世界から猫が消えたなら (If Cats Disappeared From the World)

If Cats Disappeared from the World is based on Sekai Kara Neko ga Kieta Nara, the first published novel of film producer Genki Kawamura. Cat people will probably go berserk if they see the title but don’t worry, no cats were harmed in the making of this movie. Lead actor Sato Takeru is a big time cat lover in real life, too.

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Just three minutes into this Akira Nagai-directed film and I’m already in love with its cinematography.

Shot in Hakodate (Hokkaido, Japan), Sato Takeru plays a 30-something postman who has just found out that he has an incurable brain disease that leaves him with only a few more days to live. Frightened and devastated, he comes home to what should have been an empty room but instead, there sits his doppelganger who claims to be the devil and offers him a deal that he just can’t resist.

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With a cheeky grin, the devil breaks the news that the postman will die tomorrow. BUT! If he agrees to obliterate something from the world, one at a time, then his life will automatically be extended for another 24 hours. I laughed out loud at the parsley response. The removing-of-the-parsley-from-the-omurice scene is necessary after all. However, the choice is not up to him. The devil is after more important things. It turns out that each item that the devil wants to get rid of has a strong connection to someone who is close to the postman: his ex-girlfriend (Aoi Miyazaki) , his best friend (Gaku Hamada), his father (Eiji Okuda), and his mother (Mieko Harada).

And so the film poses the question, “Is it worth losing all these for the sake of keeping yourself alive for another day?”

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The whole narrative seems corny and gimmicky and I was worried that this is going to end up like the underwhelming Real Kanzen naru Kubinagaryu no Hi, Sato Takeru’s 2013 sci-fi movie with Ayase Haruka). Even though both movies totally defy one’s logic, Cats is nothing like Real. Director Akira Nagai successfully presented strong fantasy elements layered with metaphors through picturesque rural backdrop, intense vanishing sequences, and dramatic shots from Argentina featuring the Iguazu Falls.

It’s an exquisite film but aside from the fantastic visuals, much of the credit for the effectiveness of this kind of storytelling goes to the brilliant performance of its cast especially Sato Takeru and his adorable feline buddy!

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After Rurouni Kenshin, Sato Takeru starred in tearjerker dramas such as Tonbi and Tenno no Ryoriban; and now with If Cats Disappeared From the World, he continues to prove that he is more than just the go-to live-action hero.

If Cats Disappeared From the World is a sentimental fantasy so watch it without expectations that the events that will transpire are going to make sense since deleting the fact that movies and gadgets were ever created will certainly cause a butterfly effect in the world. The point of the film, however, is not how technology has evolved and how things would have changed once we turn back time. Rather it’s more focused on human elements that make us, the audience, reflect on how we view death and how we have been living our lives thus far. And I have to admit, I was left teary-eyed.

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푸른 바다의 전설 (The Legend of the Blue Sea Ep.1)

The Legend of the Blue Sea premiered exactly 4 years after I saw Lee Min Ho up close. Here’s one of the many pictures I took during his 11/16/2012 “Fun Meet”.

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This new drama is Lee Min Ho’s last project before enlisting for military service and it kicked off with double digit ratings, even surpassing the first episode ratings of the phenomenon that is Descendants of the Sun. This is his follow-up to his highly rated 2013 series, The Heirs.

This is Jun Ji Hyun’s first lead role on television since giving birth following My Love from the Star. The show where she starred with Kim Soo Hyun garnered even higher ratings than Heirs and gave Jun Ji Hyun her Daesang at the 2014 SBS Drama Awards. These Hallyu superstars sure know how to make a comeback!

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The Legend of the Blue Sea is a romantic fantasy drama adapted from Eou yadam, a collection of stories by Joseon scholar Yu Mong In. The story takes place in a world where mermaids exist and some fishermen caught the last of its remaining species. The mermaid (Jun Ji Hyun) was held captive by the greedy  Ma Dae Young (Sung Dong Il). Mesmerized country magistrate Kim Dam Ryung (Lee Min Ho) ordered the release of the mermaid back to the sea.

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Fast forward to modern day Seoul when Lee Min Ho, now called Heo Joon Jae, meets one client after another, in different disguises and smoothly swindles them out of their money. After hitting the jackpot with a big time heist they pulled off on the wife of Myungdong Capital’s CEO (cameo by his Heirs‘ mommy Kim Sung Ryoung), Joon Jae and his accomplices Nam Doo (Lee Hee Joon) and Tae O (Crossgene member Shin Won Ho) went their separate ways. 

