Feb 102012
 

Um, yeah. So that part in my last post where I said that Jeremy Lin’s “statistics will probably come back down to earth for this one.” Guess I was wrong about that one. 38 points, 7 assists, 4 rebounds, 2 steals. Versus Kobe and the Lakers. Looks like we got a point guard here! Please don’t ruin this, Melo and Amar’e. And now, a late night flight to Minnesota for a duel with Ricky Rubio tomorrow night.

Feb 102012
 

Say what? An undrafted point guard out of Harvard suddenly starts playing like a superstar (in 3 games) for the New York Knicks? Jeremy Lin, who the Knicks picked up off the scrap heap earlier this year, is a second-year player who has previously played only garbage time minutes in the NBA. He also happens to be the first Chinese-or-Taiwanese-American, the first Ivy Leaguer in almost 10 years, and the first Harvard player in almost 60 years to play in the NBA.

The Knicks had recently sent him down to the NBA Development league to get some playing time, but after some Knicks sustained injuries he was called back up after a week (he also had a triple-double in the D-League). With the release of Chauncey Billups before the season (to facilitate the signing of Tyson Chandler), the Knicks’ point guard depth was woefully inadequate. Toney Douglas and rookie Iman Shumpert were expected to carry the PG load while waiting for Baron Davis to rehabilitate a back injury, but they have played terribly; more suited for shooting guard roles.

With the Knicks holding a woeful record, and coach Mike D’Antoni’s job on the line, the decision was made to give Jeremy Lin some more playing time. This past Saturday against the Nets, he shocked everyone by scoring a career high 25 points while dishing out 7 assists (and setting career highs in basically every other stat) and leading the Knicks to a much needed victory. On Monday versus the Jazz the Knicks were shorthanded due to the unfortunate death of Amar’e Stoudemire’s brother and a Carmelo Anthony groin injury. Lin, in his first career start, rose to the occasion again by putting up 28 points along with 8 assists in 45 minutes for another victory. On Wednesday, the once again shorthanded Knicks took to the road to face the Wizards. Lin sparked the Knicks for the third straight game (and victory) with a 23 point, 10 assist performance, punctuated by a thunderous dunk, his first in the NBA.

These out of nowhere performances from Jeremy Lin have caused New York to catch a case of Linsanity. Madison Square Garden has been filled with thunderous cheers and chants, louder than it has heard for years. His performances have been catching the attention of the basketball nation, including the attention of millions in China. In America as well, the Asian-American community is loving this Linning streak. At the Washington game there was a large and loud contingent of Asian fans, making the Wizard’s court more often sound like the Knicks’ home court. Expect this to continue happening throughout the season wherever the Knicks travel.

Admittedly, these 3 spectacular games from Jeremy Lin have come against three of the worst teams in the NBA. Today, Lin will face his toughest test so far with the Lakers coming to town. Without Amar’e and Melo again, Lin’s statistics will probably come back down to earth for this one. Even so, most of the skills that he’s shown are proof that he is a very capable NBA player, and definitely the best point guard the Knicks have right now. He is very well suited to run Mike D’Antoni’s unique offensive system (his outside shot still needs work). Just a week ago the Knicks’ roster looked like it had the worst depth in the league, and they played some of the ugliest offensive ball you could imagine. Now, players like Steve Novak and Jared Jeffries look like well-oiled cogs in a smooth Knicks offensive machine. That’s the sign of a good point guard: making the other players on the court better. And that’s what the Knicks needed more than anything.

This also happened this week:

Yes, Linsanity pushed the Giant's Super Bowl victory all the way down here.

That New York Giants team that plays American Football won some kind of special championship match. Apparently they won it 4 years ago as well in a very similar way. And if I read things correctly, this Quarter…Back(?) named Elisha Manning won something called the “Super Bowl MVP” award. He won it before, what a selfish guy! Why doesn’t he share if he’s already got one?! Anyway, it seems like this is a big deal because they threw a parade for them and everything. And now that this “Super” Bowl is over, I can finally sleep in all day on Sundays.

Feb 032012
 

In the world of Japanese television, new drama shows air on a frequent basis. Every year four separate television seasons air, so there’s a whole different lineup of shows to look forward to every 3 months. With few exceptions, most of these shows are brand new original series and are intended to last for only a single season. Thus, you will see that the biggest stars in Japan have a long resume of TV work, sometimes starring in multiple TV shows every year. This differs from how things work in America, where the biggest celebrities strive to star in big-budget films, and only use television work as a stepping stone towards a cinematic career. Starring in a dozen different TV shows that last only one season is seen as a sign of failure here, whereas in Japan it’s a sign of your popularity and evidence of a long-lasting career. One such Japanese star is Matsushima Nanako (松嶋菜々子), star of many successful dramas and movies over the last 20 years, including Great Teacher Onizuka and the original Ringu. Her latest work, Kaseifu no Mita (家政婦のミタ), may be the most successful endeavor of her career thus far, with it’s finale episode garnering the highest ratings for a dorama in over 10 years.

