Extensive listening challenge 👂 (2022)

I’ve been doing quite a bit of listening! Not tracked, but I’ve listened to tons of episodes of the 4989 American Life podcast by now. Most of that is quite understandable, and it’s been a nice bit of background listening while doing other things. I’ve also watched almost all of the episodes of 初めてのお使い on Netflix – cute little show about small children running errands. That’s pretty simple, though kinda hard in the openings that usually refer to a lot of very specific things about the parents’ work, or where they live, or something. Nice to have such small chunks of subtitled listening available though.

I also just finished part 20 of the audiobook for スマホを落としただけなのに! So that puts me 1/3 through. I’m still definitely noticing the writing is harder (and often the voice acting speeds up) in the sections with the detectives, but overall, I’m happy with my progress and my general comprehension of the segments on first listen, plus the big gains after reading and re-listening. @pocketcat I really appreciate this recommendation, because there’s something about failing to hear words, reading and going “oh I know so many of these,” and then hearing those specific words while listening again for them. It seems to be doing a lot for adding those specific words as things I’m more ready to hear, better than simply coming across them with subtitles. I think the specific failure => realization of what I should have heard process works wonders.

Oh, and I’m like 15+ hours into a VTuber let’s play of the first Judgment game that @Iinchou recommended me, which I’m really glad to have learned about! Despite plenty of gaps in what I’m following there, I get a decent chunk, and it’s made me actually laugh at jokes in Japanese a decent bit, which is a wonderful experience.

Thanks again for everyone’s help, finding materials and figuring out good strategies for better listening :grin:

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I’ve been listening to the Learn Japanese with Noriko podcast a lot recently. I think I discovered it from a Tofugu article. Might be a little difficult to fully enjoy if you’re a beginner since it’s entirely in Japanese, but I think it’s a fantastic resource if you’re looking for natural sounding conversation for immersion. She mostly chats about relatable, everyday topics and often has other notable Japanese teaching guests on from around the web so I’ve found some other great resources thanks to her.

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I watched some more movies!

野のなななのか (“Seven Weeks” in English – rather less memorable huh…)
This is the second movie in the set of three Nobuhiko Obayashi directed movies that I started recently with この空の花 長岡花火物語. Now knowing how long and likely very involved this was going to be, I was very intimidated by it, and at least once started to watch it and decided not to, trying to make sure I was in the right mood for it.
And I was right to be intimidated as this was surely the most difficult movie I’ve seen without subtitles to date! Not so much because of language (it’s regular people talking in a mostly modern setting), but because of it’s length and intricacy. Where この空の花 was a “video essay” and had a lot of subtitled phrases popping up constantly, this is a family drama with a large cast of characters that provides no such crutch. The movie is mostly dialogue, and it’s often between many speakers at once, pursing multiple conversation threads, with also interjections coming in from past versions of characters (for example, in an early scene a man on his death bed will say things to the audience that the other characters don’t seem to hear while they hold their own conversation). Similar to the earlier movie, this one also digs deep into the local flavor and history of a particular city (in this case 芦別市, a mining town in Hokkaido) while also tying characters’ pasts together with 20th century Japanese history (in this case particularly Sakhalin around WW2 - expect to get used to hearing the word からふと). All put together, it’s a lot to deal with.
I think I did okay? I had to especially remind myself that I wouldn’t lose out on anything by watching with not-great listening skills, that I could always consult the English subtitles or other sources later on if I wanted to, etc. and I made sure to consult the Japanese wikipedia page for its summary and (very useful) list of character names and relations to cross-reference with what I was hearing. I certainly didn’t grasp every nuance, but I think I basically got the idea? And maybe more importantly - I think if I ask myself the question “would I have preferred watching this with English subtitles?” the answer is no (albeit not as 100% confident as I would like - call it 75% confident perhaps) so I’d call that a win.
For the first half of the movie, I was wondering if I should stop and read the source material the movie is adapted from first. In the middle of the movie, I stopped and did some more research - and I came to the conclusion that the 原作 (that English sources in particular seem vague or confused on what it is) is in fact a play that’s unavailable in print - based on the author being listed a playwright in his JP wikipedia page, and only the movie coming up when I try to google for it. And in retrospect, it makes perfect sense! As the characters often address the audience and monologue in a very play-like way - even that conversational back-and-forth between different threads that I described feels very playlike, come to think of it.
So I’m glad I took that break to look that up, as it eased my mind and stopped me from wondering about that for the rest of the movie.
As for the actual content and story of the movie… well, I like it! I find the family drama engaging, and enjoyed getting to know the various members, as well as the town, Ashibetsu. As usual it takes a little getting used to Obayashi’s trademark style (and green screens) but it mostly takes a back seat I’d say in this one. I had some misgivings about the ultimate source of the dead doctor’s trauma at the heart of the movie - that (from what I understood), Soviets attacked while they were on Sakhalin and his lover was raped by a soldier, who he killed and then had to kill her when she asked him to, with her reincarnation / ghost (?) later coming to him many lears later in the form of another girl (?). The misgivings I guess just being the garishness of Obayashi’s style not being fully suited to handle that sensitive subject sensitively there, and gender-wise I feel like there’s at least something to unpack and explore around what all’s going on there that I’m not enthusiastic about unpacking myself that I think prevented me from being 100% fully onboard with what the movie’s doing, but I do think it’s definitely interesting, and often touching.
(And I do kinda wish it was a novel after all, as it would be a fun one to read…)

