11 Movies to Watch

1. Battle Royale

For those who get queasy at the thought of blood, be warned: Battle Royale is not for the faint of heart. It gets dark fast and is not afraid to delve into uncomfortable subjects. I loved the realness of that world; I was convinced that these teenagers were young and stupid, full of braggadocio as they fought their frazzled way towards survival. Battle Royale gets a bad rep for its detailed use of graphic violence and sex but it is the unrestrained depiction of those two things that allow us to see into the psyche of all of the characters. School is a lovely thing, isn’t it?

2. Little DJ: Chiisana Koi no Monogatari

If you want to cry, watch this. If you felt cheated from the Bridge to Terabithia movie, make it up by watching this. To me, this movie was magical. The world of a hospital is surrounded by loneliness, loss and healing. We often focus on the first two and assume that the third is inevitable. DJ flits between the three themes so effortlessly, focusing on a young boy with a terminal illness. He channels his energy into creating a short radio show for the hospital, his warm and thoughtful words soothing. Life is full. Of tears, of loneliness and laughter.

3. If you feel like you’re in need of a twisted rom-com action (yes, you heard me), watch Love Exposure featuring Takahiro Nishijima. It’s long but quite a strange ride. Can true love conquer a cult? The editing of the story is definitely unique. It reminds me of Kudo Kankuro’s multiple-threads-connecting way of storytelling but not as zippy.

4. Want a depressing story so dark that it rips your heart out and grinds it up? Nobody Knows/Daremo Shiranai is such a quiet and powerful story about child neglect that you can’t even cry because it already ripped out your heart. The story follows Akira and his young siblings as they simply try to survive after being abandoned.

5. In need of something light? The Handsome Suit explores the life of a man so perfect in nature but completely bereft of good looks. One day, he meets a man that gives him a handsome suit, allowing for a temporary, full body makeover. Can he find true love?

6. Love thrillers? Not horror, but full of quite horrific content, Confessions/Kokuhaku is a visual and narrative masterpiece. It’s the unravelling of a murder and the compelling psychological revenge that follows. Children can also be murderers but they cannot be punished by the law. What’s a grieving mother to do? Why, everything, of course.

7. Departures/Okuribitois the story of a musician who ends up becoming the guy who pretties up dead bodies for funerals. This job is generally held by a person with Burakumin ancestry and are the lepers of society because of their dirty professions. It’s a cute film, able to make me laugh, but it’s flexible and moving too. It explores death and forgiveness, taboo and acceptance with the ease of a master storyteller.

8. Welcome to the Quiet Room is basically a time with the crazies. Many people with different mental issues converge within a psych ward, their personas dripping with quirky antics.

9. Yaji and Kita: the Midnight Pilgrims is great if you just want to go wtf. Kudos to Kudo Kankuro for going there and beyond. It’s a silly movie full of crack, following a gay couple on a road trip. They end up eating special mushrooms and then…? I enjoy Kudo Kankuro period, and this is him without restraint. Both terrifying and unbelievable. It gets a little too crazy for me, but in the end, I was entertained.

10. Onmyoji I and II goes back to the Heian period. Awkward love story? Check. Bromance? Check. Magic and ghosts and smirky smirkers? Hell. Yes.

11. Seven Samurai is the original underdog story. Long but truly a classic. A small village hires a patchwork selection of samurai to protect themselves against their rice and village being robbed.

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Nobuta o Produce Drama

Title: Nobuta o Produce (Producing Nobuta)

Cast:

Kamenashi Kazuya as Kiritani Shuji

Yamapi as Kusano Akira

Horikita Maki as Kotani Nobuko (Nobuta)

Toda Erika as Uehara Mariko

Nakajima Yuto as Kiritani Koji

Okada Yoshinori as Yokoyama Takeshi

Daito Shunsuke as Tani (the kid who got beaten up)

And lots of other people.

Summary:

A coming of age story set in high school. Two boys try to help out Nobuko, the grudge-like new student, by transforming her into a likable person. As Shuji and Akira set out on this seemingly impossible task, they build an unexpected friendship with Nobuko and learn about themselves and what kind of person they really are.

Review

This is by far one of the best dramas that I’ve watched. Minus the ending. The acting was fresh. The depth of the story was heartfelt and the music was just beautiful. Every piece was chosen with care and perfectly complemented the arc of the story. I find that something that well balanced, but not boring, is rare.

Nobuta o Produce is a story that even five or ten years from now I’ll still be able to appreciate. To be honest, when I watched this drama five years ago, I was dumbstruck by its magic.

If I could only choose one drama to recommend, I would recommend Nobuta o Produce.