Just as fate plays a huge part in most drama storylines, Joon Jae’s luxurious and peaceful vacation turned into a big mess when an unknown woman broke into his hotel. It’s the mermaid sans tail! Apparently, this beautiful half-human half-sea creature has some otherworldly strength. A few minutes of slapstick later, the police arrived to lock her up. As expected, she caused a ruckus at the station.  

Joon Jae hit it off with a flight attendant (cameo by another Heirs‘ co-star Krystal) but quickly ditched her in the middle of a romantic date upon knowing how much his hotel trespasser’s jade bracelet is worth. Little did he know that the woman who’s wearing it would eventually mean more to him than the precious green stone. 

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The first episode is a riot (in a good way!) thanks to the enchanting and hilarious performance of Jun Ji Hyun. Lee Min Ho is also doing his part and somehow doing it well as I can see that while it’s not easy to let go of his trademark bad boy chaebol aura, he’s trying to get a bit more comfortable in the comedic department this time. 

The Legend of the Blue Sea is not exactly a do-over of My Love from the Star but it does hold some of the same elements that made the alien-celebrity fantasy romcom a big hit. From the Joseon introduction to the cameos to the epilogue, those two have a somewhat similar feel since they’re penned by the same writer Park Ji Eun. 

The ending theme entitled Love Story is performed by one of South Korea’s top R&B soloists, Lyn, who also sang My Love from the Star‘s ‘My Destiny’.  Her other famous soundtrack contributions include The Moon that Embraces the Sun‘s ‘Back in Time’ and Descendants of the Sun’s ‘With You’. 

City Hunter and Master’s Sun director Jin Hyeok fully utilized the beauty of the filming locations in the island of Palau and in Spain but the leads won’t definitely get out-prettied. Lee Min Ho and Jun Ji Hyun are so visually perfect individually, more so together, that they make me feel as if I’m watching an hour-long cosmetics CF or travel infomercial. The story, however, did not leave me in awe as much as when I saw the pilot episode of W-Two Worlds and Signal. Maybe because the setup is too familiar, maybe because for now it is more Jun Ji Hyun-centric than plot-driven. It’s also in the middle of a plagiarism issue as netizens were quick to point out its similarities with the popular British show, Sherlock. Nonetheless, this is still one of the dramas that I’m looking forward to every week since Shopping King Louis and The K2 have just ended. 

쇼핑왕 루이 (Shopping King Louis Final)

Chaebol and amnesia are two of the most overused tropes in Kdramaland but to everyone’s surprise and to Seo In Guk’s fans’ delight, Shopping King Louis actually ended up being one of the most endearing shows we’ve seen this year.

Just as I’ve written on my first impressions, everything about Shopping King Louis is completely predictable including its biggest “mysteries” – the uncle being the mastermind, Bok Nam being alive, and Koboshi being Ko Bok Sil. The revelation of Louis’ encounter with Bok Nam and how the former got his amnesia were ridiculous, too. No matter how pampered Louis is, a normal person would not wait on the sidewalk for a stranger who has just robbed him. All it takes is a little common sense. He should’ve just hailed a cab and paid the driver once he arrived back home. Oh well, a drama is a drama. The succeeding events wouldn’t have happened if Louis was able to return home that night.

The important thing here is the writer knows how to utilize cliché, develop the characters, play with pop culture references, and even wisely insert subtle product placements. The use of Maxim Gold in finding the culprit is definitely an ingenious way to promote the brand compared to the cheesy, in your face, Subway sandwich scenarios in The K2.

While most dramas attempt to explore the dark side of humanity, Shopping King Louis chooses to highlight a person’s innate kindness. Even the ones who are considered as “villains” have become more of a comic relief.

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Director Lee Yang Seob once said that Seo In Guk has the perfect mix of cute and manly, and we can all see that. Kang Ji Sung proves that a chaebol doesn’t always have to be a self-absorbed prick to look charismatic. Being an adorable lost puppy works just as fine. He shops like there’s no tomorrow but he doesn’t only splurge on himself. Louis is generous and he knows how to treat people well regardless of his status as heir.

