Clue: The Movie

Following in the vein of the absurd from last week, I’d like to share my favorite movie with you. On the surface, it looks like any other murder mystery, but if you actually sit down to watch it, you discover that it’s much more of a farce, and perhaps a bit of a character study.

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I’m talking about Clue. Based on the board game by the same name (or Cluedo, for my lovely readers who live outside the United States), it’s set in a mansion in rural northeastern US, in the 1950’s. The first person the audience sees is the butler, Wadsworth, played by Tim Curry. He greets the cook and the maid, and then the dinner guests begin to arrive, eventually followed by Mr Boddy only after they’ve migrated from the library to the dining room. Mr Boddy appears to be the host, and if he does in fact know what’s going on, he’s not sharing that information. It is of course after he presents the six weapons, that things start to get complicated.

Conceptually, this movie has a surprisingly similar feel to the game experience (minus the travel time from room to room). All of the rooms on the ground floor are present with their respective secret passages, and they also added a basement, and upper floors by way of bedrooms and attic, and much of the time is spent trying to figure out who killed Mr Boddy. They took some liberties with the characters in order to round out the number of suspects and victims, but it probably wouldn’t have worked otherwise. For instance, in the game, Mrs White was the maid, but in the movie they were two separate people.

When Clue had its run in theaters, it had three different endings, each assigning blame to a different suspect. Unfortunately that tactic wasn’t very well received, and it ended up getting bad reviews as a result. We’re lucky now, though, because the version released for home viewing includes all three, the DVD actually giving the audience the choice of watching all three, or having the program choose one at random (I’ve never watched it with only one ending). Not only do I emphatically recommend seeing this film, if for no other reason than its comedic value and outstanding cast, I suggest you have as many showings as you have patience for. It’s one of those movies that’s so tightly wound on itself, that it’s easy to miss little things like the sound effect when Mrs White snaps Colonel Mustard’s suspenders. You may even find yourself wanting to try to find the evidence to support each ending!

Rating: 5th Gear

[If you have a topic you’d like me to cover in a future article, please don’t hesitate to email me at Sara at otdt.net.]

Delicious Gakuin

Every once in a while, we have to take a break from the ordinary and delve into the truly goofy side of fiction writing. This week’s article is about a series that even though I have a queue I need to plow through, I occasionally feel the tug to rewatch.

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I’m talking about Delicious Gakuin. Having aired in 2007, it tells the story of a group of three kids who get kidnapped and unknowingly enrolled in culinary school. The team of foodies is made up of Rin Takasugi, played by Hiroki Aiba (Samurai Sentai Shinkenger, Prince of Tennis musical), Matthew Perrier, played by Ryosuke Miura (Kamen Rider OOO, Rurouni Kenshin: Kyoto Inferno), and Rouma Kitasaka, played by Takahiro Nishijima (main vocalist of AAA). When they find themselves in a classroom, their first thought is to try to escape, with zero success, eventually finding a room that’s been set up as a competition arena. With rumbling stomachs and a table full of food, they’re presented with the task of preparing a dish before they’re allowed to eat. The task is actually the school’s entrance exam, and things only get more interesting from there.

Admittedly, there are a lot of things wrong with how the plot of this show is initiated – to have three people taken from the midst of their lives is messed up. That being said, if you can take it with a grain of salt and the fact that everyone on this show is a caricature (including the teachers and other students), you’ll see the charm in watching them learn what cooking is really about.

With a lot of hi-jinks, hilarity, and a healthy dose of humility, this is one that’s not to be missed.

Rating: 5th Gear

[If you have a topic you’d like me to cover in a future article, please don’t hesitate to email me at Sara at otdt.net.]

Revisiting Garo: Honoo no Kokuin

I generally try to stick to live-action series for this column, but when there’s an animated series that’s based on a tokusatsu franchise, it’s only fitting to make an exception.

This week, I’m revisiting Garo: Honoo no Kokuin. Now that the series has ended (although I think I saw something about more coming later), I feel like we have a much better picture of what Yasuko Kobayashi-sensei was trying to do.

Honoo_no_Kokuin

Right up front, I of course have to acknowledge how different animation and live-action are. There are things that can be done in one format and not the other, and vice versa. As I mentioned in the “first look”, Honoo no Kokuin started out with a much bigger cast than we’ve typically seen in previous offerings. It did get whittled down as the story progressed, but there’s no denying that it contributed to a lot of the elements that typically show up in Garo falling by the wayside until that happened. Even when they did surface, they weren’t explained very well, as if the audience would already be familiar with how things work. One thing that she did well, though, was the telling of Leon’s arc. Being the title holder of Garo for most of the series, and despite seeing other characters’ threads while they were all walking separate paths, the story truly remained primarily about him.