To be fair, JE actors take a lot of crap for their acting, among other things. I’m not saying it’s unfounded. I’m just saying that a drama’s value should not be based upon preconceived notions of Johnny’s Entertainment and their talents.

What makes Nobuta o Produce (which I’ll now refer to as NoP) so special is the chemistry of the three very distinct characters.

Shuji (Kamenashi) is the poster boy for cool. He is everyone’s friend, but he himself has no friends. He thinks of high school as a game, smiling on the outside but judging everyone on the inside.

Akira (Yamapi) is a my-pace type of guy, not caring about the latest fads or fitting in. He’s in his own little world, completely free from society’s expectations. He has no friends, but he doesn’t worry about it.

Nobuko (Horikita) is the transfer student with a ghostlike aura. She has no confidence and bullies flock to her like bees to honey.

Shuji and Akira, an unlikely pair, come up with the idea to transform Nobuko into a new girl, dubbing her Nobuta. From a horror movie star to an approachable human being, Nobuta finds her place in school.

As the story progresses, we realize that it was not Nobuta or Akira that was in need of help. It was actually Shuji. I think that introducing Nobuta’s arc allowed the audience to see change from the outside in. By changing her appearance, Nobuta gained confidence. She was essentially the same person, just more approachable.

Akira doesn’t change very much, but he’s important in that he represents lack of inhibitions. He always acts tipsy, off on a tangent. He’s fully aware of society and what it wants from him, but he’s focused on the here and now.

Shuji, on the other hand, supports himself with lies. As the fibs increase, the more he digs his own hole. Shuji has a supportive family, but he doesn’t feel the need to really connect beyond superficiality. It isn’t until he meets Nobuta and Akira that Shuji learns how to smile freely, to understand the fulfillment of friendship.

The cast was great. The chemistry was off the charts and the episodic arcs fit in perfectly with the story as a whole. The ending was bad, but the drama as a whole was so well put together. Kamenashi Kazuya stole the show, his portrayal of Shuji fantastic.

Final Thoughts: Watch it and forgive the horrible ending. This is truly a high school coming-of-age story, full of quirks, laughs, surprisingly poignant moments and lots of random Akira.

9/10

9: Where have you been my entire life? Powerful, memorable and almost perfect.

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Shiritsu Bakaleya Koukou (Bakaleya Private High School) Drama

My guilty pleasure is cheering on Johnny’s Jr. I have a deep respect and admiration for them that others might think of as a bit crazy, but trust me on this. Bakaleya is the epitome of what I love about juniors. They surprise me with their growth, as well as make me smile-cringe-cheer when I note their stumbles. This drama is the pet project of JE and AKB mastermind Akimoto Yasushi.

What makes this project come together so well is that a dream team has been assembled to produce what could have otherwise been Gokusen 4. I’ve only watched 6 7 episodes so far.

Directors:

Moriya Kentaro
Notable for movie Seaside Hotel

Kubota Takashi
Notable for movie Kimi to Boku

Kiki Masahiko
Notable for movie Wangan Midnight

What I did not add was that Moriya and Kubota are also notable music video directors and that Wangan Midnight was a street racing action film. Keep that in mind.

Writers:

Matsuda Yuko
Notable for Gokusen 1, 2, 3, Movie

Yamaura Masahiro
Notable for Yukan Club, Yasuko to Kenji, Rescue, Ikemen desu ne

The writers have a history of taking on Johnny’s dramas. Matsuda Yuko has the better resume, but Yamaura Masahiro channeled his Yankee writing prowess fromYasuko to Kenji, so all is well. ( Though if I had to guess, he also channeled parts of the epic fail of Yukan Club into the bland ridiculousness that is the “leya” part of Bakaleya.) Both of them are not exactly the best, or most sensible writers, but for this genre, they do the job.

Action Director:

Ohara Go
Notable for Holy Land

I squealed when I saw this. Holy Land was so dark and gritty, even if a bit melodramatic. But truth be told, it was the perfect live action of the quintessential shonen manga. There was a lot of angst, love and fighting. Hands down the best action directing I’ve seen in a J-drama. Ohara Go is great in being able to show the highs and lows in a fight. He creates a script with each fight that not only shows the messy punches thrown, but the mentality of the fighters as the battle progresses.

Cast:

JE

Morimoto Shintaro as Sakuragi Tatsuya
Matsumoto Hokuto as Asada Tetsuya
Kyomoto Taiga as Terakawa Maya
Tanaka Juri as Noguchi Satoshi
Jesse Lewis as Satonaka Yuki
Kochi Yugo as Shinbo Makoto
Takaki Yuya as Tachinami Shohei
Miyata Toshiya as the teacher

AKB

Shimazaki Haruka as Shingyoji Fumie
Oba Mina as Atomiya(?) Saya
Mitsumune Kaoru as Tokimune Sayuri

Summary:

Bakada High School, an all-boys school infamous for its yankee students, is suddenly merged with Cattleya Academy, a Catholic haven full of perfectly assembled girls. One plate of Chaos vs. Order coming right up. Can you stomach this?

