Saturday, September 02, 2006
I don't watch much Japanese T.V. unless you count snippets on YouTube posted by Japan Probe. Part of the reason for this is that the type of entertainment on Japanese T.V. doesn't interest me much and the other reason is my Japanese is embarrassingly bad.
I do watch Japanese cable T.V. when I can find a station that's not showing Korean dramas, Aly McBeal, old crime dramas, or bad movies. However, I seem to have an uncanny ability to think about watching T.V. about 10-15 minutes before the hour when Japanese networks are running commercials between shows. For those who are in the U.S., a lot of Japanese cable channels show no commercials at all during programs and just run them repeatedly between shows.
So, I buy a lot of DVDs. I'm always on the hunt for good viewing material and I'm a particular fan of historical dramas. Fortunately, I stumbled across "Rome", a miniseries jointly produced by HBO and the BBC. Season 1 is now out on DVD and well worth spending some time watching. There are 12 episodes that span the time from Julius Caesar's struggle to make himself emperor to his death. However, unlike most of these types of dramas, the center of the series is not Caesar though his story is the backbone of season 1. The machinations of his relatives, enemies, and allies and the part they played in his demise form the meat of the show. We also get to follow the lives of two soldiers, Titus and Lucius. They are meant to portray the "everyman" of Roman society but are often ensnared in loftier situations through unfortunate happenstance.
It is the way in which the series shows us the daily lives of Romans where it deviates from the usual Roman epic. Some of it is pretty brutal and quite graphic. In fact, it's rather hard not to notice the softcore porn aspects of some of the sex scenes. Since "Rome" was co-produced by HBO, it's not surprising that they've chosen to take advantage of their cable-based freedom when it comes to showing nudity. Titus in particular seems to display a voracious appetite for women and speaks quite crudely of their anatomy on several occasions. The series is not for the prudish or easily-offended.
Aside from the more titillating aspects, there are numerous plots woven and unravelled in a soapishly delicious way, character development (espeically for Lucius) and a real feel for what it may have been like to live in Rome around 40 BC. Background characters, such as the town crier, show personality in their limited roles and you develop an affinity for them, as if they were acquaintances in a town you actually lived in.
The series does a very good job of making the history behind Caesar's downfall clear and understandable without being boring or tedious. This is the first time I've seen a portrayal of Caesar's life show us how someone who was a conquering hero and generally seemed to act in the interests of the people could have been seen as such a great tyrant by his political opponents.
It's also good for what it avoids. While many movies have spent most of their screen time savoring Caesar's relationship with Cleopatra, we barely see more than a kiss and a resulting offspring. We're spared the cliche of Cleopatra being unrolled from a carpet at Caesar's feet and "et tu brute" is never uttered.
The series can be purchased from Amazon for about $62. If you wait awhile, the price will likely go down but it is well worth that price given the quality of the production and the compelling story.
all images from "Rome" are the copyright of HBO and the BBC