TV Series Review: Yamada and the Seven Witches

Starring: Yamamoto Yusuke, Nishiuchi Mariya, Triendl Reina, Ide Takuya, Ono Ito, Mamiya Shotaro, Kobayashi Ryoko, Miyama Karen, Kojima Fujiko, Matsui Airi, Takuyama Hidenori, Nagae Yuuki

Genre: Romantic comedy, supernatural

Episodes: 8

Rating: 4/10

Ever since I started attending Japanese language classes, I’ve taken the initiative to watch more Japanese shows that extend beyond anime. Despite having seen a few since then, this will be the first one I’ll be touching on- simply because I suck and had next to no opportunity to write during the time. Perhaps one of these days I’ll write about the rest, because there were quite a few gems in the lot.

Anyway.

After watching so many slice of life films and tv shows, I decided I wanted to try something different. I wanted to see the Japanese’ hand on the fantasy genre. Should be interesting, right?

So, compelled by the eye-catching DVD cover and 3 for RM30 offer, I picked up “Yamada and the Seven Witches”, the live-action version of a manga series by Yoshikawa Miki.

What is it about?

The story starts with the introduction of the two main characters, Yamada Ryū (Yamamoto Yusuke) and Shiraishi Urara (Nishiuchi Mariya).

Yamada is the school delinquent. Much like a good chunk of anime/manga protagonists, Yamada is naive, blunt and as dumb as a sack of bricks. Shiraishi, on the other hand, is a quiet, smart girl who is currently being bullied by her peers.

One day, Yamada and Shiraishi accidentally trip whilst they are walking up a flight up stairs. A rough fall in which they knock into each other and inadvertently have their lips connect is where the string of events that follow begins. This is because after Yamada awakens from his fall, he realises that he’s in Shiraishi’s body, and she his.

They had swapped bodies.

What in the holy Hell?! Panic grips him and he works with her to return to his own body. Unfortunately for Yamada, however, it doesn’t just end there. He soon finds himself in a mind numbing web that involves witches, dastardly schemes and magic.

Time for the nitty gritty

If you’re the sort of person who likes watching shows with actual depth and meaning, you should probably give this one a pass.

Although “Yamada and the Seven Witches” does have its highlights, it is largely a show that runs on a senseless plot that solely depends on fanservice, with the added trait of trying to emulate the immature side of anime/manga as much as possible. It is for the latter reason that “Yamada and the Seven Witches” is rife with over the top reactions, strange logic and bizarre interactions that cannot be found in real life. The characters are, in the simplest term possible, caricatures.

So those who are unfamiliar with the nature of anime/manga will likely find this incredibly off-putting and nonsensical- although to be fair,  older fans of the genre will probably share the sentiment. The main difference is that they would understand why the material is the way it is. It is crack and honestly isn’t meant to be taken seriously.

That is not to say that this eight episode series is a total loss; as mentioned earlier, it does have its strong points.

These strong points are the cast and the light-hearted humour it is injected with. For all of “Yamada and the Seven Witches” faults, the actors and actresses have done no wrong and have simply done their job in giving a good performance. Colourful and vibrant, it is through their work that the series retains some semblance of entertainment value, thank Heavens.

So would I recommend this to anyone who wants anything remotely serious? Definitely not.

But I would recommend this to someone who doesn’t mind spending a lazy Sunday afternoon watching senseless fun and a near endless stream of fanservice.

“Yamada and the Seven Witches”? More like “Yamada and Every Man and Woman on the Planet”.

You get the picture.

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Movie Review: Let Me Eat Your Pancreas

Title: Let Me Eat Your Pancreas (Yes, the title is correct. I checked)

Japanese Title: 君の膵臓をたべたい || Kimi no Suizou wo Tabetai

Starring: Kitamura Takumi, Hamabe Minami, Oguri Shun, Kitagawa Keiko, Otomo Karen, Yamoto Yuma, Sakurada Dori, Kamiji Yusuke, Morishita Daichi

Genre: Romance

Rating: 9/10

Holy crap what is that title

If you’ve been on a lookout for a zombie movie, you’re going to be sorely disappointed with this flick from Japan. Because as funky as the title is, Let Me Eat Your Pancreas is anything but a gore fest.

Which is something I would have pinned it down as if not for the fact that I regularly lurk on the Moments page of HelloTalk. I saw people raving about how romantic/beautiful/poignant it is, so really, the thought of it being a horror flick pretty much diminished from my mind.

