Suteki na Kakushidori

Saijo Mie is concierge at a hotel. She has to attend to all kinds of guests. First, it’s a choreographer with his profession’s version of writer’s block. Our bumbling concierge has to help him out and she certainly is cheerfully willing though she’s not the most sophisticated of beings. But, thanks to her irrepressible can-do attitude, the artist makes a breakthrough and their little dance routine will lift the gloomiest of spirits.

The next guest is a movie director. He’s worried about how his film will be received. Right now, he needs self-confidence. Will our cute concierge work her magic again? But our lady is quite unsophisticated. She speaks her mind! The flabbergasted director masochistically asks for more. Sick of his childishness, she bluntly tells him the prognosis. And, oddly enough, it does the trick.

The next guest wants to take photos of her in all kinds of poses as his topic is working girls. Things get hot. But, wait a minute! What’s happening to the photographer? Yet another peculiar hotel guest for the concierge!

Before you have time to breathe, there’s another eccentric. This one is all bandaged up and wants his back scratched. You can imagine how much can happen when it’s a question of scratching someone’s back!

So far, it’s been males. We heave a sigh of relief as the next to occupy the suite is a lady. She has to prepare for a cookery show. But this TV expert turns out to be a zero in the cuisine department. Our concierge has to pitch in while the star chef sips wine. Is it a case of two many cooks spoiling the broth?

The tasty interlude is followed by a nostalgic turn. The new guest had booked into the suite long ago with a partner. He might die soon. Now, he wants our concierge to play the role of his long-gone partner.

One after the other, we’re entertained by the antics of whacky hotel guests and the outrageous strategies of our reluctant concierge.

Beautiful Hidden ShotThe Perfect Concierge, as the show also appears to be called, is a 2011 Fuji TV drama. Our concierge does not know that there are hidden cameras in the suite! And, of course, she does not know that we’re watching too.

Writer and director Koki Mitani uses the same cast in another hotel drama, The Uchoten Hotel.

Do watch the drama – it’s a story you’ll enjoy over and over. Here’s wishing that this type of drama begins to appear on Indian screens instead of Hollywood nonsense.

Crazy for Kokoro ga Pokitto ne

I was pretty crazy for Japanese doramas up until recently and have strayed only because I managed to find treasure from other regions. Among Japanese dramas, I have a set of favourites. But I’ll admit that I’m quite crazy about Crazy for Me or Kokoro ga Pokitto ne, as it’s called in Japanese.

It’s always hard to find good trailers for Japanese television dramas and then there’s the problem of subtitles. But if you already know how charming Japanese dramas can be, you’ll hunt this one out.

This Tokyo story finds forty year old Kojima Haruta when he’s hit rock bottom. He’s lost his job and family and has nowhere to live. Haruta meets Otake Shin who owns an antique furniture shop. Otake ‘adopts’ Haruta as furniture repairman . Haruta is deeply moved.

Sadao Abe as Haruta rocks and it’s no wonder. He has a good track record for being entertaining:

But he meets 26 year old Hayama Miyako who habitually falls in love … And a love merry-go-round begins!

If I remember right, Haruta’s wife comes back into the picture along the way and it becomes a delightful mess as almost everyone cannot help loving the owner of the furniture shop. Naohito Fujiki is like god!

Watch him sparkle in the trailer below:

In the middle of this muddle manifests a psychiatrist whose clinic is up a little hill. He is just too delightful to watch! The madness grows as does the fun you have watching.

In these gloomy times, this is a precious series. And Japanese dramas are easy to binge watch as they are rarely more than eight episodes.

King of the Belgians – gentle and gracious

What happens when a modern monarch, far from home, finds that his country is in revolt? The premise is gripping enough and, without bloodshed or any violence, the film draws you through with royal elegance.

King of the Belgians is made mockumentary style. I once thought The Blair Witch Project was brilliant in its attempt at making us feel the events were real. The technique here, however, makes for pleasurable reality.

My father once told me that the moral of the Ramayana was how to be a king without a kingdom. It is the gentle grace of manner that makes a person a monarch. Not the money or the title.

Belgium has a history that is not very good. And Belgian kings have been known to be brutal as colonial usurpers. Yet to go on propagating one view can make history repeat itself.

India has an endless list of violent films where cops are corrupt and so are many others. Perhaps that is why our reality continues to reflect the movies. I do not know if research proves that depictions affect how we are and who we choose to be but just think of Indian policemen, for example. Do they have any role model in cinema?

So King of the Belgians could perhaps provide a role for Belgian aristocracy or even for any ruler anywhere. In any case, a good ruler should soon tire of sycophancy and mingle with the masses to learn of their problems if they desire to govern well.

A retinue of armed bodyguards and a habit of public appearances only as a glamourous show can do little to lift the burdens of citizens. But as long as commercial interests ensure that we all adore showmanship and flinch from anything else, we shall have the masters we deserve.

