Inane – is an adjective that best describes many Japanese TV programs. It appears quiz/game shows are what the viewing public want to watch. Every commercial channel broadcasts quiz shows at almost the same time nightly. Televised during the, so-called, ” Golden Time ” – between 6:00 pm and 9:00 pm – most of these shows are the same format. Flick between channels and you’ll watch quiz show after quiz show of the same concepts. The only major difference being the show’s host and the array of different guests. These programs typically involve of a group of guests – usually famous television “idols” – having to answer various quiz questions. These questions range from “How do you say mizu, in English?” to ” What year did the Japanese Emperor first speak to the people of Japan on the radio? “(The answers to these questions are ‘water’ and 1945). During the program, the host invariably puts on a one-man show of his own making asinine jokes or offering cynical remarks about the ability, or lack thereof, of the contestants.
One of the most famous game show hosts is a fellow by the name of Shimada Shinsuke. From the beginning of the telecast, Shinsuke wants to be the center of attention – he loves the camera. He’ll mock guests for mistaken answers, he ‘ ll make churlish remarks – seemingly to chide – a contestant. Usually young female contestants are his focus. This man is suppose to be a comedian but it is clear the only way he can get a laugh is to belittle weaker people – Don Rickles, he aint.
Many of the young women that appear on these shows purposely fake stupidity in order to be “cute”. Indeed manager’s advise these young things to “play-dumb” so that they can win favor with the show’s host and be invited back. It is rumored that Shinsuke doesn’t like any girl or woman being “smarter” than him and if upstaged, that guest would never be invited back on the show. It’s all about ego – Shinsuke’s ego. There are other game show hosts who are equally egotistical, however Shinsuke is unique in that he dominates the game show genre. On every network on any given day, you’ll find Shinsuke hosting yet another lame-assed game show.
News programs are, for the most part, excellent. These programs are usually shown late in the evening when it is assumed, by the network bosses, that Dad is home from the office. Interestingly: advertsing also morphs from toys, cooking and fashion to alcohol, cars and sex. The News presentations usually have a male anchor and he is assisted, in recent years, by a female co-anchor. Unlike game shows, these women perform their duties in a mature, responsible manner. There is often one other person positioned at the News desk and that person is a kind of commentator. His job (he is usually a he) is to give his thoughts, opinions and/or advice on News stories as they are reported. These men are usually retired journalists or university lecturers and, for me, seem to be void of any feeling. They sit like positioned zombies only speaking when called upon.
The final type of program I would like to comment on is dramatic television – the drama. In the west we have shows like NCIS, CIS, Desperate Housewives and so forth. Western television provides the viewer with a variety of different genres. Japanese dramas, however, tend to focus on love stories or rags to riches features. Police shows are few and the programs that are concerned with the law, are poor copies of American shows. Most Japanese dramas lack any kind of realism. The characters are often wooden and unbelievable. Director’s seem to love filming rooftop scenes with panoramic views of the Tokyo skyline. River sides or harbor shots, also seemingly popular. The actors and actresses are dressed in expensive fashion – Vuitton, Armani – taking center stage. This type of fashion often doesn’t fit with the character’s job or profession. In the case of a love story, there is no kissing, no bedroom scene. Sex is implied but never filmed. During intense scenes the background music is almost always a sole pianist playing some forlorn tune to, hopefully, add a cathartic feel to the situation.
In recent years, cable networks like Fox, CNN and others have been breaking into the Japanese television world. Many Japanese households have forgone the inane game shows, the unrealistic dramas and excessive advertising and signed up for cable. American shows like Bones, 24, Dr House and even reality shows like American Idol, are becoming popular. It is my opinion that if Japanese television producers and directors don’t start to evolve and improve the programs they air, in a few years cable will rule. There are many other facets of Japanese commercial televisio that I could write about, but to do so would make this blog longer than the Bible.