Monday, January 31, 2011

Review of Ruri no Shima Ep 1

Ep 1 O.A. 16 Apr 05 2100 - 2224
Ratings: 16.0%

Simply breathtaking...I mean the scenery. It's hard to believe that there's such a beautiful place where the sea is so clear and the entire place so serene. One thing I'm starting to worry about is whether this drama will bring a tourism boom to that island. It's better to leave things the way they are since many people around may spoil the tranquility but I would definitely want to visit this place if I have the chance. Just by admiring the scenery, it's worth my time spending more than an hour watching the debut episode.

Narumi Riko (i believe she's a newcomer) is pretty good as Ruri who is a complex mix of emotions. The curly hair she has at the beginning makes her look so mature and you would never believe that she's just 11 years old. She did not perm her hair like that just because she wants to be rebellious but rather her mother used to have this hairstyle and she wanted to be like her. Although Ruri can be rather quick-tempered, she's very kind at heart and would feel upset when Yuzo (Ogata Ken) cries for her or sprains his foot while chasing after her. She's not as bad as she seems but her rebellious behaviour is just to cover up her insecurities and protect herself from being hurt again. Just as what Ruri told Yuzo, she did try to throw tantrums like a kid and seek attention from her mother but it was of no use. As such, she has no choice but to force herself to grow up so as to protect herself. It's quite sad for a child to feel that way where she should still be pampered by her parents and doted on. In addition, much as she tells herself that she is trying to erase her unhappy childhood by leaving her mother, she cannot let go of her feelings so easily and decides to take her time instead of forcing herself.

Besides watching how Ruri opens up to the people around her, another highlight would be Takenouchi Yutaka. He has a beard again (i prefer him clean shaven though ) and his character, Kawashima Tatsuya is apparently a mystery. This is definitely not his real name and he came all the way to Hatomijima to commit suicide but the attempt failed because he saved Ruri from drowning and became her friend. This made him continue to live on for the sake of that someone called Kawashima Tatsuya who died in Tokyo from drowning. The two might forge a friendship and things might turn bad for them when the truth unravels...

Konishi Manami gets on my nerves as a teacher who seems really unwilling to stay on the island but why was she here in the first place? Another actress, Igawa Haruka used to be quite hot a few years back (remember the hoo-ha when she acted with KimuTaku? ) and now she's reduced to obasan-looking roles. The geinoukai is truly harsh and only the fittest survive...

Among the dramas which made their debut so far, I must say that this is the one which I enjoyed the most. I still have a number of dramas to watch though but I'm keeping this on my to-watch list with Koi ni Ochitara. I'm looking forward to see how the plot would develop as well as admire the beautiful scenery again...

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Preview of Ruri no Shima - Spring 2005

Fujisawa Ruri (Narumi Riko)
Kawashima Tatsuya (Takenouchi Yutaka)
Nakama Yuzo (Ogata Ken)
Fujisawa Nao (Nishida Naomi)
Shimabukuro Sanae (Konishi Manami)
Nakajima Mizuki (Igawa Haruka)

The story takes place on a tiny island about 2000km from Tokyo and is one of the archipelago of islands southern of Okinawa. This place is so small that you would need less than 1 hour to finish walking around the coast. On this island, there are no police station, convenience stores, banks or hospitals and other amenities which are readily available in modern Japan. It seems as if the island has been forgotten and forsaken by the rest of the world and the population of 50 inhabitants on this island go about their simple lives at a leisurely pace where you can see cattle roaming around in the fields.

At the centre of this story, is a school which is on the verge of closure due to the lack of students from the small population. A little girl, Ruri, 11 years old comes from urban Tokyo to this island. Her father had died many years ago and her mother, Nao dumped her in the orphanage because she did not want to shoulder the responsibility of bringing up Ruri. In order to get over the sense of betrayal and abandon by her mother, Ruri goes to the island at the persuasion of Yuzo and begins a tale of finding her worth in life and influencing the people around her. She also meets Tatsuya who came to the island on the same day as her who seems to have a very sad past and would not talk about his background...

Preview of Episode 1 - 16 Apr 2005 (2100-2224) 30mins extra version

With a population of 49 adults and 1 child, at the southern end of Japan, there is a small island, Hatomijima whereby you only need less than one hour to walk around the entre island.

On Hatomijima, there are no hospitals, police stations, banks, convenience stores and other modern day amenities. What the island has is countless of beautiful hibiscus and being surrounded by coral reefs.

On such a beautiful island, a problem concerning the island's survival happens. The only child on the island is moving to the city thus the primary school on the island is due to be shut down. Once the school is shut down, Hatomijima will become a deserted island soon as the average age of the inhabitants is 63.5 years and the young have moved to the cities. The islanders start to get flustered and try hard to get their children to move back to the island.

7 days remain before the primary school would be closed. Nakama Yuzo (Ogata Ken) who is going to be 60 soon, decides to ask his daughter, Takako (Junna Risa) to bring her 7-year old child back to the island from Tokyo but she rejects his suggestion. As a result, Yuzo goes to Okinawa to seek a child for adoption but to no avail. However, he is given a suggestion to check out the orphanages to adopt a child which would require the parents/guardian's consent to bring him/her to Hatomijima.

Yuzo happens to meet a 11-year old girl, Fujisawa Ruri (Narumi Ruko) who ran out of the orphanage. She doesn't look like the usual primary 6 student and seems to be more mature than her peers since her father died and her mother dumped her in the orphanage.

Yuzo goes to Ruri's mother, Nao (Nishida Naomi) to seek approval to bring Ruri back to Hatomijima. However, Nao seems to be unconcerned about Ruri and tells Yuzo that he can bring Ruri away and she "doesn't want to restrict her child". In other words, she cannot be bothered about what happens to Ruri. Yuzo is so angry at Nao's nonchalant attitude but Ruri tells him not to be bothered since Nao has always been like that. However, Yuzo's genuine concern for an unrelated person like her touches Ruri and she feels needed for the first time in her life.

Yuzo then brings Ruri to Hatomijima where a stranger, Kawashima Tatsuya also joins them in the same boat...

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Review of Yasashii Jikan 優しい時間 - Impressions at the end of the drama


Among the 4 dramas which I watched this season, Yasashii Jikan is my No.1 choice. Given that I gave up Fukigen na Gene at Ep 6, was quite disappointed with the sloppy ending of M no Higeki and cringed at the cliched conclusion of Kyumei Byoto 24 Ji, I don't have any complaints about Yasashii Jikan. As I expected, the pace of the story is slow but somehow, I didn't tear my hair out or fall asleep. Instead, what kept me watching was the beautiful scenery, the engaging story about a father-and-son's kizuna and the soothing music.

Being set in beautiful Furano located in Hokkaido, the drama shows scenes from autumn and winter which speaks volumes about the beauty of nature. Ever since I watched Hoshi no Kinka many years ago, I have this soft spot for Hokkaido and hope to pay a visit there one day. Now there's one more place to visit besides Otaru, Hakodate and Sapporo! Anyway, because of the beautiful scenery, it gives the story a serene effect but may also give the impression that the story is really slow.

I can't stand SLOW dramas which drag on and on without any purpose. The first example which comes to my mind at the moment would be Motokare where it's extremely obvious that Domoto Tsuyoshi's character loves Hirosue Ryoko's character more than Uchiyama Rina's and yet they have to go around in circles. It does take a bit of patience to get used to Yasashii Jikan's pace but somehow, I managed to live with that. Usually, it takes a lot for me to tolerate slow dramas. Yasashii Jikan doesn't even have my fav actors in the cast so I'm unable to explain why I like this drama so much.

Maybe the biggest pull factor would be the father-and-son relationship between Master and Takuro. Both of them obviously care for each other but they are clumsy in terms of their interaction with each other. What they do and say may not be what they feel or think most of the time. Thus, the misunderstandings kept building up and no one seems to take the first move to break the ice. Obviously, Megumi is the bridge between the two of them but when she passed away, it breaks the status quo in Master and Takuro's relationship. I was very touched when I saw Master and Takuro finally meeting in the final episode that I cried. Well, I'm not an emotional person and it's very rare that I cry but this drama did it for me. And I have to stress that it's because I'm touched by their reunion rather than feeling sad. They finally meet after such a long time and just by looking at each other's expressions, words don't seem to be that important anymore.

