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mysecretsoul

United States

mysecretsoul

United States
Completed
Peppermint Candy
14 people found this review helpful
Mar 15, 2014
Completed 0
Overall 9.0
Story 9.0
Acting/Cast 10
Music 9.0
Rewatch Value 7.0
How might one describe the taste of peppermint? Refreshing and cool? Slightly sweet? How about the “clean” sensation left over once the candy has gone? In this intense and emotionally raw film, the peppermint transforms from mere confection into the reminder of one man’s lost innocence—and arguably, that of South Korea after the war. Though we might bite into the peppermint hoping for sweeter breath, whatever has dirtied the mouth still remains. So it goes with the attempt to live decently again, once personal sins and harrowing experiences begin to take their toll.

One might notice something unusual about Peppermint Candy straightaway: it’s backwards. It affects a non-linear structure, forcing the viewer to witness the lead’s story in reverse chronology. We start with a broken maniac ready to commit suicide on some train tracks, and end with a starry-eyed youth, happy and in love. What must have happened between these two points to result in such a drastic change?

That is what the viewer must uncover, journeying back through the years 1999 to 1979. The film separates into several segments to allow this, pinpointing only the most important details of the character’s life.

These specific years represent tremendous importance to the narrative, especially those sequences spent in the 1980’s. That decade was a particularly troubled one for South Korea; police brutality and government-sanctioned violence were not uncommon, as seen from the infamous protest crackdowns portrayed here in unabashed detail. The country many of us know and love today was a totally different place in that era.

Peppermint Candy relies heavily on visual motifs, particularly moving trains and the namesake sweets themselves. Trains appear at pivotal moments, usually during (or after) an unfortunate action taken by the lead. When I noticed this happening, the effect chilled; my stomach automatically dropped and I almost felt cold. Because the story segments are also broken up by footage taken from the back of a train, the effect is twofold. Note also the pensive string music which accompanies these instances. Other details become apparent over the course of the film; names and objects which make no sense in one part suddenly burst with recognition in another.

After seeing him as Kim Yong Ho, our tragic main character, Sol Kyung Gu definitely has my respect as an artist. He impressed unilaterally, whatever incarnation of the man he needed to portray. I hated and feared Yong Ho, I judged and even pitied him—but above all, I understood him. All this thanks to a masterful performance by a true talent. Moon So Ri also acted memorably, despite appearing very little; her Yun Sun Im was so built up, so discussed, over the course of the film, that it would have been easy to disappoint. She did not. The supporting cast does just as well, playing off the leads without drawing away focus.

Those viewers who devour character studies, art films, powerful acting, or are just looking for something different might take interest in Peppermint Candy. Please be warned that this movie contains varying degrees of violence, brief nudity, and depicts suicidal tendencies. Certain scenes can be disturbing.

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Dokushin Kizoku
14 people found this review helpful
Dec 23, 2013
11 of 11 episodes seen
Completed 0
Overall 8.0
Story 7.0
Acting/Cast 8.0
Music 9.0
Rewatch Value 8.0
They don't make 'em like this anymore.

Dokushin Kizoku hearkens back to the days when Hollywood produced sparkling romances, and immortal beauties such as Audrey Hepburn led us through them. Though it might not evolve into a classic in its own right, this is a drama which channels cinema's golden era with gusto. Western viewers, as well as those who exalt in old films, will enjoy and understand its purpose best. But doubtlessly, those "old souls," among us will find something to love as well.

"Familiar" describes Dokushin Kizoku wonderfully, though without the negative connotations that word sometimes bears. So frequently one hears the hardened drama veteran lamenting a fine watch stooping to the "same-old, same-old." However, the devices used in the plot here are not cliches often seen in Asian film and dramas; they are rather western conventions, so far fallen out of use as to be refreshing. What results is a delightfully nostalgic romantic comedy with the flavors of East and West delightfully blended. And if you've heard this feels somewhat like King of Dramas, that would be true enough; just don't expect a remake or more than superficial similarities.

My most serious issue is that the romantic conflict became a pain around the ninth episode. Much as I loved the ultimate pairing, it eventually felt set in stone so the continual flutter around the subject was frustrating.

Another point of interest will be the awesome use of romance/marriage quotes used to preface each episode.

Kusanagi Tsuyoshi always struck me as one of the better actors to come out of SMAP; my observation stands. As the commitment-phobic director Hoshino Mamoru, he rises above the realms of two-dimensionality. By the end of the series, we have a clear portrait of a man with unique interests and solitary pleasures, a person who believes he's happy alone but doesn't realize he just hasn't met the right person yet. Ito Hideaki plays second lead and brother to Kusanagi-san, as Susumu. This character was well-realized too and felt like a real person, despite his over-the-top playboy reputation. Wrapping up the leads, we had the lovely Kitagawa Keiko; her Haruno Yuki might be one of my favorite leads from a romantic comedy in ages. She felt strong despite her romantic confusions. Her unique adoration of film and the script writing process really bolstered her likability.