In the meantime, it was nice to see an ideal ruler.

Belgium has a bad rap in Western Europe for violence and our average view of the land is via Jean Claude Van Damme.

Jean-Claude Van Damme / HARD TARGET (1993)
Jean-Claude Van Damme / HARD TARGET (1993), from cobravictor

The truth is that, besides delicious chocolate, the Belgians make excellent graphic novels, films and TV shows. I wish India could get to enjoy this jewel of a film.

Solar Storm: in a teacup?

As Covid-19 storms through our lives, the sun shines spotless. Recent information about solar tantrums are designed to scare us shitless. Indeed, given the havoc sun storms can cause us, some of us rejoiced as day after day passed and the face of the sun remained pristine.

Some, however, recalled major minimas of the past. When the sun is rather inactive, it’s in a minima. Past minimas have included ice ages. Reports also correlate such times with epidemics but we’re not really sure how that works. In any case, most of us are more aware of the sun’s active phases and, though we’re in a deep solar minima, news still tells us of fiersome solar storms from the past.

And there is trend to watch apocalyptic films during the pandemic. Some involve solar storms. Most of those are of the doomsday kind but I chanced on one recently that is another cup of tea altogether.

In the charming 2016 film from Italy, Storm Warning,  there is nothing terrible at all. 

Over the plot hangs the threat of a major solar storm. Fräulein – Una Fiaba d’Inverno was made in  2016 when we were in the thick of a solar maxima.  

We are in a town in northeastern Italy where most speak German and a few Italian. Regina, a gloomy and lonely woman, finds her placid life upturned by a mysterious visitor, a man who insists on staying as a guest at her hotel, which has not taken anyone in for years.

It is director Caterina Carone’s debut film and she has not made another film so far. But it’s a gem nevertheless.

I wanted to make a positive film without murders, murderers and violence, a film which just gives to its viewers confidence in their own path and desire for life. In our age, there is a so deep and dramatic lack of desire and distrust in ourselves and in the future. I think that we directors, writers, artists in general, have the responsibility to tell that a better world is possible, to inspire people’s desire to feel and make the good. Media and a certain cinema and literature don’t do this enough; there’s often a sort of pleasure in pain, while our age needs confidence.

Interview with Caterina Carone

Headhunters – Nesbø on Netflix

Headhunters is a gem of a film: classy acting, a cool cast – good cinematography overall. But the hero’s not Harry Hole, normally Nesbø’s hero in his novels.

In fact, our hero here is not a detective. Neat, almost aseptic, Roger Brown leads the good life. He seems to have it all. Or does he? And is it enough to retain the love of his life? What happens when someone is too clever for their own good?

Like a grand symphony the film flows from a calm and strong opening, gathering speed along the way to cascade into an action-packed finale. Contemporary to the core, the plot is a throwback to concepts of chivalrous love and a powerful morality tale.

Aksel Hennie delivers a performance worthy of his great track record with acting.

 Actor Aksel Hennie during production of the thriller film Pioneer

I’ve read some Jo Nesbø novels but not this one and seeing the film has sent me hunting for the book.

Oddly Endearing – Unhandy Handyman

At a time when the daily news is depressing we need an escape. Try Fuben na Benriya, as Unhandy Handyman is called in Japan. The drama is the entertaining tale of Takeyama, a young screenwriter.

The young man has stormed out of Tokyo after a tiff with a director. But the bus he’s boarded can’t go any further as everything is covered with snow. So he’s stranded in a small Hokkaido village.

Masaki Okada, who acts as Takeyama, radiates perfect innocence with his boyish looks.

Dick Thomas Johnson / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)

Finding himself unable to proceed to his destination, Takeyama wanders into a bar where a banner says ‘Welcome Jun’! Is it a case of The Return of the Prodigal Son? Who knows! But Takeyama loses his wallet and cellphone at the bar. Now he has to stay with Matsui who runs a benriya – a place that offers to do odd jobs for a fee.

The drama’s theme song: The Place Has No Name by The Straightener

In each episode Takeyama tries hard to get out of the town but each time he fails: he loses his coat, and then his backpack. Once he dyes his hair while drunk… So he stays back and helps out as handyman. Now, he’s almost part of the town!

Takeyama has blundered into an odd but loveable world full of bizarre but endearing people. The cast boasts no big stars but is studded by some of Japan’s best by-players.

Another charm of the show comes from Takeyama’s overactive mind. After all he is a screenwriter! His fertile imagination festers with scenarios and that leads to all kinds of hilarious situations.

Inconvenient Handymen, as it’s also called, has 12 half-hour episodes. Each guaranteed to make you laugh. As most of India reels under a heatwave, what can be better than watching a show that showcases Hokkaido’s winter wonderland?