To suit the mood of the series, most of the BGM used are very soothing and slow. Besides, the theme song, Ashita by Hirahara Ayaka is in line with the theme of the series. Most of the time, I have to take my hat off to the staff who are doing BGM for dramas because they do a good job. Unlike local series which tend to use a lot of existing commercial music instead of creating original pieces , the sincerity put in when making a series is much evident in Japanese dramas.

On the whole, I would give this series 8 out of 10. I had hoped to see more of Takuro and Master after that reunion and how they are getting along but to no avail so that's where the deduction of marks comes in. I guess the producers wanted to leave more room for imagination...

Monday, January 24, 2011

Review of Yasashii Jikan 優しい時間 Episode 11

Ep 11 - Yuki toke (Melting Snow)

Takuro uses the boiling hot pottery and puts it on his left arm to remove the tattoo. His master, Rokusuke hears Takuro's screams and rushes him to the hospital. Takuro confesses that he did this deliberately in order to bid farewell to his past. With the removal of the tattoo, he hopes to gain the forgiveness of Master when they meet again. Takuro makes Rokusuke promise not to tell Master about his injury for the time being.

Tomoko brings her friends during junior high to Mori no Tokei for their gathering. One of them, Kameda used to be in love with Megumi during those days. Just then, Sakuma, a regular of Mori no Tokei comes to inform his friends that Takigawa who had an affair with Mikako is being warded for a heart attack and the regulars speculate that whoever gets involved with Mikako would die.

Despite his injuries, Takuro continues to work on his exhibition item for the contest. He refuses to stop even though he's running a fever. Rokusuke has no choice but to go to Tomoko to discuss this. Although Tomoko respects Takuro's decision to keep it from Master, she asks Azusa over to talk about this matter.

Kameda returns to Mori no Tokei with past photos of Megumi, Valentine's Day gifts from her and shows them to Master who is puzzled by his actions. Later that day, Mikako appears with Kazama (another regular who is a police officer) and says that she is renting a room from him now that her affair with Takigawa is out in the open. Riri and Mimi warns Kazama to stay away from Mikako or he would lose his life.

Master chats with Megumi again and laments that she could have been happier if she chose someone instead of him. However, Megumi stresses that she is happy and is glad to have met Master.

Takuro finally comes up with a chawan he is happy with and decides to bring it to Master. The two of them put on smiles when they meet even though the emotions in them make their eyes teary. Takuro rolls up his sleeves and shows Master his wound and apologizes for what he has done. Master stops Takuro and says that he is also at fault. They start to chat about their lives for the past 1 and a half years as Azusa suddenly appears at Mori no Tokei. Master then asks Takuro to send Azusa back before returning to Mori no Tokei for the night.

Master looks on as Azusa and Takuro walk in the snow while holding hands. As he prepares a bottle of wine to drink with Takuro when he returns, he is surprised to see the coffee cup which Takuro gave to him for his birthday in front of Megumi's usual seat at the counter...

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Review of Yasashii Jikan 優しい時間 Episode 10

Ep 10: Irezumi (Tattoo)

Master asks Tomoko to set up a meeting between him and Rokusuke so as to thank him for taking care of Takuro for the past 1 and a half years. However, he wants Tomoko to keep this a secret from Takuro.

Azusa is learning how to make silver accessories from Mikako and is alone in her apartment. However, a middle-aged woman, Tamako barges in and is searching for something. Azusa is too stunned to stop Tamako who leaves without a word soon after searching in the entire apartment.

At the same time, a major discussion is going on in Mori no Tokei. The regulars are discussing the fact that Mikako and Takigawa are actually having an affair but lie to everyone that they are relatives. It seems that Takigawa's wife, Tamako had found out about the affair and beat up her husband while Mikako ran away. This was also the reason why Takigawa was unusually worked up when Mikako was lost during the snowstorm a few days back.

Unexpectedly, Tamako turns up at Mori no Tokei where the regulars stop the discussion upon seeing her. She stops Sakuma from leaving and interogates him on whether he had been having drinks with her husband every night as what he claims. Sakuma tries to cover up but Tamako had already found out the truth from the restaurant owner. He runs away to avoid Tamako's questions but she manages to grab Sakuma and drags him somewhere.

After Tamako has left, Takigawa comes to Mori no Tokei where the regulars keep poking fun at his injuries. He mentions that he got involved with Mikako 49 days after her husband's death and that she is indeed his relative, just that they are having an affair too.

That night, Master meets Rokusuke with Tomoko. Master is extremely nervous and unlike his usual self. Rokusuke feels sorry for Takuro who had been feeling remorseful because Master refuses to forgive him and asks Master why he is adoptiing such an attitude towards his son. Rokusuke also finds it unbelievable that Master did not attempt to look for Takuro in the last 1 and a half years while Takuro is in Bie. Master is unable to answer Rokusuke with regards to this.

On the way back, Master goes to Kita Tokei to have a chat with Tomoko. Master reveals why he was so upset at Takuro. During Megumi's funeral, Takuro suddenly rolled up his sleeves and showed Master his tattoo of "Shinigami" on his left arm. As a result, Master was very angry over Takuro doing that to himself and does not regard Takuro as his son. To Master, he felt that Takuro has become the Death God instead and brought misfortune to Megumi.

When Master returns to Mori no Tokei, he finds Mikako waiting for him outside. Mikako reveals that she got involved with Takigawa as he was the only one who showed concern for her after her husband's death and that he was the one who asked her to come to Furano. Mikako has no intention of leaving Furano and intends to continue with Takigawa which Master is unable to comprehend her thinking.

While at home working on her accessories, Azusa reveals to her sister, Riri on her relationship with Takuro. It seems like she is finally at peace with herself after that talk with Takuro. Azusa mentions that she will not meet Takuro for the time being as he is busy with the contest and does not want to distract him.

A few days later, Tomoko comes to look for Takuro and mentions to him that she will bring Master along to the pottery contest held in Asahikawa which makes Takuro's eyes light up at the mention of his father. Tomoko also requests to see his tattoo which Takuro obliges. She mentions the reason why Master was so upset with Takuro and asked him why he had to show his father the tattoo out of a sudden. Takuro mentions that on the night of the accident, Megumi was trying to see his tattoo but Takuro refused to do so. As a result of the struggling, Takuro lost control of the car and caused the accident. He had all along felt guilty about not showing the tattoo to Megumi. If he had done so obediently at Megumi's request, she would never have died. That is why in his dazed state during the funeral, Takuro showed Master the tattoo which was the catalyst to sour their strained relationship. Takuro is deep in thought after hearing Tomoko's words...

Master tells Megumi about the exhibition which Takuro is taking part in and worries that he might cry when he sees Takuro. Megumi tells Master that he can't just cry during the meeting or else Takuro would not understand what he is thinking of.

That night, Takuro is hard at work at the kiln and keeps thinking about his father's feelings towards the tattoo on his arm. In order to get rid of it, Takuro uses the boiling hot pot he took from the kiln and presses it against his arm. His scream makes Rokusuke come searching for him in the middle of the night...

Well, I'm quite surprised that Takuro would do that to himself at the end of this episode just to get rid of that tattoo. It just goes to show how much he cares about his father's opinion and hopes to win his acceptance and forgiveness as soon as possible. As for Master, it's evident that he's looking forward to meeting Takuro again and to see him say that he will cry once he meets Takuro is so touching. I'm looking forward to the final episode where they will finally meet after 10 episodes...

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Review of Yasashii Jikan 優しい時間 Episode 9

Ep 9 - Kizuato (Scar)

Azusa commits suicide in her car and is almost frozen to death when the police discover her. Azusa's sister, Riri informs Master of this and he plans to visit her once the weather gets better.

Azusa wakes up to find herself in hospital. The nurse (Koizumi Kyoko) attending to her points out that Azusa didn't mean to kill herself at all since she cut herself at the wrong place. As she shows Azusa her scar when she commited suicide in the past, she mentions that dying will not leave anything behind and that nobody would pity her which gets Azusa thinking what she hoped to achieve when she cut her wrist.