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Ko Bok Sil seems like the typical Candy heroine but her cluelessness about life in the city in the earlier part of the story is exactly what makes her relationship with Louis even more touching. To take care of someone you barely even know when you don’t even have enough money to support yourself is a sign of being brought up well. Even though she hit the jackpot for dating someone as rich as Louis, she isn’t the kind of woman who’d accept being a princess overnight. She works hard and develops her own career. Getting hired in the company may have started with Joong Won having a crush on her, Bok Sil undoubtedly earned her position at Singsing Line based on her own effort and skills. Her parents and grandma in heaven are surely proud of the woman she has become. I also like that she has gradually changed her fashion and hairstyle. Nam Ji Hyun is a great actress and I must say that while Reply 1997’s Eun ji is a tough one to beat, out of SIG’s leading ladies, Nam Ji Hyun with Seo In Guk is the best chemistry I’ve seen.

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People probably still see Yoon Sang Hyun and think, “Oska!” but at the end of this series, he managed to give Cha Joong Won a distinct style and personality that sets him apart from his famous Secret Garden character. And yes that includes the hideous bow ties. *clears throat* I was initially concerned about his growing romantic feelings for Bok Sil but I’m glad that it didn’t go into the awkward zone. (There’s nothing more awkward than when his parents walked into his room and found a naked Louis on his bed anyway. ) Chae Soo Bin’s cute cameo shows that our Daddy Long Legs is getting his own Bok Sil too.

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I thought I’d eventually hate Im Se Mi as Baek Ma Ri since the character looks like a stereotypical second lead who’s a two-faced spoiled brat insecure bitch. Eventually, we learn that she’s got a soft side. She’s a daddy’s girl who just doesn’t know exactly what kind of woman she wants to be. It meant a lot to her when Louis said that it’s ok to be herself and that she doesn’t need to feel all tired pretending to be someone fancier. It was just surprising that she’s suddenly pursuing her crush on Joong Won again when I thought she should’ve been paired with In Sung by now.

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Jo In Sung is like the Samcheonpo in this drama. He looks old enough to marry his mother but it was revealed that he’s even younger than Joong Won. Oh Dae Hwan has played several antagonistic roles in the past that there were times when I thought this guy might betray Louis for money. But sticking with the “good” as central theme of the show, Jo In Sung continued to be a proper hyung for Louis through and through.

Mr. Baek showed remorse since he wasn’t even a completely bad person to begin with. He isn’t evil. He’s just a weak person who makes really bad choices. It was a mistake to prioritize work over family that’s why he felt it was unfair that Ji Sung is inheriting the company despite all the hard work he has done over the years. It doesn’t justify his plans to harm Louis but at least he admits that he gave in to his greed and he is willing to pay the price in jail.

The rest of the characters were initially like caricatures but have turned into some sort of real people that we have grown to care about: Louis and Bok Sil’s doting grandmas, loyal butler Kim, badass secretary Jung Ran, sassy Geum Ja ahjumma, herbal fanatic Vivian and her sweet husband Mr. Cha, classy Audrey, Detective Heartthrob, troublemaking Bok Nam, and the employees at Goldline especially the funny, instinctive and 5-star worthy Manager Lee.

Filler episodes dragged the story out but is entertaining to watch nonetheless. I don’t think the whole childhood meeting was meant to force the fate cliché since Louis and Bok Sil’s innocent and heart fluttering relationship was established based on their strong mutual trust and affection for each other. It was more of a realistic proof that the kindness you have given others will definitely come back tenfold. Little Bok Sil’s simple act of generosity in giving up her limited edition music box returned in the form of a priceless memory of the parents she barely remembers.

Saying goodbye to the characters of this show feels like sending off good friends that we’ve known for a while. We won’t get to see how they’d live from here on but we’re thankful that they have been a part of our lives. I had tears in my eyes when the drama ended. Shopping King Louis is exactly how a romcom should be. In Louis’ words,”Perfect!”

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地味にスゴイ! 校閲ガール・河野悦子 ( Jimi ni Sugoi Ep.1-2)

My favorite Japanese romcom actress is back as the beautiful, fashion-forward, and plucky lead in Jimi Ni Sugoi. The drama title literally translates to “Simple Is Great!: Copy Editing Girl Etsuko Kono”. Also known as Pretty Proofreader, the story is based on the novel Koetsu Garu by Ayako Miyagi.