修羅雪姫 怨み恋歌 (“Lady Snowblood: Love Song of Vengeance” in English)
This is the Lady Snowblood sequel – it’s an original script separate from the manga, so it’s doing a bit of it’s own thing. It’s kind of a weird mess of a movie, honestly! Lady Snowblood loses a lot of her Lady Snowblood-ness, mostly getting to do cool things only at the beginning and the end from what I can recall, and the movie leans heavily into both Meiji-era flavor and politics, and cartoon villains involved in that. In the special features on the blu-ray, the manga writer (who I only then figured out also wrote Lone Wolf and Cub - makes a lot of sense in retrospect) talks mainly about how clever his idea for Snowblood’s origin was, while the scriptwriter for this movie talks pretty much exclusively about the interesting politics behind Lady Snowblood, and how the revenge she fights for is also revenge on behalf of the common folk tread on by statesmen who are building a nation without heed for who falls into the cracks. Which is definitely in the manga too! But I really do think it comes through that that’s the part he found interesting and wanted to focus on, as it’s much stronger and potentially sophisticated, with a protagonist anarchist character apparently based on a real person executed for attempting to assinate the Meiji emperor, and incidentally played by, of all people, Juzo Itami, who would go on to be a famous director whose work I haven’t seen yet but have heard great things about and definitely will in the future), and the antagonists being part of the oppressive secret police… but that potential sophistication, while promising, is largely squandered because the villains are cartoons and ultimately it’s still just a straightforward revenge action movie.
But! The guy playing the main villain is one of my favorite actors from this era, Shin Kishida, who I loved in 怪奇大作戦! I put his name in my anki deck so when I saw 岸田森 in the cast in the opening titles I cheered! He might as well be playing a vampire in this movie, gaunt and sinister and very obviously signaling “bad guy,” but I am endeared to him nonetheless.
All in all - an interesting mix of potential and kinda silly fun. The period-ness of it and the set design is really cool though and definitely puts it up a notch, and the climax at the temple is particularly spectacular.
And as always, Meiko Kaji is very cool (but it seems like they didn’t get her to do a theme song for this one…)

マタンゴ (“Matango” in English, bet you wouldn’ta guessed that)
This is a Toho monster movie (non-giant division) directed by Ishiro Honda (who directed Godzilla) with effects by Eiji Tsuburaya (who did effects for tons of tokusatsu movies of the era, incl. Godzilla, and founded the studio that made Ultraman), and I heard some very positive things about it in the lead-up to watching it, so there was a lot of positive build-up going in!
And those expectations I’d say were met! It’s a surprisingly very eerie and serious movie - not nearly as cheesy and kid-oriented as the Godzilla movies were becoming around that time, about an ill-fated group of yachters ending up on an island following a storm and slowly coming apart at the seams due to the horror they find there (not dissimilar really to Zombi 2, which I also watched recently).
The most effective element I think is definitely the sets - the fungus-drenched rooms in particular are so, so cool-looking, and provide a ton of charm and eeriness, similar to exploring in a Resident Evil game, and there’s a ton of them. Once the mushroom people start walking around, there are times when the effects lean a little more towards the Disney World fantasy effect than eerie, but I still found it charming and more effective than I would have guessed for the time and plot.
The cast (all made up of faces vaguely familiar to me from when I was watching showa-era Godzilla movies, now with names in my anki so next time I’ll know who they are) also does a good job selling it. I’m still kind of sad Sakuda betrayed the others. One name I recognized in the credits (he’s a main star in Ultra Q), Kenji Sahara, plays a dramatically different character from the ones I know him from as a sleazebag who wears sunglasses 100% of the time, so I definitely wouldn’t have picked him out if his name weren’t in my anki deck.
I like the frame device - there’s a really otherworldly panorama of a city at night. I suppose the story is probably about drugs, huh. Little bit of mixed feelings about that.
I watched this on a Japanese blu-ray which thankfully had Japanese subtitles included! So I think I was A-OK on the comprehension front. There’s also a bunch of interesting extras I’d like to take a look at soon, in particular a commentary track! I don’t think I’ve come across a full commentary track in Japanese before! I listened to a little bit and I think I’d manage it okay, so I’ll have to give it a shot! I’ll probably count it as another movie and talk about it here…