Master wears the necklace which Azusa gave to him on Christmas when he visits her at the hospital. Azusa is so happy to see that and starts crying. Master suggests that Azusa contact her boyfriend i.e. Takuro about her being warded but she objects to it violently. At the same time, Mikako comes to visit Azusa and gets the wrong idea when she sees the necklace on Master. Actually, Azusa had bought 2 necklaces meant for herself and Takuro but she gave hers to Master in the end. Mikako passes a bangle to Azusa so that she can use it to cover her scar on her wrist.

Master goes to Kita no Tokei and asks Tomoko to tell Takuro about Azusa being hospitalized. At the same time, Azusa tries to call Takuro at the hospital but to no avail.

Domoto comes to visit Takuro at Kaikukama where he is hard at work to prepare for the pottery competition. Domoto mentions that it was Master who told him about Takuro's whereabouts. Takuro mentions that he plans to meet Master in the near future but not until he achieves something at the competition to show that he has changed for the better. After Domoto leaves, Tomoko comes to look for Takuro and mentions Azusa's suicide attempt which makes Takuro very surprised although he tries to conceal it.

Takuro's teacher, Rokusuke tells him to move the ornament at the entrance of Kaikukama to the gallery where he finds the mamori (tailsman) left by Master. As it was from Furano Shrine, Takuro thought that Azusa left it behind for him and called her out.

Azusa and Takuro arrange to meet at a restaurant in Furano where Takuro appeared, wearing the necklace from Azusa. Takuro explains why he had to stop seeing Azusa because he has to concentrate on the contest, not because he was angry with Azusa for bringing Master to Kaikakuma on Christmas Eve. Takuro chides Azusa for inflicting wounds on her body and shows her the tattoo on his arm. He mentions that he did that to remember Kishigami who had helped him when he was bullied but he regrets that this has brought unhappiness to his parents. Takuro thanks Azusa for the mamori but she claims ignorance to that.

At the same time, Master is talking to Megumi again about how Takuro's skin felt so flawless when he was born and laughs when he remembers how he used to exclaim that in the past... Takuro realizes that Master came to see him secretly and starts to cry...

A big progressive step in 2 areas...
1) Takuro and Azusa finally talk things over and she realizes how foolish she was to keep harping on non-important stuff
2) Takuro realizing that Master knows about his existence in Bie and how he still cares for his son. I guess this would be a big driving force for him to exceed in the contest

As the title of this episode indicates, I believe it is referring to two things i.e. Takuro's tattoo and Azusa's scars from slashing her wrists. Just as Master remembers fondly how Takuro's skin used to be flawless and very beautiful, imagine how he would have felt when seeing the tattoo on Takuro's arm. I think Takuro realized how Master felt then so that's why he chided Azusa for doing things to harm her body which had been given by her parents. Speaking from experience? Anyway, looking at things now, seems like the situation is looking up for Master and Takuro and hopefully they can meet up soon. I don't know if they will leave the reunion right to the last episode though...

Friday, January 21, 2011

Review of Yasashii Jikan 優しい時間 Episode 8

Ep 8: Fubuki (Snowstorm)

A snowstorm is hitting Furano since morning. Mikako (the widow from Tokyo) brings along some guests from Tokyo who are staying at Takigawa Hotel (her relative's resort). A regular guest warns them of the danger of hiking in this weather but Mikako expresses confidence in her guests as they are part of a mountaineering club. They then plan to walk past the golf range and return to the resort.

At the same time, Azusa is still breaking plates as usual but Master and her sister notice that something is not right with her. Azusa is in a daze most of the time after Takuro chided her for being a busybody and refuses to meet her. Seeing that Azusa is not in a state to work and that there would be no customers in this snow storm, Master asks Azusa to return home. Azusa questions Master why he did not wear the necklace she gave to him for Christmas but he gives her a vague answer and tries to brush aside the issue. Later, Master then asks his other employees, Azusa's sister, Riri and Mimi to go home.

Azusa's ex-teacher cum ex-boyfriend, Matsuda calls Mori no Tokei and says that he wishes to speak to Master on Azusa. At the same time, a guy dressed in hiking gear, Domoto enters Mori no Tokei .

Matsuda comes by and mentions that he saw Azusa on the streets yesterday where she seemed weird and he decided to let Master know about her condition. At the same time, Azusa is driving to somewhere with an expressionless face...

Domoto asks Master to introduce a nearby hotel for him. He then calls Takigawa Hotel where the owner would come by later to fetch him. Takigawa also mentions to Master that Mikako and his guests are still not back yet and is worried about them being trapped in the snowstorm. Part of the group returns to Mori no Tokei and mentions that Mikako has gone missing with another male guest. Master leaves Domoto to tend his shop and leaves with the group to search for Mikako and the others.

Master returns to find Domoto helping him burn some firewood due to the loss of electricity. Domoto asks whether Master's surname is Wakui and mentions that he was the tutor of Takuro in the past and met him before at Megumi's funeral. Master then asks Domoto about Takuro so as to find out why he joined the gang. Domoto mentions that Takuro was being bullied in school but was helped by a guy in the neighbourhood named Kishigami. Due to his help, Takuro decides to join the gang as a form of gratitude. Later, due to an internal fight, Kishigami was killed so Takuro decided to tattoo Kishigami's nickname, Shinigami (Death God) on his left arm in order to leave the gang. As a result, Megumi was called by the gang to settle Takuro's matter.

Just as the police and other searchers gather in Mori no Tokei to organize a search party for Mikako, Riri calls Master and says that Azusa has not returned home. Master tells her to call Takuro at Kaikakuma and mentions that Takuro is his son. However, as Takuro is at home working on his creation for the contest, no one picks up the phone in Kaikakuma.

While waiting for news on Mikako and the guest, Master chats with Domoto again on Takuro. Domoto mentions that Takuro felt how much Master loves Megumi when he came to Furano and experienced how painful it was for Master to lose her. As such, he does not expect Master to forgive him at all. Master tells Domoto about Takuro's whereabouts and asks him to pass a message to Takuro, asking him to tell Takuro that they should meet up once to talk things out.

Later that night, Mikako and the other guest returned to the hotel safely and Domoto left with Takigawa too. However, Azusa is still missing and in actual fact, she went to look for Takuro but his phone was switched off. In the middle of the night, the police found Azusa's car almost buried by the snow and she has slashed her wrists again in her suicide attempt...

Well, there is yet little interaction between Master and Takuro but at least we see Master taking some initiative to resolve the matter. He asks Domoto to look up Takuro and pass a message because it would be hard for him to speak to Takuro even on the phone. Besides, he expresses interest in knowing why Takuro did the things he had done i.e. join the gang instead of jumping to conclusions. That seems to indicate a softening of his stand and a change in mindset.

As for Azusa, I'm quite irritated at her for being so sensitive even though the people around her are already trying hard to take care of her vulnerable feelings. Master didn't wear the necklace for reasons known to himself (maybe he sensed that Azusa also gave one to Takuro?) but from Azusa's reaction, she seems to feel that Master didn't wear it because he wasn't happy with her. Along with Takuro's refusal to meet her (he wants to concentrate on the pottery contest and win his father's approval), Azusa could have felt that the world is deserting her and she commited suicide again.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Review of Yasashii Jikan 優しい時間 Episode 7

Ep 7: Musuko (Son)

In the hope of letting Master and Takuro reconcile, Azusa brings Master to Takuro's workplace. However, when Takuro hears that she has brought his father here, he gets very worked up as he is not prepared to meet Master yet and runs away. Master happens to see that and is very shocked when Azusa calls out "Taku-chan" but he pretends that nothing is wrong.

On New Year's Eve, Master's ex-colleague Kawai brings his wife and son to Furano for a holiday. Kawai's wife happens to see the mug which Tomoko gave to Master on behalf of Takuro during his birthday and remarks that she bought a similar cup at Kaikakuma (Takuro's workplace) yesterday. At the mention of the place, Master tries to conceal his uneasiness since it reminded him of seeing Takuro running away in the night.