When the girls invade Bakada High, they brace themselves against the seemingly backwards ways of the native inhabitants. They must save the savages from their own ignorance.

All the boys see are aliens who want to conform them into robots. That’s no fun. But being a high school boy? So much better.

Bakaleya, so far, is shaping up to be a story of compromise and understanding. The idea that friendship will keep you afloat, even when you feel like you are sinking, is a rough and tumble interpretation of not just something applicable to high school. It’s a life lesson that is retaught after you forget it.

Also, with the war of the sexes, both sides are becoming more accepting of the other. Slowly. One philosophy does not mean it is the only one. In order to meet in the middle, both sides have to compromise.

Drama Type: coming of age, high school, action

The Good and the Bad: Almost everything was great but the girls? It may sound biased, but the girls, excluding Mitsumune Kaoru’s Sayuri, grates my every nerve. It’s both the characterization and the acting that makes me want to slap people around. The leader of the girls, Fumie, is actually decently developed. In the hands of a stronger actress, I would embrace her I’m-not-a-bitch-bitchiness. I understand that she is a rookie, but her delivery is one damn expression. The reason why the audience is unsure of who she likes is simply because the girl cannot emote. Slight smile, dimples, same not-intense stare/glare. I want to hate the character in order to celebrate her change in character but she’s so blah that I feel like I’m watching Shintaro act with a wall (thoughTHATwould be amusing). The other AKB girls have one-liners that are more expository than showing their personality. That’s why I don’t care about them.

Oba Mina playing Saya, the number 2 Cattleya girl, is sadly a worse actress than Shimazaki Haruka. How is this possible??? I really want to punch her, just to see if she has an expression other than constipation. The blooming crush she has for Tetsuya made me laugh. Her expression was like watching someone who had too much Botox done. I mean, of course she stares at him to clue us in on her feelings, but in episode 7, I felt horrible for rooting for the psycho stalker. He had much more charisma than Fumie, Saya and Tetsuya combined.

Mitsumune Kaoru as Sayuri is a good fit. She’s definitely the strongest actress in the drama. She’s not a great actress, per se, but she has charisma. There’s also something grounded in her interpretation of Sayuri. I don’t feel like I’m watching a punchable Cattleya drone when she appears, so she must be going something right. And she doesn’t appear unnecessarily often like Fumie and Saya, so I feel like she’s lucky in that she does get lines but not completely stupid ones.

The main gripe I have with the girls, as a story arc, is that they’re useless. They don’t DO anything. When they are involved, I cringe.

From their script to their delivery, the girls are bad filler. The writers don’t know what to do with the girls, and it shows. They try to incorporate the girls into potential lovelines, but it’s so pointless. I don’t feel the tension, heartbreak or anticipation towards the budding romance at all.

Sayuri felt like the exception due to the actress. If the writers wanted to ship Sayuri with Maya, I could at least buy it. The two are similar enough in nature that at the very least, they could be friends. They have a quiet chemistry. If the writers took it a step further, just a smile from the characters could have cemented the beginning of a real connection between the boys’ side and the girls’ side.

The boys, on the other hand, are dynamic. Shintaro has always been charismatic and he has an innate reciprocated love with the camera. I always felt that he had screen potential, and apparently Johnny thinks so too. He’s young still, but he has a bright future in acting. One issue I have with him is that I’m aware that he’s aware of the camera. It’s the difference between being the character and acting the character. He has fluid expressions and a smooth delivery but he also has this mouth habit that really bothers me. It’s like he expresses/over-emotes so much with his face that he feels uncomfortable when his lines stop. But really, other than that, Shintaro is surprisingly well-cast.

The second lead, Hokuto, does a barely passable job with the role of Tetsuya. I feel like Hokuto is playing Tetsuya as the cold, stoic type even though it’s clear that Tetsuya is not that at all. He has trouble expressing himself, but he’s been the most proactive character thus far. He’s introverted and smart, but also kind and loyal. I like Tetsuya as a character, and Hokuto is adorable, but he doesn’t have the gravitas of a lady killer. Tetsuya is such a subtle character but he’s not one-dimensional. I want to like Hokuto’s Tetsuya but I just don’t buy it. Hate me for saying it but he’s pretty–just can’t act. I hope he improves.