Traces and Jordskott – Rooting for Women

There was a time when women-centric meant sob stories. Now, in parts of the world, we have more realistic depictions of females. I’m not sure how India fares on that scale. But women and men all over the world will enjoy Traces and Jordskott for their strong female leads.

Emma Hedges returns to her hometown, Dundee, to join as lab assistant at the  Scottish Institute of Forensic Science. Soon it’s obvious that the MOOC she’s attending has a case which sounds much like what happened to her mother. Emma’s mother was brutally murdered ages ago but the killer was never found.

The six episodes are quickly raced through as the past unravels before Emma who is a bit of a risk taker but with her head screwed on right. Unlike that of her mother’s. The moral of the story for me is that more girls ought to take up science.

Traces is a murder mystery but one with a heart. For one thing, there is much forgiveness. But more than just being about the softness of life amidst drugs and depravity, the series holds a tender tale of love.

What I loved most: The scene where Emma explains GC-MS (Gas Chromatography- Mass Spectrometry). I wish I could get the transcript for that.

While Traces from the UK tracks the life of science, Sweden’s Jordskott brings you to the brink of the unreal. Detective Eva Thörnblad returns to Silverhöjd just as Emma came home to Dundee in Traces. Where Emma seeks her mother’s killer, Eva is still searching for her daughter who disappeared almost under her eyes, seven years back.

This binge worthy series spirals through a vortex of man versus ‘monsters’. I use the word ‘man’ because, in Jordskott, it is men who want to destroy the forest out of greed. But the ‘monsters’ (as they are called by the others) are more like Marvel superheroes – good guys mostly.

‘Leave nature alone’ seems to be the underlying message but that’s not rubbed threadbare mercifully! The show will keep you rooted (pun intended).

As with Traces, the good, the bad and the ugly are all women. And, as with Traces, the very bad is male. I do agree that it is deplorable bias but one to which we can turn a blind eye given that the men in both shows are also mostly as real as they get and as nice too – Emma’s biological father in Traces is flawed but likeable. And her romantic partner is near flawless.

In Jordskott, though, even the ultimate baddie is not as inherently evil as the villain in Traces. The Nordic lands tend to a more balanced reality even when they take us into deep fantasy. Evil, after all, is mostly a momentary lapse of judgement

Unlike Traces, Jordskott has a second season – and it sounds as promising.

Try ‘Say My Name’

But where to watch? Ask for it by name. Create the demand for good cinema on your neighbourhood Amazon or Netflix accounts.

From a romp gone wrong to killers with a background in opera, Say My Name is 80 odd minutes of pure gold. Deliciously dark, this well made film is a toast to the genres it celebrates. Rom-com? Much more! The film will tie you up in knots and keep you biting your nails as a hapless couple falls prey to two very dangerous predators. Non stop action laced with gags galore.

A rip-roaring roller coaster ride

Say My Name manages to include some sweetly touching moments toward the conclusion, as well as a feel-good ending that romantic comedy fans will fully embrace. The pix should also do wonders in terms of tourism for the gorgeous Welsh island where it was filmed. The locations are so scenic, in fact, that it makes you disappointed so much of the story takes place indoors.

‘Say My Name’: Film Review

Say My Name has American actor, Lisa Brenner as centrepiece and it’s a gourmet treat to watch her act – some of these movies which might never make it to your screens have acting that’s worth its weight in gold. Some in India might remember Lisa from The Patriot:

The film also showcases the critically acclaimed and award-winning actor and screenwriter, Celyn Jones. His role in Say My Name will have you holding your sides – I refuse to descend to spoilers. See him in a film about poet Dylan Thomas:

But there’s also Nick Blood, the male half of the victim couple. He not only acts but also writes and directs. And in the film he’s not just a pretty face. From the randy word go, in Say My Name he’s cute as pudding and will have your eyes pop out their sockets as he works each inch of skin splendidly. Yes, I’m sure we’ll never get to see it here. Besides cigarettes, male behinds are a distinctive sign of good cinema. But that’s not all Blood wiggles at us.

Von Emma Marie’s Photos from England – Nick Blood, CC BY 2.0

Perhaps Say My Name won’t come to a movie hall near you and perhaps we’re still too immature and prudish to appreciate such films. And that’s sad as we are forced to stomach the brain numbing slapstick stupidity that Hollywood and Bollywood spew upon us relentlessly. It’s time we asked for more cinema from Europe for our screens.

Three Christmas Films

And Four Christmases is first on my list. It was delightful to chance upon the film and to end up watching it on Xmas night. Even for those of us who do not celebrate the festival, the prospect of four Christmases is as alluring as that of four Eids or four Diwalis. However, in this delightful rom-com of sorts, for the couple involved, it’s almost four times as painful as four visits to the dentist. But watching the duo go through the festivities at four different households turns out to be a merry experience.