Master goes to Kita Tokei to meet Tomoko and notices that Kita Tokei uses cups which has the same design as the one Tomoko gave to him. From there, he tries to find out more about Kaikakuma in an attempt to get Tomoko to talk about Takuro. She admits that she was the one to introduce Takuro to work in Kaikakuma as she sympathized with him who wanted to be near Master and yet was not forgiven. Master then fires a series of questions at Tomoko as he feels that Takuro befriended Azusa because she is working at Mori no Tokei and wonders aloud whether he has any ulterior motives. Upon hearing his words, Tomoko flares up and scolds Master for thinking so badly of his son. It is precisely because of this attitude Master has adopted which is preventing him to reconcile with Master and asks him whether he has taken a good look at his own son. Master is stumped for words upon hearing this.

At the same time, Takuro's teacher, Rokusuke gives him a brochure of the Hokkaido Newcomer Pottery Exhibition and encourages him to take part in the contest held in March. He tells him to put in his best effort and Takuro remembers Tomoko's words that he has to work extra hard than any other youngsters his age so as to gain his father's trust and forgiveness for what he did in the past. As Azusa keeps calling Takuro after Christmas Eve when she brought Master to Kaikakuma, Takuro decides to concentrate on the contest and sends an email to Azusa telling her not to call him anymore as he cannot meet her for a period of time. Azusa is shocked by this and feels that this is because Takuro cannot forgive her for trying to arrange a meeting between him and Master.

During closing time, Master's ex-colleague, Kawai returns to Mori no Tokei and persuades him to come back to the company. However, Master rejects the offer and prefers to be in the company of his family and friends rather than return to his previous hectic lifestyle. After Kawai leaves, Master stares at the mug which Takuro made for him and laments to Megumi that he has never taken a close look at her or Takuro. However, Megumi assures him that he did care for her and that from now on, he can take the time to look at Takuro closely.

After paying a visit to the shrine for New Year, Master heads to Kaikakuma where he sees Takuro hard at work alone on a day where he should be celebrating or in the company of his family. He has mixed feelings seeing his son - glad that he has turned over a new leaf and is serious about his work but sad because he still cannot face up to his feelings and get over the pain of that accident. Master leaves behind the amulet he got from the shrine at the sculpture near Kaikakuma's entrance and leaves quietly...

In short, it's another bittersweet episode where we see Master obviously caring for Takuro but still lacking the courage to see him. At the same time, Takuro resolves to achieve something before he can finally meet his father. Seems like from the trailer of the next episode that something is going to happen to Takuro which might finally get things moving between father-and-son. It always takes something like this for people to realize the importance of people around them but I hope that they still have a chance of mending their relationship...

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Review of Yasashii Jikan 優しい時間 Episode 6

Ep 6: Seiya (Holy Night)

The highlight of this episode would be Master discovering Takuro's presence at Bie when Azusa brought him there on Christmas Eve, wanting to let them meet and reconcile. She's really a busybody but I guess without such a person, things might never get moving for Master and Takuro. It was a good idea to give father and son the pair necklaces which Azusa meant to wear for herself and Takuro. In the end, she gave hers to Master. Father and son wearing the same necklace, quite a nice idea after all.

Actually, Azusa wanted to tell Takuro about it first before bringing Master inside the pottery factory but he reacted very strongly to this and ran away before seeing his father. If not for the fact that Master saw the sculpture outside the factory which resembled the design of the cup for his birthday present (Tomoko gave it to Master on behalf of Takuro), he would never have stepped out of Azusa's car, heard her calling out "Taku-chan" and saw Takuro running away from him. Although he was very taken aback by what he saw, he pretended nothing happened and Azusa lied that Takuro was too busy to meet him even though he had ran off. He was in denial mode and tried to convince himself that Takuro was not in Bie but then he was quite sure that the guy who ran away was Takuro. Next episode, we see him visiting Takuro on the sly and he seemed like he was going to cry. What would it take for them to finally sit down and talk even though they both still care for each other a lot? I'm really looking forward to them meeting for the first time. It would probably be a very touching scene...

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Review of Yasashii Jikan 優しい時間 Episode 5

Ep 5: Kioku

Takuro tells Azusa about the accident which caused his mother, Megumi's death. That night, Takuro was driving the car while having a heated argument Megumi. He made a wrong turn and caused the car to crash thus killing his mother on the spot. Azusa is very affected by Takuro's words that he can understand why Master cannot talk to him because his beloved wife was killed by his own son.

At the same time, Master is worried about Azusa who has not returned home after she ran out of Mori no Tokei. Tomoko comes to him and she talks about her lending of 3 million yen to Otonari and not expecting it back from him in the first place. Master thus wonders if he had done the right thing when rejecting Otonari's request for a loan which could have helped him and prevented his suicide. Azusa's elder sister, Riri then calls Master to let him know that Azusa has returned home but Azusa is still in a daze over Takuro's revelation of his relationship with Master.

Azusa goes to Kita Tokei to look for Tomoko and asks about Takuro and Master's relationship. Tomoko realizes that Azusa is the person who had been seeing Takuro and she's shocked that Takuro told her about this matter. Azusa finds it hard to understand why Master has not forgiven Takuro after all these years. Tomoko explains that Megumi had kept everything to herself thus Master did not know about Takuro going astray until he returned home for the funeral. As he trusted Megumi and Takuro enough to immerse himself fully in work, he felt that he was being betrayed and felt very shocked when Takuro had joined the gangs and caused Megumi's death as a result.

Takuro calls Azusa and tells her to go back to Mori no Tokei and try to understand what his father had told her. Azusa asks why Takuro can be so nice and understanding to his father when he has refused to see him but Takuro cannot answer her.

After the funeral, Otonari's wife comes to Mori no Tokei and returns the koden (donation) to Master because the amount is apparently quite significant. Megumi asks Master if he had made such a big donation because he was feeling guilty for not lending Otonari money in the first place but he does not answer. Master laments that he could have been too harsh on Azusa and has even contemplated apologising to her. At the same time, Azusa returns to Mori no Tokei and helps to clear the snow from the path as an apology for her outburst.

Well, there aren't major developments in this episode other than knowing the circumstances of the accident involving Megumi and Takuro, Master wondering if he had made the correct decision in not lending money to Otonari, Azusa and Master bridging their differences.

First of all, if the accident really happened under the situation shown in this episode, I don't think Takuro is fully to blame for it. How can Megumi keep "disturbing" Takuro while he was driving even though they were supposed to be in an argument? In that situation, it is a wonder if Takuro can concentrate on driving while trying to keep Megumi's hands off him and quarelling with her at the same time. OK, I admit that it was reckless or rather careless driving on Takuro's part but I'm sure he would be in anguish all his life because of this incident.

About the decision to lend Otonari money, well, if Master knew that Otonari would resort to suicide because of the failed business, he would most probably have lent the money to him. The thing is, nobody can anticipate the fact that Otonari would commit suicide. Just as what the regulars at Mori no Tokei mentioned, if they had known earlier, they would have lent him whatever little money they had, be it 10,000 yen or 100,000 yen. Most of the people Otonari turned to did not have spare cash to lend him in the first place so it's a matter of circumstances that prevented them from helping. In the case of Master, he did have the means but his intention in not lending money is also valid. It's really hard to judge whether he made a wrong decision in this case.

As for Azusa and Master, she's always been very sensitive to other people's words even though they may not mean anything bad. In my opinion, Master was trying to explain things to her but she understood it as an accusation of her being a thief even when she topped up the shortfall when the takings don't tally. I guess because of what Takuro told her, Azusa seems to see that she should take the first move in apologizing but she is really irritating the hell out of me when I saw in the next episode's trailer that she actually brings Master to Bie to see Takuro but the latter gives them the slip as he is not ready to meet his father. Azusa could help them reconcile or create more trouble in this bimyou situation.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Preview of Kokuhatsu ~ Kokusen Bengonin 告発 ~ 国選弁護人 - Winter 2011

Title: Kokuhatsu ~ Kokusen Bengonin (Exposed ~ Nation Selected Lawyer)
Official website: here
O.A. Start Date: 13 Jan 2011
Timeslot: Thursdays, 9pm
Broadcast by: TV Asahi
Cast: Tamura Masakazu, Hashizume Isao, Aibu Saki, Maya Miki, Shaku Yumiko, Kimura Tae, Hirata Mitsuru, Yamaguchi Tomomitsu

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Preview of Fuyu no Sakura 冬のサクラ - Winter 2011

Title: Fuyu no Sakura (Winter's sakura)
O.A. Start Date: 16 Jan 2011
Timeslot: Sundays 9pm
Broadcast by: TBS
Official website: here
Cast: Kusanagi Tsuyoshi, Imai Miki, Sato Takeru, Kato Rosa, Yamazaki Shigenori, Denden, Oshima Yoko, Yoshida Hideko, Enami Kyoko, Takashima Masanobu

Story: Inaba Yu (Kusanagi Tsuyoshi), a glass craftsman who has never fallen in love, takes care of his sick mother at their hometown in Yamagata Prefecture and meets Monami (Imai Miki), who has come to watch the winter sakura. However, Monami gets into an accident and loses her memory. Yu takes Monami in and encourages her to stay positive while she tries to regain her memory.