The supporting cast was somewhat forgettable, though one or two portrayals were poor. This includes the awful Hoshino aunt, whose lines felt as though they were being delivered from a cue card. Sasai Eisuke, however, has a hilarious though brief turn as Susumu's divorce lawyer. Did I laugh out loud any time he appeared? You bet.

Much of what helps boost a film into iconic status is its soundtrack. Dokushin Kizoku adopts various themes from famous romance films, mostly shirking original tracks of its own. This added to the classic, beautifully dated atmosphere the drama exuded throughout its pace. Vocals from Breakfast at Tiffany's (Moon River) and Sleepless in Seattle (If I Fall In Love) are most memorable among these. Some viewers may not enjoy this, however; while following the drama, I did notice people expressing displeasure at the inclusions. And for SMAP fans, yes: they provided the theme song as always (Shareotsu).

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Completed
The Front Line
14 people found this review helpful
Jun 10, 2013
Completed 0
Overall 8.0
Story 8.0
Acting/Cast 8.0
Music 9.0
Rewatch Value 7.0
While skimming Netflix for something to pass the time, I noticed this war piece starred both Shin Ha Kyun and Go Soo. This pushed me, along with an interest in the subject, to give Gojijeon a try. I'm glad I did, because I spent the next two hours entertained despite some minor issues.

Probably the strongest point of the movie is the cinematography. Battle scenes are tasteful but tremendous; the scenes done on the infamous hill were especially eye-catching and must have been difficult to film. Some of the scenery ended up being quite beautiful as well, which is sad considering so much fighting went on in those areas.

Go Soo and Shin Ha Kyun definitely carried the performance aspect of Gojijeon between them. Shin is always a pleasure to watch and brings any character to life with ease, but Go Soo was shockingly compelling. He played Soo Hyuk with intense complexity, often making me question how I felt about his character: was he right or wrong? Also, the interaction between the two felt natural...which is great since a good chunk of the story rides on their characters and their involvement with one another. I have to say the rest of the cast was somewhat forgettable just because their characters weren't as necessary or developed. There were several familiar faces if you often watch Korean drama, though.

My only real gripe with this film is that occasionally it would feel preachy. This is definitely an anti-war film, and you can really feel the atmosphere of futility the conflict had. Usually the subject was handled with grace, but on the instances it was not, I felt as though I'd been pulled out of the story briefly. Other than that, though it's been done before in other films, it's always nice to see a non-American focus on the Korean war during this time period.

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Completed
Wakamono Tachi
16 people found this review helpful
Sep 26, 2014
11 of 11 episodes seen
Completed 2
Overall 8.5
Story 8.5
Acting/Cast 9.5
Music 8.5
Rewatch Value 8.0
During what could be considered a slow drama year, Wakamono Tachi (“Young People,” international title: “All About My Siblings,”) was greatly anticipated from the first. One exciting aspect manifests itself in its status as an anniversary drama, a fact that often denotes heightened quality. Another comes in the form of Shugo Muto, who wrote the script for this remade series as well as last year’s excellent reboot of Kazoku Game and the beloved 2005 Densha Otoko. Yet for an overwhelming number of potential viewers, the prospect of another reunion between cast members Mitsushima Hikari and Eita—with the added bonus of fantastic Tsumabuki Satoshi—constituted the biggest delight. So with all these expectations riding on its back, how did well Wakamono Tachi fare?

Regrettably (how it pains me to begin with that word!) soaring expectations might cost this drama points with viewers. While Wakamono Tachi manages to score a place in the storied collection of worthy Japanese “life dramas,” it cannot be called perfect or even particularly groundbreaking. We follow the trials and tribulations of the orphaned Sato siblings, as well as those of their romantic prospects. Most story arcs focus on one sibling/issue at a time, detailing how the family pulls together so as to overcome it (or not). As might be expected from such a system, certain parts watch stronger than others. Characters Asahi, Satoru, and Hikari are front and center for the better episodes, most of which are warm and emotional. However, as focus spreads to the youngest siblings (and onward to the “girlfriends” and “boyfriend”) it becomes harder to swallow parts of the writing. Certain plots begin to touch upon the melodramatic and the tone/time frame for others ceases to reflect reality, though otherwise most events are thoughtfully placed. As strongly felt as the finale was, I could not but want for better closure. Several more episodes might have alleviated these issues, and I doubt viewers would object to extra time with the Sato family.

My favorite aspect of Wakamono Tachi must be its vibrant and quirky humor. The siblings primarily communicate in high-speed bickering around the dinner table, which often yields audacious and unbelievable dialogue. Many members of the Sato family are also wrestling fans, and so the most difficult emotional conundrums are solved over hearty talks—and outdoor brawls! What results is an unexpectedly lovable and relatable family that, despite any oddity, ends up working its way deep into the viewer’s heart. No matter the issues with the script, one begins to feel as though they will miss them when the series ends. I also believe the financial state our heroes are portrayed in (almost destitute!) helps them remain understandable. It is refreshing to meet with an every-man and his family for once, rather than a privileged member of the upper crust.

