Sunday, May 24, 2009

"That spacious sky up there belongs to no one."

Nothing that I feel like talking about has been happening lately. Instead,

I didn't have American TV until college, and then I had to share it with a lot of people who had very firm ideas on what it should be playing. So except for the blissful times in hotels - and it sounds odd, but having control of the remote has always been one of my favorite things about vacations, and one of the least favorite of people sharing a room with me - I haven't had the option to watch whatever program I felt like before, surfing to another on a whim. It's a heady feeling.

I don't know how much Japanese television differs from American. There are things that strike me as odd in general - the intense focus on the season, the big-name stars in commercials, the inclusion of food in shows that aren't food-shows, the inclusion of songs performed by celebrities who aren't known for being singers for reasons made clear when they perform said songs. And then there's a handful of features that I always find interesting. How do they work? Could they work in reality or is it the magic of television? Could they work in America?


1. "Food Prejudice King"

Two celebrity guests are each served four dishes, one of which they hate. When they've both eaten some of all four, the other guesses the disliked one. They usually give a reason like, your eyes were watering, or, you took a big breath before you took a small bite. Then they have a face off while they simultaneously take another huge bite of the guessed dish while maintaining eye contact and a plastic "isn't this delicious!" smile. The loser usually crumbles before the fork reaches their mouth. The winner is the one who guessed the other's weakpoint correctly while hiding their own. I suppose there could either be two winners or two losers, but I haven't seen it yet. It's kind of a boring show unless you really like one of the celebrities - they talk calmly in a mature fashion, and there's none of the gushing, "Why is it so delicious?!" that usually occurs when people eat on TV - probably so they don't give anything away. But if you do like one of the guests it's interesting to see how bad or good they are at concealing their likes and dislikes.


2. "The Iromonea"

A variety of comedians are given the opportunity to win 1,000,000 yen. Supposedly a few have, but it certainly doesn't seem to be easy. They have to compete in five categories: a one-line gag, an imitation, a short skit, random props, and a silent skit. Out of a hundred audience members, five are randomly chosen to be judges. If the majority - that is to say, three of them (or all five in higher levels) aren't made to laugh in sixty seconds, the comedian loses, and isn't able to go on to the next round. At first I thought the judges knew who they were, and that it was monumentally unfair. What if an audience member dislikes a comedian for some reason - I'll admit, I'm not found of a few of them myself - and purposefully stifles their laughter at something that is objectively quite funny? There was an episode with a very grim looking young man in the audience - "Why are you even attending a comedy show on the day when, it appears, your entire family has died?" I thought. He must really despise the current act, so angry was his expression. Then when the lost, he let loose such a disappointed, "aww, man!" face, I realized the judges must not know who from the audience they are, after all. Not that it's not still a very subjective system - there are comedians with the sort of unpleasant humor that are likely to only get stony stares. And then there are the good-looking sort of male comedians who raise the female fans tension so that they burst into giggles as soon as he steps on stage. But that is the sort of inequality that is present outside the television, and comes as no surprise. I like this show because I get to see the comedians I like under pressure, but that's a flaw also. As the time reaches the final ten seconds, the ticking becomes audible and the lighting changes to a sickening green. Obviously that ratcheting up of the pressure acts as a detriment to their creative process. So it's a great feeling of success when, with a second to spare, they get the last laugh.


3. "The Roughly 100 Yen Shop"

Taking its cue from Japan's ubiquitous Daiso stores, this program has a brightly colored set with various objects spread on a table (also, for some reason, is hosted by male comedians in the sort of middle-aged women's clothing that would make Monty Python proud). There's usually two celebrity guests, promoting their current drama or movie. Some of the props are indeed 100 yen - some are vastly more expensive. They try to pick out the latter, and bring it to a cashier to check the price. If they are wrong, they have to pay the full price of the object. It can be quite tricky, as - I quickly found - things at the 100 yen shop are much higher quality than their equivalent, the dollar store. There's all sorts of hints I've learned in case I'm ever on the show. Things that look old and tacky are often antiques or rare collectibles. I like to see the reasoning the guests come up with. This is light, so it's cheap. I have no idea what this is good for, so it's expensive. The unsettling part of the show is when the guests guess wrong for something that ends up being in the thousands of dollars. They pull out their wallet and hand it over right there, displaying great consternation. "I'm a student," one young actor protests. "I'm still in college!" I worried about them paying so much for a silly game, but then I figured if there were actually a change of losing so much money there would be no guests willing to make an appearance. There must be some system underway where they either get the money back at the end, or an amount is given to them before hand to play with like Monopoly money. Imagining this put my mind at ease, though it does make for a less suspenseful program.


Those are three that strike me as peculiar off the top of my head, but I'll likely come up with others later.

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