When Yu's mother passes away, his younger brother Hajime (Sato Takeru) comes back for the funeral with his girlfriend Anna (Kato Rosa) and notices Yu's feelings for Monami. Just then, Monami's identity is confirmed and she realises that she's married with a husband and daughter back in Tokyo. When her husband comes to pick Monami up, Yu sends her off with a smile while suppressing his own feelings. However, Monami's husband is uneasy about Yu's presence and his importance to his wife...

Comments: Frankly speaking, if not for Kusanagi, I think I would have struck this off my list immediately. This drama just seems to be a rehash of Korea's Winter Sonata which is called Fuyu no Sonata in Japanese. And I happen to be not a fan of the drama and a certain Yon-sama. Notice the resemblance in the title? The setting of the story? How one half of the pairing suffers from amnesia? And how they are getting Choi Jiwoo to appear in this drama which will no doubt bring a comparison between the two? However, I'll try to watch this at least for the snow scenes and Kusanagi. It will be interesting to see how things work out at the end for the couple.

Review of Yasashii Jikan 優しい時間 Episode 4

Ep 4: Neyuki

Will just touch on the more important developments in this episode rather than a full length review of the entire episode.

A regular at Mori no Tokei, Otonari comes to Master to borrow money so as to save his business. However, Master refuses to lend it to him and explains that he does not want money to become an issue with his customers who have become his friends. As Otonari has nobody else to turn to, he has to shut down his business and his goods being taken by his creditors.

At the same time, Azusa goes to Takuro's place again to have dinner with him where his teacher, Rokusuke finds out. He decides to get Tomoko to speak to Takuro for fear that something bad might happen between Takuro and Azusa. Tomoko tells Takuro to keep Azusa out of his house and concentrate on learning pottery before he can meet his father again.

Azusa is caught putting the money in the cash register into her own pocket. Her rationale is that she cannot tally the sums properly and had taken out the money separately but she has no intention to steal. Master tries to explain things to Azusa on how she should handle the situation but she gets very worked up and thinks that everyone is accusing her of being a thief. She even says that she will quit the job and dares Master to call the police to arrest her.

Azusa goes to Takuro's place but he refuses to let her enter because of his promise to Tomoko. They proceed to talk in Azusa's car where she keeps critizing Master for not helping Otonari and giving him a lecture as well as accusing her as a thief. Takuro cannot stand Azusa's words anymore and tells her to stop speaking ill of Master since he is Takuro's dad.

That night, Master is informed by his police friend that Otonari had hung himself after his business failed. Master wonders if he is too strict with the people around him especially Takuro and feels a tinge of regret for not helping Otonari. Megumi, who appears in the shop again tries to console him to look on the bright side.

Well, not too much developments on the Master-Takuro thread though but Azusa irriates me very much in this episode. No doubt I sympathise with her especially when it is known why she is so sensitive but putting money in your own pocket is not equal to stealing??? No matter how young she may be, she should have the sense to know that this action would create a misunderstanding no matter how you defend yourself. She's not a kid anymore and yet has the cheek to flare up when Master was trying to talk to her nicely. And now that she knows Takuro's relationship with Master, she's going to be a time bomb and sooner or later, Master will know Takuro's whereabouts before Takuro is ready to meet him again!!! That's why Tomoko tells Azusa in the next ep trailer that she should keep Takuro's presence a secret but knowing how rash she is, it is only a matter of time Azusa lets the cat out of the bag.

As for Master's decision of not lending money to Otonari, I don't think he is at fault. It is often when money comes into the picture that relationships are spoilt. Since he values Otonari's friendship, he does not want that to happen because if Otonari defaults on his promise to pay up before a certain date, Master would be in a fix as to whether he should chase him for payment or let things go like that. Thus, he wants to avoid such a situation. If it was me, I would probably do the same thing regardless of how others view me. However, Azusa, being the rash young thing feels that Master is heartless. Somehow, she gives me the idea that she is clueless about how reality is and the value of money (as well as what it can do) so that's why she criticizes Master for what he does. Azusa must be the only character I thoroughly dislike in this drama...

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Review of Gou ~ Himetachi no Sengoku Ep 1

Oda Nobunaga (Toyokawa Etsushi)'s younger sister, Ichi (Suzuki Honami), is a well-known beauty who has three daughters namely Chacha (Miyazawa Rie), Hatsu (Mizukawa Asami) and Gou (Ueno Juri). However, Gou has no memories of her father.

Back to the time when it was 1568, Ichi was bethrothed to Azai Nagamasa (Tokito Saburo) and was due to get married in summer. Hideyoshi (Kishitani Goro), a follower of Oda, lamented to his wife One (Ootake Shinobu) that it was a waste for Ichi to get married to Azai and he didn't bother to conceal his admiration for her. Ichi herself did not like the idea of marrying Azai as well but decided to do it for her brother.

However, Ichi gradually fell in love with Azai and gave birth to two daughters Chacha and Hatsu. Just then, relations between the Azai and Oda clan soured and Ichi had to choose sides. She decided to stick to her husband as both families went to war.

After 3 years of fighting, Oda's side was clearly at an advantage when Ichi found herself expecting her third child. Although she wanted to die with her unborn baby, Chacha pleaded with her mother to give birth by threatening to kill Hatsu and herself. Ichi gave birth to her daughter Gou amidst the battle cries surrounding Odani-jo but that was also when Gou had to part with her father Azai who committed suicide.

Most of the time, it would take a few episodes before the childhood stories of lead characters in Taiga dramas are completed. As such, it is a pleasant surprise to note that Ueno Juri will appear in Ep 2 rather than having to wait for another few more episodes. I guess this is also due to the fact that Gou's life as an adult has more significant events than her childhood so there was a need for more time to concentrate on that aspect. Juri only appeared for a short while in the beginning of this episode so it's too early to tell if she can handle the role. I have faith in her acting skills though.

Suzuki Honami is back again after such a long time but she seems totally at ease as Ichi which feels as if she's never stopped acting. Too bad she won't be around for a long time. Tokito Saburo was also very good but it was such a waste to have his character die in just one episode. Likewise for Toyokawa Etsushi, he probably won't last more than 2 episodes since Honnoji no Hen was pictured in Ep 2's trailer because that's when Oda Nobunaga died. We'll probably see a lot of star cameos coming up along the way to generate hype for the series so it will be interesting to see who appears next.

The first episode is largely about Gou's family background so I can't really tell if the story will be fascinating enough to keep me going for over 40 episodes. At the very least, NHK is not making it into a boring war story (yet) which reeks of macho power so my interest in the series will at least stay for some time.

Preview of Gou ~ Himetachi no Sengoku 江~姫たちの戦国 (NHK 2011 Taiga Drama)

I've never been able to finish a Taiga drama so far. My previous attempts to watch a Taiga have always been in vain because I usually give up after 2 or 3 episodes. There are many reasons for this which includes the difficulty in understanding the dialogue (the way of speech is very different from modern Japan), the overdose of masculinity, my lack of knowledge on Japan's history and the length of Taiga dramas which is usually more than 40 episodes. So why am I previewing this drama?

Firstly, it's because of Ueno Juri. I admit that I'm a fan of hers so when I heard that she's in her first period drama as the lead character, I was tempted to start watching.

Secondly, the cast lineup is very attractive. Suzuki Honami makes her return to acting after a long absence since her marriage. Toyokawa Etsushi is simply amazing as Oda Nobunaga (I can understand why the story said that Gou was fascinated by Oda who was her uncle :-p), Tokito Saburo grabs my attention despite his short "lifespan" in this story (his character killed himself in the first episode), plus Mizukawa Asami, Kishitani Goro and lots of familiar names in the cast list. It's a visual treat especially when you consider some of these people don't appear too much in TV dramas these days. Those who want to see Mukai Osamu will have to wait for some time. He's going to be the 3rd husband of Gou so it will be ages before he makes his appearance.

