson for all the kids. Though the occasional sight gag is a bit out of place, and that little girl in the hospital was WAY too calculated, but I'm willing to overlook that, for now. Oh! Eh! Oh! Eh!

GTO ***1/2 _ Sorimachi Takashi, Matsushima Nanako _ A good ride with GRAATO TEECHA Onizuka through 11 1/2 episodes of afterschool special life lessons and escalating teacher villainy. But the ending's too weak. I thought I could overlook that and still give it ****, but having seen Long Vacation, there's no excuse for it. So I'm taking back that 1/2 a star. If they just took another episode to develop the ending instead of relying on a stupid montage to lead into the TV special and the movie (both of which apparently suck by the way)_ it may have turned out better. Tomoko _ she's either the next Namie Amuro or she'll end up in AV.

SHOMUNI *** _ Esumi Makiko _ Hilarious overall, but a bit uneven episode-to-episode. Love their confrontations with the ladies of the secretariat, hate their hair. The writer relied too much on complication-of-the-week in the early shows, and the six Shomu Ni girls lacked individual personalities (aside from their gimmicks). Improves in the last 5 or 6 episodes when the plot devices work off one of the girls for some much needed pathos.

I like to thank Mediacorp's Channel 8 in Singapore for making all this possible. Ain't no artiste like a Mediacorp artiste...