Kyomoto Taiga as Maya was such a simple setup, but well delivered. I liked that his character was conveyed with silent actions. If this is any indicator of Taiga’s ability to grasp roles, I’m looking forward to his future career. He was able to transform lines like, “I’m not a girl. I’m not a girl. I’m not a girl,” into something more. It has the feeling of a mantra meant to rein in his violent reaction to being provoked. But those same words, the way he delivers it, speak of his relationship with his mom. There’s a detached sense of unresolved sadness, more than anger, towards his mother for rejecting him. I think that Maya is buoyed by friendship, but a part of him will always be unfulfilled.

The other boys have less screen time with one-liners. Even so, the one-liners are usually scene-stealers. I can grasp their basic personality and I love that their presence reinforces the bromance.

I think that the combination of directors used to shorter mediums like movies and music videos is apparent in Bakaleya. The drama itself is 30 minutes an episode, meaning that every scene counts. There is no time for filler, allowing for sharp edits, beautifully coordinated cinematography and lots of close-ups of the fresh actors and actresses.

The writing team is tried and true. What makes them more bearable is that they are forced to cut down the garbage and find the heart of each episode. I dislike that Tetsuya magically knows all, that each episode is running out of the classroom to find someone, and that there appears to be no semblance of authority. Really. The script is horrendous, but still better than Gokusen. But the editing and camera-work makes up for it. Or so I tell myself.

The action scenes are fabulous. Well-orchestrated, not clean and there’s a great combination of camera-work, editing and music that maximizes the effect of each simple brawl. Much better than the laughable Gokusen fights.

Review: There’s something about Bakaleya. I don’t like everything about it but the scale is definitely tipped in favor of love over hate. I love the bromance, the comradery from the Bakada boys and that the girls are coming to appreciate the unconventional wisdom of high school boys. I love that I can see promising acting, and that the team working behind the scenes is not slacking at all despite the late night slot and the no-name cast. It’s an underdog drama not because of the story, but because it’s shaping up to be one of the best executed dramas this season that no one will see. It’s rough around the edges, but that’s also part of it’s appeal.

Final Verdict:Three parts campy, other parts wtf just happened, but surprisingly vehement in its message about friendship. Even if you can’t stand the pure camp and the endless plot holes with subpar acting, watch for the snazzy cinematography, the fun action scenes and Shintaro’s mouth thing.

When the girls appear, 2.5/10. When I feel the bromance, 7/10

2: Yawn. I want to laugh but it’s so bad, it’s not even funny. It just slightly pisses me off.

(2.5)

3: I wanted to like you. I really did. But you don’t make any sense and I want my ticket out of here.

PLUS

7: I love it enough to watch it to the end. Whatever you’re selling, I’m buying three dozen. Maybe I won’t remember you next year, but it was fun while it lasted.

DIVIDED BY 2=

4: If I’m bored out of my mind and feel generous, I might think you’re trying so hard that it’s cute. Horrendous, but saved by the it’s-so-bad-that-it’s-good appeal. Free laughs, even if not intentional.

(somewhere right here)

5: I’m on the fence. Half of the time, I loved you. The other half? Shoot me now. If you don’t, hand me the gun.

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Casshern Movie

Writer and Director: Kiriya Kazuaki

Cast:
Iseya Yusuke as Tetsuya
Toshiaki Karasawa as Burai
Terao Akira as Professor Azuma
Higuchi Kanako as Midori
Aso Kumiko as Luna

Summary:
Professor Azuma researches Neo-cells in hopes of finding a way to cure his wife. His son, Tetsuya, has gone off to war and died, leaving behind his fiancé Luna. As Tetsuya’s body is readied for a funeral, Professor Azuma’s seemingly dead end research is struck by lightning, igniting limbs to regenerate into reborn bodies. With this turn of events, the government quickly decides to gun down the freak creations. All but a handful die, inciting a deep vengeance within the neo-race.

In the aftermath, though Professor Azuma does not understand the why or the how of the sudden regeneration, he understands that there is a chance for his son to come back to life. He places Tetsuya’s body into the pool of neo-cell experiments, causing Tetsuya’s spirit to pull back into his dead body.

The neo-race send out machines to destroy humans as retribution. Tetsuya, in an attempt to both protect Luna and find his kidnapped mother, retaliates against the sudden force of the neo-race.

Movie Type: Action, Sci-fi, War, Romance, Drama, Angst

Strengths: The cast is well-established, and also very pretty. The film is highly stylized, full of dramatic flair and lots of grand-scale music. I enjoyed it the first time I watched it and the second was still pretty.