Thirdly, the story's approach is not as dry as what I observed in other dramas I attempted to watch. Somehow, I've always had the impression that Taiga dramas are all about men's battles with one another and it gets really boring after some time. However, Gou is more than about men's battles. When the attention focuses on a woman's life, there will inevitably be aspects such as love and family thrown into the equation so it helps to balance the story. At least from what I've seen in the first episode, I like what the story is offering so far.

Last but not least, having NHK World makes it a whole lot easier to watch Gou. Watching a Taiga on a computer screen is very different from a TV screen, not to mention having to wait for the drama to load.

I have no idea how long I will be able to watch this because 47 episodes is something I've never attempted. I don't think I'll give up due to lack of interest but I just hope that I won't forget to record the show on Sunday nights.

Preview of School!! スクール!! - Winter 2011

Title: School!!
O.A. Start Date: 16 Jan 2011
Timeslot: Sundays, 9pm
Broadcast by: FujiTV
Official website: here
Cast: Eguchi Yosuke, Nishijima Hidetoshi, Kitano Kii, Tsukamoto Takashi, Ichikawa Miwako, Miura Shohei, Horiuchi Keiko, Kishibe Ittoku

Story: Naruse Seiichiro (Eguchi), an employee at a mid-size construction company for 20 years, suddenly finds that his company has gone bankrupt. Just at this time, Naruse's teacher in primary school, Takeichi (Kishibe), comes to Naruse with an offer to work as the principal of his alma mater. Although Naruse is apprehensive of this, he still takes up the offer.

However, Naruse starts to find that there's something weird about his alma mater. On the first day of work, he chances upon a male student being bullied but when he raises this matter to the teachers, they seem undisturbed, do not want to take any action and even use the word -san to address their students. The next day during the school assembly, Naruse is in for another shock when the students sit down before he begins his speech. The teachers do not force the students to remain standing and even say that the students have a right to sit and if they are forced to stand, it is regarded as capital punishment...

Comments: The cast is pretty strong and the story seems quite interesting as well. I'm expecting that ratings may be affected considering this is the first attempt by FujiTV to break the Sunday monopoly by TBS.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Review of Yasashii Jikan 優しい時間 Episode 3

Ep 3: Hatsu Yuki (First Snow)

The beginning of a day in Mori no Tokei would be Master having breakfast in front of Megumi's photo. That day, one of the regulars bring along his relative from Tokyo, Mikako who is a widow and moved to Furano recently. The other regulars are discussing Mikako with great enthusiasm as she's quite pretty.

In the afternoon, Azusa happens to bump into her ex-teacher, Matsuda who she was seeing previously. She gets very flustered and rushes out of Mori no Tokei to look for Takuro. Azusa's elder sister, Riri explains to Master that Matsuda and Azusa were involved when she was in school but he is already married. Their relationship became a scandal in school so Azusa was bullied by her classmates while Matsuda walked out on her. Thus, Azusa stopped going to school and was suicidal for a long period of time.

Azusa waits for Takuro to come home and the two have steamboat for dinner. Takuro finds out more on Azusa's past where her father died, her mother eloped with another man, her brother-in-law also left her sister. Coupled with the unhappy relationship with Matsuda (Takuro is unaware of this), these events made Azusa very sensitive and prone to emotional outbursts. Takuro deliberately asks Azusa about his father and how he is. He is disturbed when he hears Azusa describing Master as a quiet and lonely man.

At night, Tomoko comes to Mori no Tokei in a drunken state and starts rambling to Master about her ex-husband who has just passed away. She scolds Master about his pining for Megumi thus neglecting Takuro in the process and tells him that she will let them meet. Master is surprised by this and asks Tomoko about Takuro's whereabouts but she lies to him that she doesn't know. Master remembers the time when he went to Kita Tokei to learn the ropes of running the coffee house business and Takuro came to look for him amid a snow storm. However, Master treated Takuro very coldly and said that he doesn't want to meet him again since they have severed all ties with each other. Ever since that encounter, Master has never heard from Takuro again.

Mikako comes to Mori no Tokei again and the regulars start speculating that she's here to see Master when she keeps talking to her. In actual fact, she is drawn to Mori no Tokei because of its practice of letting the customers grind the coffee beans themselves. Mikako's late husband did this every night so she comes to Mori no Tokei to relive her past memories. This brings Master to remember Megumi's suggestion to introduce this practice even though he was sceptical of the customers' response at that time.

Matsuda comes to look for Azusa to apologize for what he did but Master tells him not to appear again as his apology is only meant to make himself feel better and would not do Azusa any good.

That night, Takuro's teacher, Rokusuke is preparing dinner with his wife because his son is coming home with his wife for the first time. Seeing how happy their family gets along, Takuro is reminded of the conversation between him and his father after the funeral. Master had then told Takuro that he was heading to Furano and would no longer come back to Tokyo. He asked Takuro what he planned to do and the latter replied that he wants to live alone since he had always been alone all the while. Master was shocked and angry at Takuro's words since it meant that even though his parents were around all the time, Takuro had felt that he was living alone. Since Master was overseas most of the time, he felt that Takuro was unhappy about this and said that since he thought of his father in this way, he would give Takuro a sum of money and that would mark the end of their relationship. Actually, Takuro didn't mean that he wanted to sever all ties with his father but rather he knew that the pain that he had caused with his mother's death would be a indellible mark in their relationship. By living apart, he hopes to reduce the pain his father feels since he wouldn't be reminded of the fact that Takuro caused the accident if he was out of sight. Nevertheless, due to this conversation and the subsequent attempt to salvage their relationship with that visit to Furano which had failed, Takuro doesn't dare to appear in front of Master anymore even though they both miss each other.

Takuro decides to go to Furano to see his father on the sly and is almost discovered by him. Seeing his father again after a long period of time and yet not being able to speak to him, Takuro is overwhelmed by sadness and cries as he runs in the forest trail as the first snow falls on Furano...

In this episode, we find out more on why Master and Takuro's relationship got into such a state. Of course, both of them are unable to face each other because of the fact the Megumi's death was caused by Takuro but another major factor was the conversation which transpired between them before Master left for Furano. If Master had listened to Takuro's explanation, if only Takuro didn't say that he has been alone all this time as if blaming his father for him feeling lonely and joining a gang, everything could have turned out differently on hindsight but of course, they don't have the ability to turn back time and change the situation. It was so sad to see Takuro feeling envious of family warmth when he longs to see his dad and is so afraid of making him upset and can only look at him from afar. And they had a second chance to change things but Master's cold attitude towards Takuro who had made the effort to come to Furano and dyed his hair black made it difficult for them to be on speaking terms again.

Besides the explanation on Master and Takuro's relationship, we also find out why Azusa is behaving the way she is. Because of her family background and being betrayed by the first man she loved, Azusa seems to distrust everyone and cannot stand any criticism or problems she face. That's why she has these emotional outbursts every now and then whenever she encounters unhappy stuff. Well, I still cannot reconcile this with the fact that she has a habit of smashing (or rather breaking?) plates...

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Preview of Gaikoukan Kuroda Kousaku 外交官 黒田康作

Title: Gaikoukan Kuroda Kousaku (Diplomat Kuroda Kousaku)
O.A. Start Date: 13 Jan 2010
Timeslot: Thursdays 9pm for first episode only / 10pm for subsequent episodes
Official website: here
Cast: Oda Yuji, Shibasaki Kou, Kagawa Teruyuki, Lee Byeonghyun, Hagiwara Masato, Katase Nana, Tanaka Kei, Ookura Koji, Tanaka Tetsuji, Kaho, Konno Mahiru, Shika Takeshi

Comments: Actually, after watching the disappointing Amalfi movie, I am not too keen about this drama which suspiciously sounds like another vehicle to boost Oda Yuji's ego. Then again, the cast lineup especially Shibasaki and Kagawa is simply too good to be missed. I just hope that the suspense story will be as good to sustain my interest for three episodes.