That doesn’t mean the same applies for everyone else, though. There was a handful of people at the cinema last night who kept staring at the screen, then at their tickets, then at the screen again in utter confusion. Of course, the words “What the heck is this movie about?” and “What movie is this?” followed suit. Like they had expected blood and violence instead of what appeared to be a serene, cherry blossom-blessed scene with young high school leads leading completely normal lives. Where were the guts and gore?

Oh, the pain.

Unfortunately for them, the most morbid thing in Let Me Eat Your Pancreas is the female lead’s joking comments about cannibalism.

So there’s no horror. What is it about then?

Set in Japan, Haruki is a high school teacher at the same school he graduated from. Despite choosing to pursue teaching due to the encouragement of someone special to him, he is laden with doubts. He has always been a loner, so really, what makes him suited to be a teacher? He has to interact with people, and that has never been his thing…

These doubts slowly begin to change when he is requested to sort out the books at the school library, which has to be closed down- for it has reached a state where it has been deemed too run down for use.

It is at this point onwards that his memories of his high school years begin to return to him with burning clarity- and with far greater frequency. Of his days spent with an ex-classmate, whom he had found out was suffering from a terminal pancreatic disease after he picked up her Illness diary at the hospital. Her name was Sakura, and there’s not a day that passes him by where he does not miss her.

What’s your take on it?

If I have to be brutally honest, even though I greatly enjoyed the movie, I wasn’t surprised by the way it turned out. It carries a lot of themes that are commonly found in Japanese stories (novels, dramas, anime, manga, etc…) and most prominently, it bears a strong resemblance to the live-action film, Your Lie in April. You know, the one starring that ball of fluff, Yamazaki Kento? That very one.

This familiarity with Japanese works is probably one of the reasons why I didn’t tear up during the film even though my friend did hahaha.

Still, though. Let Me Eat Your Pancreas is a beautiful movie that is worth watching, and dare I say, it might be a bit better than Your Lie in April? It’s tough to say, because both are brilliant works with talented leads, so I’m going to say that this particular decision of mine is made out of pure taste. Because even though I adore Kento to bits, I prefer the more focused approach that Let Me Eat Your Pancreas has on the leads’ relationship.

So yes. I definitely recommend giving this a watch. Let Me Eat Your Pancreas is hands down the, if not one of the, best romance Asian films I’ve seen to date. In fact, I still have this warm, feel-good feeling that it left me with as soon as the credits rolled last night.

It’s a lovely story about first love and I can’t help but to smile just thinking about it.

Just for fun

The title was shortened to “LET ME EAT YOU” on our movie tickets. My friend and I had a good laugh out of that!

I swear the title is a stroke of brilliance.

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Movie Review: IT

Movie Review: IT

Starring: Bill Skarsgård, Jaeden Lieberher, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Wyatt Oleff, Chosen Jacobs, Jack Dylan Grazer

Genre: Horror

Rating: 9/10

Warning: This post is NOT spoiler-free

Despite my general indifference towards the Horror genre, the moment I heard that a new adaptation of Stephen King’s famed “IT” was on the way, I couldn’t help but to sit up. As a fan of his literary works, how could I not? Till this day I look upon “Misery” as one of my favourite books of all time, psychopathy, gore and all.

So anticipation naturally mounted as months passed me by, with posters, dramatic clown sightings and a movie trailer only serving to increase it. When “IT” finally hit cinemas, I was quick to buy tickets the first chance I got.

And mind you, I was not disappointed. While my friend of 19 years squirmed in her seat even though it was already her second viewing of the film, my eyes were shining with anticipation. I had not managed to finish reading the novel like I originally planned -work reasons, of course- but I had read enough to have a good feeling about the general storyline. To think I got to watch the new adaptation so soon after picking up the book!

For those who are unaware of the plotline of the film, here is the gist of it: the small, inconspicuous town of Derry has something about it that slips under the radar for most. Something big. This thing being the chilling fact that it has the highest number of missing people cases in comparison to other towns- and by a startling mile. Even the inhabitants of Derry seem to approach this with a worrying lack of empathy, with the majority of its residents soon forgetting about such disappearances despite their mounting frequency. –And within that mass of bland, grey passivity is a young boy by the name of Ben.

