23 January 2011

Sunday Drama – Utahime (歌姫)



Utahime, roughly translated means “Diva”.   This is a story that moves through two time periods – something that normally bugs me.   Utahime begins with a famous singing diva announcing her retirement much to the dismay of her son.  The son, played by Nagase Toyomo, pretty much is a loser who clings to his mother.   She wants him to man up and sends him on a mysterious mission to a small town to watch the final movie being shown before the local cinema closes forever.



When he gets to the small town, it’s unclear whether we are are flashing back in time or if the other story is meant to be the movie.


Same small town in the Showa (1950s-60s) period, which is absolutely wonderfully recreated.  I was going to say realistically recreated but, let’s face, I know bugger all about what a small Japanese town would have looked like in the 60s.


The story centres around the Orion cinema and the family who own it.  Years before, the youngest daughter of the family finds a soldier, Taro, (again played by Nagase) who has washed up on the beach.  He has lost his memory and comes to live with them as part of the family.  This is a huge problem for Suzu (Aibu Saki) because she has fallen in love with him.


I have spent most of life living near the sea and walking along the beach and seriously, I’ve found driftwood and bits of plastic and dog turds and used condoms.  Why do I never find a hot soldier with memory loss? My life sucks.


Nagase helps run the cinema and we see him returning, very dapperly dressed, on a bicycle through the beautiful seaside country, with all the locals running after him wanting to know what the new movie will be.


Meanwhile, the local yakuza (Japanese mobsters) are trying to muscle in on the town.  The yakuza leader, nicknamed Croissant (Sato Ryuta) has a fearful reputation.


The town holds their annual singing competition and Suzu decides to win the grand prize, a motor scooter, so she can give it to Taro and have him see her as a woman rather than a sister and thereby win his love.  Personally, I’d say flashing your tits would do a better job but what would I know.


Suzu has some fierce competition though because every other wacky character in the town also wants to win.  Also she has intense stage fright.


Then a mysterious stranger comes to town, a professional singer who has been planted in the competition by the yakuza as a ploy to take over.  That’s how the yakuza worked in Showa Era Japan.  No guns, no violence – just singing.


After Suzu is foiled, Taro decides to enter himself.  He gets up and does a version of Jailhouse Rock to rival Elvis, shocking the small town residents who have no knowledge of ROCK! 


Now Suzu is wondering – how does Taro know how to sing in English?  How does he know Elvis?  OMG he has this whole lost memory life she knows nothing about and one day his memory might return!


Like most Japanese drama, there is a whole supporting cast of wacky characters.  My favourite is the woman who runs the local guesthouse.  Sabaco is conniving and money obsessed and the whole town is scared of her.


This week’s drama review is very light on the boy love but, of all the Asian dramas I’ve watched,  I would say this one has the strongest storylines and the most satisfying ending.   People criticise Nagase because he often plays the same character but I don’t have a problem with that.  He’s like the manliest man in Japan so of course he’s going to play manly roles.   I like the manliness.


Normally too I have issues with love stories that start off when one of the characters is a child.  It’s getting into a really grey area that can be a bit creepy.  I didn’t feel that at all in Utahime though because there is such a huge struggle for Suzu to get Taro to see her as an adult. 


I’d totally recommend Utahime.   Awesome story, awesome setting, awesome Nagase.

16 January 2011

Sunday Drama – Kizarazu Cat’s Eye

Okay, this is a huge call but I’m going start that this drama is my all time favourite drama ever.  Sometimes I watch a drama and think I like it better than Kizarazu Cat’s Eye but it’s a passing whim.  When it comes to dramas, KCE is my lasting love.


Kisarazu Cat's Eye - 09 (7) [Kisarazu Cats]


The guy who wrote this drama also wrote some other awesome stuff – like Ikebukuro West Gate Park (totally false advertising by the way) and Tiger and Dragon, which I may review at a later stage.  One of things I absolutely love about his dramas is that the setting becomes such a vibrant part of the story.  In Kizarazu, he takes a town that doesn’t have much going on and makes that a pivotal part of the story.  All the small town quirks and weird characters and traditions – especially the local dance, the Yassai Mossai.


The story is about a group of guys who live in the town and played baseball together in high school.  They almost made it to Koshien (massive Japanese high school baseball tournament and focus of many dramas) but someone screwed up. 


Mostly the drama centres on Bussan (Okada Junichi), who finds out he has cancer and only has 6 months to live.  That sounds like a bunch of laughs, you think… and, while Japan loves it’s ultra-depressing ‘terminal illness’ dramas with an unhealthy passion, this isn’t one of them.   In an instant you can go from getting all teary eyed to shrieking with laughter.  Pure brilliance.