Here, Mita-san casually sets the record for the fastest Rubik's cube solve ever.

Asuda Keiichi (Hasegawa Hiroki, 長谷川博己) is a newly widowed father of four. His family is understandably in shambles after his wife’s death, which may or may not have something to do with the fact that Keiichi had had an affair with a coworker. With their mother gone, no one is left to take care of household duties while the family is working or at school. Keiichi decides that it would be best to hire a housemaid to take care of these affairs. Enter Mita Akari (Matsushima Nanako), the mysterious new addition to the Asuda household. Mita is excellent at her job. Every task is completed quickly and to perfection. She knows everything. If you need something, she always has it in her purse. She even cooks exactly the same as the dearly departed matron of the family. Her supernatural housekeeping abilities alone are enough to arouse suspicion as to who Mita is, but she hold even more mysteries. She is cold and emotionless, never raising her voice, never smiling. She will do anything that she’s ordered to do, if it’s in the realm of possibility. And anything means anything. When the Asudas find this out, their actions and their interactions with Mita lead to an endless barrage of revelations and turmoil,threatening to tear the family apart.

Here, Mita-san proves that you don't have to be as tall as Nate Robinson to dunk a basketball.

As Mita, Matsushima Nanako is the most likeable character in this drama, even if she has to play a role that requires her to act like a robot. Throughout the series you’re led to believe that Mita is in fact not human. Whether it be her superhuman strength, her encyclopedic intelligence, or that she closes her eyes and “recharges” instead of sleeps, you would think that this was a Japanese remake of the largely forgotten 80′s American sitcom, Small Wonder. It seems to have been a very intentional choice to make Mita seem inhuman, as the Asuda family often treats her as if she were an object to be used for their own gain. Whenever this happens, it always leads to catastrophe, as things continually get worse as the series progresses. Much like the drama The Queen’s Classroom, which was also written by Yukawa Kazuhiko, Kaseifu no Mita really piles on the misery for most of the series until things start to get better. In The Queen’s Classroom, you sympathized with and rooted for the entire Classroom when things got bad. But in Kaseifu no Mita, the misery is piled onto the Asuda family, characters that are mostly unsympathetic. When the family starts to fall apart, and when they try to use Mita as a quick-fix to their problems, it feels like they deserve the negative consequences of their petty actions. Only when they stop treating Mita like dirt do their characters start to become more likeable.

Another likeable character on the show was Aibu Saki (相武紗季, Rebound) as Yuki Urara, the sister of the deceased mother of the Asuda family. Her character is there mostly to serve as the only comic relief on the show, but also to show a personality that is the mirror opposite of Mita’s. Unlike Mita, Urara always shows her emotions on her sleeve and she is always trying to help our the Asudas. She is also pretty terrible at everything she tries to do. Despite her efforts to help, the Asudas treat Urara like dirt much in the same way that they treat Mita. If you’re treated like crap by the crappy Asuda family, it’s safe to say you’re probably a likeable character. That is unless you’re the Asuda’s horrible neighbor, Minagawa Mariko (Sato Hitomi, 佐藤仁美), the only character on the show that deserved a comeuppance more than the Asudas.

America did the "superpowered emotionless domestic robot who will do anything you say" shtick first!

That’s not to say that this series was horrible. Once the Asuda family gets over their own problems they become pretty tolerable, and the show is able to focus more on the life of Mita. That’s when Kaseifu no Mita is at its best. With the immense popularity of the show, there will definitely be discussions about a second series or special episode being made, despite the insistence by the creators that they would only make one season. Whether that happens or not remains to be seen, but it would be interesting to see them try to successfully pull it off. If you enjoyed the far superior The Queen’s Classroom (my favorite drama ever), you will find some similarities here between the main characters. While I didn’t think it was the best show ever, I thought it was worth watching just for Matsushima Nanako. A few of the other characters aren’t the most sympathetic figures, but I think it’s still enjoyable.

Jan 292012
 

Great Teacher Onizuka (GTO) is widely considered among dorama fans as one of the great Japanese Doramas of the 1990′s. It was a precursor to the many insprational teacher comedy-dorama shows that aired in the 2000′s. If you’ve seen and enjoyed shows like Gokusen and Dragon Zakura, but haven’t seen GTO yet, you will see that the original is superior to them all.