Preview of Taisetsu na koto wa subete kimi ga oshiete kureta 大切なことはすべて君が教えてくれた - Winter 2011

Title: Taisetsu na koto wa subete kimi ga oshiete kureta (You taught me all the important things)
O.A. Start Date: 17 January 2011
Timeslot: Mondays, 9pm
Broadcast by: FujiTV
Official website: here
Theme song: EXIT by Porno Graffitti
Insert song: from P!NK's Greatest Hits album
Cast: Toda Erika, Miura Haruma, Takei Saki, Ishibashi Anna, Nose Anna, Shinoda Mariko (AKB48), Uchida Yuki, Nishimura Masahiko etc

Story: Uemura Natsumi (Toda) is an English teacher at a senior high school and had been living in America until she was a junior high student. She is the form teacher of a Year 1 class and the advisor to the basketball team. Her colleague, former classmate in senior high school and university cum fiance, Kashiwagi Shuji (Miura Haruma), is a biology teacher at the same school. The couple is due to hold their wedding in 3 months' time.

However, things start to go wrong when Shuji finds a naked woman sleeping beside him when he wakes up on the day the new school term begins. He had slept with the woman in his drunken stupor the previous night after meeting her in a bar and has to leave his house's keys behind for the woman as he is running late for school. While trying to maintain his composure and suppress his guilt towards Natsumi, Shuji is shocked to find out that the woman he slept with is a student in his class, Saeki Hikari (Takei)...

Comments: The title is kinda corny and brings to mind another drama which sounds similar (Kimi ga oshiete kureta koto starring Tomosaka Rie) and I'm not sure if Miura Haruma is able to pull things off as a teacher. Nonetheless, I think the story sounds rather interesting so I'll probably give this a try for a couple of episodes to see how things turn out.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Review of Yasashii Jikan 優しい時間 Episode 2

Ep 2 Review - Takuro

As usual, a very good episode from this drama and I am sure that I would stick to this for the rest of the season. Frankly speaking, I'm very impressed with the quality of this drama where the setting, story, cast, music are up to my expectations. It's been a while since I felt so strongly for a drama.

The title of this episode is Takuro which refers to Nino's role. We see a bit more on how Master and Takuro's relationship is and the reason for the stagnant state of affairs.

The episode begins with Master fishing with one of his regular customers, Anzai, the coffee beans supplier who dyes his hair. Somehow, Master is quite interested to know how Anzai's parents reacted to his tinted hair and this reminds him of how Takuro looked like when he rushed home for Megumi's funeral. At that time, Takuro was still with the gangster group (bousouzoku) so he had his hair tinted and combed in an attention-grabbing manner. Of course, now that he has left the gang and become a pottery apprentice, his hair has been dyed black.

Azusa brings the plates she got from Takuro to Mori no Tokei but the staff there and Master refuse to use them because of the colour and design. Azusa gets very worked up and smashes all the plates and drives off in her car.

At the same time, there is a weird couple who appear at Mori no Tokei. Kawanishi Hideko (Tabata Tomoko) and her husband, Ken are on their honeymoon but they are clearly having a tiff and Ken leaves the shop angrily. Tomoko, who had come to look for Master, finds out from Hideko on her first night with her husband, was very unhappy about the fact that Ken "forced" himself on her and licked her toes. Apparently, she had no previous sexual experience before and regarded this act as rape which Ken is unable to accept since they are already married. Tomoko brings Hideko back to her shop, Kita Tokei to counsel her on this matter.

Azusa buys a nail brush and visits Takuro at his workplace to thank him for the plates. Takuro's teacher, Rokusuke sees Azusa and gets quite worked up, misunderstanding that Azusa is Takuro's girlfriend. After Azusa leaves, Takuro is told to get the plates he made (those which he gave to Azusa) and he calls her to bring back those plates. However, Azusa had already smashed all the plates. Rokusuke says that it's OK to have the pieces so Azusa rushes back to Mori no Tokei to get the broken pieces.

On her way to Takuro's workplace, Azusa is caught in the storm and her car stuck due to the flash floods. Takuro gets worried when he cannot get Azusa on the phone and that she is taking far too long to reach Bie (the town where Takuro is in). He drives to find her and gets the broken plates before rushing home.

Takuro brings Azusa back to his place to change out of her wet clothes and is shocked to know that she works in Mori no Tokei. At the same time, Ken reappears at Mori no Tokei to meet Hideko who is still at Kita Tokei. Master talks to Ken about treating his wife with respect (after going around in big circles) and the couple reconciles when Hideko comes back.

When Master is alone in the shop after closing time, Megumi is sitting again at the counter and listens to Master talk about the day's happenings. Master regrets that he has never sat down properly to talk to Takuro all this time and he has not taught him anything. Megumi consoles him by saying that she made up for this on Master's behalf.

Although the title is "Takuro" for this episode, it's not a direct focus on Takuro but rather the reference to him is indirectly linked to other seemingly unrelated matters. For example, the couple in this episode may not seem related to Takuro but from their case, Master realizes that he has not been spending enough time with Takuro in the past and deeply regrets it.

Seems like things are going to get more complicated now that Takuro knows that Azusa is working in Mori no Tokei. When are father and son going to meet??

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Preview of Utsukushii Rinjin 美しい隣人 - Winter 2011

Title: Utsukushii Rinjin (The Beautiful Neighbour)
O.A. Start Date: 11 Jan 2011
Timeslot: Tuesdays, 10pm
Broadcast by: FujiTV / KTV
Official website: here
Theme song: Why? (Keep your head down) by TVSQ
Cast: Nakama Yukie, Dan Rei, Miura Rieko, Suzuki Sawa, Kobayashi Masahiro, Takachi Noboru, Fujii Mina, Moriyama Eiji, Watabe Atsuro, Souda Ippei, Kusabue Mitsuko

Story: Nakama Yukie plays Mayer Saki, a woman married to a foreigner, who moves to the house beside Yano Eriko (Dan Rei). Although Eriko feels initially that Saki is a beautiful and charming person to be with, her peaceful life is gradually falling into pieces as Saki tries to seduce Eriko's husband Shinji (Watabe Atsuro)...

Comments: It is a welcome change to see Nakama Yukie playing the baddie after her recent goody-two-shoes or comical roles. It's high time she proves that she can produce some solid acting and this drama might just give her the opportunity. Watabe Atsuro is also one key factor why I'm interested in this drama. I just hope that the suspense doesn't fall short and can be sustained till the end of the season.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Review of Yasashii Jikan 優しい時間 Episode 1

From today onwards, I will be posting the reviews I wrote for Yasashii Jikan back in 2005. It's one of my favourite dramas so I hope you'll enjoy reading my thoughts about it and watch this if you have the opportunity.

Wakui Yukichi (Terao Akira)
Wakui Takuro (Ninomiya Kazunari)
Minagawa Azusa (Nagasawa Masami)
Kujo Tomoko (Yo Kimiko)
Wakui Megumi (Ootake Shinobu)

Just watched one episode of this drama showing this season and it's better than I expected. First thing which attracted me was the beauty of the setting in Furano, a town in Hokkaido. The lead character, Wakui Yukichi also known as Master has set up a coffee house named Mori no Tokei (the clock of the forest) after his wife died of an accident caused by his son, Takuro's reckless driving. Furano was his wife's hometown so with the set-up of Mori no Tokei, it seems as if Master wants to be close to his wife who is no longer around.

The decor of the coffee house feels very homely and since it's surrounded by trees, the unique colours of the season (they started filming in Oct according to the official website) complements the feel of the drama which is relaxed and as the title suggest, "gentle". It should be a very enjoyable experience to have coffee in such a beautiful place. And the other special thing about Mori no Tokei is that the customers can grind their own coffee beans in a special device before Master brews it for them. It must be fun to do that since the customers seem to enjoy doing that while chatting with Master at the counter.

Besides, the atmosphere and nice scenery to look at, the story can be considered bland and slow if you are not the type to appreciate subtle themes in a drama. I must admit that I do not have a lot of patience and it puts me off if I find that the story is going nowhere especially in the first episode. No doubt, this drama seems to start out very slowly but at least I can identify a few aspects which should sustain my interest throughout the season.