花筐 (“Hanagatami” in English – at least now you know the reading…)
This is the third and last of those three loosely related late-period Obayashi movies about war and particular cities. And I think the most interesting! Which is saying a whole lot.
For this one, I saw that it was based on a short story, so I read that first (via this collection on bookwalker). The only context I have for the story, is that it’s from 1937, and while it seems like nowadays the movie’s fame precedes the original, the author, 檀一雄, would win the Naoki prize for later work and was friends or acquaintances with Osamu Dazai, and apparently he or this story in particular was admired by Yukio Mishima (for whatever that’s worth). Apparently Obayashi had wanted to adapt the story for an extremely long time and had written a script for it in the 70s but ended up going in a more commercial direction and making House.
Anyway, the story itself is quite interesting, and quite difficult – it’s very literary (wikipedia calls it “純文学”) in the sense that it’s more about complicated character interactions and feelings than a direct plot arc, and important things are often only briefly or obliquely alluded to. I read it quicker than I should have, knowing I was going to try to watch the movie the same day, and without context there were some things I missed or took a while to figure out, but I did get the gist: it’s a 青春 novel about young people on the cusp of adulthood interacting and experimenting and struggling to formulate what adult life will mean for them, with the implicit tragic background that the answer may very well end up being a swift death in war. The characters cut class and smoke and kiss and frame their feelings in a complex give-and-take of fear and bravery.
Next, I watched the movie. And again… it’s very very interesting!
Immediately following the original like this, the comparison between it and the adaptation was very distracting and arresting, both in terms of wondering why Obayashi made certain changes and which ones, and in terms of wondering what I had missed in my original sloppy reading that Obayashi’s version could enlighten me on.
The combination of the literary mode in the story, which is virtuosic and particular in its own way, with Obayashi’s characteristic style, which is virtuosic and particular in a completely, completely different way, is such a strange combination. It’s a little like… like if Wes Anderson directed an adaptation of like, To the Lighthouse? A little like that. The movie is thoughtful and behaves like a complex literary film, but it’s got those Obayashi-isms like the bad green screens, the weird compositing, the… particular way actors seem to be directed that I wouldn’t be able to describe well. All of which are jarring and peculiar in like, House, and maybe even more jarring and peculiar here in such a different context.
One particular interesting choice is the casting – the book is extremely about teenagers. The main character is 17, and the main trio of boys are all in the same class. The actors… are not teenagers, and do not read as teenagers to me really at all. The guy playing Kira in particular is like, in his 40s at the time? And looks like it? And to be fair – that character is described like this: sickly, showing signs of balding, abnormally gigantic head, always wears green.
… So it’s not exactly your classic teenager look. But in lieu of the head thing it seems like they leaned heavily into making him seem older and reclusive, interpreting the “green” clothes as like, almost like a friar or grim reaper costume?
And – so ok – one thing I felt strongly about the story is that everyone should be hot (to eachother, at least). The main engine of the story is the main POV, 榊山, literally being attracted to the characters around him (mainly 鵜飼 and 吉良 but the girls too), seeing how they hold themselves and the choices they make and wanting to hang out with and emulate them. And I think that produces/goes along with a certain amount of homoeroticism. For example, there’s how Ukai swimming nude is described as extremely beautiful to Sakakiyama to the point of distracting him later on, or the scene were Sakakiyama and Ukai spend a drunken courageous night running across the mainy railway tracks at a train station (while we learn later Ukai was watching), which in a sort of hard to explain and diffuse sort of way I think works like an intimate culmination between those characters, as they physically go against the grain and the tracks laid by society while being extremely physically close and giddy with each other – which in particular is adapted in a very interesting way where it’s replaced with a nude horse ride! Making it much more explicitly homoerotic while I feel like in doing so sort of defusing it? Like it comes across more to me as like – a nature metaphor maybe – and I guess what I’m trying to say is that the movie version of Sakakiyama feels like a plucky drama protagonist who’s just happy to be there, the movie version of Ukai feels beautiful but cold and stern, and the movie version of Kira feels like Gargamel.
Which was an interesting lens to reflect on how I felt about the story! I’m meandering quite a lot here - but I ended up reading the short story again the day after watching the movie, a lot more carefully and with the visual context and interpretation fresh in my head – and there’s definitely stuff in those characterizations for example that I had missed the first time around that I do agree with – Sakakiyama really does come across like a plucky drama protagonist sometimes! There’s an overwhelming spirit and a verve - a heartfeltness I guess, to how characters in an Obayashi movie behave, and in my first stolid reading of the short story I’d missed out on a lot of that that is in there (like when at first in the opening section I thought 榊山 was a mountain and not a character name… that meant I completely missed how it’s a description of him joyfully and intensely feeling like he’s become an adult at last, on a wind-swept cliff above the ocean).
Incidentally, there’s other stuff I missed the first time too that I’m definitely grateful to the movie for enlightening me on. A particular example is a part where (paraphrasing how it’s described) a character wraps another’s head in a bandage and applies some rouge to give them courage. When I first read that - I had no idea what to imagine… some kind of… mummy cosplay? The movie shows me clearly: it’s an imitation hachimaki with an improvised red sun. Makes a lot more sense that way! (although in my defense – like I said before… it’s only obliquely described).
In terms of major direction changes, the two main ones Obayashi makes both tie it more into his previous two movies: he emphasizes the setting much more, placing it in 唐津市 in Saga (and involving many locals and some kind of local government funding I think, like the previous two movies) where the original just has a line that goes “その町はまず架空の町であってもよい.” And Obayashi’s version uses the benefit of hindsight to make the movie much more explicitly about war, filling in lots of details and premonitions around that.
These alone I think make it definitely it’s own thing saying something separate in interesting ways. And there’s lots of smaller things filled in too, like the おば character has more things going on, or things briefly alluded to (like whatever was going on between Kira and his cousin) are made more explicit.
Because of how I was watching the movie though – I found it much more difficult to process the stuff unique to this movie than the stuff that’s the same in both, since I was using my knowledge of the book as a crutch to supplement my poor listening comprehension with the movie, and reciprocally to use my knowledge of the movie to supplement my poor reading comprehension with the book! So there’s a lot of elements that seemed interesting about the movie specifically that I would be curious to investigate more about interpretation-wise (like the director chair at the very end or what the heck was the blood metaphor doing or what was the deal with the scenes with the teacher outside of school or what was all that involving the transgender character that wikipedia tells me is a 娼婦 or is the lack of a second dog just to tidy up the plot a bit or something deeper somehow? or is that island like, a real place by that town that they included in the movie for that reason? or is the strange non-nudity effect used particularly on the women like, Obayashi making up in some way for his reputation for stripping young actresses in his movies, or is there something going on there related to Mina’s thing about being or not being seen nude or…? etc.) but it’s difficult to do that and I probably won’t because I’ve spent enough time and brainpower on this particular story in both forms anyway! (and there’s plenty about the story that’s still up in the air and worth contemplating too, for that matter). I confess my endurance was already flagging by the end of the movie. It could be interesting to rewatch someday if I ever find my listening comprehension becomes flawless (or I suppose I could watch the English subtitled version, but I’m still not to the point where I think I would have preferred that - and again, kinda done spending time on this story for now…)
One element I might explore a bit more though – is I have this in Japanese blu-ray format (bought a long time ago), which I believe has a making-of featurette on it I haven’t watched yet. I should give that a whirl some time. I mostly appreciate the edition for the booklet that comes with it, which provides a lot of nice context, about the making of and the town, including a fun illustrated diary from a local about visiting the set.
Anyway, this has nothing to do with Hanagatami, but there’s an essay in there from Obayashi before he died, that includes some recounting about when he directed commercials, and visited America, and those things led to his making his first feature, House. And I wanted to share this quote from him, talking about House, because I think it would be interesting to those who have seen it:

ただ、僕にとってはそれが古典的なハリウッド映画だったんだ。

Anyhow – all in all these three movies of his were all very interesting in their own right! I think the first, この空の花 長岡花火物語, is the one I feel the most unambiguously positive about (and probably the one that delivers the most uncomplicatedly in House-ish Obayashi style), but 花筐 is definitely the one I found the most to be fascinated in, and I really appreciate it for the interesting time with that short story. I’d be very curious to hear anyone else’s thoughts on either the movie or the short story (I’d recommend both I think, although I don’t know that I would recommend exactly the order/process that I did – I wonder what someone would make of the movie without the story distracting them? I have no idea). (And 野のなななのか is cool too!).
Interesting can also be exhausting sometimes too though, and these were all an awful lot of listening to and kind of understanding a ton of complicated information in a foreign language! I wouldn’t mind if the next movies I watch are at least a touch less interesting in that sense for a while…

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Listening update: May, June, and half of July.

I haven’t been doing as much because of sprinting headlong into a Chinese drama obsession, but I at least have some stuff to report.

  1. I haven’t done my Johnny’s group immersion challenge since April, oh well!

  2. My variety show numbers are still not good (compared to my goal), but I’m continuing to watch and enjoy Arashi shows at a slower pace! I’m at 95 for the year.

