Now that I was in Japan, I would regret it if I didn’t take in some form of anime-themed entertainment that would take months to be released in Canada. Theo and Tarra invited Sara and I to the “Yatterman” movie, which had just come out the week before. It fit the bill perfectly. “Yatterman” was based off of the 1970s anime of the same name. It’s about two mechanics, Gan-chan and his girlfriend, Ai-chan. They travel the world on a robot dog called the Yatterwan to recover the fantastic Dokuro stone from the clutches of the evil Doronbo gang. The gang consists of Tonzura, a pig-headed muscle-man, Boyakky, the lecherous evil genius, and the bossy Doronjo, who under all the bondage gear just wants to find a good man and settle down. Despite being in all Japanese, the movie was fun, campy and colorful. It made fun of the fact that it was based on a cartoon by showing how ridiculous all of the formulaic transformations would be if they were in real life. I won’t give away any spoilers, but it also teaches everyone about the evils of tea-bagging.
In addition to the lovely film, we were also treated to the little differences in Japanese theater-going. Every ticket was assigned a specific seat. There were detailed maps on the screen showing the way to the exits, which made the theater feel a bit like an airline flight. We saw previews for two American films, “Bolt” and “Marley”. I had only seen both films from their trailers, and the differences were striking. While the American previews played up the snarky humor of both films, the Japanese trailers focused more on the emotional parts of the films and, to my surprise, made me want to see them more. Are Western entertainment companies trying to hide the sad parts from the audience, or do Japanese audiences need to see more of a film before they make the decision to see it?
While we’re on the subject of Japanese entertainment, Sara and I had quite a bit of time to check out Japanese television. There is anime, although it’s not running constantly. If there is an anime cable channel, we weren’t getting it in the apartment. There was a documentary on NASA to commemorate Japan’s contribution to the International Space Station. It was interesting because they would show the stock footage, the narration, and the re-enactments (with Western actors, so this was a well-budgeted production) and then they would cut back to the studio with a couple of stalwart experts demonstrating the distance from the Earth to the Moon to a panel of celebrities. Occasionally, there would be an insert to the reactions of the celebrities to what they were seeing. For example, the actresses teared up on witnessing the funeral of the Apollo 1 astronauts. It turns out that Japanese television shows do this on a regular basis. They would show something, and have a panel of celebrities comment on it. In addition to the space program documentary, there was also a show where people would eat their dinner in a room full of puppies or pot-bellied pigs and the panel would watch what would happen. It seems almost crass to inject the opinions of celebrities into things like the space program, but do we sell ourselves short by keeping the idea of information separate from the guilty pleasures of VH1? We decry that Ashton Kutcher is getting more twitter followers than CNN, but instead of setting these two forces against each other, perhaps we should be getting them to work together.
Concerning Japanese game shows, there are many, and they are wackier than ever. My favorite of these was a show where these two guys dressed like Prince Valiant went to peoples houses offering them money if they could win a game of hide and seek. The Prince Valiant guys would get clues on the contestants’ whereabouts via traps set near the hiding places. We watched a family win 1 million Yen (around $10,000) by hiding themselves in various places in their own house. The small daughter won by hiding in the bottom drawer of a china cabinet. The 100 million yen (million dollar) contest was much tougher. About 20 contestants hid in an electronics store, and when they were caught they would get mud, paint, and other substances thrown on them. One guy had tarantulas thrown on him, so subsequent prisoners would enter the losers circle saying stuff like, “Why is everyone stuck in the corner-OH GOD NO GET AWAY!” Suffice to say, nobody won the grand prize.
Seeing those people humiliated on national television reminded my why US shows often miss the point of Japanese game shows. They spend so much time trying to bare the souls of the contestants or checking the instant replay to realize that such shows are not about rewarding skill or knowledge, they are about hilariously punishing ignorance!