Without a doubt, Wakamono Tachi cast well. Tsumabuki Satoshi wins viewer sympathy as the sincere, hardworking Sato Asahi, whose more cliché characteristics are eclipsed masterfully by a strange mix of immaturity and fatherly instinct. A figure inherently good, Tsumabuki-san infuses Asahi with fetching laughter, contagious tears, and a performance most memorable. I'm not afraid to admit I fell in love. The widely lauded Eita settles into another complicated role as Sato Satoru, who explodes onto the scene as a menacing figure—but might his true self be loyal and loving? Mitsushima Hikari is safely one of the best actresses of her generation, and so in Sato Hikari maintains her standard. Hers might be the most precariously balanced story in the series, caught as it is between two moral poles; however, Mitsushima-san dons the role without the barest suggestion of difficulty. As for the other parts of the cast, most performances were passable to good with an almost universal connection of chemistry (particularly within the Sato family). If there were any weak links, I’d point either to Nomura Shuhei (Sato Tadashi) or Yoshioka Hidetaka (Shinjo Masaomi) but only when compared to the “big three.”

For those who concern themselves with music, this series employs a decent enough score with a good sense for incidental pieces and silence. Perhaps the only song worth writing home about would be the beautiful theme. It is provided by sweet-voiced Moriyama Naotaro, “Wakamono Tachi (Young People)” after the title of the drama. This gentle and nostalgic vocal suits the overall feeling of the series with surprising strength, even as it accompanies the credits. These show the characters, interspersed between the candid photographs of other (perhaps real?) examples of the modern Japanese youth.

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Completed
Still Walking
13 people found this review helpful
Feb 15, 2014
Completed 0
Overall 9.0
Story 9.0
Acting/Cast 10
Music 9.0
Rewatch Value 8.0
After the death of his mother, whom he had nursed for years, Director Kore-eda Hirokaze offered up Still Walking (Aruitemo, Aruitemo/"Even if You Walk and Walk") as something of a tribute. This film was ultimately inspired by nostalgic bedside talks with her, and embodies the feeling of such intimacy with deep affectation. Should one be a fan of understated human drama, the director alone, or Japanese cinema in general, take notice of this fine masterwork. You should not miss it for the world.

Still Walking centers on a particular day in the life of an ordinary Japanese family. While they try to maintain a semblance of normalcy on this day, the occasion cannot allow it to be wholly so. It is the memorial of a tragic death, and so even the most errant of relatives have come to call.

The story is told through beautifully written, but realistic conversations and domestic interactions between characters. While they cook, play, eat, or chat together, the dynamics between them slowly but surely unfold. We see fondness, pain, nostalgia, resentments, and all manner of feeling bubble to the surface. But none of this is done in the usual bombastic way, lending the entire piece more relatability than one might first imagine. It’s all very Japanese, but very human as well; how often have you swallowed a hurtful comment or urged yourself to forget it… just because of the ties that bind? I saw parts of my own family in Still Walking, little bites of conversation I've spoken myself. It leaves one with much to think about.

My chief issue would be that, while slow films rarely bother me, this takes a little *too* long to launch. Still Walking requires the viewer to see every minute to feel its effects to the highest measure. The ending also feels a little incomplete, but that can be overlooked; Still Walking is meant to portray life continuing under the cloud of death. We don’t always get perfect conclusions in real life, do we?

Calling out a particular actor or actress for an exemplary performance would be difficult. The entire ensemble works together so well they give the solid impression of an actual family, bitterness, warmth, and all. If forced to choose, Abe Hiroshi might win as the most easily recognizable among them; much of Still Walking focuses on his Ryota, and he’s arguably representative of Kore-eda himself. Kiki Kirin is also remarkable as Toshiko, the talkative and smiling mother who hides her many battle-scars behind polite words. She sometimes reminded me of my own mother, which was a little jarring.

A particular piece of music that sticks with me after completion is Blue Light Yokohama (Ishida Ayumi). If one has never "heard" nostalgia, this song will change that. Despite being quite the “oldie,” its inclusion is just exquisite. Common sounds are used effectively also; such as overlapping talk, popping and sizzling in the kitchen, etc.

Please note the interesting shots used in Still Walking. Detail in them is astounding, from hallways to individual rooms. The cinematography here lends an air of tranquility, of reality, of home…. My weak powers of description are not enough to describe the effect. One must truly see it for themselves.

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Completed
DOCTORS Saikyou no Meii
13 people found this review helpful
Nov 26, 2013
8 of 8 episodes seen
Completed 0
Overall 8.0
Story 8.0
Acting/Cast 9.0
Music 7.0
Rewatch Value 8.0
When one watches enough medical dramas, one starts to notice increasing similarity between them as experience with the genre builds. Some common inclusions are wildly rare disorders, mercenary management and hospital politics, callous senior physicians, and the idealistic newcomer (who may or may not be a genius surgeon) ready to shake things up. So if I were to say DOCTORS checks every box on the above list, why should you watch it?