Because of the aforementioned baseball drama, Bussan and his best friend, Bambi (Sakurai Sho) have had a falling out.  Of course, in drama terms “falling out” means unspoken gay love.  Bambi is in love with Moko who is in love with Bussan which doesn’t help their friendship (but doesn’t harm the gay love).


The other members of the cat’s eyes are Master (Sato Ryuta – who I love in everything he does and seriously, I swear to god, the guy serving my coffee in a fancy Omotesando cafe the other day had to be his brother) as the bar owner with the rarely seen but very controlling wife.




Ani (Tsukamoto Takashi)– which is Japanese for older brother, because his younger brother is the only one people remember and Uchie (Okada Yoshinori) who is so weird and funny in this that’s only later, when I saw him in something else that I realised he’s quite cute.




So anyway, until Bussan finds out he is dying all any of them, apart from Bambi (who goes to uni in Tokyo) do is play baseball against the yakuza and drink at Master’s bar.  But, they need to make money fast, so they turn to crime – based on a manga called Cat’s Eyes (about a group of female cat burglars). 


This results in high calibre wacky hi-jinx that seem to be linked together by far-fetched coincidences – until you see the other other “innings” when it all comes together.


It takes about 5 minutes to fall in love with the cast of this drama.  Even the minor characters are so freaken awesome.  Ozzie – the town drunk who hates the dark, Miss Rose – the local aging stripper “The Second Generation Kisarazu Rose” who tries to drum up business by pretending to be foreign, Busan’s dad who is taking impersonation lessons at night, the wacky Yakuza guy…. you feel like you want to live in this town and be best friends with these guys.


My favourite scene in this drama is when Bambi is trying to convince Moko to go out with him.  She tells him there is a legend that if you carry someone over the red bridge in the town, you will always be with them.  He, of course, carries her across the bridge – against her will because she just made the story up.  I’ve been to that town and crossed that bridge and it’s really freaken steep.  You’d have to seriously love someone to carry them across it.




The hotness rating in this drama is high.  It’s the only drama I’ve seen Okada Junichi in that he’s not being drippy and he’s awfully cute in this.  He totally wins my heart.


Of course, Kizarazu Cat’s Eye does star my all time favourite Japanese idol, Sakurai Sho, but I have to say, I don’t love him in this.  It’s like when he was younger, he had a hot, surly rebel thing happening and now he’s older, he has the hot hotness going on but the Bambi period was not a good one for him.  Maybe it’s the hair.  I really don’t like the orange hair.  He looks much better in the later movie with his hair black. 


If you only watch one Japanese drama, then I’d recommend this be the one you watch.  I have not even begun to scrap the surface of the awesome.

06 January 2011

Sunday Drama – Norwegian Wood

This week I’m reviewing Norwegian Wood because I went to see it at the movies recently.  This review may contain spoilers if you haven’t read the book but don’t worry about that.  You are better off just reading my review than wasting your money actually watching this film.

What goes through a film maker’s mind sometimes?  What makes someone think “I’m going to make this film and I want it to suck as much as possible… then I’m going to add in extra suck, because you can never have enough suck in a film”?  Because seriously, you could not make a film that sucked this much by accident.

I was going to leave halfway through the film because I was so freaken bored, but instead I took a little nap.  That’s kind of like leaving without actually having to make the effort.  I don’t think I missed much.

This is the basic story (which is pretty much the same as the book) – boy meets girl who is going out with his best friend (cue: Jessie’s girl), best friend tops himself, boy meets girl again when they are uni, boy has sex with girl, girl goes batshit and gets locked in the (very swisho) loony bin, boy mets other girl but still goes to visit first girl for loony bin booty calls.  First girl tops herself.  Boy sleeps with her loony girl roomie then goes back to second girl.

The difference between the movie and the book is that  the book has all kinds of interesting side plots and meanderings and quirky characters.  The film doesn’t.   Instead it’s  ‘let’s take everything good out of this story and just put in more angst, more staring off in to the mid distance with rainy windows and fish.  Yeah, that’s what the folks want – more angst.’

There is one subplot/minor character thing left in and that is with the annoying uni friend.  If you’ve read the book, you will know what I mean.  The older guy who is a real player.  Why leave this in and not the bit with Stormtrooper and the fire flies or other awesome bits?  Why?

Arggh I thought I’d have language difficulties with this film because it’s in Japanese but I thought wrong.  I made the mistaken assumption that there would be dialogue worth listening to.  But no,  all they did was walk (through very pretty scenery) then have sex then the main female character, Naoko, would go bat shit (again) then the main male character, Watanabe, would stare out the rainy windows yet again then do some hard, physical labour (those bits were actually quite good) then go visit his other girlfriend, Midori.

