Archive for December, 2009

Majo Saiban – A witch trial filled with twists and turns.

I started watching this drama because I’m a fan of Ikuta Toma, he’s not one of my major J idol loves but I enjoyed him so much in Hana Kimi that I thought I would check out some of his other dramas. Also the fact that this drama was called the Witch Trial drew me in as I love my supernatural television. What I found was a different drama to what I had expected. Think Runaway Jury but Japanese. This drama focuses on a new system for judging criminals that was introduced this year in Japan. This is the first drama to tackle the issue of Japan’s new “Saiban-in” (lay judge) system. The series started about a month before the actual jury system went into effect. In trial you have the three main judges that preside over the trial in court but to help them make the final choice of “guilty” or “not guilty” 6 lay judges and 2 reserves are brought in to help make the final decision. The lay judges sit in the court much like our jury system and based on the evidence in the trial must cast a vote, the votes are counted up and the winning number of votes by lay judges and main judges will decide the final verdict. The lay judges like our jury are people picked at random from our society and must vote based on what they have heard in court not their personal opinions or opinions clouded by what the public and media are saying.

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This Drama is about a certain high profile case about a women who has killed her husband, because she was younger than him most seem to think it’s a simple case of trying to get the inheritance but the pieces are not fitting together well and because of her demeanour and strange events surrounding the case she has been dubbed “The Witch” and thus this case is known as The Witch Trial. Here enters our lay judges one of which is played by Ikuta Toma, Touru. He doesn’t really care about social issues see’s this as a bit of fun maybe some publicity for him and his t-shirt range “think twice” (by the end of the series you’ll also want one of his Think Twice T-shirts).

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But this soon all changes as it becomes apparent there is more to the trial and things are going on in the background. The truth of the matter is someone is trying to fix the trial and that each of the lay judges in turn is getting threatened to make sure their vote is the same as the mysterious Kurokawa’s. Kurokawa is using every underhanded tactic to bully, threaten and manipulate the lay judges to do what he says and vote what he says they should vote (Kurokawa also happens to look really cool and has a lot of style one of those bad guys you just love). Our hero of the piece Touru discovers this and tries his best to help his fellow judges stand up to the black mail and get an honest vote. All is not helped by the fact that the Witch herself may be also manipulating things; she is very good with words and reading people and is playing a more psychological battle.

This series is one that has as many twists and turns as a roller coaster really. Characters change their votes and alliances each episode you never know who is working for who and right to the end you are not sure of the final outcome. I was so certain at one point but by the end there was only one character who could tell me if she was guilty or not. I do enjoy a good thriller after expecting a supernatural drama I was a little disappointed but soon got caught up in the drama of this cat and mouse who did it story. The characters all have their failings, which is why they can be manipulated, but they also have reasons to be praised. You never really know who has the upper hand and who is really in control you have to watch to find out the truth. The characters get so twisted you don’t have time to feel relief for them because someone behind the scene is ready for the next game and when things look up they soon crash down. I enjoyed this series because it was different to many things I’ve seen before as well as being relevant to contemporary social issues in Japan such as their changed court procedure. It’s interesting to see how characters crack under their own pressure, how easily manipulated people can be and how people can hold on to what they truly believe. It’s an interesting journey to see how people react and what people find most important. I loved the fact that through this drama you ask whether the name comes from the fact the woman on trial is manipulating people, are they under her so called spell or is it called a witch trial because she is being used as a scapegoat, if she gets burned it means someone else gets away with murder. After all the true meaning behind the Salem witch trials was to sacrifice women thought of as witches to keep everyone thinking they were safe and cared for, the authorities had to look like they were doing their job and tackling the issues. So its up to you really to see what you think of the trial and who is in control.

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Ekachai Uekrongtham’s Beautiful Boxer – The many dualities in one mans life

Beautiful boxer is the true story of Nong Toom a woman who was born male and entered one of the most masculine of sports to save the money to have a sex change. The sport was Muay Thai the Thai art of kick boxing a powerful, brutal and beautiful form of martial arts. Nong Toom was born a boy to a poor family but soon realized that his fascination with all thing feminine ran deeper and desperately desired to be a woman on the outside as well as the inside. Beautiful boxer details his life story from a child training to be a monk, to a young adolescent that in order to earn money to support his family discovers the easiest way to earn money is in a boxing ring, through the difficulties of being a woman trapped in a mans body trying to survive in a very male dominated sport, to being Thailand’s 1st transvestite boxer and to finally having his dreams come true and step outside into the world as a woman.