Surprisingly unique elements exist in this drama, including a twist on one of the above tropes. Sure, our hero is an idealistic newcomer (one with mad surgical skills), but his coworkers are unaware he is also a master manipulator. Beneath his smiling exterior and cheerful persona, this is a person constantly calculating how to position things to fall his way. Luckily, his "way seems to be improvement in the staff and hospital, despite the questionable methods sometimes employed.

As such, the plot revolves around the changes the manipulator (Dr. Sagara) tries to effect upon the broken hospital structure. Medical cases accompany these conflicts on an episodic basis, often with an interesting dynamic or social commentary (for example, in the fourth installment). But while the title refers to an "ultimate surgeon," and surgery is definitely an important part of any medical drama, the two aspects occasionally feel like a footnote to the workplace study.

Unfortunately, DOCTORS ends too soon. We commonly hear of dramas overstaying their welcome, but this series could have done with more time to solidify its premise and characters. This is especially true if watched as a standalone, though both a special and sequel exist.

In the role of Sagara Kosuke, then, we have Sawamura Ikki sporting an infectious smile and sharp charisma. Even as his character displays warmth toward patients and (sometimes superficially) his colleagues, Sawamura-san reserves something of himself. The effect is wonderful, allowing for Dr. Sagara to appear pleasant yet ultimately unapproachable. Another performance stands out, this one against reason: rival surgeon Moriyama Suguru, as portrayed by Takashima Masanobu. Immature and childish in every sense of the word, Moriyama actually becomes a highlight as the series continues. Takashima-san adds a quirky campiness and snappy timing which elevates his character from annoying... to hilarious.

Similar quirkiness carries over into the music as well. From the fun nostalgia of the upbeat violin, to the lumbering oddity that is Moriyama's theme, DOCTORS boasts a memorable soundtrack. However, it was not always to my taste (particularly the conflict anthem led by an electric guitar). The lone vocal felt somewhat awkward, with the usually spot-on JUJU covering the classic "Lullaby of Birdland."

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Completed
Good Life - Arigatou, Papa. Sayonara
13 people found this review helpful
Aug 6, 2013
11 of 11 episodes seen
Completed 0
Overall 9.0
Story 10
Acting/Cast 10
Music 7.0
Rewatch Value 7.0
What constitutes a “good” life? Can it be deliberated by the weight of earthly possessions? Does the perception of having achieved something tip the scales of fulfillment? Or might it be something simpler – that our honest connections with other people and the lessons we have to share are the truest measure? Good Life ~Arigatou Papa. Sayonara~ explores this substantial question, offering its own answer effectively and with surprising eloquence.

Having spent the better part of the series sobbing, I will attest that this is a tear-jerker. Stories that deal with severe illnesses often are. Refreshingly Good Life avoids becoming maudlin and though tears well up, they don’t always spring from tragedy. I found myself most moved by the powerful relationship between Waku and his father; the change love brought into their lives at the most crucial hour…this is more important than anything else. The short length of the drama guarantees a sharp focus on their journey. There’s just no time for romantic detours or melodramatic spoons dipped in to stir extra conflict. (As a side note, Waku’s adorable yet illuminating narrations were fantastic; their presence bolstered the emotional atmosphere of the plot exponentially.)

Only two performers stand memorable, which works since Good Life focused almost solely on their characters. Sorimachi Takashi tugs insistently at the heartstrings as Daichi Sawamoto, the “papa” of the title. His character brought to mind the imagery of a trembling pillar; Daichi tries to take everything on his own shoulders, never letting anyone else see his deep vulnerability. As a result, he appears strong but aloof – blindly unable to understand that his life is lacking. Transformation from such a person into the gentle and loving father whose heart finally opens is conveyed compellingly, both by the writing and Sorimachi. On the other hand we have Kabe Amon, who played impressively as Waku. Not only is he super cute, he’s startlingly believable. It was easy to forget Kabe is healthy in real life and that Sorimachi is not actually his father (despite their immense chemistry).

Music is fittingly simple and nostalgic. Unfortunately, the soundtrack soon feels repetitive by the halfway point. A specific piano melody manages to stick in my mind, as well as the tender “Mata Ashita,” by JUJU.

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Completed
Suna no Utsuwa
15 people found this review helpful
Oct 21, 2014
11 of 11 episodes seen
Completed 3
Overall 10
Story 10
Acting/Cast 10
Music 10
Rewatch Value 7.0
Have you ever built a sandcastle at the beach? Perhaps you spent hours under the warm sun, carefully sculpting each fine grain with the precision of an architect. Up came the walls, the keep, the towers; your ambitious fingertips caressed open windows, kissed detail into the facade. When your labors ceased, there stood a work of art (now beautiful, a thing to be admired) where once was but formless sand. At that time, did you know your lovely castle was destined to crumble? That soon, the ocean must exert its endless force and by rolling waves down would come the towers, down the keep, down the walls. Gone again would be your castle, returned to wind-battered shore.

Suna no Utsuwa (Vessel of Sand) spins a tale of unavoidable fate, embodying this sort of transient beauty with dark resonance. We follow pianist Waga Eiryo, a secretive man running from his past…and the cruel destiny he believes might also shape his future. Just when it appears he has shed both, a face from his troubled childhood resurfaces to torment him once again. One moment lost to passion and a sharp shove is all it takes—in rush the waves ready to destroy his new life. So begins our tale of murder and mystery, tragedy and deception, of happiness which crumbles like so much sand.

