I was lucky enough to be invited to be in the audience for the recording of the final episode of the TV Book Club series 3. The series has gone from strength to strength and the recording featuring Caroline Quentin, Laila Rouass and Rory McGrath was incredibly smooth and fun. You could see the presenters all enjoyed talking about the book, Alexander Maksik’s You Deserve Nothing as much as the guest did. And who was the guest? None other than Alex James of Blur. I was like a total fangirl.

I was surprised that the recording was pretty straightforward with only a few extra takes. Caroline Quentin and Rory McGrath were hilarious and swore a lot and I particularly liked how they all enjoyed each other’s company. The discussion reminded me a lot of my own book group which was also rather nice. You Deserve Nothing provoked some mixed reactions since the subject matter is rather creepy but overall it seemed that this may be an interesting reading choice.

You can also catch Simon S doing his thing on the episode for Girl Reading by Katie Ward.

They also had a lovely retro telly.

The TV Book Club set was right next to that of the Saturday Kitchen and we were all able to get up close and take lots of pictures afterwards.

The famous omelette challenge board.

It was also lovely to catch up and talk books with Jackie and Dioni who I’ve met before. You can read Jackie’s review of You Deserve Nothing here.

Unfortunately we didn’t get to speak to the presenters as they all disappeared quite quickly but the lovely people at Cactus Studios and MEC who organised for us bloggers to be there made sure our glasses were filled and we had plenty of food and sent us off with a generous bag of signed books.

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I finally managed to watch the TV adaptation of Terry Pratchett’s Going Postal which was shown over the bank holiday weekend. I tried not to read too many reviews as I didn’t want to spoil my fun, but good reviews kept trickling in, and although I was planning to wait until the DVD was released, I’m lucky enough to have a sister who doesn’t mind me hogging her Sky.

Going Postal is the tale of conman and ex-convict Moist von Lipwig as he is snatched from the jaws of death by Ankh-Morpork’s Patrician, Lord Vetinari, who gives him two choices: death or revive the Post Office. Moist reluctantly takes up the position of Post Master but soon hits on the idea that if he is successful, he could buy his freedom. Add to this a junior postman who is older than his granddad, the unexplained deaths of all the previous Post Masters and the beautiful, no-nonsense Adora Belle Dearheart, Moist finds himself in an adventure that will change his life as well as those around him. And we get to re-connect with some of our friends at the City Watch too.

As you may know, I wasn’t that impressed with the TV adaptation of Hogfather (although I was excited about it being made into a live-action film, Hogfather is one of my favourite Pratchett novels so naturally I would be critical) but was impressed with their second offering, The Colour of Magic. But Going Postal was so much better. The script was well written, the acting superb (in particular Richard Coyle as Moist, Claire Foyle as Adora and David Suchet as the deliciously evil Gilt) and the general feel was more mainstream than niche but with all the details that would make any Pratchett fan chuckle to themself. Even my sister who ‘doesn’t do elves and fairies’ exclaimed that ‘it was actually pretty good’ even though she fell asleep near the beginning (but she had a tough week and she’s a mum). I’m just excited to see what they will produce next.

Naturally I would urge you to read the book first. It will boost your enjoyment of the adaptation a thousandfold.

I watched this as part of the Terry Pratchett 2010 Challenge.

will be screening on Sky this May. Yippee! You can watch the trailer here (thanks to The Wertzone for the alert).

Going Postal will be a welcome addition to the TV adaptations of Pratchett’s Discworld novels. I loved The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic and thought David Jason as Rincewind was brilliant. I found The Hogfather to be a little boring even though it’s one of my favourite Discworld novels (if it has Death and his granddaughter Susan, I’m sold). So I’m a little anxious about this one, but am nevertheless waiting for it with bated breath. Which means I must re-read the book again.

Currently I’m two thirds of the way through Danielle Trussoni’s Angelology (am still loving it) and have also started Philip Pullman’s The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ as I’m going to see him at the Southbank Centre on Monday. Can’t wait!

And elsewhere in the bookworld, the gorgeous China Miéville has won the British Science Fiction Association award for best novel for The City and the City (I must read it this year) and his new novel Kraken looks fascinating.

Haikei, Chichiue-sama starrs Ninomiya Kazunari (of Arashi and Clint Eastwood’s Letters from Iwo Jima) and is a gentle drama about a traditional ryotei (Japanese restaurant serving kaiseki or traditional Japanese cuisine) in Kagurazaka, a part of Tokyo that retains its old-world roots, traditional restaurants and geisha houses. It is often called hana no machi or flower town (pleasure quarter) where there is an abundance of bars and drinking spots run by retired geishas.

Ninomiya’s character Ippei is a young itamae (traditional Japanese chef) who has been apprenticed to Ryu-san, a legendary itamae at the ryotei Sakashita, for seven years. Sakashita is run by Ritsuko who has taken over the reins from her mother Yumeko, a forma geisha.