A loner and a bookworm, this library-bound lad seems to be the only one who has noticed this trend at all. It is through his dusty readings that he notes these disappearances occur every 27 years, like clockwork. Such events tend to be isolated incidents as well, which serves as one of the primary reasons why no one living is around to provide any clues as to what had happened.

To delve further into the plot, the story starts with Georgie, the little brother of the protagonist. Whilst chasing the newly waxed paper boat that his older brother, Bill, had made for him, his brand new toy, carried by the flow of water from the heavy rain, falls into the drain. It is here that the unfortunate lad meets It, the being grinning from where it stands inside the drain. Calling itself Pennywise, It is disguised as a clown, for the sheer purpose of luring in its preferred prey- a tool that It utilizes to its very fullest, until it at last succeeds in coaxing poor George to draw closer.

A wash of crimson decorates the quiet Derry street, the colour soon disappearing as it slips into the drain.

Interestingly enough, if one were to step into the cinema without any IT novel knowledge whatsoever, they would find the story incredibly similar to Supernatural’s episode 2 of season 1, “Wendigo”.

The episode bears the following themes: a being that reawakens every set period of years to feast on unknowing victims before slipping into hibernation, few living to tell the tale, the creature’s habit of hoarding extra “sacks of meat” in its abode and its ability to imitate humans (at least in terms of speech).

The similarities are enough to cause one to wonder if wendigo lore had inspired King.

Or if IT had inspired Supernatural, much to Sam’s dismay.

So is it worth the watch?

Despite not being as scary as certain other horror films, “IT” is definitely one to put on your To Watch List. Masterfully created, this film is one that will have you gripping the edges of your seat while watching it- especially with it being one of those rare monster movies with a LOT of monster in it. Pennywise appears rather frequently, yet the terror it strikes into the hearts of viewers doesn’t waver an inch. As a matter of fact, the more often It appears, the more the situation escalates, to the point where you fear for the lives of the entire cast.

Who will die? Who will be the next to disappear?

Pennywise grins as you ponder this, eagerly waiting for more children to follow its psychological lure.

This heightened anxiety is propelled further by the structure of the movie, which is coloured by a thrilling story that explores the human psyche, and a stunning performance by the entire cast- most notably by the actor of the very being that everyone is afraid of.

Bill Skarsgård’s Pennywise the Clown will undoubtedly go down as one of the most memorable clowns in film history- and yes, this is the very same list with the late Heath Ledger’s Joker on it.

At the same time, however, despite “IT” being scary while watching it, it fails to maintain that feeling even after the reel ends. This might just be me, though. Some people avoid drains and whenever they can, the bathroom, a long while after watching the film.

All in all? A movie that largely stays faithful to King’s literary giant (with a few changes, of course) whilst maintaining the ability to act as a stand alone. Simply brilliant, despite the shoddy censorship.

Something I’m sure other Malaysian moviegoers were as puzzled about as I was.

I mean, how could one swear word uttered by a child be censored while for pretty much the rest of the movie, the children swore freely? Then there were the kisses… One was cut out while the other wasn’t. The poor censoring work astounds me, as do the scenes that had been cut out. So a swear word is censored, but a mad clown feasting on a severed arm and waving it around happily isn’t?

Well, then. To each their own, I suppose.

Anyway, watch “IT”.

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TV Series Review: Skip Beat!

Starring: Ivy Chen, Choi Siwon, Lee Donghae

Genre: Romance/Humour

Rating: 8/10

There are very few romance-oriented films and tv series that I can say that I’m very fond of, and even less so for -pardon this unintentionally snobbish tone- Asian ones. This is mostly due to the fact that I was brought up watching, reading and listening to English materials. That, coupled with my distaste for the romance genre, and you have a woman who lacks familiarity with Asian live-action entertainment.

There is just something off-putting about films that depict two people who declare that they’ve found The One after five minutes of knowing each other, and follow it up with a declaration of undying love barely a week later. And for what? The amount of time they spent together can hardly justify one partner giving up their (for example) life and career for a person they’ve spent a few fleeting conversations and smiles with. Is there something especially extraordinary about this person? I’d really like to know.

It’s just incredibly unrealistic to me.

So here we have Skip Beat!, the Taiwanese live-action adaptation of one of my two favourite shoujo mangas of all time. Needless to say when I saw the DVD in stores, I was torn. I wasn’t familiar with the quality of Asian dramas and I certainly didn’t want to shell out $$$ for something I might not like.