This series will haunt me for a long time to come. Understated as it is, Suna no Utsuwa nonetheless delivers an elegant atmosphere with serious impact. Each of its elements folds together with an artistic flourish that must be marveled at. In all my experience with Asian television, no other example has so impressed me with its visual beauty—what stunning cinematography and evocative scene composition! Time has not diminished one bit of the vibrant aesthetic. All one could further wish for are stirring themes, unique plots, and powerful performances; here one receives all three and more besides.

Our mystery is unveiled via a masterful combination of fragile character interactions and clever police investigation. Do not expect any resemblance to your regular detective drama. As powerfully constructed as the puzzle is, this is not a crime series but a character study. No guessing remains to be done; viewers are meant to witness the desperate battle of a man against fate. Who is Waga Eiryo and why? I loved how the two story aspects were tied together, often serving to create parallels between pianist and detective. One example may be seen in the counterpoint between interrogation sessions and those featuring musical composition/performance sequences. Please also note the tremendous ending undertaken over two episodes. The result left me trembling with so much emotion it was difficult to properly compile this review.

An idol was asked to play Waga Eiryo: SMAP’s Nakai Masahiro. Could anyone have better portrayed this extremely complex figure? Not on your life. Nakai-san’s excellence begins with the eyes; his are large and dark with suspicion, the sort which might remind one of a hunted animal. For the most part Waga sinks beneath an icy facade, a disdainful and haughty mask. But as Suna no Utsuwa continues, this mask chips away piece by piece. We are made confidants of his vulnerability and fear, tenderness and anguish. Undoubtedly the role of a lifetime, Nakai strikes every chord without stumbling. Next is incomparable Ken Watanabe, an utter gift to the small screen. He presents Imanishi with gentle normalcy, a believable brilliance stemming from hard work and consideration rather than trumped up genius. If only we could see such effortless acting in dramas more often! Let us not forget the wonderful Matsuyuki Yasuko either. Her Naruse is the clinch-pin of fate for Waga Eiryo, and few actresses could sell it as well as she did. No matter what the role, Matsuyuki-san’s passionate beauty and exquisite expressions must always be appreciated.

But above all else, music is where Suna no Utsuwa most excels. Just as it offers visual delights, this drama must be nothing if not pure auditory bliss. Not one track has been left awkward or misplaced by the passage of years. Some masterful touch seems laid on the compositions, which are so crucial in elevating scenes and construction of emotional atmosphere. Most memorable must be what is represented as Waga Eiryo’s devastating magnum opus, “Shukumei,” an embodiment of the fate he longs to escape. Also exceptional is the romantic vocal theme in “Yasashii Kisu no Shite (Kiss Me Gently)” provided by Dreams Come True. The first to catch my ear, however, is the choral piece played only at pivotal moments; if you want goose bumps, this one should do the trick.

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Completed
Under One Roof
12 people found this review helpful
Nov 17, 2014
12 of 12 episodes seen
Completed 0
Overall 9.0
Story 9.0
Acting/Cast 9.0
Music 9.0
Rewatch Value 8.0
"Where's the love in that?" —Kashiwagi Tatsuya

Many consider the 1990’s a golden age in Japanese drama. It’s been said there was a certain spark at that time, an outpouring of talented writers and actors, even more daring scripts and sizzling romances. Unfortunately I have yet to experience many of these gems from another era. But after Hitotsu Yane no Shita (Under One Roof), believe me when I say they will be a priority and a must! As one whose go-to genre must be considered “family,” I cannot remember the last time I’ve seen one as memorable or involving. Plus the screenwriter is Nojima Shinji (Pride), so how can you go wrong?

Viewers join Kashiwagi Tatsuya—or An-chan—as he attempts first to reunite with his scattered siblings, then to keep them together again. But can blood ties bridge seven years’ worth of separation, resentment, and loneliness? Are they better off as a family or apart in their new situations? Hitotsu Yane no Shita ventures to answer these questions, focusing on the Kashiwagis and their struggle to live both as individuals and a family. Each sibling is granted their own plot line, from which many types of stories spring (some with shockingly mature themes); these build up throughout the series and connect to the final arc with a masterful touch. What stays constant across the board is the unique humor and gentle warmth that allows Hitotsu Yane no Shita continued relevance. One might connect deeply with the members of the Kashiwagi clan, and then leave the drama feeling they’d all grown a lot. What an incredible experience—though I must admit I didn’t watch quickly. It would have meant saying goodbye to this wonderful family, and I wasn't ready to for a while.

For those familiar with Wakamono Tachi, they are very similar to one another. They have the same high-speed bickering, brotherly wrestling matches, etc.