Secondly, the cinematography was also very different, in this case especially noticeable through the lighting filters. The live-action offerings are far more muted than can really be accomplished through this style of animation. In order to help convey Leon’s journey, they had to show audience a more vibrant environment for him to discover himself and his needs. In this comparison, the fight scenes were really the only elements that aligned with a typical Garo story – even though much of the early fights in the live-action were done with suit actors, they began to animate them on the computer after a while. Oddly, it was as jarring going from animation to animation as it was going from live-action to animation (think of something like Initial D, for a good idea of the distinction). That being said, expecting that leap actually helped bring it back into focus.

All things considered, fans of the main Garo franchise will probably not like this series much, unless they have the patience to sit through the first half. It is far more recognizable after that, but the plot depends on that first half to form a basis of understanding for how it reaches the climactic ending. People coming in to Garo through the anime will hopefully be able to grasp the various live-action series without having much of an explanation as to why things are the way they are in this world. It certainly doesn’t help that it takes place in an alternate universe.

Rating: 3rd Gear

[If you have a topic you’d like me to cover in a future article, please don’t hesitate to email me at Sara at otdt.net.]

Shuriken Sentai Ninninger and Kamen Rider Drive: Haru-yasumi Gattai Special

Last weekend, we saw the second occurrence of a special event that was started between Super Sentai and Kamen Rider last year – the “haru-yasumi gattai special” (roughly translated as “spring break combination special”), a full hour of programming featuring characters from both series, and spanning the duration of the regularly scheduled Sunday morning time slot. Interactions between the two franchises have generally been limited to movies, which are typically alternate universes to either story, and even that has only begun to happen relatively recently through the “Super Hero Taisen” movie series. Last year brought us Ressha Sentai ToQger vs Kamen Rider Gaim, as a way to break up the growing tension in Gaim and show what would happen if the two groups had any influence over each other. Among the English-speaking adult audience, it was largely viewed as disruptive and a major distraction from each series’ main story.

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Nagi, Kasumi, Takaharu, Shinnosuke, Yakumo, Fuuka, and Go

So imagine the surprise when a second iteration was announced, this time for Shuriken Sentai Ninninger and Kamen Rider Drive, specifically to serve as a tie-in to the “Super Hero Taisen Grand Prix” movie. It was entertaining to watch the very science-oriented Shinnosuke Tomari and the rest of the Special Investigation team try to wrap their heads around the mythology-focused ninjas, especially when they continually escaped incarceration. It’s also always nice to have side-by-side transformation sequences and roll calls. Unfortunately the combination didn’t entirely come off as smoothly as the train pulling into the local station last year, though. We also had a rehashing of the gag from last year when the antagonists are in a tall building and someone sees the sentai team’s giant robot go past the window, and someone else in the shot (who happens to be facing away from it) refuses to believe them. The episode-specific monster was probably the most interesting part.

We may have witnessed the creation of a new type of episode, and I’m not entirely sold on whether that’s a good thing. While it allows for some in-series alternatives, it also removes a week from both shows, causing them to be forced to tell their full arcs over a shorter period of time. It’ll be interesting to see where Toei goes with this as they continue to move forward.

[If you have a topic you’d like me to cover in a future article, please don’t hesitate to email me at Sara at otdt.net.]

Parenthood (2010)

I’d intended to touch on this week’s topic much closer to when it ended, but unfortunately I felt it was necessary to let a few other things through first. This series holds a very special place in my heart, so please excuse me in advance if you feel like I’ve gotten up onto the proverbial soap box.

Parenthood

Parenthood aired its final episode on January 29th, 2015 after a six-year run. Based very loosely on a 1989 film by the same name, it tells the story of the Braverman family living out their day-to-day lives. It had a large ensemble cast that would be too cumbersome to list here, but everyone was really good, and they worked well together through the happy moments, the sad moments, and every time in between. At the beginning of the story, the grandparents Zeek and Camille, who had been empty-nesters up until that point, found themselves housing their daughter Sarah again with her two teenage kids Amber and Drew after her marriage failed. Their son Crosby’s life was about to change drastically with the introduction of a son he didn’t know he had, along with the boy’s mother. Their son Adam and his wife Kristina were on the verge of finding out their son Max was on the Asperger’s spectrum, which would throw theirs and their daughter Haddie’s lives for a loop. It seemed for a while as if the only stable situation in the clan was their daughter Julia, with her husband Joel and their daughter Sydney. At this time I wish these great hoverboards for kids existed, it would´ve been much easier to control the little ones while checking up on the others who were playing with their crazy fast rc rank cars.