Negatives: Poorly edited content. It’s passable, but I felt like it was the type of movie that seemed like it was wrapping up, only to go on and on and on. And on. It definitely felt like a marathon. There was quite a large cast, and though I enjoyed the painting of that world, it lacked focus while attempting to ram ideals down our throats.

Review: Casshern is based off of an anime, but is nothing like the anime. It attempts to immediately humanize the neo-race rather than go the robotic route. It truly is a visual treat, and on more than one occasion, I felt like it was similar to the Final Fantasy franchise in how the characters were just so shiny. The movie creates many threads in order to link characters through short encounters, as well as emphasizing on the twisty, bittersweet road of family and war. In the end, Casshern attempts to first say that war is only full of pain and causes a cycle of revenge. For that reason, it’s also important to embrace peace and to reach for that happiness, even if it is an illusion or a distant memory. And then they blow up the world and beam to another planet that looks suspiciously like The Land Before Time. ’cause you you, that’s the only way to find peace again.

The acting was passable, sometimes good or even almost brilliant. But at the end of the day, I felt like the director was trying to manipulate my emotions. Insert music, insert sad face, insert dead person and solution. Since a lot of money was spent and top-billing actors and actresses were hired, there is a lot of excessive content just for the hell of it.

What bothers me more about the film is the parallels that were roughly suggested but by no means were recognized as such. The setting is in Neo-Japan, a strong and proud country at the top of the world after waging war in Asia. The conquered areas and lands are full of rebels, so the government enlists young men to do their duty to the country.

Neo-Japan is all for Professor Azuma’s research, wanting to obtain immortality as well as have an invincible army. In order for the research to be conducted, the government needs the lives of a “minor ethnic group” from Sector 7.

The story is very much a social statement of Japan’s actions during the war. They invaded many countries, slaughtering and horrendously experimenting on many, many people for their own gain in biological warfare.

What the film does explore is the possible retaliation of the survivors.

Although the world is very different from what it was fifty, sixty years ago, the passing of time does not negate the reality of what occurred in the past.

The ending of Casshern pulled me in all different directions, saying one thing and then saying another. Understandably, there is no one answer or opinion about war and what to do or think about war in a post-war society, but I was flabbergasted by the solution.

First it was world peace, followed by the acknowledgement that neo-humans were still human. And then blow up the world and shoot into space, where you can Forget. Start over from zero.

If you understand anything about Japan’s relations with it’s surrounding countries that were formerly colonies of Japan, then you’ll understand the mess of the current politics regarding conduct post-war.

Apologies are issued while textbooks stay mum and politicians continue to assert that the actions of the past were regrettable but don’t give a rat’s ass about delving into building bridges.

I truly was in awe of Casshern the first time I saw it. It’s eye candy. But its political and social message is the reason why so many Asian countries still resent or hate Japan. There’s a heavy-handed double standard. I don’t know what Kiriya intended by making this movie. That peace is only possible by resetting, perhaps. Soldiers are humans that endured the war too? He gave out plenty of answers, but what my question is this: can genocide truly be okay just by choosing to forget it?

Final Thoughts: It’s a long ass movie but there are nuggets of goodness here and there. Barashin and Burai were the standouts to me. If you watch without the historical context, it’s decent. But if you consider the background, it feels as if Kiriya created a movie to congratulate Japan’s stance on not acknowledging war crimes.

6/10

6: Promising but sometimes boring. With a little more flair, you would shine.

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SPEC SP & SPEC Ten Drama and Movie

by fatsoko

One question: what were the writers smoking when they scripted this joke?

I’ll admit that I laughed a few times, but it was more because the story was so ridiculous than well-timed or even funny.

Summary

SP: When a killer with a teleportation SPEC massacres innocent civilians and a SPEC holder, Toma and Sebumi end up protecting the one remaining survivor who saw the killer. Toma’s SPEC is revealed as the ability to summon dead SPEC users in order to borrow their powers.

TEN: Ninomae is alive and has gone back to his evil ways, gathering a small, but elite group of flamboyant assassins. At the same time, there is a secret Order following the prophecy of a future savior. Also, Sebumi’s past lover and former comrade from America appears with a five year old girl.

Strong Points

The chemistry between Sebumi and Toma is still great. Their rapport is always so fluid, going from friendly bickering to I-fucking-love-you-so-I’m-going-to-bitch-you-out. I love tough love. For the SP, I loved Toma’s SPEC and understanding a little more about her psyche. For the movie, Sebumi’s ex really created more tension between Toma and Sebumi. I thought that the series lacked that romantic angle. I didn’t mind but after seeing how jealousy makes their banter sharper, I approve. Also, I noticed that Sebumi took a back seat and Toma was the center of both stories allowing for Toda Erika to flex her acting skills.