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For her first starring drama on NTV, Ishihara Satomi plays Etsuko Kono, an enthusiastic applicant whose only goal is to become a fashion editor for the magazine Lassy. When she finally gets into the publishing company of her dream, it turns out it isn’t exactly in the department she was hoping for. To her disappointment, she ends up in the small and least glamorous proofreading section instead.

To be able to question accuracy and mark up errors, a proofreader’s understanding and proficiency in language is very much needed. EtImage result for 地味 に すごい ドラマsuko didn’t initially meet the requirements since she tends to misread some Kanji characters but chief Naoto Takehara (played by Goro Kishitani) thinks she is right for the job when he notices Etsuko’s sharp attention to details during the panel interview. Besides, her name Ko(no) Etsu(ko) is the Japanese word for proofreading so the chief noted that she might have been destined to do this after all. Etsuko is quite reluctant to accept the offer since she doesn’t even read books (she only reads fashion magazines) but she is convinced that this could just become her stepping stone. She vows to work hard and hopefully get transferred to the department of her choice as soon as possible.

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With her trendy work outfits and loquacious personality, Etsuko totally stands out in the quiet and boring proofreaders’ office. She also tends to get carried away and goes beyond the scope of her job as a proofreader. She tries to meet the authors in person, goes into the stories’ actual locations, and even reenacts certain scenarios just to verify facts. Her habits often cause arguments with editor Hachiro Kaizuka. Ishihara Satomi and Munetaka Aoki has some good comic chemistry, I can seriously watch them bicker all day.

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Etsuko is vocal about her crush on the university student played by Masaki Suda but this romantic angle is still pretty much one-sided at this point. I don’t think it’s going to get dragging though, because by Episode 2, the newly scouted model and genius mystery writer Yukito Orihara already knows that Etsuko is the proofreader who’s working on his manuscript. It won’t be long til he expresses his interest on her too but complications will soon arise when she discovers that the guy is currently temporarily living together (just out of sheer convenience and practicality) with Toyoko Morio. Tsubasa Honda plays Morio, Etsuko’s university junior, who scouted Yukito as a model to accomplish her duties as an editor in the same publishing company.

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In the drama, Masaki Suda is regarded as someone who is extremely handsome. He’s really cute and he does make my heart flutter but calling him “a super ikemen who makes every other guy look like a kappa” is a bit of a stretch. Save that superlative for someone like KimuTaku, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Odagiri Joe, or even Yamapi.

Jimi ni Sugoi is a well-paced feel-good series. I’ve only seen two episodes but I have already witnessed the changes in Etsuko’s character. While her dedication to the job is certainly commendable, her disregard of rules and other’s feelings also lead into some trouble for the team. However, despite her persistence and stubborness, she knows how to own up to her mistakes and apologize to the people she has hurt. In the beginning, she surely looked down on the job and the plainness of the people she’s working with but she’s continuously learning a thing or two about the importance of proofreading in the process of book publishing.

I also think proofreading is troublesome so I don’t usually reread my work after writing them. I thought that’s what proofreaders are for anyway, but I learned my lesson after writing the English subtitles for an independent short film and submitting it without proofreading. To my surprise, it entered the competition and was included as a finalist at a popular indie festival. The short film, with the subtitles I wrote, was shown on the big screen of our country’s national center for the performing arts. Later on, it was included into more film festivals and was shown once again in several theaters.

In the drama, Etsuko failed to notice the missing “C” in the subtitle of a blogger-turned-author’s book cover. In my case, I accidentally included the unnecessary article “a” in one of the lines of the main actor in the film that I worked on. It made the line look awkward. I asked my friend if she noticed my mistake in the subtitles. She didn’t, but that glaring error is haunting me til this day. So, I know exactly how Etsuko and the whole proofreading team felt during that “sticker” incident. It might be just one unnoticeable letter to others but it is definitely a big deal for the writer, editor, and proofreader. This show depicts the significance of these people behind-the-scenes who are often uncredited for their work.

Image result for 地味 に すごい ドラマI hope the show continues this balanced tone of inspiring and endearing while tackling the personal, professional, and romantic developments of its characters. I enjoy watching Ishihara Satomi in the usual genki role that totally suits her and I can already feel her chemistry with Masaki Suda. More so, I’m definitely looking forward to the next set of outfits she’d wear in the series.

ラストコップ (The Last Cop)

The Last Cop is a remake of the German television series Der letzte Bulle written by Robert Dannenberg and Stefan Scheich. This is the first drama produced by both Nippon TV (terrestrial) and Hulu Japan.