The drama begins when Yumeko’s danna (common-law husband and Ritsuko’s father), the main figure behind Sakashita and a powerful minister, collapses and is taken to hospital. With his demise, the real estate developers who have had their eyes on the old and venerated property move to buy the restaurant’s land, and Sakashita’s world is turned upside down as it is forced into the 21st century. Ritsuko who has been trying hard to keep Sakashita afloat is torn between staying true to her mother’s dreams of keeping the restaurant as it is and fighting to save the restaurant in whatever necessary form.

I was particularly touched by the scenes in which Yumeko has to deal with her danna’s death. As a mistress, she and her family are unable to officially attend his wake and can only watch the proceedings from a respectable distance. Yet after the funeral, she receives a visit from his wife to thank and acknowledge her role in the life of the man they both loved. In a society where everyone’s role is specific, respected and acknowledged, it was a very poignant moment, although it is a situation which I would find difficult to accept or understand. Yet I somehow felt deeply touched by it.

While this is happening, Ippei’s new assistant Tokio arrives straight out of juvie but willing to learn. He also has to deal with his mother Yukino, a former geisha who runs a nearby bar.

Haikei, Chichiue-sama (loosely translated as Dear Father) is how Ippei always ends the narration of each episode, as imaginary letters to a father he has never met. It’s a wonderful drama series and harks back to a bygone era where a man’s worth was measured by his dedication to his chosen path, the integrity of his intentions and his loyalty to the people around him. We follow Ippei as he stumbles through the uncertain future of Sakashita, falls in love with a girl who will only converse in French (Kagurazaka is a Francophone town) and his search for his father whom his mother refuses to name. It’s a glimpse into the watery world of Japanese entertainment and pleasure, and the silent and sometimes harsh rules binding the people who live in that society.

I really enjoyed this series and there were several episodes which made me cry. It’s a heart-warming story of a Japan that is slowly slipping away.

J-drama: Gokusen

9 November, 2009

Gokusen 1

I had my whole weekend cleared so that I could concentrate and catch up on my embarrassingly low word count for my Nano novel for Nanowrimo and what did I do? I spent most of my waking moments watching some fine Japanese tv drama, more popularly known as J-drama or J-dorama, on my favourite website Kimamaniyoutube. I’ve only realised the site is in Japanese, but the drama has English subtitles.

This time I got hooked on Gokusen, a tv drama adaptation of the manga by Morimoto Kozueko. The beauty about the internet (and DVDs) is that you don’t have to wait a week for your next fix, you can watch it straight away. The downside is that eight hours can pass and you don’t notice. The shock, the horror, the shame… Of course I told everyone that I was busy writing…but still, eight hours?? And what was even more scary was I ended up with a serious crush on an 18 year old high school tearaway, waaaay too young for me. I love you, Matsumoto Jun!

Matsumoto Jun

Anyway, this is making me sound like a crazy person, but J-dramas are very big business in Japan and Asia. My sister and I were obsessed with them when we were living in Japan and would sit in front of the tv come rain or shine once a week waiting with bated breath for the next episode of the drama we were then watching. When we left Japan, we would treasure the videos my mum and friends would make like the precious gems they were and watch them again and again, crying, laughing and discussing them all throughout the holidays.

Now, I watch them with a sense of nostalgia. I can smell the chill crisp of autumn, the hazy heat of summer, the delicious steam of a proper ramen, and it brings back memories of growing up in Japan. What can I say, I am seriously missing Japan!

Gokusen follows the trials, tribulations, tears and laughter of Yamaguchi Kumiko aka Yankumi, a rookie teacher who is put in charge of final year class 3-D of Horikin High School. The students in 3-D are the worst delinquents in the school: rough, violent and troubled. What they, and the rest of the teachers, don’t know is that Yankumi is no ordinary teacher. She lost her parents when she was seven and was taken to live with her grandfather, the head of the Oeda yakuza clan, and is the fourth generation heir to the family business, although she has decided to leave the path of the yakuza to pursue a career in teaching, a decision which leaves some of her clan members unhappy. Naturally she needs to keep her family connections a secret or she’d lose her job. We follow Yankumi as she gains the trust of her students, slowly bringing them out of their shells and teaches them the value of friendship, family and the difference between fighting for something you value and violence. Her aim is to get them to graduate together. Will she do it? And will they let her?

The casting in Gokusen is inspired. Nakama Yukie as Yankumi is seriously funny and touching at the same time, her trademark tracksuit and glasses covering her ethereal beauty. Her students are a group of misfits who are blamed for everything that goes wrong in and out of school and she is the only who believes in them, and their acting is superb. But my favourite scenes were those of Yankumi’s home life where she is the treasured daughter of the house. The way she scares all the big, strong yakuza men is hysterical.

Gokusen is short for gokudo no sensei or yakuza teacher, and Yankumi’s name, Yamaguchi Kumiko is a nod to the Yamaguchi Gumi (Kumi means clan), the largest underworld clan in Japan.

As you can probably tell, I loved this series which had me in stitches and in tears. If you have a chance to watch it, please do! Of course, I have a soft spot for Japanese high school delinquents, such as in the movie Crows Zero, but Gokusen is not that violent and focuses more on change and the important things in life such as family and friends, rather than becoming the strongest dude in the school.