Weak Points

The storyline was convoluted with meaningless sub-plots and gags. There was no flow to the story and more often than not, I found myself reminiscing on the sharp storytelling from the drama. The SP and Ten reeked of too much fanservice. There was a lot of telling and not enough showing. More than half of the time was spent on jokes and trying to be witty.

The movie also did the taboo Star Wars rolling story prophecy. I was mortified.

I was disappointed with the unnecessary characters that kept popping up like flies only to die instantaneously. The conflict was focused around Toma’s SPEC and Ninomae’s dastardly plans to rule the world but as a viewer, I felt no emotional connection to these out-of-character characters. There are flickers of good writing here and there, but without good editing in the drawing room, it’s a pile of crap.

It seemed as if the writing team got together after the show ended and decided to insert and magnify all of the possibly funny scenarios. In the end, they included all of them, one of which is Sebumi in a barrel hurtling down a hill into Ninomae’s not-so-secret lair just as a bomb goes off inside of the building. Look! Sebumi! He’s so dizzy when comes out and he’s so stupid! Doesn’t he realize that the house will blow up? (insert laugh) Kaboom. The only genuinely funny moment was in the SP, when a sound-dampening, dancing SPEC holder appears.

Final Thoughts

If you are a fan, it’s amusing to watch. Sort of. Just pretend it’s a parody of a parody and it should become less disappointing. The end of the movie definitely seemed to imply that another story remained to be told but I don’t think I’ll watch it in theaters.

It lacks finesse, heart and fear. Toma states that she was unafraid of the world when she had her SPEC. It allowed her to do crazy things without worrying about the consequences. The more she uses her power, the lonelier she becomes. Supposedly. If I could make a list for all of the inconsistencies and gag to serious to gag routines, I wouldn’t be able to sleep anytime soon.

Rating: 3/10

3: I wanted to like you. I really did. But you don’t make any sense and I want my ticket out of here.

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Kokoro no Ito SP Review


Cast:

Matsuyuki Yasuko as Nagakura Reiko

Kamiki Ryunosuke as Nagakura Akihito

Tanimura Mitsuki as Maruhashi Ikuo

Screenwriter: Tatsui Yukari

Summary:

Raising a child is difficult. Being deaf and raising a child is impossible. Nagakura Reiko (Matsuyuki) has heard these words for as long as Akihito, her son (Kamiki), has been alive. Reiko, who has struggled with life telling her that she is unable to do anything because of her disability, is adamant that Akihito will live a life completely different from her, without prejudice. Akihito was born with his hearing intact and since young, had a natural talent and love for playing the piano. Although Reiko is deaf, she assures Akihito that she can hear his music because their hearts are connected. As Akihito grows up, he is level-headed and used to accompanying his mother to help translate her sign language. But also at this time, he grows a frustration for piano because his teachers tell him that even though he can play the notes, there is no passion. This is the story of a mother and a son: a mother who wants the best for her son and a son who no longer has the energy to fight for his mother’s dream.

Drama Type:

Coming of age, family drama

Positives: The acting, the beautiful signing. Matsuyuki is a force to be reckoned with in here. Her expressive eyes more than speak for her. The cinematography is simple and effective. The script is well written and more importantly, paced well.

Negatives: I have mixed feelings on Kamiki Ryunosuke’s acting. The piano scenes were also just okay.

Review:

When you throw in two veteran actors with a stifling age gap, results vary. I’ve only seen parts of Matsuyuki’s performance in the sorely forgotten Perfect Report drama. Her magnetism and conviction was what pushed me to continue to watch the mediocre drama.

Kamiki, on the other hand, has been like a golden egg that I’ve had my eye on. He’s young but he shows a lot of promise. I think that for Kamiki, what I wonder the most about is how he’ll transition from the label of a child actor to an adult actor. I think that here, in Kokoro no Ito, there was a glimpse of Kamiki facing that hurdle.

Kokoro no Ito is a simple story. There is a deaf woman named Reiko who lives with her son Akihito in a small apartment. Though they live a humble life, the two are in sync and are simply used to living their lives the way that they have. Reiko works at a processing company gutting blowfish. Akihito is a high school student preparing for university exams. Reiko dreams of Akihito becoming a professional pianist and lovingly sews him a cover for his piano. As Akihito grows up, he becomes increasingly aware of how different his life is compared to other youths. He feels old and more like a parent than a child as he goes with his mother to meetings with the developers planning to tear down their neighborhood.

The communication between a mother and son transcends words. But as time passes, their thoughts change and their opposing opinions clash. Communication is lost and anger is sown and frustration spirals out of control.