  3. I haven’t listened to a single second of an audiobook in months. I just don’t want to right now and that’s okay!

  4. Dramas! Here I’m on pace, hooray! I’ve finished three more dramas since my last report.

  1. 初めて恋をした日に読む話
    Quality: ★★★½
    Enjoyment: ★★★★½
    Ease of understanding: ★★★★

A rewatch. I think this is one of the first dramas I watched raw with the intention of meaningful understanding (vs putting something on for practice and doing anki to it). It is apparently a comfort drama for me! This watch as well I had a great time.

  1. 俺の可愛いはもうすぐ消費期限
    Quality: ★★★
    Enjoyment: ★★★½
    Ease of understanding: ★★★★

Short and sweet! I enjoyed it.

  1. 大豆田とわ子と三人の元夫
    Quality: ★★★★
    Enjoyment: ★★★★
    Ease of understanding: ★★★½

It took me a while to get hooked, but I ended up loving this one. Humorous and heartwarming with really good characters and relationships. Matsu Takako is just wonderful. The ease of understanding rating is lower for this one because despite a lack of accents or super fast talking or technical terms, the characters often talk about things that involve no visual cues. There can also be non sequiturs, so missing words here and there sometimes meant I was lost.

Currently pushing on:

30までにとうるさくて, リバース, 絶対BLになる世界VS絶対BLになりたくない男, 30歳まで童貞だと魔法使いになれるらしい, 着飾る恋には理由があって

Recently started (and it’s sticking):

アニマルズ, 未来への10カウント

Recently started (and it may or may not stick):

悪女~働くのがカッコ悪いなんて誰が言った?~, 恋せぬふたり, マイファミリー, 不幸くんはキスするしかない

I’m not seeing a lot to try in the new drama season, but maybe my bar is higher than usual since I have a lot of things to watch on my plate already. Anything deserving of watching a first episode other than アニマルズ??

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I’ve also been disappointed with the recent shows to come out so I don’t think you’re missing much. Will update if any on my “to watch” list actually wind up being amazing.

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Some thoughts on a few more movies I’ve watched:

妖怪大戦争 (The 2005 Takashi Miike directed version of The Great Yokai War)

I was curious about this since the the 1968 movie of the same name was one of my favorites that I watched last year. This is ostensibly part of the same franchise, but in practice it’s a different thing in a different era and a different company since Kadokawa bought Daiei in the intervening 37 years. So I think it’s one to just treat as it’s own thing.

From the assorted Takashi Miike movies I’ve seen, I think my impression of his work is that he’s really really good at making sure that interesting things are going to be happening moment-to-moment, but it’s completely just up to the specific movie and the script as to whether it all comes together as a coherent work in the end.

This one is fully in-line with that impression, as there’s tons of interesting yokai to look at and odd things happening that make each scene engaging (like they just straight up visit a Shigeru Mizuki museum at one point, and the 2000s-era CGI industrialization monsters that serve as the villains are sort of fun) and a lot of the yokai look really fun! But I think it mostly doesn’t hang together in the end. Mainly because a lot of plot points just sort of… happen? Like I remember the villain being defeated because the bean-polishing yokai just sort of tripped by happenstance, and I feel like the hordes of yokai that arrived just did that because they felt like it not because like, the kid convinced them or something? and in general I think the movie loses a lot of eeriness that should be present with the yokai involved. Like I remember the original the yokai were charmingly personable and humanized, but it still felt like they were otherworldly and eerie at times, whereas this leans even more heavily on the former in a self-aware sort of way, losing out on the latter.

OH RIGHT AND AN ELEMENT I FORGOT is the cute mascot character that gets treated super terribly?? That part of the movie is a weird inclusion!

But in any case, it’s a pretty fun 2000s kid’s movie with a bunch of yokai.

I don’t think the copy I watched had subtitles? It’s kind of nice that I don’t even remember…


星くず兄弟の伝説 (Legend of the Stardust Brothers)

This is a mid 80s musical movie lampooning the music industry in a way that’s heavily inspired by Phantom of the Paradise (I remember the end credits dedicate the movie to the protagonist of that one), directed by the son of Osamu Tezuka of all people. That sounded wild, and like a lot of fun, and yeah, it’s wild and a lot of fun!

I think I like it a bit better than Phantom of the Paradise, maybe, since it’s got more of like, a corny, Bill and Tedish vibe, where the jokes are silly and slapstick, and you root for these two loser underdogs who are stuck together, all the way through to the absurd but great end reveal of a twist fatherhood and their unceremonious dispatchment from a gun across the fourth wall when the movie’s over, with a long chase sequence with one of the ‘brothers’ in a wedding dress along the way. And some catchy songs. I especially liked the ones with horror elements, like the dream sequence song.
There’s a (mild) gay joke or two that dates it and threatens some of the fun, but (in another point of comparison with Bill and Ted) I think the good-naturedness shines through.

The zanier Stardust brother and the goofy comedy can be grating sometimes for sure, but I think the movie and the characters share a distinct and original sort of charisma.

I didn’t watch with subtitles. A lot of the movie being songs was interesting - I don’t think I was gonna catch much of the lyrics, but maybe I absorbed some of the subject of the songs?


千年女優 (Millennium Actress)

I’m not a gigantic Satoshi Kon fan (having only previously seen Paprika and Perfect Blue years apart) and I feel like he’s one where you mostly hear about him from people who are gigantic fans of his, which sort of unfairly makes “I like his movies pretty well!” feel internally almost like “It’s me against the world, I don’t like Satoshi Kon!!!” even though that doesn’t make sense.

but in any case, I liked this movie pretty well!!
I loved the many sequences evoking particular periods through the lens of Japanese cinema, and it felt like getting and feeling at home in a lot of those visual references was a nice and fun reward for watching so many more Japanese movies recently because of the language aspect (like Throne of Blood for example, is definitely a visual reference here). And the dynamic and set up of the enthusiastic documentary directory and his reluctant cameraman making their way through the world of this actress’ recollections is super fun and cool!

I also enjoyed that it was a dialogue-heavy movie I watched without subtitles that I felt like I could follow along totally fine with for the most part.

But I did feel lukewarm on the story - it feels very allegory-ish, in the sense that character dynamics are strongly defined and the characters behave more like roles than actual people. And so I’m aware that the impulse goes against the romantic conceit of that structure… but I did find it difficult to not be like “but maybe she shouldn’t pine her whole life for a mysterious stranger she sort of met once.”
The base plot of the movie handling a woman chastely holding out for an unknown man as a grand glorious thing, while also treating a woman aging as a reason to be distraught or jealous and cruel turned me off to the emotions it was conveying to some degree. I don’t think in a way that isn’t salvageable with a more charitable reading and more receptive audience than I gave it at the time, but that’s how I felt watching it at the time
.