Casting a family must be tricky. If one member fails to ignite chemistry with the others, you can bet the whole thing will be thrown askew. But have you seen this cast? It’s pretty much perfect for the purpose. First we have Eguchi Yosuke, now an exquisite veteran actor, but apparently he could carry a drama even twenty years ago. His An-chan is a lovable dummy who follows his heart with admirable determination and adores Ken-Ken the Dog (Muttley from Whacky Racers!); beneath all his silly bluster, An-chan is reliable, hard-working, and every bit a pillar of strength. Eguchi-san proves his ability to perform comically and turn right around with the most believable tears time and again. The second brother Masaya/”Chi-niichan,” lands us another present-day veteran in Fukuyama Masaharu. Perhaps being a good friend to Eguchi-san helped, but their scenes make you believe they might actually be brothers. An early episode between the two could be considered one of the best of the series for that matter. And if you allow me a moment’s shallowness, both are as cute as anything in Hitotsu Yane no Shita.

Of the other Kashiwagi siblings, most memorable are Yamamoto Koji and Sakai Noriko. Sakai-san performs beautifully as the backbone of the Kashiwagis, the adopted daughter Koyuki; her presence is calm, gentle one without being pretentious, and there’s a maternal strength in her performance that’s very appealing.

For someone who grew up in the 90’s, Hitotsu Yane no Shita is a delightful nostalgia trip. Every single track sent me back in time and was an utter delight, especially paired with the series. Probably most memorable will be the fantastic theme song, “Saboten no Hana” by TULIP; between this and the family Muttley-laugh, there's a lot that I'll take away from this series. You can bet it's worth watching twice, too~

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Top Star
12 people found this review helpful
Feb 14, 2014
Completed 0
Overall 9.0
Story 9.0
Acting/Cast 9.0
Music 8.0
Rewatch Value 7.0
Upon completing the “Will I or won’t I?” routine with Top Star (we’re all masters of this dance: check the cast listing first, read the synopsis, watch the trailers, et cetera and so on), I was overcome with the most unfortunate thing. Positive expectation! I typically take care with allowing those feelings to rise up in the first place; after all, expectations more often disappoint or diminish experiences than actually fulfill themselves.

Yet when those dreadful expectations of mine were ultimately dashed, it still surprised me. What I had just encountered was somehow much better than initially imagined. You see, I had the impression Top Star would be a seedy melodrama or, at best, one of those dank and miserable discourses on the evils of celebrity. This film could be described instead as a character study and human drama: the bittersweet tale of two flawed men and their wildly unbalanced friendship. If you like western film, you might compare this one to The Talented Mr. Ripley with Matt Damon and Jude Law (or other adaptations of the same). Instances of deja vu were undeniable.

Most impressive about the execution of Top Star must be the fact it was not at all over the top. Its characters are very human and dark in the way people sometimes are, especially the privileged or overly ambitious among us. They have both good points and bad, but the things they do are not outside the realms of reality. Of course, fame does play a role in events depicted in the film; however, it is neither deified nor demonized. Rather, celebrity is measured by the quality of the person wielding it—and the choices they make, while possessing it.

Two men share the screen in Top Star: Kim Min Joon and Uhm Tae Woong. Between the two, despite being a fan of the latter, the former captivated me most. Min Joon looks the part of an A-Lister, switching between masks of charm and thoughtlessness without difficulty. He can be warm or hateful, desolate or bright, all with surprising depth. Uhm Tae Woong isn’t called “Uhm-force” for nothing, though; he stood on equal footing with his co-star. I’m a little used to his goody-two-shoes image from dramas, but in film he seems to spread his wings a little more. The Tae Shik character was “nobody” reaching toward the stars, but I believed him completely…even if it was strange to see this “top star” playing such a role. Great chemistry between the two, with an okay check-in by So Yi Hyun as the less developed Mi Na.

Top Star has such a lovely soundtrack; I enjoyed how well its various tracks were interspersed between stretches of silence. Many interesting cinematographic sequences stood out in no small part to the accompanying auditory cues. Some viewers may like the rendition of “You Were Always on My Mind” and its off-vocal insertion a little less. However, as time rolls along and one takes the lyrics out of context, the usage suddenly makes sense. I liked its unique orchestration anyway; it may not be the original, but it’s still pretty nice.

Please note the crisp and pretty cinematography as a whole. Everything looked gorgeous and glitzy, from the surroundings to the main cast. There are a couple cameos near the beginning, too: who can you spot?

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Olympic no Minoshirokin
12 people found this review helpful
Feb 1, 2014
2 of 2 episodes seen
Completed 0
Overall 8.0
Story 8.0
Acting/Cast 9.0
Music 8.0
Rewatch Value 6.0
TV Asahi presented the special, "Olympic no Minoshirokin" (The Ransomed Olympics) as part of its 55th Anniversary in broadcasting. What began as an award-winning novel by Okuda Hideo was likely selected for this purpose due to its relevance to current events. After all, this short drama aired two months before the start of 2014's XXII Olympic Winter Games in Sochi. This story centers on the 1965 Summer Games in Tokyo, where a possible terrorist attack looms over the event and its attendees.