Onizuka-sensei showcases his teaching methods.

Onizuka Eikichi (Sorimachi Takashi, 反町隆史), aka Great Teacher Onizuka, is a former motorcycle gang leader with the dream of becoming a teacher. With a third-rate degree and a shady background, he hasn’t had much luck finding a school that will hire him until his friend tells him about a job opening at the Holy Forest Academy. He quickly makes a bad impression on everyone there by karate-kicking the Vice-Principal in the head. The director of the school is impressed by Onizuka’s passion and quickly hires him, of course. Unbeknownst to Onizuka-sensei, he’s been assigned to teach the problem class*, class 2-4. And aside from the school director, all the other teachers hate him and want him to get fired. One of his only allies is the beautiful Fuyutsuki Azusa (Matsushima Nanako, 松嶋菜々子, Sorimachi’s real wife), and even she is disgusted by his tactics half of the time. Now Onizuka-sensei must earn the trust of his students, one-by-one, while the odds are continually stacked against him**.

(*A problem class of Japanese students is about as problematic as a classroom filled with 24 well-mannered geniuses anywhere else in the world. Aside from the occasional attempts at seducing and/or blackmailing the teacher, nude photoshopping, prostitution, and raping.)

(**Replace a few names and places and that synopsis is identical to the plotline of Gokusen)

That's one way to welcome your new teacher to the school.

There are a few reasons that Great Teacher Onizuka is considered the classic that it is. First and foremost is the great performance of Sorimachi Takashi as Onizuka. Seriously, this guy is the coolest virginal, delinquent ex-gang member, wise, funny, inspirational, perverted character I’ve seen on TV. He may not be up there in the pantheon of the greatest TV guys ever like Agent Dale Cooper, Ron Swanson, Omar, Walter White, and Number 6, but he’s close. And none of those guys have a special condom that they’ve been saving for years until they meet the right woman.

Yes, this is gonna be cheesy, but they ARE too cool for school.

Speaking of the right woman, Matsushima Nanako is also great as Fuyutsuki-sensei, and she has a real natural chemistry with Sorimachi that shines through in their scenes together. She’s also gosh darn beautiful, and it was good to see that she could express some human emotions after watching her (required) robotic performance in Kaseifu no Mita. Also, the show is funny. Raunchy funny. While similar shows such as Gokusen*** take place in saccharine fantasy versions of the world, GTO exists in a more humorous and perverted world that perfectly matches the personality of the title character. It seems like every time that you see a TV or computer screen in the show there’s a porno video playing or a naked woman on the screen. Some might think that’s disturbing for a show about a, inspirational teacher and his students, but it’s all part of the silly mood of the show. Compared to the other teachers at the school****, he’s a saint.

(***Even though every episode and season of Gokusen plays out in the same way in the same dream world, I still love it.)

(****The other teachers are some of the shittiest people you can find. When they’re not busy being bad teachers, they’re beating up their students, trying to rape other teachers, and seducing their students. I hope actual teachers in Japan are better than that! Although they sound just like the NYC teachers I read about in the newspaper every day…)

Um, yeah. I don't think you want this guy to be teaching you math.

There’s also Special Episode of the show after the season ends, as well as a follow-up movie. They’re pretty much more of the same, but with Onizuka solving the problems of students and teachers alike at new schools. I recommend those as well once you’re done with the main series.

So, yeah, if you want to watch something funny, raunchy, and not politically correct at all, then give Great Teacher Onizuka a try. There’s a reason that so many shows have tried to imitate it over the last decade-plus. As good as they may (or may not) be, they haven’t been able to capture the complete package of comedy, drama, and inspiration as well as GTO did. I’ll leave you with Sorimachi’s delightfully cheesy GTO theme song, Poison. Enjoy.

Jan 242012
 

Tokyo Jihen made their last appearance on popular Japanese television show Music Station this past Friday evening. Their final mini-album “color bars” was recently released on the 18th of this month. The 5-track EP features one song written by each member of the band.

Here’s their performance, a medley of their final single “Konya wa Karasawagi (Much Ado About Nothing Tonight)” and their first-ever single “Gunjou Biyori (Ultramarine Weather)”. “Konya wa Kawasawagi” is the track off the new album written by lead vocalist Shiina Ringo.

Tokyo Jihen Fun Fact of the Day: Did you know that Tokyo Jihen’s bassist, Kameda Seiji (亀田誠治), was born in New York City?