But then it was Skip Beat!.

And then there was Choi Siwon and not to mention, Lee Donghae, members of the legendary kpop group, Super Junior.

The fact that they, especially Siwon, were in it sealed the deal for me.

Memories of my highschool years flooding my mind, I snatched the DVD right up and I have absolutely no regrets about it ever since.

What’s it like?

Given that this is the Taiwanese version of Yoshiki Nakamura’s beloved Skip Beat!, there are several differences to be expected. For example, because the entire storyline is Taiwan-centric, the language spoken is Taiwanese, the Japanese names of the characters are changed to Taiwanese versions and the country this takes place in is Taiwan. You get my drift.

While this might be a deal-breaker for some -and I certainly hope not!- it isn’t for me, because the plot of Skip Beat! is something that can be recreated into many different versions and it’d still be watchable. Amazing, even. I’d happily watch an American version of Skip Beat! if they ever make one. Indian, Chinese, Korean, Indonesian, British- of course, Japanese. I’m a Skip Beat! junkie.

That, and the strong, stellar plot is just that flexible.

So onto the review.

Skip Beat! centers around the life of Gong Xi (Original: Mogami Kyoko), a 16 year old girl who soon discovers that her childhood friend and love interest, Bu Po Shang/Shang Jieyong (Original: Fuwa Sho/Fuwa Shotaro), has been using her as his maid and source of income while trying to make a name for himself as a singer in Taiwan. Furious and heartbroken, she vows to exact revenge by one day beating him in show business. That oughta do it!

But just how will she achieve this?

Turns out that this drab, plain girl has what it takes to make it in this unforgiving world, thanks to her staunch determination and unexpected talent in acting. Not that Shang’s rival, Dun He Lian (Original: Tsuruga Ren), is going to make this easy for her. What the heck is his problem?

What’s there to like? And not to?

For those who are worried, the live-action version stays extremely faithful to the original plot, save for a few very minor creative liberties. However, once you get over these liberties and aforementioned differences, you’ll find yourself enjoying the series.

For instance, I was a bit surprised that they did not change Siwon’s look to match that of Ren’s in the manga, but at the same time, I can’t help but feel he is made for the role. From his appearance, to the way he “speaks” (you’ll find out the reason for this in a bit, haha), to his behaviour, Choi Siwon is basically the living, breathing version of Tsuruga Ren Dun He Lian. His delivery as the gentlemanly Mr Lian has just the right amount of strict dignity and gentility that the character is known for.

So much that I wouldn’t trade him for any other actor to play Lian.

The same can be said about Gong Xi and Bu Po Shang (though his appearance is pretty spot on, in my opinion). In fact, Skip Beat!‘s crowning glory has to be its main actress and actors. Their chemistry and acting skills effectively brought the characters to life, and that is saying something because finding someone to act as Gong Xi can’t be easy.

Energetic and full of hatred, the cheerful, normally kind-hearted Gong Xi might be a tall order to ask of someone to portray, especially in an entirely lovable sense. Yet Ivy Chen manages this seamlessly, and certainly not without hilarity thrown into the mix! Her performance makes her more than worthy of this hefty role, and her interactions with her co-stars a delight. Her bond with Shang is tense and heartbreaking, and her ties with Lian full of humorous, and at times exasperating ups and downs.

But is there anything to dislike about the series? There are, though none of the faults are so terrible that they render it unwatchable.

The dubbing issue with Siwon, for one. When I realised that his entire dialogue was dubbed, I laughed. Goodness, there were parts where the dub did not match when he spoke. Why insist on hiring him when he can’t speak the language? Honestly, I was more amused than anything else because despite this flaw, he more than makes up for this with his acting. He remained the ever enigmatic Lian in my eyes.

Then there is the matter of the special effects. This aspect of the series is mediocre at best, and terrible at its very worst. Thankfully, Skip Beat! doesn’t take itself too seriously and therefore doesn’t fall flat on its face whenever these effects pop up.

See, these mistakes are forgivable- it’s the last one that really hurts.

This is because the series ends with a cliffhanger, with no season two in sight. That’s right.

The live-action drama remains without a conclusion, yet for all the frustration this causes when I think of it, I’m glad to have watched it all the same. This is coming many years late, but Skip Beat! deserves a watch and a second season.

Thank you, guys, for bringing my favourite glacial slow shoujo manga to life.

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