June 27, 2013

Tonan no Tsubasa (36)

I borrowed the line "hardly to be shook off" from Henry V (Henry addressing Katherine in Act 5, Scene 2):

I will tell thee in French, which I am sure will hang upon my tongue like a new-married wife about her husband's neck, hardly to be shook off.

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June 24, 2013


So I was reading Salvation of a Saint by Keigo Higashino. It's a mystery in the classic whodunit (or howdunit) style. I got to chapter nine and there was "Professor Yukawa." I stopped, looked again, and a light went on in my head.

"Oh," I said to myself, "this is Galileo!"

Galileo is a Japanese television series (Fuji TV) that's roughly a cross between Numbers and Bones, the only big difference being that the consulting detective is a physicist.

The series stars Masaharu Fukuyama as Professor Yukawa. Fukuyama made a name for himself as a pretty good pop singer.

He's a pretty good actor too. He played Sakamoto Ryoma in NHK's historical drama, Ryomaden (2010), and most recently starred in Hirokazu Koreeda's Like Father, Like Son (2013), which won the Jury Prize at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival.

The book doesn't introduce Professor Yukawa until chapter nine. In the second TV series (I didn't see the first until later), Kaoru Utsumi (Kou Shibasaki) is replaced by Misa Kishitani (Yuriko Yoshitaka), a character invented for the series.

A casting issue, no doubt, as the first and second series were made six years apart. Kaoru Utsumi only appears for about five minutes in the first episode, so I missed the connection. Professor Yukawa is far more prominent in the TV series.

(Incidentally, the first television series was broadcast in 2007 and Salvation of a Saint was published in 2008, which may explain why Detective Utsumi is listening to a Masaharu Fukuyama album on her iPod in chapter 24.)

As you can see, Fukuyama's Yukawa favors vests and tailored shirts while in the book he's often described wearing short sleeves or a T-shirt and maybe a leather jacket.

But once I made the connection, in a blink my brain automatically cross-linked all of the visual data from the television series to the book. It's a quite curious experience when that sort of thing happens in real time.

So now Masaharu Fukuyama is Professor Yukawa. He looks and talks that way, and his office is the television set. Even though they're not the same character, Yuriko Yoshitaka becomes Kaoru Utsumi because they essentially fill the same role.

Sort of the reverse thing happens if there are multiple data sources to choose from. When it comes to Sherlock Holmes, as soon as I'm done watching Robert Downey Jr. (whom I quite enjoy), Sherlock Holmes flips back to Jeremy Brett.

James Bond always reverts to Sean Connery.

Oh, and about that set. In Bones and Tokyo Broadcasting's Mr. Brain (the consulting detective is a neuroscientist), the sets are designed to look cool, not real. But Professor Yukawa's office looks like an honest-to-goodness applied physics lab.

As a bonus, now and then they do a real physics experiment or demonstration, such as racing a supercooled puck around a track.

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June 20, 2013

Tonan no Tsubasa (35)

From The Inferno by Dante (though this harpy doesn't appear to have wings):

Here the repellent harpies make their nests,
Who drove the Trojans from the Strophades
With dire announcements of the coming woe.
They have broad wings, a human neck and face,
Clawed feet and swollen, feathered bellies; they caw
Their lamentations in the eerie trees.

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June 17, 2013

The NSA and the "Machine"

On Weekend Edition Sunday (6/16/2013), Rachel Martin asked Joel Brenner, former senior counsel at the National Security Agency, what happens when the NSA "inadvertently discovers something suspicious" about an American citizen during its data mining activities.

Brenner answered that unless the information has foreign intelligence value, the analyst "forgets [he] ever saw it," the only exception being an "imminent threat to life or property," and he emphasized "a really imminent threat." Otherwise the intel is "discarded."

That is exactly the premise of Person of Interest. As Mr. Finch intones in the opening voice-over (written in 2011 by creator and producer Jonathan Nolan):

You are being watched. The government has a secret system, a machine that spies on you every hour of every day. I know because I built it. I designed the machine to detect acts of terror, but it sees everything: violent crimes involving ordinary people, people like you. Crimes the government considered irrelevant. They wouldn't act, so I decided I would.

In the real world, Mr. Finch's "Machine" would have to approach the size of the NSA's $1.5 billion, million square-foot Utah Data Center. And as it turns out, at the end of the 2012 season, we learned that the last known location of the "Machine" was on a train headed for Utah.

Though like Jane in Speaker for the Dead, it'd make more sense for the "Machine" to eventually infuse itself throughout the entire Internet, leaving its mainframe shell behind. Anybody who thinks they've found it will discover there's no longer any "there" there.

Hmm. So what does Jonathan Nolan know and when did he know it?

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June 13, 2013

Tonan no Tsubasa (34)

The expression "worthy vessel" goes back to Shushou's first encounter with Gankyuu in the prologue.