So it does a lot of super cool stuff, but I stopped short of being fully on board (while wondering a little if I’m looking for excuses to not be fully on board out of contrarianism or something)

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I watched some more movies!

座頭市物語 (The Tale of Zatoichi)

I loved this one!
I gave a shot at watching it without subtitles, and had a really good time actually, despite definitely not following every word of what people were saying. I knew the name Zatoichi, and that he was a blind swordsman, but otherwise I didn’t know what to expect really at all, and what the movie is turns out to be a movie about Edo period yakuza, without much action until the end, with the emotional core being about Zatoichi bonding with another swordsman attached to a rival family.

With the characters all being gangsters from 100+ years ago, the dialogue is tricky but also ended up being a real joy of the movie for me, since it came across as interesting and well-conveyed dialogue. The one time I turned on English subtitles to rewatch a scene (for an important speech near the end), I was surprised that although it helped me get a slight bit of additional informational detail, it lost so much in emotional weight and floweriness that in retrospect the raw Japanese felt if anything more clear to me, despite not understanding all of it, since those elements came through better. Which was interesting!

And while a blind person with honed sensory and combat abilities is a stock pulpy character (thanks probably in large part to these movies) with maybe some not ideal baggage around it, I think Shintaro Katsu here plays the role respectfully, and more than anything - I was very much struck by the warmth and likeability of his character. Zatoichi in the movie felt like he would be an actually pleasant person to be around which surprised me for a ronin type character (I don’t think I’ve ever felt that way about a Mifune character, for example). The friendship (romance?) between him and the other swordsman works great in part because of that (and Shigeru Amachi’s performance too) because it feels legitimately tender, making the inevitable duel between rivals all the more heart-wrenching.
(I do think it’s very funny though that he still full-on does the obligatory ronin thing of going out of his way to climb a brambly hill to avoid meeting the female love interest of the movie at a crossroads as he skips town)

It’s a good thing I liked this movie so much because there’s uh, 24 more in the series made across 11 years. I’m sure every one as good as the first!!!


仁義なき戦い 広島死闘篇 (Battles Without Honor and Humanity: Deadly Fight in Hiroshima)

This is the second Battles Without Honor and Humanity movie (boy a lot more of a mouthful than 仁義なき), and emboldened by enjoying Zatoichi so much despite all the old-timey yakuza dialogue, I tried giving this different, later flavor of old-timey yakuza dialogue a shot.

And this one I had a lot more trouble with! I frequently watched scenes over again, either as-is or with English subtitles turned on. I think the main difference is this one is much more of a convoluted plot, as it’s like, a realistically portrayed mob chronicle style of movie, with many characters coming and going as needed, making it harder to follow with my listening comprehension.

The movie is also 1000% stolen by Sonny Chiba as the most over-the-top yakuza dirtbag imagineable:
image
He is rolling EVERY r as intensely as humanly possible, and being A+ impossibly bratty goon, it’s a ton of fun. A major sticking point I have with the movie is that he doesn’t really get a comeuppance or become the main villain, he’s just sort of a side character dealt with in an anticlimactic way.

Also nice to see is Meiko Kaji, who I’ve only seen as Scorpion or Lady Snowblood - both mainly silent, vengeful murderers, so it was cool to see her playing like, a human, for a change. She’s good! But as a female character in a yakuza movie unfortunately her character doesn’t have a great time of it…

And I’d say otherwise it feels pretty much in line with the first movie - a pretty enjoyable set of yakuza things happening. My main issue with it is I don’t really like the protagonist for this one very much at all - it’s not the guy from the first movie (though he shows up), but someone else, who doesn’t come across as likeable or charismatic to me, which makes his rise and inevitable fall not particularly interesting to me.


お葬式 (The Funeral)

I absolutely loved this one!
I’ve never seen a Juzo Itami directed movie before, but I’d heard enough extremely positive things about his work recently, that I decided to pick up a nice Japanese boxset of his movies, for the sake of getting to watch them with Japanese subtitles, figuring they’d be at least interesting enough that I wouldn’t regret getting to watch them in the best possible light for me.
And now I feel very good about that decision, because this first one absolutely lived up to those high expectations, and I was very glad to have Japanese subtitles to frequently pause and consult for all the funeral-specific vocabulary!

The movie I think is an extraordinary achievement in capturing specifically how death is at the same time both the most mundane and the most strange human experience. Practically every scene is balanced very precisely to convey both profundity and normalcy and make both feel natural, never quite slipping too far into maudlinness or zaniness.
One small example among many for example: The family struggles to carry the coffin with the deceased into their home where the proceedings will take place, and finally they manage to place it down. The last remaining living sibling of the deceased, a pious but often confused old man, seems worried about something, and asks which direction is West, as it’s tradition the dead should lie with their head pointing west. The younger owner of the house thinks it through and finds that coincidentally the deceased’s head is already pointing west, saying essentially “how about that! We nailed it without trying.” The older man doesn’t contradict him but remains anxious.
There’s nothing about what happens in that sequence that’s particularly extraordinary (they don’t drop the coffin carrying it up the stairs so the corpse comes spilling out, for example), but I think that sharp balance of having funny mundane things with the background of this death and funeral that is also taken seriously in it’s own way, produces something really cool, and it seems like the kind of movie that would have to be thoughtfully written and planned, despite tricking you into thinking that maybe they just turned the cameras on as a funeral took place.

And there really isn’t any plot per se except “a family holds a funeral.” But it’s just chock full of interesting and funny and sad things within that that you don’t really notice.

I’ve never been to a funeral that I can remember – in part due to good fortune, in part due to distance (in a few senses of the word) from family – and I suppose an interesting personal question while watching the movie is does it make me feel like I should have tried harder to go to the ones I might have been able to go to. And I think it’s interesting that to me the movie doesn’t really at all answer that conflict, it just reflects it – the funeral portrayed is at once of no consequence (in that it changes nothing, everybody putting it on is just trying to do what’s expected of them, and most of the attendees are doing the same) and of profound meaning, with the latter somehow being in part because of the former rather than in spite of it. So I guess by that framing I didn’t miss out on anything special, but at the same time kinda did. That’s life! - and death.