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The most interesting aspect of the film Beautiful Boxer is its duality. The character of Nong Toom sets out and masters one of the most masculine sports in order to be ultimately more feminine. Nong Toom is a woman born in a man’s body that has great masculinity but also manages to have his goals realized when he has his sex change. At one point existing as Thailand’s first transvestite boxer he has to deal with the conflicts of both his body and mind.

When Nong Toom enters a ring he doesn’t enter as a man, he has the strength, skill and physical form of a male boxer but underneath it he never denies his femininity. He choose Muay Thai as it was the only option to raise money for his poor family and as he grew in strength, determination and skill he realized just how much money could be made in this sport. Willing to put his body through the training he soon had earned enough for his parents and realized that he could also save up and get the sex change he wanted so bad. Not afraid of what others thought he explored his femininity both in and out of the ring. Having the body of a man he strengthens himself to the peak of physical ability using his male strength to achieve his goals.

But as he gets closer to his dream he begins to sacrifice his male body. At first he only wears make up in the ring but as he earns more money he begins to explore his more feminine side, wishing to look more and more like a women. He wears a top in the ring to hide his chest and refuses to strip naked at his weigh ins. He begins to take hormones reducing his strength and increasing his femininity. At one point caught between the two worlds of a professional Muay Thai fighter and a gentle woman. As his physical strength decreases his emotional strength increases. He is clear of his goals and makes the necessary sacrifices to achieve them, his resolve is set and when he has become far too feminine to fight as a male boxer (women are not allowed in the boxing ring in Thailand), and he travels to Japan to take part in a fight with a female Japanese wrestler. As much as he needed his male physicality it was only to achieve his final goal and become a women ultimately choosing femininity over masculinity.

The films main focus is that of duality which is the underlying theme of this film. The idea of masculinity versus femininity, as well as beauty and grace versus harshness and brutality. The entire film is steeped with these juxtapositions and examples of these ideals can compliment each other as well as work against each other. Not only is Toom’s duality explored but also the very sport of Muay Thai. Thai kick boxing is a violent and brutal sport using elbows and knees to make connecting blows. The risk of injury is high especially since it uses such points as the elbow to deliver fast accurate and strong blows. But at the same time it is a beautiful sport many of its moves are dance like and can be preformed with the same grace as any professional martial art. It takes a lot of talent to master this sport and to bring out both its powerful and graceful nature. It is through this that Toom learns about himself, like the sport he is both graceful and powerful he can be both beautiful and brutal.

The film has a beautiful duality in itself, unfolding in scenes that look like an artistic vision as well scenes that unfold with a natural realism. The look of beautiful boxer is much like the theme it explores. Some of the movie shows us a harsh reality and brutality of the world with even segments of the movie having a grittier tone and harsher colours and scenes. At a complete juxtaposition to these, sequences of the movie are done in an almost dream like quality, lighter colours are used and the scenery is more gentle and peaceful. When exploring the world of Muay Thai many earthy colours are used, reds of blood and browns of earth. The world of Toom’s femininity is a place of pastels and whites. As Toom becomes more feminine his clothes are the colours stereotypical of female wear and his face is paled with foundation. The weather also plays a strong part in this film. When times are difficult or harsh it is dark and cloudy, confrontation, pain and fear brings rain and evening settings. When there is beauty to behold and things are going well the setting is early morning and day time, the days are also clear and sunny. The weather matches up with the feelings that Toom is going through, when dreaming the world takes on a gentle feel and the colours are beautiful and varied. Every detail of this film stresses duality and juxtapositions. It’s a film about conflictions and only by embracing the conflicting natures within your self you can find a resolve. It’s about distinguishing weaknesses and strengths and finding what’s truly important to you. It’s the journey of one individual explored not only through themselves but through the medium of film. Beautiful boxer uses it visuals, score, cinematography and narrative to fully explore the life of Nong Toom.

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