Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Jotei (JDrama) * * * * *

Jotei is an adult drama. It has themes of sex, prostitution, yakuza and political corruption. For the non-Japanese viewer it's especially interesting as it gives us a glimpse of the Japanese way of thinking about sex and virginity. In a way it's a modern geisha story and sometimes made me think of the geisha books I've read. It's a story that can be most understood and appreciated by women.
The main reason why I recommend it most for women is because the story is told as narrated by the main protagonist, a woman named Tachibana Ayaka. It is through her eyes that we see the problems she faces on her road to becoming a "Jotei"; an empress. A Jotei is a woman who is very important in the nightlife of Ginza, the main entertainment district of Tokyo.
She starts out as a regular girl who looses her mother at 18 and is left alone. She then learns that her father is still alive and left them to become a powerful person. She decides to become powerful herself and have the men who had stood above her bow down to her. She is willing to do anything in order to reach her goal. Upon reading this we might think that she is not a likeable person, but still, her heart is good and we find ourselves cheering her on towards her goal.

Kato Rosa plays Ayaka and she is a very good choice for the role. She is a pretty woman, but not too beautiful. This makes her more real and likeable for women as regular women can also identify with her. Through her we can also see that inner beauty can enhance your outer beauty.
There are many other characters beside hers that are important, mainly because the story encompasses many years. However, I must make a note of Date Naoto. He is the first man who helps Ayaka on her journey and becomes a very important person in her life. He is the kind of a man who makes us and Ayaka consider just giving up on her goal and settling down in a house to have 2.3 kids with. This ambivalent feeling gives and extra tension to the story. Even more so as he's played brilliantly by Matsuda Shota. He is the kind of actor you just want to see in more dramas as his performances always have a sort of unique elegance. Just what we can expect from someone whose whole family is made up by actors and actresses.

This drama is truly wonderful. The story is very complex and like a book it makes you want to just go to the next chapter. Therefore, I recommend watching it over the weekend as once you start, Ayaka's story just sweeps you up and doesn't let you go until the end.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Kami no Shizuku (JDrama) * *

If you don't drink wine or alcohol, I don't recommend watching this drama. This is the kind of story where you learn a lot on a subject, in this case wine, mostly French wines. It does drive you to drink, though do be careful, it's easy to overindulge in wine while watching it.

The story itself is interesting as well. Kanzaki Shizuku is the son of a famous wine critique, but he doesn't drink wine for an emotional reason. When his father dies, he has compete with Tomine Issei, who is also a wine critique adopted by his father shortly before he passed away. The competition is made up of seven riddles written by the father that all lead to a wine. The one who gets the most right gains the wine collection worth 2 billion yen. Though Shizuku doesn't want the money, he ends up competing anyway in order to learn more about the father he never understood while alive. Issei is not really interested in the money either, he wants to surpass the old man.

Kanzaki Shizuku is played by KAT-TUN's Kamenashi Kazuya. Frankly, I'm not very impressed by his acting skills. I have not been in previous dramas I've seen of him and not in this one as well. Often his characters seem to be in kind of a daze, not being very passionate about anything. The character is a rather brooding one in this drama, but I just don't find myself liking him or rooting for him.
Who does make you want to root for his side is Shinohara Miyabi played by Naka Riisa. She has all the passion that Shizuku lacks and she is the one who gets him to drink in the first place. She is a sommelier-in-training who first tags along with Shizuku in an effort to learn those things from him about wine that he himself learned from his father, though mostly unknowingly. She then becomes a vital person in his life and his female helper. She offers her own knowledge on wine and draws in more people to help Shizuku.
Tomine Issei is the opposition. He is played by Tanabe Seiichi who portrays a calm passion towards wine. He is much older than Shizuku and is a renowned wine critique in his own right. He obviously has more of a chance of winning and he does manage to make the identifications on his own. However, it is sometimes exactly his vast knowledge than hinders him in the game.
Issei has his own female helper, Saionji Maki played by Uchida Yuki. Though her role is more of an emotional helper than Miyabi's. She helps Issei by keeping him focused and cheering him on. Though their relationship is based on her being his girlfriend, the two still feel distant at the start of the drama. They are both adults and have their own baggage.

This drama is worth watching for the knowledge that you can gain from it. The story does have interesting twists, but doesn't draw you in completely. You may find yourself getting bored without having an interest in wine.

Yankee-kun to Megane-chan (JDrama) * * * *

This drama is a high-school drama. It has all the usual characteristics of dramas that are about teenagers. You have some fighting, studying and the troubles of growing up and figuring out your own path in life. Watching this drama you will probably not come across anything that is new on this subject, since it has been done many times before. However, this story is still worth watching just for the fun of it. It doesn't want to take itself seriously. The way the story is told makes you seriously consider that it's more like a parody of the genre, rather than an actual take on it.