Kokoro no Ito, or A Hearts’ Thread, perfectly illustrates the disintegration of Reiko and Akihito’s relationship while at the same time showing that broken things can be mended, that there is always a thread waiting to be connected to another heart.

Matsuyuki challenged Kamiki to find his role, to live his role, to become Akihito and I don’t know if I can confidently say that Kamiki gave the best Akihito he could. Every time Matsuyuki acted against Kamiki, I was hard pressed to stay impressed by Kamiki’s resume. That’s not to say that Kamiki gave a horrible performance. He didn’t. He acted his role well, but I don’t believe that he was able to reach that next step just yet. He tried and he failed. He was outshone by Matsuyuki’s Reiko.

I think that Kamiki has been riding high for most of his career. He has been acknowledged ( by myself included) as a very capable young actor but not yet as an adult actor.

He’s at that point in his life where he’s straddling a line between adulthood and childhood. I believe that he will try to find more mature roles in the next few years. Because of his baby face, he’ll struggle with headlining any drama that isn’t school related for quite some time. With Kokoro no Ito, I want to believe that Matsuyuki Reiko pushed him to remove himself from his comfort zone. She taught him a lesson by completely overpowering him with her acting to show him that there is a long road ahead of him, and it’s up to him to push forward.

I look forward to future Matsuyuki Yasuko projects and really should look up her performance in Mother. Kamiki has hopefully learned much from this experience.

Also, Tanimura Mitsuki did a competent job as the go-between for Kamiki and Matsuyuki. Sorry. I don’t have much to say about her. She wasn’t bad but she also wasn’t exactly memorable. I do give her props for not backing down against Matsuyuki though.

The Ending: Neatly wrapped up but not so much that it becomes diabetes-grade sugar inducing.

Final thoughts? It’s worth watching simply for the story.

9/10

9: Where have you been my entire life? Powerful, memorable and almost perfect.

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Keizoku 2: SPEC Review

by fatsoko

This is my first review for this blog so I hope that you guys enjoy it and can follow my haphazard line of thought.

I’ve skimmed many of the Winter 2010 dramas and SPEC stood out.

Why?

1. Strong cast

2. Strong writing

3. Strong directing

Summary:

The serious and diligent Sebumi (Kase Ryo) gets demoted into a special sector of the police force after a freak accident involving one of his team members. The new division deals with cases in which people with supernatural powers (aka SPECS) are involved. It’s headed by a childlike but respected Nonomura (Ryu Raita). The SPEC division is sparse and Sebumi finds himself partnered off with the only other detective, Toma Saya (Toda Erika), an intelligent but eccentric woman who for mysterious reasons, constantly has her arm in a sling. Keizoku 2: SPEC details the cases that Toma and Sebumi find themselves investigating. As they investigate, the both of them become more and more entangled in conspiracies linking SPEC cases and closer to Ninomae Juichi, a precocious boy with startling SPEC powers.

Drama Type: Rocky beginning in trying to define itself but overall a suspense drama with a strong emotional core.

Positives: The music. The opening theme Nami no Yuku by THE RICECOOKERS is a beautiful song. I immediately fell in love with it. The background music played during the drama was also beautiful and added depth to the scenes. Kase Ryo, Kase Ryo, Kase Ryo. Honorable mention to Kamiki Ryunosuke and an honorable mention to Toda Erika in the latter half of the drama.

Negatives: The comedic touches are ill-fitting, awkward and disturbing (especially in the case of Nonomura). At times too strong in showing a black and white characterization of good vs. evil. Toda Erika’s Toma Saya came off as cartoonish for the first half of the drama and really derailed the gravity of the scenes. Mixed feelings on the ending.

Review:


I have to hand it to Kase Ryo for keeping me engaged in SPEC from the get-go. If not for him, I would have tuned out early on and missed out on the performances from the rest of the cast. He’s only recently blipped up on my radar but now that he is, he’s there to stay. Kase Ryo has a magnetism to him, a realism to him that translates into his acting.

He put aside the vanity of hair, the vanity of a character with mass appeal and chose to dig deeper to create a Sebumi who is appealing because he does not try to be appealing. He created a Sebumi that was real, with complex emotions and ugly tears, a Sebumi with a desperate and angry, hoarse cry, a Sebumi that did not make excuses. If Sebumi had been acted by a lesser actor, he would have come off as a good guy overshadowed by Toda Erika’s loud characterization of Toma Saya.

I praise Kase Ryo because even though Sebumi is the straight man in this odd couple, his stone-faced nature does not make him dull or lack a personality. He has a military, controlled air to him that he wears like a second skin. When he emotes, that controlled air feels like his skin is breaking open at the seams like a caged animal. That contrast only emphasizes just how deeply angry and wronged he feels and as a viewer it’s awesome to watch.