山男の歌

This one, in contrast, I heard absolutely nothing about, because it came to me as a pack-in with the nice set of Daiei Yokai movies I bought (and enjoyed a lot last year), as far as I can tell just because it’s also a Daiei movie, and the lead actor is the same. Otherwise it’s completely different in vibe and content, and when I google for it very little information comes up, so I don’t think it’s particularly notable in any way.

And… it’s fine! It’s a 70-minute love triangle movie with a (Japanese) Alpine flavor, about a (I guess – the actors all look fully in their 30s) high school mountain climbing club, where Fella A likes Girl but Girl likes Fella B and Fella A and Fella B go on a climb together and Fella A falls and dies, with the rest of the movie being about Fella B and Girl resolving their guilt about that and verifying that it was truly an accident and not a suicide (or murder).

I was watching without subtitles, and at first when it was laying on the like, 1950s americana-ish alpine lodge flavor very thick (incl. performances of the title song and an a capella song with Japanese lyrics to the tune of Yankee Doodle Dandy) at first I had trouble getting my bearings but once the plot kicked in it was clear enough I feel like I followed it just fine. It was just well-made enough to not feel like I wasted my time, but not so much that I’d say go seek it out. The part that charmed me the most by far was that it’s a movie with multiple plot-critical scenes of falling off mountains and the dummies used are entirely unconvincing. Some of the love triangle scenes (like Girl rejecting Fella A in the rain) could shine more if they weren’t ultimately in a silly mountain movie, but hey! Nothing wrong with silly mountain movies I guess, and it’s kinda interesting in and of itself to see a completely unremarkable movie from 1960s Japan since usually the ones that make their way through time and space to me now are naturally gonna be the remarkable ones.
I’d like to watch the other pack-in movies, but I think I’ll try a newly-innovated backlog queue knockback maneuver to put it off for another day.


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I recently got into two new YouTube channels, with very different topics. The first one probably has broader appeal than the second one:

A bunch of short, silly skits on here. Some funnier than others, some I admit my listening speed is not quite up to yet, but by and large they’ve been fun.

And…

Anatomy lessons by a cute kitty! :heart_eyes_cat: Ok so this one is probably just me, but in the off chance anyone else is studying medical/science words in Japanese this is great practice. There’s JP closed captions, it’s spoken clearly, pacing isn’t too fast, and plenty of great visuals.

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I finished watching a couple of tv shows recently!

恐怖劇場アンバランス

The first was 恐怖劇場アンバランス, the Tsubaraya-produced horror anthology show I heard about via it being included in a guide for 怪奇大作戦, which I greatly enjoyed, meaning it was an even deeper part of a vein where I’d found multiple hidden gems before, so to speak. But unfortunately, I was only lukewarm about this one – it’s the kind of horror anthology show aimed at adults where like, some episodes are just going to be a mildly suspenseful thriller with nothing supernatural going on. The main thing that endears me to Tsuburaya Productions are, naturally, the special effect, and this felt like more of a mixed bag of hour-long 70s teledramas than the garish sooky special effects extravaganza I was expecting, and probably would have preferred.

From what I could tell based on the production order, it seems like the show started with a more garish spooky tone, and then pivoted into the stuffier, more restrained direction with literary adaptations and the like. Then when airing, that order was mostly reversed. I think I can understand sensing a need to pivot if that’s what motivated it, since the more garish ones are fun but aren’t really substantive enough to fill a whole hour (there’s one that could be summarized pretty much as “there’s a vampire” and there’s multiple iterations on the theme “a man murders a woman and then gets haunted”), and a lot of the more restrained ones are more compelling, albeit sometimes more dull (one about a salaryman essentially “breaking bad”, for example, isn’t particularly out-there at all but seems like it’s going for it in terms of execution and ends up surprisingly enjoyable). That first Seijun Suzuki-directed one with the mummy is definitely still the most interesting one in my book, with the most fun one maybe being the one with the disembodied hand.

There’s a framing narrator who (although I’m being unfairly mean here) comes across to me a little more like Garth Marenghi than Rod Serling. Various actors from other Tsubaraya shows (like Ultraman, etc.) are fun to recognize, as well as some others, like I noticed the hand one has an actress from Branded to Kill.

Language-wise, I gave it my full attention, but comprehension was a mixed bag – I realized belatedly I could read the episode synopses in the guide I mentioned beforehand, and that helped a lot, although they tended to be a bit too forthcoming with how characters ultimately played into mysteries. Sadly the show ended up more of a “I should really get around to finishing that” obligation than something I was excited to watch.

ウルトラマンタロウ

The second was ウルトラマンタロウ! Coincidentally, from right around the same company and time (~1973). This is (as the theme song will frequently remind you) the sixth “Ultra” show, and I would say the first that felt to me like it was fully locked into the formula. Ultra Q wasn’t a superhero show, Ultraman and Ultraseven started defining the formula, and then Return of Ultraman and Ultraman Ace both felt like they were potentially going in a slightly different direction… before returning to the set formula in the end: one (1) gallant protagonist guy who can secretly (but blatantly) turn into one (1) Ultra Brother, one (1) acronymed kaiju-fighting force, one (1) mild female love interest with one (1) plucky young boy, both of whom protagonist guy lives with and/or interacts frequently with in a vaguely domestic sort of way. And of course, many (~50) kaiju…

From that standpoint first impression-wise, the only things that stand out about the show are it introduces (the… unusually designed) ウルトラの母…


… and the protagonist is especially handsome.
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There’s some growing pains in the beginning as well, particularly with the main supporting actress being abruptly replaced without any explanation. I don’t know why that happened (I think I tried checking wikipedia and it sounded like she asked to leave?) but the original actress was more memorable but had not great material… it seemed like when she was given a prominent role in an episode it was to worry and/or make mistakes.

By the end of the show though, I think it found its own voice at least a little bit more, ending up focusing more on the whimsical/fantasy side of Ultraman, and dabbling in showing more of the weird cosmic psychadelia that is the growing Ultra family and their planet, as opposed to the sci-fi violence. The best, or at least most Taro-ish episode I think, for example, is the mochi-making one where like, a giant mochi barrel-themed kaiju (named, もちろん, モチロン) is causing a ruckus on earth eating everybody’s mochi, and I sorta forget the details but ウルトラの父 I think shows up, and also Minami from Ace who turned out to be an alien moon princess, and she clarifies that Mochiron is also from the moon and he’s just grumpy or something and anyway in the end everybody makes and eats mochi out of Mochiron and the day is saved. It’s fun!