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It stars Toshiaki Karasawa as Kyogoku Kosuke, a detective who has just miraculously woken up from a 30 year coma. Originally, the story mostly hinged on him but the Japanese version turned it into more of a buddy cop series as Kyogoku-san gets paired with young genki colleague, Mochizuki Ryota played by Masataka Kubota. Another thing they altered is the duration of the main character’s time in coma. In the original one, he woke up after 17 years but the Japanese version made some adjustments to match the country’s Bubble Age from 30 years ago. There weren’t any smartphones then but it was a time when real estate and stock market prices were greatly inflated. 

It may seem complicated to have a German show remade into Japanese considering cultural differences and local audience’s preference but the formula for a buddy cop is simple: Get two contrasting personalities work together to solve a crime. Besides,this isn’t something new in Japan. The origin of this genre is said to be from Akira Kurosawa’s Stray Dog, a police procedural film noir released in 1949. Although the formula seems simple, the results may still vary. It totally depends on the actors’ chemistry as well as the intensity of their external conflicts. Unfortunately, I think The Last Cop fell short on the latter. Toshiaka Karasawa and Masataka Kubota have good chemistry but the cases that they try to solve aren’t exactly mysterious and compelling. The revelation of the main villain is similar and even more disappointing than Kaito Yamaneko’s. A betrayal only means something when it comes from a character we’ve grown to like so much. That’s not the case with the traitor in this series. Meh. ~
The Last Cop is based on a 2010 drama but the humor makes me feel like I’m watching something from the late 90s. For someone who has lived in the Showa era to suddenly wake up in Heisei as if he time traveled, a fish out of water storyline will definitely induce laughter. His jocular banter with his work partner will also be worth watching. Or so I thought. The show has all the elements of a potentially outstanding buddy cop dramedy but somehow, it fell flat due to the tacky CG, exaggerated acting and cheesy monologues. There were also some pop culture references but some of the supporting cast members fail on delivery. The serious side of the show such as Kyogoku’s complicated family was dealt with cringe worthy overacting during the awkward dinner.

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Since Kyogoku was about the same age as Ryota when he fell into a coma, he still has the immature early 20s traits underneath his middle age appearance. So I was expecting their bromance to be somehow similar to Tokyo Dogs but this feels like a bland version of Bitter Blood instead. Without the whole coma incident, Kyogoku-san and Ryota’s relationship is just like father and son, Gentle and Junior (Atsuro Watabe and Sato Takeru). But The Last Cop lacks some development on its main duo. I don’t exactly understand why Ryota trusts Kyogoku. He said he simply felt like Kyogoku is someone he wants to follow. I think it should have been the other way around. Kyogoku should’ve learned some self-control from Ryota. He has just gotten his second life back and he has just seen his family again, he really shouldn’t be doing things as recklessly as he did when he was in his 20s. Kyogoku runs around chasing Kagura on his own when he could’ve relied more on Ryota. I know he is just protecting his partner but Ryota is more capable than he looks. And unlike Bitter Blood, the other members of the Yokohama-based task force of The Last Cop don’t have any distinct personalities that make them memorable.

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Overall, The Last Cop is still an entertaining show. Its just that, its weaknesses are obvious when you’ve seen funnier cop buddy series before. The best thing about it for me is Masataka Kubota’s facial expressions. I always sound biased in favor of Kubota (because I am!) but it’s very clear how he controls his performance to make the other characters shine. He’s a cinnamon roll who makes Kyogoku look more dependable, and the way he was acting adorkable/derpy around Yui, he makes Nozomi Sasaki look even more beautiful than she already is.

Aside from Kubota’s ability to draw the audience, I think Ryota has the characteristics of an interesting protagonist. He is cute, cheerful, geeky, tech-savvy and surprisingly strong when he gets serious. See the difference between Kyogoku’s earlier CG-fied action scenes and Ryota’s action scenes in the finale. He could have easily turned this into his show if he hadn’t been holding back the entire time. I was hoping for a spin-off focusing on Ryota but NTV thinks differently as they have decided to have The Last Cop return for a second season.

In spite of my earlier gripes about the show, I’m still quite excited to see more of Kyogoku and Ryota’s antics. I hope the writers will take advantage of this time to develop the characters (especially the antagonist) and make up for whatever is lacking in its first season.