Toda Erika was a strange pick to me. I first saw her in Nobuta as Shuji’s girlfriend and I thought that she had presence. In Deathnote, I wasn’t impressed or turned away so I wasn’t sure what to expect out of her for SPEC. I had read the summary of Toma Saya’s character and saw the press conference but I still wasn’t convinced. SPEC, to me seemed like a serious and explorative drama. Her character reminded me a bit of Kimutaku’s character in Mr. Brain. She was a quirky genius with a gluttonous appetite. Her method of organizing her thoughts was writing random kanji, ripping up the paper into pieces and showering them in the air.

I thought it was a cheap answer. Every time she began writing her kanji characters, I groaned because I knew that it meant that it was a cue for her Sherlock Holmes persona. This aspect made me confused. What kind of drama was SPEC aiming to be? Did it want to be an episodic Sherlock Holmes type of drama? I wasn’t sure in the beginning.

The problem with Sherlock Holmes type dramas is that once the audience figures out the pattern, it’s easy to figure out who the culprit is. And once that happens, unless the writing is good enough to cover for the pattern, it’s easy to tune out knowing that missing one or two episodes won’t affect feeling lost in later episodes. In Japanese dramas, this is a pattern that I’ve come to dread. Look at Gokusen 1, 2 and 3. The first season it was okay. The second season made me roll my eyes at the franchise and the 3rd one just made me groan.

SPEC seemed to be going down that route. If Sebumi’s character was not there, it would have gone down that route. But Sebumi grounded the drama, made it real, made it gut-wrenching and gave the storyline reason to move forward. His mystery was what I wanted to know the answer to.

I’ve gone off on a tangent and circled back to Kase Ryo’s awesomeness as Sebumi without giving Toda Erika her due. Toma Saya was static until episodes 4 or 5, halfway through the drama. Her arm is in a sling all of the time and her ultimate goal in the SPEC division is to find Ninomae Juichi and kill him. It’s not until episode 4 or 5 that these facts start to have a foundation to support them.

We find out that Toma used to be happy, her relationship with her fiance (Shirota Yu) cute. Her previous case centered on her obsession with killing Ninomae. When she finally caught him, he used his SPEC powers to disappear and she woke up, her hand no longer connected to her arm. After that incident, Toma became a recluse, shutting away her fiance, demoting him to meal payer.

From this point on, Toda Erika’s performance gains much more depth. Instead of a Sherlock Holmes, Toma Saya exhibits a face of vengeance, justice, anger and reliability. She becomes a fierce badass by the end which I approve. From a storytelling point of view, this development in her characterization may have stemmed from Kase Ryo’s Sebumi being the focus of the first half and Toma the second. Even so, I think that characters are meant to grow simultaneously through interaction. I also think that it shouldn’t have taken so long for the drama to show these sides of Toma instead of letting a caricature dominate Toma for the first half of the drama.

Kamiki Ryunosuke is one of the best actors of his generation. There’s a reason he’s been in the business for so long with so many successful projects. He takes on roles that are age-appropriate and he makes those roles his own. Like Kase Ryo, he manages to create a 3D character out of a potentially 2D stereotypical disaster of a character. There is very little information about Ninomae Juichi. He is a very mysterious character, and from the snippets of Ninomae in the drama, I think that it could be easily said that he is a typical archenemy. He’s evil, he does evil things, he plays with people and he feels no regret over it.

Typical baddie. BUT. In addition to that precocious attitude, there is that hint of childlike naivete, stubbornness and fear just beneath the surface and that makes Ninomae awesome. At the heart of Ninomae’s baddie persona, he’s trying to protect someone. Even though he’s going at it all wrong, there’s something touching about his twisted intentions that Kamiki Ryunosuke is able to act out.

If I compare Kamiki’s precocious evil genius to his bff Kanata Hongo’s various precocious, evil characters, Kamiki wins hands down. Although I love goofy-eared Kanata Hongo, Kamiki is by far the more dynamic and subtle actor.

He has nuance and he reigns himself in from overacting. There’s a finesse to his subtlety that many young actors lack.

The storyline of SPEC turned out to be more complex than I thought it would be. Everything connects with everyone in some way. Powers become hindrances and memories become nightmares. Teamwork, friendship, family and justice become key factors in SPEC. And with themes like that, is it any wonder that SPEC is a great watch?

The Ending:

Mixed feelings. Great but deus ex machina endings always make me feel a little bitter. The twists? They were twisted. Props to that performance by (not inserting name) at the end. I didn’t think he had it in him but he’s come a long way.

Two words. Watch. NOW.

8/10

8: Watch it. You won’t regret it.

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