I would say in general though, it just felt throughout more like I was watching “an Ultraman show” than watching specifically “Ultraman Taro”, if that makes sense. And I like Ultraman shows! But it felt more-or-less routine.
Probably because of that, I especially chafed with this show against the sound balance. Trying to maintain focus on the Japanese dialogue while exercising is tricky when there’s almost certainly more explosions per episode than there are minutes of critical dialogue! And trying to find a volume loud enough to clearly hear the dialogue, but low enough the constant explosions aren’t overwhelming, all while often either forgetting or not wanting to turn off the a/c unit between me and the TV… is hard! And I found it frustrating both from a “I want to focus on the dialogue to practice listening” and a “I want to focus on the dialogue so I’m engaged with the show and am motivated to exercise” perspective.
… frustrating enough that I bought exercise-oriented wirless earbuds specifically to try to solve the problem! I’ve only tried them once, but results seem promising! Although I imagine the novelty may be part of that…

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So I’m not saying whether or not it’s legal, but if you search 名探偵ポワロ on YouTube you can find Japanese dubs of the show which are pretty great. I don’t think I’ve ever watched a dub and liked it so much. I could even see scenes that were clearly being referenced in 押井刑事 which was a delight.

Also! In ‘The Dream’ / 夢 there’s a scene where a woman with curly blond hair takes off her mask from fencing and I was like, "omg it’s ジュリ from 少女革命ウテナ! :open_mouth: "

Like seriously, compare:

pics


Also 夢 came out in 1989 and the first volume was Utena was published in 1996 so the timeline checks out!

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Sorry for digging this up, but you are the only one I was able to find that mentioned listengo.dwango :see_no_evil:
Your comment isn’t exactly making me looking forward to trying it, but it has some exclusives I’d like to listen to :c
Do you happen to remember if it allowed downloading files like audiobook.jp or is it a streaming only thing?

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No worries on digging up an old post! I also only tried it due to them having some exclusive content I wanted. It’s unfortunately streaming only which contributed to my dislike of it. I checked to verify incase anything has changed since I last used it but I found this in the FAQ:

Q: オーディオブックを聴く方法は?
A: 購入したオーディオブックは、購入履歴ページの「再生する」ボタンより聴くことができます。

:confused:

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I watched some more movies!

大菩薩峠 (Sword of Doom)

This one I watched specifically for Tatsuya Nakadai, and his performance is I would say definitely the main draw! The movie focuses intently on his character, who is an extremely disaffected, sociopathic villain prone to murder and assault, and it makes for a bleak movie but an interesting performance. Nakadai plays him with downcast, disinterested, almost sullen eyes but with a power that’s most striking during the swordfight scenes, where that’s pushed to its extreme as its own unique fighting stance as, sword lowered, he seems barely interested for the tense moments before he lures in his opponent and kills him.
Toshiro Mifune is also in the movie, as a much more straightforwardly powerful (and Mifune-ish) swordsman character, but although Nakadai’s character is clearly set for a downfall, it doesn’t really come about from any direct confrontation, he just sees Mifune in action and I suppose the sense of inferiority from that coupled with all his other problems eventually leads him to confrtonting his own ghosts and demons. I was surprised that the ending cuts while he’s still mid-rampage, never actually showing his eventual comeuppance. It’s interesting and grim but I don’t know exactly how I feel about it.
I watched the movie without any subtitles, but I had some trouble with it and I think I rewound and watched scenes with subtitles fairly frequently (or was just vague on details in general). I watched the English commentary, and the guy talked a lot in that about how this movie’s based on one character from a popular long-running serial story that had been adapted before and recently at the time, and so it only vaguely establishes a lot of plot and political context surrounding the events shown, in the process perhaps simulating in a way Nakadai’s character’s own detachment from the contexts that surround him. And so I felt a bit better after hearing that…


錆びたナイフ (Rusty Knife)

I mentioned watching 俺は待ってるぜ / I Am Waiting some time ago, and this, like that, is a 50s noir starring the same guy, 石原裕次郎 as, for some reason, a grizzled, jaded man with a dark past, despite his having more of a “boyish good looks” vibe at least to my eyes.
Anyway, it’s pretty good. The title image refers to a knife used to kill his girlfriend’s rapist for which he went to prison for a long time, before now having to dig it out again upon finding out there were further culprits as part of a deeper conspiracy and I think that and the core emotions are handled pretty well, with a good conlcuding scene and nice car/gun chase. But it’s got a pretty heavy dose of that like, over-simplistic cop movie energy, in the sense that like, there’s gotta be a ringleader turning this town bad, and if and when we stop him that could turn everything around. That sort of thing. And I recall finding the identity of that ringleader to be really obviously telegraphed.
I watched this one on the criterion channel, and so was unable to turn off English subtitles, but tried to ignore them. I don’t really remember how I did? I think okay?


悪い奴ほどよく眠る (The Bad Sleep Well)