Once the wheels were set in motion, it was truly amazing that nobody fell through the cracks. Every character had part of their story told every week. Of course, it helped that it was all one big extended family, which allowed a lot of threads to overlap or run together or run at odds. With characters entering and exiting the picture at varying intervals, there was never really a dull moment, and they had the courage to touch on a lot of sensitive subjects. I admit I started watching this show as a knee-jerk reaction to the distaste I’d felt from watching “Brothers and Sisters”, but as events unfolded I realized it was well worth the effort. Where the other show was about politics and trickery in addition to family, “Parenthood” was purely and simply about communication, and it was refreshing.

Even if you’re not necessarily into watching slice-of-life dramas, I encourage you to give this one a chance. It was a relatively wholesome hour of television every week that it aired, and with such a large cast there’s bound to be someone you’ll find yourself identifying with. In fact, watch it with someone, because you’re likely to get different things out of it.

Rating: 5th gear

[If you have a topic you’d like me to cover in a future article, please don’t hesitate to email me at Sara at otdt.net.]

Tumbling

High school drama, especially of the sports and slice of life variety are incredibly common in Japanese television, of both the live action and animated varieties. Usually they tend to be aimed at a specific demographic, but hopefully this week’s topic will be able to interest everyone on some level.

tumbling

Tumbling is about rhythmic gymnastics, let’s just get that out of the way right now. But it’s also about delinquents and a little fighting, and yelling, and teamwork, and rivalry, and figuring out that there’s more to school than studying. Yusuke Yamamoto (Great Teacher Onizuka [2012], Kamen Rider Kabuto) plays Wataru Azuma, the rowdy leader of a group of troublemakers. One day his teacher tells him that because he missed so many days of school, he either needs to take extra lessons, or join a club to make up the time. Given no other options and running the risk of not graduating, he decides to try to find a club. Most of his attempts end in failure, until he discovers that the new female transfer student in his class is joining the women’s gymnastics team. He wants to catch her attention of course, so he makes an attempt at joining the men’s team. Team captain Yuta Takenaka , played by Koji Seto (Kamen Rider Kiva, Lost Days), doesn’t think he has the discipline required to be successful in a sport that demands such precision, so Wataru sets out to prove him wrong.

There are a lot of interesting dynamics going on in this series, and to be honest I wasn’t expecting the characters to be yelling at each other so much at the beginning. It does go away after a while, though, as they figure out what each team member brings to the group, and how to adapt to each other’s skills and personalities. Not only that, but Wataru is also eventually able to bring his closest associates into the group, and Yuta and the team make such strong bonds that they’re willing to help stand up for their new friends.

Of particular note is the fact that Yamamoto and Seto had previously appeared together in the drama Atashinchi no Danshi. Also, Yamamoto would later appear in Great Teacher Onizuka with Ryohei Kurosawa (aka AKIRA), who in Tumbling played the teacher Yutaka Kashiwagi. It’s always entertaining to see the shifts between characters, when a pair of actors is already familiar with each other. There was also a Tumbling stage play, with one of the members of the team from the drama reprising his character, this time as the coach of a new team.

Tumbling definitely follows a lot of the sports drama tropes, even though the sport it follows is not often given much attention (a detail to which it gives particular acknowledgment). It also hits a lot of notes with regards to breaking down social barriers, and showing how two very different people can find something in common. But the best part is that the students performed all of their own routines.

Rating; 4th Gear

[If you have a topic you’d like me to cover in a future article, please don’t hesitate to email me at Sara at otdt.net.]

A Clinic on the Sea

Every once in a while, mediaphiles come across things they decide to watch just on a whim. Usually it’s something that falls generally outside their typical viewing genre. At the beginning, they may question the decision, only to keep going anyway and eventually discover that it was entirely worth it.

This week’s subject is A Clinic on the Sea (also known as Umi no Ue no Shinryoujo), which I had specifically started watching because I saw that Shouta Matsuda (Hana Yori Dango, Liar Game) was in it, playing the desperate doctor Kouta Sezaki. I had seen him previously in Sennyuu Tantei Tokage, which is a whole other conversation, and figured this story would at least be interesting if he was in it. The female lead, nurse Mako Togami, was played by Emi Takei (Rurouni Kenshin, W no Higeki). There was also a third actor I was not expecting to see, who caught me completely off guard, and that’s Sota Fukushi (Kamen Rider Fourze, Starman – This Star’s Love), who appeared in a supporting role.