While I found the investigation aspect tight and fascinating, palpable suspense falls somewhat low. There was definitely an air of “racing against the clock,” but the actual culprit becomes apparent too soon. Nevertheless, learning about that person’s mindset and motivations retain interest. My attention often caught on the atmosphere built by the depicted time period; the clothing, cars, and social activities truly seemed accurate. And the feeling of a city ready to host the biggest sporting event in the world? That was well presented too, though the viewer’s time is spent primarily with the case. I would note that this SP leaves me with little desire to see it again; enjoying it once seems to be enough. Time will tell.

How about that cast? If one takes a quick peek at the listing, one might be taken aback at the sheer amount of star power contained there. Names such as Amami Yuki, Kuroki Meisa, Sawamura Ikki, and many more represent the supporting cast alone. Of the leads, we have Takenouchi Yutaka and Matsuyama Kenichi, both remarkable whatever the role. Matsuyama-san in particular performs with great energy and depth, though Takenouchi appears fresh-faced and blue-collar heroic. My only complaint would be how crowded the drama feels at times; it’s a little weird to see so many familiar and famous faces at once, even should they perform well.

Incidental music suits each scene nicely. Most offerings add something to the instance they are used in. Unfortunately, none are particularly memorable after the fact. This also accounts for the lack of vocal pieces, which typically add to score memorability.

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Running Man
12 people found this review helpful
Nov 13, 2013
Completed 4
Overall 8.0
Story 8.0
Acting/Cast 9.0
Music 7.0
Rewatch Value 7.0
Lovers of the onscreen chase will revel in Running Man, a film whose premise has the lead constantly in flight. There are no name tags at stake here, though; being caught means the difference between life and death.

Something refreshing about this latest entry into the action genre must be its noticeable lack of shoot outs and martial arts. Our hero is no "Superman," lacking in most offensive skills; while his talents in escape are second to none, the limits of his body still check him. Jumping through glass storefronts is impossible for him, as is walking away unscathed from falls and hits. The damage steadily accumulates as the movie goes on.

Despite few surprises or shocking developments in the conflict, we're gifted with something unlooked for: a touching father-son relationship. This provides much welcome character development, adding another layer to the entire experience. Genuine humor also colors the script, with several laugh-out-loud moments strewn throughout.

Shin Ha Kyun slips right into the role of Cha Jong Woo, adopting his immature and crude persona seamlessly. Even his physical frame suits the character, as a former con-artist with a need for lithe and smooth movement. On another note (one that speaks to his dedication as an actor), Shin suffered rib fractures which he worked through for some time -- even continuing to do stunts. In the role of his son, we have Lee Min Ho. His Cha Gi Hyuk often served as straight man to slapstick or the foil to the flawed parent he must tolerate. Both of them took on more emotional scenes as well, performing believably apart and brilliantly together.

Fans of Special Affairs Team Ten (and its sequel) will instantly recognize Kim Sang Ho, still portraying a cop. His character seems tailor made for comedy as were his scenes; when paired with the actor playing Chief of Police, they were golden.

Many action films adopt simple soundtracks and Running Man continues the trend. At times, one might only hear natural sounds paired with silence; at others, suitable themes for mystery and brisk action. There are no songs here to add to playlists, but nothing to detract from enjoyment of the film either.

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Hanzawa Naoki
17 people found this review helpful
Sep 27, 2013
10 of 10 episodes seen
Completed 0
Overall 9.5
Story 10
Acting/Cast 10
Music 10
Rewatch Value 9.0
Based on a pair of popular novels from award-winning author Jun Ikeido (notably a former bank employee himself), Hanzawa Naoki has enjoyed monumental success. Ratings opened through the roof in Japan and, continuing to rise every week, eventually stood at a dazzling 42% on the finale. Even more impressive is how the Japanese have embraced this drama and its titular character, almost to the point of pop culture status. When people start naming limited edition breads after something, you know it has to be special.



Hanzawa Naoki treads the waters of Japanese financial culture, following a brilliant man who dove in after experiencing its volatility firsthand. The main body of the tale begins once this man, Hanzawa, has established himself at the management level of a certain bank. We follow him through two intense loan crises, each taking five of the total ten episodes. While the first, occurring in Osaka, is truly excellent, this drama shines most brightly in the second (Tokyo). Everything feels tighter, more intense, and more character development occurs; the first half is merely beautiful set-up in comparison. If you feel daunted by business talk, don't worry. With a clear narrative careful to explain everything, Hanzawa Naoki is very accessible. Long story short, this is an intense and unpredictable drama -- sure to get hearts pounding and fists pumping. Bring on a sequel, I say!



Sakai Masato, one of the finest actors currently working in Japan, is the real draw here. As Hanzawa himself, Sakai-san oozes nuance and dynamic characterization. How hard it must be to portray this samurai-like banker, full of ferocity and compassion at once! But he makes it look easy, with his sharp and seemingly effortless performance. Even his delivery of the now-famous catchphrase: "If you screw me, I'll screw you back. It's double the payback!" induces goosebumps.



