Life in the Land of the Rising Sun

Sunday, June 08, 2008

You Mean You Liiiiiiiiieeeeeeed to Me??!?!???

The reality TV boom started in Japan only a little while after it started in America. While not as numerous as they were at the peak of the genre, some reality TV programs are still soldiering valiantly on, buoyed by a following that is as vocal as it is loyal.

...which really makes you wonder about human nature...

Only a couple of years after it got its start here in the Land of the Rising Gas Prices (and Vanishing Butter), however, the whole concept of reality TV in Japan received a devastating blow. One of the most successful reality TV programs here was a show called "Gachinko" (listed here), which started in 1999. It definitely had a very masculine tone; its whole theme was one of conflict. The longest-running segment, not surprisingly, was "Gachinko Fight Club", in which boxer wanna-be's with delusions of grandeur (and serious attitude problems) trained to take part in a boxing tournament, with the winner being accepted into a pro club. There were plenty of other segments, too, all of them short term, all of them basically involving a gang of losers training and competing to achieve some sort of goal, which was usually the right to be declared legitimate at something (e.g. a ramen chef, a college student, a tennis player, and others). There was always lots of hardship, lots of struggle, lots of bullying, lots of abusive instructors, lots of humiliation, lots of really manly trash talk, and of course frequent fights.

But that was the thing. A lot of people had to wonder just how real "Gachinko" really was. The macho drama seemed a little too pat. It was both predictable and repetitive. People often asked how it was that, no matter what the participants were working at (I mean, come on...ramen chefs?), they kept getting into fights constantly. It just didn't seem quite right. That didn't stop "Gachinko" from being one of the top TV programs for at least a few years. What did finally stop it was the ultimate "whoops": someone found a script for an episode of "Gachinko" in a dumpster behind the TV station and promptly took it to a rival media service. It was all over the news quicker than you can say, "Dad gum it!" The producers of "Gachinko" neither denied nor confirmed the authenticity of the script, which everyone took as an admission of guilt. The show's popularity crashed, and its history came to an abrupt end. It was also a blow to reality TV in general in Japan, but a few series continue to linger.

One of the still-running stalwarts is an interesting program called "Gakko e Ikou!" ("Let's go to school!"). It's a sort of combination variety/reality show starring a (now not) youth singing group called V-6. Its programming includes comedy sketches, games that students can play between classes, interviews, songs, and reality segments. One of the most common of the latter is them going to visit a random junior high school somewhere in the country and interviewing students. They also set up a sort of confession drama where students (and sometimes teachers) can get up on the roof of the school, address the faculty and student body, and get something off their chest. Usually it's either an apology to someone or an expression of gratitude. Sometimes it's a confession of love, after which V-6 ask the subject to offer his or her acceptance or rejection. It's all rather tearful and dramatic.

Apparently it's all totally phony, too. You see, about four or five years ago V-6 showed up at one of the junior high schools right here in my town. It was really quite a sensation, I can tell you; it was hard enough to believe that V-6 had been in this part of the prefecture, let alone filming an episode at one of our local schools! It was the talk of the whole area for quite some time. Unfortunately, however, the truth is only now starting to come out. Now my wife works for our local school district, and she heard it straight from the horse's mouth.

The whole thing had been scripted. And rehearsed.

That didn't really surprise me too much. After all, in 2004 a former student of mine got interviewed "on the street" in Tokyo for another famous TV program. She said they told her exactly what to say beforehand and even did another take when she didn't get it right.

Face it; reality doesn't sell. People want something larger than life. That's why the Japanese version of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" stopped its American-style "random audience member" participation and limited its participants to celebrities after only one season. That's why the "radical" quiz show "Hexagon", which started out as an engaging battle of intelligence between six people of similar profession (including beauticians, school teachers, doctors, etc.) degenerated into an annoying inane prattle fest trivia competition between three teams, the whole point of which is to make fun of the most hopeless idiots in the bunch. Of course, one has to wonder whether the stooges on "Hexagon" are really half as stupid in real life as they are on the show. After all, it's a given that one can't really trust "reality" on Japanese TV.

(If you don't mind a little cuteness overload, here is a clip from an episode of "Gakko e Ikou!" from last year in which they arrange an interesting interview/reception for Johnny Depp when he was coming to Japan to promote "World's End". It is in Japanese, but can be fun even if you don't speak the language. But is it real?)


  • In America, we still haven't figured out yet that it isn't real. Some have figured it out but let their mind hover in that zone where they know something is not real but don't care enough to turn it off.

    Facing reality is not one of our strong suits.

    By Blogger Don Snabulus, at 12:46 AM  

  • As Don has a relative in the movie business, the only real difference between "reality" shows and a good ol' sit the pay.

    See, TV folks can run around getting regular folks to do this stuff for their 15 mins of fame for FREE! Americans style ones don't have a script, (why pay a writer if you're not going to pay an actor?) necessarily, but a general situation, the "improv" is up to them.

    It's been gutting the entire system (they don't have costumers anymore, sometimes "stylists" who just use the volunteers own wardrobe to get the "look" they want) all about cutting out any costs and handing profits straight company.

    Besides that, after I watched the 1st survivor...I thought "how fake, they must have multiple crews to follow these dolts around, and they aren't eating sandcrabs either. "

    Everyone hated everyone else...for some weird reason (but guess what, human history (especially at the micro-level) is about COOPERATION, not competition. If you were really living in the Stone'd need everyone to help out.

    By Blogger ladybug, at 12:59 AM  

  • Thank you for reaffirming my decision to lead a TV-free life.

    By Blogger Pandabonium, at 7:08 AM  

  • Ditto pandabonium. It has been fascinating, however, to read about the Japanese version of the "reality" phenomenon. I would have thought Japanese culture would demand much more decorum.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:34 AM  

  • Everytime I turn on the tv I have to put fresh batteries in the remote.

    By Anonymous Dave, at 7:58 AM  

  • OOf. I think a day of the overload on Japanese TV would make my head explode. And those two little girls scared me!

    By Blogger Olivia, at 2:54 PM  

  • P.S. After IE crashed twice in 2 minutes I complained and my cousin admitted that he used to use Firefox regularly so he reinstalled it this afternoon! So I'm back!

    By Blogger Olivia, at 3:06 PM  

  • We just caught up with reality tv shows. What we are watching are mostly from the US.

    By Blogger Happysurfer, at 4:16 PM  

  • Wow, I'd love for reality TV to crash and burn here.

    But aren't some of those Japanese game shows reality TV like takeshi's castle?

    By Blogger Swinebread, at 10:31 PM  

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