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At the beginning of the series, Doctor Kouta (because that’s what he insists on everyone calling him) has taken a job on a floating medical clinic that travels between the various small islands of an inland sea. His goal, aside from professional duty, is to find a woman who will marry him, who he can take home to meet his mother. Every time they pull up to a dock, he meets someone, and proceeds to tell the crew that he won’t be coming back to the boat, much to their collective disgust and eventual frustration. Each time, the woman has some story or another as for why they can’t be together, or he’s able to come to that conclusion on his own. As the story proceeds, though, he starts to make connections with the other doctors, nurses, and members of the boat’s crew.

Like most series of this nature, every episode very much has an “A” story which relates whatever medical event is being dealt with, and a “B” story which connects the episode to the main over-arcing thread. The ending is incredibly predictable, but it doesn’t detract from the journey.

What’s great is that every supporting role is fleshed out, and the viewer gets to see what Doctor Kouta sees because it takes place in such close quarters. Please be sure to watch the ending sequence of every episode, since most of them have unique animations that illustrate various other things about the characters that aren’t necessarily shown in the main story lines.

That all being said, your mileage will probably vary on this one, because it takes some patience to get through the first couple episodes.

Rating: 3rd Gear

[If you have a topic you’d like me to cover in a future article, please don’t hesitate to email me at Sara at otdt.net.]

A First Look at The Odd Couple (2015)

[Please note, this was written before episode 2 aired]

In this era of remakes and reversionings, it seems like it was only a matter of time before someone started looking at the old sitcoms. What better way is there to tap into nostalgia than in half-hour comedic bite size chunks, after all?

This seems like a slightly different case, though. The Odd Couple was originally based on a stage play by Neil Simon, even as it was made into a movie in 1968, a television series in 1970, and then a sequel movie in 1998 (and a couple other unsuccessful versions along the way). This new television series stars Matthew Perry (Friends, Mr Sunshine) as the generally unkempt Oscar Madison, and Thomas Lennon (Reno 911, Sean Saves the World) as the super-tidy Felix Unger.

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Right up front, this show presents a lot of opportunities that it doesn’t seem interested in banking on, especially with respect to gender identity. Oscar and Felix are recently separated from their wives (the latter being quite a bit more recent), and Felix shows up at Oscar’s apartment looking for a place to stay and a shoulder to lean on. Upon seeing the state of the living space, he immediately goes about working his magic to make it presentable. He even endeavors to cook for Oscar’s friends when they come to visit. It’s sadly at this point when the writing slides distinctly into catering to stereotypes, no pun intended. Felix’s gravitation towards tasks that in the past would have been dominated by women, along with his choice of foods to serve, cause Oscar’s friends to question Felix’s sexuality. Oscar takes steps to brush it off with the line “he [seems] like it, but he’s not”. In the multitude of productions over the years, Felix has been played with varying levels of flamboyance, so it really felt like they dropped the ball by addressing the issue with anything other than a defensive “well, why does it even matter?” The fact that it was followed up by a mention of the “token” minority member, didn’t help either. Luckily, Felix was out of the room at the time, so he may be able to salvage it in the future. It would have meant more coming from Oscar, though.

If this was just about two very different people trying to figure out how to co-habitate, that would be one thing, so I’m really hoping this isn’t a case of media taking one step forward and two steps back.

I don’t watch a lot of sitcoms because I don’t like being told when to laugh, but I think I’ll try to keep an eye on this one just to see what they end up deciding to do. According to listings, there are only seven episodes, and it says it’s completed.

 

[If you have a topic you’d like me to cover in a future article, please don’t hesitate to email me at Sara at otdt.net.]

Ressha Sentai ToQger

Twice a year, the main tokusatsu (special effects filming) franchises conclude one story, and prepare to start the next one – Kamen Rider in the fall, and Super Sentai in the winter. Last week marked the passing of the baton from Ressha Sentai ToQger to Shuriken Sentai Ninninger.

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Tokusatsu series (both riders and sentai) generally have two main themes – a physical theme and an emotional theme, in ToQger’s case these being trains and the railroad, and the power of imagination. The biggest gimmick at the outset last year was that the five team members weren’t being referred to by their colors, like previous teams had been. Each of them had a numerical designation, and once transformed, they were able to change colors among themselves. It was actually pretty entertaining, because various members were caught by surprise from it. The most prominent rule governing the ToQger world was that items worked the way characters thought they did – if they could imagine it, that made the item’s behavior reality. The various trains combined to form a giant robot because ToQ-1 though that was something they should be able to do, and he figured out how to use the mid-season power up by imagining it as well.