Of the supporting cast, Takito Kenichi (troubled Kondo) and Oikawa Mitsuhiro (cheerful Tomari), are memorable as Hanzawa's old compatriots. Their chemistry with Sakai-san is really wonderful, especially during the Tokyo arc. Some intense kendo practices occur between Hanzawa and Kondo, making for telling character interaction. Also featured, veteran Kagawa Teruyuki rounds out the talent as deliciously two-faced Owada.



Sweeping, dramatic instrumentals fill every scene. They are of a cinematic quality, perfectly placed, and unique. Without realizing it, I recently found myself humming the theme song while doing laundry. Though there are no traditional vocal pieces, you won't even notice.

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Days of Wrath
14 people found this review helpful
Feb 9, 2014
Completed 0
Overall 7.0
Story 7.0
Acting/Cast 8.0
Music 7.0
Rewatch Value 6.0
The Punisher (also known as the more striking “Days of Wrath”) takes a pessimistic stab at the aftermath of bullying. It is a violent and disturbing tale, relentless in its depictions of physical and emotional abuse, rape, and sexual harassment. For those sensitive to these subjects, please take care in moving forward. As someone who rarely is, I still found myself quite affected by what was shown.

We start with a strong premise, and the initial twenty minutes are particularly promising. A good chunk of the emotional foundation is established after that point. From here, the story primarily deals with the troubled lead character and his actions once fate brings before his high school bully as an adult. What I enjoyed most about this film how human Joon Seok was; he was no mastermind or powerfully connected avenging knight. His pain was real and easy to connect with. There are also real instances of suspense, though mostly near the end; most of the intensity comes from the disturbing nature of the content.

Unfortunately, the middle sections of The Punisher are somewhat meandering and reliant on coincidence; certain events rely on the character knowing just how an event will play out. All but the lead actors play bare shadows. Several actors and actresses come and go in the narrative, serving more expositional purpose than anything else. As such, it’s hard to get a real feel for their talents, or even the real importance of their characters.

Joo Sang Wook often portrays dapper authoritarians, a fact he has frequently lamented in the media. Perhaps some of that irritation will now subside, because his Joon Seok is a wholly different animal. Of hollow eye and haunted expression, this character has barely held it together since his hellish teenage years. He is anything but suave here, barely recognizable; of particular note must be the scene in which Joon Seok first sees his tormentor again as an adult. The pure fear and honest trauma is just flooring. Our other lead, Yang Dong Geun, portrays the utterly despicable Chang Sik. Unfortunately, The Punisher marks the first time I've seen this actor; the frightening portrayal will not be soon forgotten.

A quick honorable mention to Kim Kwon as the young Joon Seok: he single-handedly set the atmosphere for the entire film with a nervous laugh. His is a career to watch.

While watching the music is noticeable, in a good way. Heart-thumping tracks, others which will keep the viewer on the edge of their seats, tragic and wordless vocals. My favorite is the ballad covering the credits; after the effects of the film, the results were chilling. Otherwise, nothing to add to the old MP3 player.

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Dating Agency : Cyrano
14 people found this review helpful
Sep 8, 2013
16 of 16 episodes seen
Completed 0
Overall 8.0
Story 7.0
Acting/Cast 8.0
Music 8.0
Rewatch Value 8.0
Sherlock Holmes meets Cyrano de Bergerac in this candied romantic comedy. With short episodes and series duration, Dating Agency: Cyrano doubles as a perfect marathon drama. Though admittedly of little sustainable substance, if you're seeking airy and memorable fun, look no further.

Much of the plot follows the titular agency as they tackle cases. This system produces miniature arcs usually lasting around three episodes. Since each case aims to jump start relationships for supporting characters (often depicted by famous guest stars), various romances are sketched out. Each of them appears to pay homage to a romance type common in dramas (mystery, melodrama, teen, etc). As the series goes on, the cases improve in quality; though still fun, the very first as initiated by the veterinarian was almost silly. Several agency members experience plots of their own, mostly bridging all 16 episodes. Unfortunately, the "main couple" was not to my taste. Age gaps rarely bother me... but lack of chemistry does. Here sparks never fly and, while the romance makes sense on paper, the entire thing felt stilted.

Most performances were solid. Something about Seo Byung Hoon struck me as similar to Sherlock in the recent BBC adaptation; Lee Jong Hyuk has magnetic prickliness down to a fine art. Soo Young spins a potentially cliche weak-spined bore into a refreshingly spunky, strong, realistic woman. Her immediately clear screen presence actually drew me into Dating Agency: Cyrano in the first place. Here I must admit that I fell hard for Lee Chun Hee as "Master". It doesn't make me proud, but whenever he was on screen I often degenerated into a giggling puddle. Whether it's because he played the character so well or because he's drop dead gorgeous, it's hard to say. The rest of the cast performs well, if not memorably. Each guest spot was wonderful too, with Lee Kwang Soo standing out in arguably the best case in the series.

Though eventually it may have become repetitive in a longer series, the soundtrack excels. "Chance!" by The Peppertones burrows into the brain, while Ra.D romances tenderly with "Something Flutters." Most of the instrumental fare felt funky and modern; the intro particularly impresses.

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