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The Golden Rock - June 8th, 2007 Edition

I rarely watch a Japanese drama that I was really sorry to see end, but Kekkon Dekinai Otoko (He Who Can’t Marry) has become one of them. It’s a relaxing and charming little show that can best be described as the Japanese version of James L. Brooks’ As Good as It Gets. Hiroshi Abe stars as Shinsuke, a talented 40-year-old architect who thrives on living the good life in solitude - steak for one, followed by a glass of milk and some loud classical music in his unusually large Tokyo apartment. He’s committed to keeping that life of solitude by being generally unkind to everyone he runs across, even his own mother. However, when his all-meat diet causes him a trip to the hospital, Shinsuke finds his life slowly becoming a John Donne meditation. Will he stop being so mean and eccentric? When will the people around up get fed up? And in a society where unmarried 40-year-old man are not seen in a very good light, will he meet his match and finally get married like everyone else?

That’s about the gist of the drama, which plays out more like an American TV show with a mostly episodic structure rather than a serial one. Each episode deals with an aspect of Shinsuke’s lifestyle being questioned (the title of each episode is “So What if I______?!”, and they are often hilarious as they are insightful. The writer also managed to craft one of the most interesting protagonists in recent Japanese drama with Shinsuke, thanks to a great performance by a deadpan Hiroshi Abe. Yui Natsukawa is also great as Natsumi, Shinsuke’s new doctor that makes up the second half of the unlikely couple. Yes, traces of the great As Good as It Gets are apparent - the cute dog (and the dog is REALLY cute), the rude protagonist, and the apartment setting. Still, the whole thing plays much more to a younger urban crowd, as well as the middle age crowd; the Tokyo cityscapes are nicely captured, and if the whole thing doesn’t make you want to live in Tokyo, I don’t know what else can.

I watched this on a Chinese-subtitled DVD bought in Hong Kong by a family member. If I’m not mistaken, an English-subtitled version was shown on Hong Kong TVB Pearl a while back, and the (sadly) unsubtitled DVD from Japan will set you back a good 200 dollars (I really wish Fuji would release their dramas with subtitles like TBS has done in Hong Kong). Still, I encourage you to seek this one out - it’s really the best Japanese drama I’ve seen in the past year.

- Looking at Hong Kong’s Thursday opening day numbers, this weekend is shaping up to be a little more balanced than the month of May. The big opening this week is Steven Soderbergh’s big heist flick Ocean’s Thirteen. On 57 screens (Spiderman 3 opened to double that number in Hong Kong!), the star-studded film made HK$930,000 on its first day (If you put it at Pirate’s ticket price inflation of 30%, that’s about HK$1.2 million). With Pirates already fading away at the opening of its third weekend (HK$440,000 on 53 screens), Ocean’s should do fairly healthy, though unspectacular business over the weekend, probably making about HK$5 million at the end of Sunday, just about on par with Ocean’s Twelve’s opening 2 and a half years ago.

If anyone cares (I sure don’t), Eddie Murphy’s Norbit opened with HK$170,000 on 16 screens. It probably won’t even make HK$1 million by the end of the weekend. Good riddance. Japanese sports comic adaptation Rough (by Nana director Kentaro Otani) opens weak with only HK20,000 on 7 screens. British film Cashback stays strong with HK$30,000 on 2 screens at the start of its second weekend with an 8-day total of HK$360,000. And the only Hong Kong film in the top 10 is Single Blog, taking in just HK$80,000 on 18 screens with the 8-day total of HK$1.84 million.

- As reported on this blog before, Naomi Kawase (director of the Cannes Grand Prix-winning The Mourning Forest) announced at Cannes that her next film will be a romantic comedy. Now more details have emerged that it’ll be shot in Thailand with Japanese drama star Kyoko Hasegawa. According to Ryuganji, just because Kawase is using a major actress for the first time doesn’t mean she’s going to be any easier on Hasegawa. She also wants to be among the ranks of Akira Kuroasawa and Nagisa Oshima as the “Japan’s Kawase” by the next generation and that she’ll win the Palme d’Or next time, though The Daily Yomiuri adds that she said it with a smile, suggesting that she might have just been half joking. Because, you know, I half-joke about winning the Palme d’Or all the time.

- The trouble is over, as Midway has now rejoined the New York Asian Film Festival as a sponsor. However, they are no longer the main sponsor, as Dragon Dynasty has taken that spot while they were gone. Maybe someone can now afford to fly me to New York to cover this as an official assignment for The Golden Rock…

- If you’re in Japan this weekend with limited Japanese ability (being able to read katakana is just fine), then your movie choice this weekend ought to be Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige. It’s a hell of a movie I wrote about back in April that’s damn well worth your time. Even the Daily Yomiuri gives it five stars.

- China is suspending the issuing of internet cafe licenses as they do a thorough investigation to make sure the customers are behaving properly, as in they’re not playing violent games, looking up porn, or speaking ill of the nation. In other words, what Americans do on the internet most of the time.

- Tartan has picked up the US rights for Kim Ki-Duk’s latest Breath, starring Cheng Chen. Meanwhile, Kim’s previous film Time will open in New York mid-July.

- In related Tartan news, they also picked up Park Chan-Wook’s I’m a Cyborg, But That’s OK and prebought Kim Ji-Woon’s The Good, The Bad, and The Weird. Since Tartan originates from the UK, no word if this means that they’ll also be releasing these films through their USA divisions as well.

- BET is sending a weekly version of their countdown show “106&Park” to MTV Japan, further signaling the growing hip-hop culture there.

- In a piece of more serious news, the erotic pages of major Hong Kong newspapers were sent to the Obscene Articles Tribunal recently for classification after some accused the TELA of having a double standard in the classification process, especially in the handling of the Chinese University of Hong Kong student newspaper case. Well, it seems like these erotic pages were classified as category I: Neither obscene nor indecent, which is baffling to me, since they are saying that kids are allowed to read erotic pages of mainstream newspapers without any warning printed on its pages.

Oh, I got it, they must’ve figured out that since Apple Daily, The Sun Daily, Oriental Daily have some of the least credibility among Hong Kong newspapers, no one would take them seriously anyway, right?

More news tomorrow.

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