It doesn't lack a story and likable characters. The main protagonist is a boy names Daichi, who is the son of a doctor who has a small general clinic. He is played by the very cute Narimiya Hiroki, who has a memorable smile. He is the "Yankee". In Japan a "Yankee" is a sort of a juvenile delinquent. He skips school a lot, gets into fights and is generally bad news. As can be predicted, he will not stay the same till the end of the drama, though he will not completely change either.
The main female character is Adachi Hana, who is the "good girl" in the school. We can see Naka Riisa in this role who pulls it off very well. Striving to be the perfect normal high school student, it becomes obvious she is trying a bit too hard. It's not an easy role for Naka Riisa as such a character can easily become too much for the audience, but she remains lovable through the whole story. I also have to note that as I've seen her in several dramas, she is an excellent actress, and always plays her characters in a believable fashion.

The story is the usual "good girl reforms bad boy", but with a twist. Both of them are changed by the experiences they have, and grow up a lot, not just the bad boy. They are two extremes that try to define themselves based on the labels they adapted, but humans can't be defined by labels. As they get to know each other better, they both have to come to realise that they are both just humans.

I do recommend watching the drama, but it may not be suitable for people who are well beyond their own high-school drama.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Virgin Road (JDrama) * * * * *

Not long ago I was asked why I love Japanese dramas so much. I answered that it's because they're different from what I'm used to. The American dramas always have complex stories and a lot of sex, everyone ending up in bed together. Latin-American soaps have confusion over parenthood, a lot of shouting and passion. All are predictable and after a while boring. What I failed to say was that I always learned something from Japanese dramas.

So, the question is, what did I learn from "Virgin Road"?

I have learned many things from this drama. First of all, I learned what it means to be a father. I always knew from experience that being a father not only meant donating a sperm, but careing. Kissing bruised knees. A father is someone who loves his daughter unconditionally. Someone who stands beside her no matter what. The same goes for a family. A family is a group of people who love each other unconditionally, blood not being an issue.
I also learned that mothers are the strongest people in the world. I have a great love for mine and I always knew that she was strong, but this drama pointed out for me that if I am to become one myself, I have to be strong. Becoming a mother is a solitary journey in a way. You become one in yourself, apart from others. They can help you, but eventually, it is your own path.
Furthermore, I learned about the true meaning of two Japanese phrases. When they come home, they say "tadaima" and the other, who are already there, say "okaerinasai" in return. When translating, they mean "I'm back/home" and "welcome back/home". However, the most basic rule of any translation is that when we just look at the words, the true meaning behind them may disappear. So the difficult part is giving their true meaning back. "Tadaima" "I'm home", "okaerinasai" "welcome home". This drama points out the home aspect of these phrases and that someone actually says it. Having a home where there are people waiting for you to come back, that is what these phrases are truly about. Having people; your family to go back to.
People who want you to come back is a wonderful thing that you really only appreciate if no one can say "okaerinasai" to you anymore, or if no one ever said it to you. If you are not one of these people, then this drama makes you realise just how lucky you really are. For those people, who have no one to hear "Okaerinasai" from, you learn that some day you may unexpectedly find people who will want you to come home. That you will find a home with people who love you. Once I heard a sappy English song in a cartoon that still rings true in my heart and this drama made me think of. It went like "A house full of love is a home". Home is in the heart. It's not and address.

This all being said, what is this drama really about? There is a woman, Kazumi, who becomes pregnant. She's determined to have her child, but is afraid that once her father learns that the father is not around, he will make her abort it. That is not something she wants, so she enlists the help of Kaoru, a man she meets on the plane home, to play the role of the father. It is quite obvious that they will fall for each other. Is it obvious that they can be together? No, it is not. Will they end up together? Only the last episode will tell. In the process they teach us and each other many lessons, grow up a lot and learn some secrets. Through it all, the clock is ticking, the baby is growing in Kazumi. The drama itself keeps you on the edge about who will lead Kazumi down the 'virgin road' in the end.

This may be an old drama, made in 1997, and in somewhat a poor condition. The hairs look funny and the clothes baggy, but what it says is timeless and after a while, you no longer notice the not perfect quality of the picture, but you just want to know how it ends. So ignore that if you may be put off in the beginning, because the drama is well-worth watching.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Stolen Throne (Dragon Age, #1) by David Gaider * * * *

I really love the game Dragon Age and wanted to read the corresponding novels. I did not have high expectation, though since the story of the game itself is great, I did hope it would be good. I actually enjoyed the book a great deal.

The story does kick off in an abrupt fashion, but the characters are introduced gradually. In a similar fashion to the game, we get to learn the past when it comes up, while the story progresses. Often, you can feel that the writer mostly writes for games as the party often ends up with four or less characters. That is the same standard in the game. However, this is good in the sense that it puts the reader back into the frame of the game.

The book mostly focuses on two men, Maric and Loghain, their relationship as it evolves and changes. It does shed some light on the motivations behind Loghain's betrayal. It is also very exciting and surprising as the characters get into situations where you stop and wonder how they are going to get out of it. The writer did avoid describing huge battles and mostly summarizes the happenings after the fact, rather focusing on the acts of the main characters. While this may seem like an evasion - and it is a technique I'm going to remember -, often in novels great battles do tend to be hard to follow, and lack the excitement that witnessing them would bring. Therefore, it doesn't feel like a great loss.

While this may not be the greatest fantasy novel of all time, it is an interesting read, gives good background to the game and overall just clean fun. It also makes you want to play again. Therefore, it does fulfill its purpose.