For those of you who are unfamiliar, most tokusatsu falls into the category of “these are stories which are designed to sell toys” (sort of like Pokemon, if that helps). With every new physical theme, there comes a whole new set of transformation devices, play weapons, figurines, and other associated items. Most people will say that a show’s success actually depends on how well these toys sell, and they’re not wrong. Frankly speaking, ToQger has some fun toys. ToQ-1 through 5 transform using a wrist brace that actual train car pieces slide into, and since there’s potential to transfer colors, the brace was programmed to remember which one you put in first. There’s even a deluxe box that comes with all five colors of trains, and they assemble to make the robot… but they also all fit into the brace (the basic box usually only comes pre-packaged with the red piece for any team you’re looking at). Also, they’re trains, for goodness sake.

That’s not to say the show isn’t also important, though. The progression of any particular story can usually be anticipated by looking at who the head writer is. The head writer for ToQger was Yasuko Kobayashi, who also wrote for Tokumei Sentai GoBusters, Kamen Rider OOO, Kamen Rider Den-O, and Samurai Sentai Shinkenger (she’s also done some work with Garo, including Honoo no Kokuin, but that’s a different article). Except for GoBusters, which was a darker story the whole way through, her work tends to start out on the light side, and then part way through start to drop some seriously heavy ideas on everyone, eventually ending on a heart-wrenching note in the finale. She did not fail to deliver this time around.

ToQger will not likely be adapted for western audiences for various reasons, not least of which being ToQ-1 transferring to pink, but I think that’s okay. GoBusters wasn’t adapted either, and when they looked at Shinkenger, they made a pretty close copy of the source story (from what I understand… sadly, I haven’t watched that version yet). We’re a few hours away from the premiere of Ninninger, so the only thing to do is keep looking forward.

This series may not necessarily be the best one to come into the franchise on, although your mileage may vary. Even if you watch something else first, I definitely recommend coming back to it.

Rating: 4th Gear

[If you have a topic you’d like me to cover in a future article, please don’t hesitate to email me at Sara at otdt.net.]

Rurouni Kenshin: Kyoto Inferno

In taking a story from manga to anime, to live action, there are bound to be changes that make it more format- and audience-friendly. As we saw a couple weeks ago, it doesn’t always come out successfully, but in the case of today’s subject, the combination of writing, acting, directing, and the rest of the crew has come together to put out a truly excellent product.

RK Kyoto Inferno

This time I’m looking at volume two of the Rurouni Kenshin film series, “Kyoto Inferno”. With Takeru Sato and Emi Takei reprising their roles as Kenshin and Kaoru, respectively, the story picks up not long after where it left off at the end of the first movie. The audience is introduced to Makoto Shishio in all his insanity, and it becomes obvious to newcomers that he’ll be the primary antagonist going forward. The movie covers the section where Kenshin is egged into going to Kyoto out of a responsibility for resolving the fact that Shishio even exists in the first place, up through the encounter on the ships in the harbor. Fans of the source material will hopefully recognize the new character brought in at the very end.

Rurouni Kenshin fans will also probably pick up on the fact that even though this second movie follows closer to the original story, it is still constrained by the changes made to it in the first one. Sanosuke’s loyalty is established, so that’s not such a big deal, but we don’t see as satisfying an explanation of the level of motivation associated with Aoshi Shinomori’s obsession with Kenshin as we’re familiar with because he wasn’t part of Kanryuu’s crew this time around. That all being said, everything fits well within the existing parameters of this modified version, and it’s a beautiful ride all over again. The only story element I was truly disappointed in was that Kenshin’s departure was so close to the beginning. I felt like we didn’t have enough of a chance to get back into the right emotional head space, to have it hit as hard as it did in the manga and anime.

This movie could exist in a vacuum if it wanted. Viewers don’t necessarily have to be familiar with the first installment or the source material to get something out of it, and that’s definitely a good thing. You will be left wanting for part three, though, and that’s a good thing too. If you have any feelings about the story, actors, setting, or any other relevant element, I highly recommend checking this one out. I know I’m eagerly waiting for the ‘end of the legend’.

Rating: 5th Gear

[If you have a topic you’d like me to cover in a future article, please don’t hesitate to email me at Sara at otdt.net.]

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