Seriously dude, if your girlfriend goes bat shit every time you have sex, wouldn’t you think not to have sex with her.  Which brings me to another point – Watanabe is a total root rat.  He actually is in the book too but it’s not such an issue – maybe because in the book he’s a sympathetic character so you don’t mind so much.  In  the movie, it’s like ‘hey Watanabe, put it away already’.  Young, dumb and full of cum doesn’t make for an interesting lead character.  Well maybe it does, but not when you team it with arty and wistful. 

My summary -

Ken'ichi Matsuyama as Watanabe => annoying and not as hot as he could have been.  Should have taken his shirt off during those scenes of hard physical labour.

Rinko Kikuchi as Naoko => about as annoying as you could possibly get.  I wanted to punch her in the face especially when she was doing the extreme wailing of bat shitted-ness.  Just kill yourself already.

Kiko Mizuhara as Midori => I didn’t hate her.

Best bit of the film => the trailer for the Gantz movie before it started.

02 January 2011

Drama Sunday: Mary Stayed Out All Night

I’ve decided to start a new feature here at Project Kathryn.  Drama Sunday.  Not that I’m going to go out and major life dramas on a Sunday and write about them because that would be all too tiresome; nope, I’m going to make use of the time I spend watching Asian dramas and write up reviews. 

Yep, that’s the kind of giving person I am – watching Asian drama so you don’t have to.  Of course, if you want then feel free.

First up, Mary Stayed Out All Night (also known, for some weird reason, as Marry Me, Mary).  This is the first one on the list because I just finished watching it. 


The plot is about a naive and very cute Korean girl who lives with her deadbeat dad.  Dad is on the run because he owes money to the Korean mob and Mary has had to drop out of uni because they have no money.  She spends all her time watching dramas and working her part time job.

One night, her friends call her up and she decides to drive their drunken arses all over town to make some cash.  She is driving around the edgy, rock part of Seoul when, omg, she hits someone with her car.

That person is indeed the shiny haired prince (so named because he played a shiny haired prince in another drama).  She is dazzled by the shininess of his hair.   But then she freaks on account of car crash swindlers are rife in Korea and she thinks he did it to scam her out of money.


She follows him to a club where his band perform and then stalks him to try to get to him to sign a disclaimer.  They get drunk and he follows her home.  At this point, any normal woman would be jumping his bones for sure but Mary is too sweet and naive for that.  Also, she thinks he’s a loser and tries to kick him out.  Even though, when he was drunk he tried to give her a cabbage.

Meanwhile, her dad has been on the run and happens to run into his old friend who has been living in Japan and is now super rich.  Mary’s deadbeat dad and creepy dad decide their kids should marry.

In order to avoid being sold into marriage slavery by her deadbeat dad, Mary fakes getting married to shiny hair.  As you would.  I mean he’s hella cute.

But, OMGZOINKS, at the same time, Mary’s dad marries her off to Waffles (the rich guy – called Waffles because he played a guy that made waffles in another drama).  Now I have no idea of the laws in Korea but this is a bit far reached to me.  Maybe it happens.  Maybe Korea is full of girls who are in marriages orchestrated by their scheming dad’s who forge their signatures.


So what’s in this for Waffles – he wants to make dramas but his creepy, rich dad will only give him the cash if marries Mary, for – OMG – creepy dad has a creepy thing for Mary’s dead mother.

Waffles agrees on one condition – the arrangement is for 100 days and, at the end, Mary gets to decide which one she loves – the bad boy, free spirited shiny haired rocker (who’s music really isn’t that rock to be honest) who has a weird thing for his mother or the perfect, rich, cheekbones who has a weird thing for his father.

The result is much hijinx and wackiness, as you’d expect.  The unspoken subtext is that Waffles and Shiny Hair totally fall in big, gay love and have eye sex throughout the entire drama.  And that isn’t a bad thing.

It’s not a bad drama.  There are some really, really annoying plot holes.  Also, around episode 10, the writer changes and I think the new writer only got a brief overview of what had gone.  Like new writer thinks – wow, this would be a great plot twist and it’s like ‘yeah and it was – in episode 3’!!!

Oh and Waffles is making a drama which ends up involving Shiny Hair and Mary but the whole time, they never film the drama, they never do anything except photo shoots and the soundtrack.  Go do some acting and stuff, people.

I get a bit frustrated with Asian dramas, especially Korean drama because the characters don’t just tell their annoying parents to STFU.  It would save so much angst and annoyance.  But then again, I’m not Korean and I’ve not been raised to be all respectful to my parents so I’m not sure if this is a bad plot device or just a cultural difference.

Also – a warning.  The music of Jang Geun Suk is not great but it’s insanely catchy and will be stuck in your head the whole time you watch it.  Erk, random Korean songs.


Oh and second warning, you might at some point in watching this drama, end up crawling Little Korea Town for photos and other merchandise of the adorably cute JGS. 

Sunday Drama rating – 3/5.