-The relationship between Master and Takuro
Master was a elite businessman working in New York but he quit three years ago after his wife, Megumi died in the accident caused by Takuro when he was at the wheel. Since then, he sold his house in Tokyo and moved to Megumi's hometown in Furano to open Mori no Tokei. On the other hand, his son Takuro is still very much guilt-stricken over the whole matter and constantly gets nightmares where he is accused of being the culprit who caused his mother to die.
As a result of Megumi's death, the relationship between father and son is caught in a very awkward stage. Master feels that since Takuro knows where he is and if Takuro wants to see him, he should be the one who should come to Mori no Tokei instead of Master looking for him. On the other hand, Takuro fears that his dad is still blaming him for his mum's death. Although he wants to meet him, he is scared of the consequences and chooses to be near Master instead without his knowledge. Takuro used to be a gangster before his mum died so he has changed for the better since then. It's quite sad to see that because both of them refuses to speak up and take the initiative. A man's pride? Although they both care for each other (apparently), they find it hard to bridge their differences or even sit down to have a good chat because they have yet to overcome the stigma of Megumi's death. It remains to be seen how they would be able to improve their relationship and be on speaking terms again.

- The relationship between Takuro and Azusa
They met at the local shopping mall when Takuro helped Azusa carry some of the things she had bought. Azusa, for one reason or another, keeps breaking plates at Mori no Tokei. There must be something wrong with her which is causing this to happen repeatedly. Somehow, she confides in Takuro the first time they met that she has to buy plates every now and then to compensate Master so he actually tells her to come looking for him when she needs plates. Takuro is working in a town named Bie as a pottery apprentice after his mother's friend, Tomoko introduced him to the owner. At this stage, Azusa knows nothing about Takuro's past while he does not know that she works at Mori no Tokei. As such, I can forsee that Takuro's relationship with Azusa may help him to break out from his guilt-stricken nightmares and get Azusa resolving what is bothering her and causing all the breaking of the plates. Besides, Azusa is the link to Mori no Tokei for Takuro so when he finds out that she's working for his father, it should help to get things going to introduce developments in the father-and-son relationship.

As for the cast, I have never seen Terao Akira's acting before but he looks like a charming man who fits the image of Master i.e. calm, not one to show his emotions and yet very comfortable to be with. Actually, among Arashi members, I think that Nino is the best in acting skills and he's quite good as Takuro when he shows the dilemma of wanting to reach out to his dad but is pulled back by his guilt. I'm not saying that the rest of the members are no good but I'm just saying this based on comparisons only. As for Nagasawa Masami, she was quite impressive in the Sekaichuu movie but then, she gets on my nerves in this drama with her very insecure character. Hopefully, when the drama progresses, there should be a logical reason as to why she is behaving like that.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Review of Samayou Yaiba さまよう刃

I'm starting the year 2011 with a movie review after being MIA for a couple of months. It's the usual drift, work keeps me away from blogging even on weekends and I decided that it's time to do something which I enjoy after neglecting this blog for so long. I'm finding it really difficult to finish a full-length drama these days (sometimes because the genre or quality of the drama fails to keep me engaged) so you will probably notice that I will be posting more movie reviews from now on. I watched quite a number of Japanese movies when I went on a business trip to Europe (the flight was more than 12 hours so I finished many movies along the way) so you can expect reviews of some newer titles here.

And here is the first movie review of 2011 - Samayou Yaiba starring Terao Akira, Takenouchi Yutaka, Ito Shiro, Sakai Miki. Actually, what sparked my interest in this movie was the fact that I had read the novel by Higashino Keigo first and found the story really gripping. In a nutshell, it's about a father who seeks revenge against those who violated and murdered his daughter as the Japanese law protects juvenile criminals from the same type of punishment given to adults.

Nagamine Shigeki, played by Terao Akira who last impressed me with his subtle acting in Yasashii Jikan, is a single father who has a 15-year-old daughter Ema. However, his peaceful life is destroyed as Ema is abducted by a group of teenagers and sexually assaulted by them. After Ema dies, her corpse is disposed by the perpetrators Tomozaki and Sugano but the police have no clue as to who are responsible. Nagamine then gets an anonymous phone call with a clue leading him to Tomozaki and kills him after getting the information about Sugano. While he is on the run and searching for Sugano, Oribe (Takenouchi Yutaka) and Mano (Ito Shiro) are hot on his heels. He also meets Wakako (Sakai Miki), the daughter of a small inn's owner, who helps him out.

The key issue being discussed here is, are juveniles using their ages as an excuse to escape punishment when they are committing the same or even worse crimes than adults? In Japan, anyone below the age of 20 doesn't have his/her name reported in the press even when they commit a crime. In addition, the punishment meted out is usually mild e.g. a probation sentence or supervised stay in a facility for a short period of time. This is done with the intention of giving these youngsters a chance to change for the better. However, there's always been talk about how those below 20 use their ages as an excuse to get away with things and the grief it causes the victims when the perpetrators don't get their due punishment. In this story, Nagamine's daughter suffered at the hands of teenagers but he knows very well that they won't be punished in a satisfactory manner since the law's stand is to allow these youngsters to change. He decides to takes things into his hands since nobody can help him. No doubt he is fully aware of the consequences, the helplessness and anguish he suffers because of Ema's sudden death overshadows his logic.

I don't know whether by hiding the identities of young offenders or punishing them lightly will help them change. This is a double-edged sword where people will be divided. However, I think this protective stand should change as time progresses. There's been more serious cases involving teenagers these days and in some instances, those people show no remorse in their actions. It would have been better to do an assessment on the offenders or the nature of their crimes before deciding what to do rather than giving a full coverage for everyone, whether they deserve it or not.

The novel strongly conveyed the dilemma of this issue and when you read the description of how the teenagers violated Ema, I'm sure you will feel the fury rising within you and understand why Nagamine snapped when he found the video at Tomozaki's apartment. It was simply too painful to read about, much less watch it on video. Nonetheless, I don't think the story was trying to take the side of Nagamine only. It also showed you the other side of the argument where the parents of the offenders always think the best of their children and are reluctant to accept that their children are monsters. Ultimately, it is up to the viewer or reader to decide which side they are more inclined towards.

Frankly speaking, I prefer the novel to the movie due to a couple of reasons:

1) The pace of the movie was too slow.
Given the amount of material in the novel, it is to be expected that there will be some omissions so that the story can flow more smoothly. However, even after making the cuts, the pace was still painfully slow at several junctures. If I hadn't read the novel, I would have thought that the scriptwriter was trying to stretch the story so as to fit the length of the movie. Of course, I have to admit that watching the movie in an aircraft seat isn't the best way to enjoy a movie and I was quite disturbed by the turbulence along the way. Nonetheless, to make me fall asleep several times throughout the movie is an "achievement" considering that I stayed wide awake when I was watching Nodame Cantabile for the 2nd time.

2) The story structure was messy.
The point about the story having some corners cut brings me to the next grouse I have. When you try to remove some of the connecting chains, there is a need to string up the developments so that the story flows well. It was quite confusing to see events moving from one to another without crucial connectors at times. It is of course unfair to compare it to the novel which had a few hundred pages to do its magic but there have been better adaptations and I'm quite sad to see that the movie didn't do justice to the novel. The gripping factor was sorely missed especially in the ending which just fizzled out unlike the novel which left questions for the reader to ponder over.

3) The cast was under-utilised.
Terao and Takenouchi were capable of doing better but a lot of their emotional struggles were removed in the movie. I didn't get the feel that they were truly in a dilemma over their stands and actions.

And my ratings for this movie...
Story: 4 out of 10 (If you have not read the novel, this movie is passable. If not, I think you will be grumbling about the loopholes in the story and structure)
Acting: 5 out of 10 (The story restricted the cast's ability to shine, which was a pity in my opinion)
Theme song: 2 out of 10 (The BGM didn't really leave an impression on me)
Visual effects / Scenery: 3 out of 10 (Nothing particularly impressive to mention)
Teamwork / Chemistry: 2 out of 10 (Nagamine didn't really have a lot of interaction with Wakako in the movie unlike the novel which showed how they understood one another. Oribe and Mano's characters weren't particularly close in the first place so there wasn't any chemistry to speak of)

Total: 16 out of 50

Final verdict: It's probably better to read the novel after you watch the movie or you will be very disappointed.