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June 10, 2013

Fixing "Granite Flats"

Continuing my ongoing rant from the last two weeks, the sad thing about Granite Flats is that the great idea at the core of the show could have been easily fixed in the scripting stage:

• Don't muddle up the plot lines. The kids want to find the UFO; Chief Sanders wants to exonerate Jenkins. Period.

 • Bring the JAG lawyer in from the start. Sure, make him young and inexperienced, but competent and eager. Learning that Sanders thinks Jenkins is innocent, he ropes in Sanders and charges ahead.

 • If the FBI guys really want to do everything on the sly, they can watch from a distance as the kids collect the pieces of the UFO for their school project. Because who would suspect a bunch of kids?

 • Make the pastor a retired army chaplain who figures out pretty quick what kind of mental state Jenkins is coming from and helps Sanders and the lawyer dig up what really happened in Korea.

 • They learn that Frank was at the scene of the motor pool explosion and have to get him detoxed from his Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test so he can remember what he saw and did.

 • Climax with a John Woo-style standoff when Chief Sanders and the FBI guys show up at the kids' clubhouse at the same time. That's when Sanders sees the scale model and everything clicks.

The story aside, I will say that Granite Flats is visually watchable. Digital cameras and editing suits have matured to the point that a competent cinematographer (Reed Smoot) can produce video indistinguishable from the standard Hollywood product.

The sets are good, the anachronisms not terribly distracting, the acting tolerable, though at times the actors communicate the opposite of what the script surely intended. But I blame that mostly on the lack of a competent and invested showrunner.

Meaning an producer with ultimate creative control of, and responsibility for, the story.

Granite Flats is the sum of bunch of parts. What makes Hollywood so good at consistently cranking out hundreds of scripted shows every season is a pool of showrunners who know how to knit the individual parts together into a cohesive narrative.

Oh, most of them I can't stand watching, but because of the substance of the stories, and less the structure of the stories themselves.

The substance was there to make Granite Flats great. Now with their first "scripted" show in the can, hopefully BYU-TV can stop patting themselves on the back long enough to realize how badly they screwed up the fundamentals of dramatic moral storytelling.

And get it right next time.

Related posts

Granite Flats
The negative aesthetic

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June 03, 2013

The negative aesthetic

As Eric Samuelsen observes in his review, Granite Flats seems

defined by what's essentially a negative aesthetic. By insisting on creating an entertainment that doesn't have certain elements, they haven't really defined what they want to do instead.

One reason Granite Flats is a period piece set in the early 1960s, we're told in the "making of" segment, is because back then there wasn't all that nasty sex and swearing. But having donned heavy-duty blinders to shield us from such social misdemeanors, they left the barn doors wide open for a herd of felonies to stampede down Main Street.

There is a wholesome story buried in Granite Flats, about inventive kids working together to solve a puzzle using science and brain power.

But instead we're shown (repeatedly) that small town America is full of drunks, jerks, bullies, and thieves, everybody lies, the FBI can steal stuff from you without a warrant, the military can't be trusted (and certainly not when it comes to criminal due process), and the CIA wants to fry your brain. Not exactly "seeing the good in the world."

Even when it comes to "traditional family values," Granite Flats turns into a weird outlier.

Police Chief John Sanders is the only principal character with a "traditional" family. Arthur's dad is dead. Wallace's mother either divorced his dad or ran off (or both). Madeline's wackadoodle parents (a 1960's version of Sheldon and Amy from Big Bang Theory) both work and let her do whatever she wants so as not to "stifle her creativity."

These two characters could have been a lot of fun, but Madeline's parents present the same moral conundrum as the incompetent JAG lawyer previously mentioned: as hard as they are to take seriously, it's more difficult to see the point of the humor. Because in-between the sit-com moments, they engage in pointedly unethical behavior.

To give him credit, the pastor only lies once. Or twice. He's just ineffectual. He isn't married either, and I'd swear that in every scene with Beth, he's two seconds away from hitting on her.

I don't doubt that, aside from Jay Leno, Clint Eastwood, Roger L. Simon and a few others, Hollywood is a hotbed of knee-jerk liberalism. But the left-leaning plots you see on the screen are, more often than not, less a reflection of political bias than the need to feed television's insatiable story machine.

Putting "traditional values" under stress and holding them up for ridicule is the quickest, easiest (and the laziest) way to generate conflict and drama.

If BYU-TV can't script eight hours of television without resorting to malevolent government conspiracies, broken families, and milquetoast religious figures, how do they expect anybody outside the reddest state in the country to do so?

When they set out to make Granite Flats, BYU-TV clearly got caught up in the effect they'd imagined it'd have, how it was going to be Touched by an Angel redux, and didn't bother to nail down the script. Busy counting their eggs before they hatched, they forgot to turn on the incubator.

That rotten smell is the result.

Related posts

Granite Flats
Fixing Granite Flats

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