This one’s an Akira Kurosawa movie! It’s really interesting!
What we’ve got here is a Hamlet-ish story about corporate corruption in contemporary 1950s/60s Japan starring Toshiro Mifune as a businessman on the rise, marrying into the family of a powerful executive of a construction company beset by corruption rumors and investigations, in order to single-handedly dismantle and destroy said executive’s position and company in revenge for his father who was pressured into suicide to cover up a previous scandal.
Some scenes in this I think are incredible – I love the theater-ish presentation of the first scene at the wedding, with cynical reporters to the side providing exposition as they talk amongst themselves while waiting to see (and grab a picture of) who’s going to be arrested next. And I think there’s a really strong, genuine anger at those in power who oversee malfeasance and both their callousness to those who come to harm due to their actions below them, and their obsequious devotion to the source of their power above them. I found the middle of the movie a little bit disappointingly simplistic, in the sense that Mifune’s character’s convoluted schemes and the tendency for characters to be driven insane by seeing ‘ghosts’ and the like felt a bit too Hamlet-ish to work as well in the modern context when I was hoping for like, more realistic corporate politics and intrigue, but the ending in just how bleak it is, I think is really strong. Like – I forget the exact details, but there’s a scene where we very clearly see the main villain consciously take advantage of his daughter’s goodwill in order to achieve his ends and conserve power, and it’s maybe the coldest and most despicable small thing I’ve seen a character do in a movie. That plus the final scene where we see how truly happy and relieved the character is to be praised by his superior and learn that he won’t have to be the scapegoat for all of this, despite the sorry wreck he’s made of his family and justice, I think make up for any weakness in the middle part of the story. It sure doesn’t shrink away from the bitterness of the title – the bad really will sleep well, and somehow that’s the worst part of all. Regrettably in line, I think, with reality.
I thought the performances from not just Mifune, but Masayuki Mori and Kyoko Kagawa were especially strong as well. And I liked seeing (the always recognizable) Takashi Shimura in a dislikeable role (a change from how I usually think of him).
This was another criterion channel one, so I couldn’t turn off the English subtitles… but it was probably for the best, really… I think one mark of a “ah yes, a famous director directed this” movie is that lots more of the dialogue is… load-bearing, so to speak? And so lots of interesting detail conveyed in interesting ways, about topics like corporate corruption… my listening comprehension would not have been good, and if I’m being honest I probably just read the subtitles. But I would have liked the chance to at least try without! That plus the video compression on the streaming version being extremely apparent in big streaks across some of the night scenes in this and it reminded me of why I developed that extremely costly blu ray habit…


透明人間現わる (The Invisible Man Appears)

This one is interesting mainly because it’s a very early tokusatsu movie from 1949, with effects by Eiji Tsuburaya. In my backlog system, coincidentally, multiple Invisible Man movies came up next in queues at the same time (specifically that one from a year or two ago, and Memoirs of an Invisible Man because I wanted to see John Carpenter’s… less successful movies) and I learned that not only this but another Japanese Invisible Man movie series with effects by Eiji Tsuburaya also somehow happened at around the same time (this is the Daiei 1940s one, not the Toho 1950s one), and so anyway I just decided to make an Invisible Man thing of it and watched the Universal Invisible Man movies in the lead up to watching this.

My conclusion from those was that it seems like there’s a couple big keys to making an Invisible Man movie work: 1. The actor has to have a charismatic voice, and 2. the character should be someone you don’t want to be invisible.
Because the thing about Invisible Man movies is that… the special effects aren’t really very ‘special’ – anyone can pretend to react to an invisible man. But with the combination of those two factors the scenes with one can be fun enough that the effect at least sorta works and feels eerie and fun, because the actor’s voice carries the performance, and Claude Rains knocks it out of the park in the first Universal one, and Vincent Price does pretty well in the second, but after that it’s all bland protagonists as invisible men in boring movies.

Anyway – this one’s fine. Based on the above I was kinda hoping for the Claude Rains equivalent of an extremely hammy and fun villain performance in the role, but the one they went with here is gruff enough to work okay but not to that level. I enjoyed more Shosaku Sugiyama as a slimy financier after some diamonds.
The movie ends up having more going for it apart from the star invisible man attraction though, like there’s a cool motorcycle sequence through late 40s Kobe, a slightly convoluted plot, a sequence I liked where an invisible cat gets loose, and a stated moral before and after the movie that it’s not the chemistry that’s wrong, but those humans who use it wrongly.
(Still only one to seek out if you think you’d get a kick out of an early special effects movie though. Neat that it’s preserved and on a nice blu ray!)
P.S. I think the poster is pretty charming:


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cool. Ill have to look into it.

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Worth checking out as well is the ongoing book club for the original light novel series. :slight_smile: just check the Book clubs subforum. We’ve just started in on vol 6! ^>^

Maybe we could do something similar for the BLCD- series if there is enough interest? :thinking: @eefara

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Ah, that would be super cool! Has there been a “listening book club” done on WK before? I haven’t hung out in the listening area too much. Anyway, I would definitely be interested, as you know. I feel like we could definitely get other people as well? Listening always seems like a goal for people on WK (I guess most are focused on their reading skills?), and drama CDs in general tend to be pretty popular. We could be trailblazers. :fire:

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I don’t think so. And I think it has to do with the main aim of WK: teaching reading ability.

It also seems like not all that many users on here are into Drama CDs that lend themselves well to a Book club format, they being stories after all. :thinking:

Let’s check the puls on people on here on this. :slight_smile:

Currently we are reading our way through Piraty-historical-drama-BL-series Flesh & Blood. Everyone is welcome to join us! ^^ The main thread can be found here: “Flesh&Blood” Pirate Series Reading Club :pirate_flag: :sailboat: - Japanese Language / Book Clubs - WaniKani Community

But, would people be interested in being part of a sister book drama CD-series club, following the story through the BLCD adaption?

Mind, you will have to buy these CDs and find ways to import them.

  • Yes, I’d be interested in listening to the Flesh & Blood drama CD-series
  • I’m interested in doing a Drama CD-listening club, but just not for this specific drama CD-series
  • I’m not interested in this sort of thing
  • I just like to click on polls so don’t mind me if I do! :3

0 voters

For a short review of sorts to the BLCD adaption see: Listening Practice 🎧 What do you listen to for Japanese practice? - #5 by ekg

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This might be the biggest barrier imo. Drama CDs tend to be expensive, these are out of print, and there’s no legal digital option afaik. For those interested, there are…ways to find the tracks, and the kind people who have made this possible have made it so all the CDs (+ the bonus/extra ones) are available. Scripts (if needed) (though I haven’t checked how accurate they are) are also findable. I guess that might be something to further discuss if the interest is there.

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This isn’t a forum where we can discuss alternative ways, but I think if there is interest in doing this thing, we can move onto talking about a time to start listening and how to arrange it. :slight_smile:

Considering how chatty our reading club is, I don’t think it’s a problem even if we aren’t all that many participating in this thing. It’s so nische that I feel it’s amazing that already 3 people wanna give this a try! :joy:

I’ll be making a thread for this thing, so we can move over there to arrange the practical details. ^>^

Stay tuned! :headphones:

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I’ve only listened to a handful of dramas (done as podcasts) and today just bought an audiobook that refers to itself as an オディオドラマ in the summary (教団X) but should there be another listening club that pops up I’d be interested in joining in. Definitely depends on the content - I appreciate your love of pirates but can’t say it’s up my alley :sweat_smile:

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