The second film on my list is as short as its adorable protagonist. On the date of any religious festival whatsoever, it is only just that we consider the matter of faith. This film is a very gentle reminder of that. Far too often, religious faith becomes nothing but an occasion for some strong Us and Them moments. And faith that can live through questions is the best sort. It’s not about answers or about being convinced or unconvinced. The best sort of religious faith walks through all darknesses and emerges stronger and more loving, more gentle.

The Angel’s Share comes third on my list but is no less precious an experience. After all, it was the season to be merry! The film is a precious toast to all things divine, including good whiskey and the quality of unstrained mercy.

I can’t even give you a hint of what the fourth film was as it’s already being taken down due to protests about irreverence. Given the contemporary narrowing of minds, it’s become easy to shout ‘blasphemy’ and get away with blue murder. News is there are more than a million petitioners out for its blood and Netflix is being forced to take it off their menu. Again, sacred is as sacred does and casting stones is easy. Today, there’s rarely anything sacred in the behaviours of the religious – no real compassion, no real generosity of spirit anywhere. Perhaps such films need to be made fearlessly and the religious need to learn to smile. Else the rest of us might not be able to see the real sacred enchantment that is within all faiths.

Pylon Premieres Endeavour Season Six

 Pylon is written by Russell Lewis, the mysterious creative genius who powers the British crime drama Endeavour. Russell has written many other good shows including the delightful The Last Detective:

Russell Lewis’ detective series Endeavour is about Inspector Morse’s early days in the police force. Detective Morse was created by Colin Dexter, an Oxford academic who birthed the novels whilst on a morose holiday with grumbling children and glum weather outside.

Dexter_-_Last_Bus_to_Woodstock
By Source, Fair use
While the books might not be that much fun for some readers today, the show it bred, Inspector Morse, remains a favourite. The series was dominated by actor John Thaw.

And so well liked that it spawned first Inspector Lewis

and then, more recently, Endeavour:

Endeavour – Series V – ITV trailer from Jim Field Smith on Vimeo.

Endeavour is the first name of Inspector Morse and it is rarely brought up in the original Inspector Morse show.  Morse’s Quaker mother gave him the peculiar name.

Peculiar names is another enchanting feature of the show. Endeavour has a Chief Superintendent Bright and a Detective Constable Fancy. But it is Police Constable Strange who takes the cake for bizarre names. And he climbs the ranks faster than Endeavour to being Detective Chief Superintendent Strange in Inspector Morse.

Britain today is more egalitarian than it was then.

In the sixties – the period in which Endeavour is set – Britain’s so-called aristocracy still held sway. It was a world where the son of a cab driver might stand little chance. Yet Endeavour Morse, son of one such cabbie, acquires the necessary class. He has passed through a respectable university – Cambridge – at some point. He has classy tastes in music, favouring Wagner, and is a fastidious being. The character is well crafted by Russell and superbly interpreted by actor Shaun Evans who has managed to make us really feel that he is a younger John Thaw.

And, if that is not enough, Thaw’s daughter is also a regular in the show where she plays a seasoned journalist – almost the only friend young Morse has. The veteran actor’s wife also acts in the series.

In Pylon, recently demoted and bitter, Constable Endeavour Morse follows a missing horse across a field to a pylon where he finds a dead young girl with a flower crown. How did she die? And why has her body been so carefully arranged.

And it’s not only Morse who has been humiliated. The episode opens with Chief Superintendent Bright acting in a traffic PSA with a pelican. Such a step down!

But Detective Sergeant Strange has risen in power. He reminds Morse that they had promised to find out what happened to Detective Constable Fancy who was shot in the last episode where we learned that the gun that killed him was not among the guns found at the massacre.

Fred Thursday, another staple of the show, has also been demoted. His new boss is rude to Morse. It is a very disturbing time as the original team is scattered.

Endeavour is a show that stands out for its use of music too and this piece from the early part of the episode nicely sums up things as they stand:

Given the peculiar way the dead girl’s body was arranged, suspicion falls on mentally deranged Stanley Clemence. His father was hanged for murder. Is history repeating itself? Morse visits Stanley Clemence to find out as The Velvet Underground play What Goes on

And when the estranged Strange pops up …
 

There are other pieces of music interwoven into the episode but these few will have to do.

Pylon has its twists and turns and offers fans all the regular features. Original creator Colin Dexter used to do a cameo role when alive. Now, he graces the show as a picture. In Pylon, his photo hangs on a wall as a poster. Thursday’s family takes a backseat in this episode with only daughter Joan popping in but romance plays a low key in Pylon. Red herrings, though, another characteristic of the drama, abound. With each show, there’s a fresh director, a fresh perspective on aesthetics.

The episode is directed by Johnny Kenton. Though I can’t find anything popular, samples of his work on Vimeo amply witness his skill.

Meanwhile, here is a peek at the next episode:

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