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Japan Hour, eat your heart out
IF you haven't already got Netflix, Terrace House is the reason you should. The Japanese social experiment is not one of the more high-profile programmes that the media streaming company tends to promote, but it's a real gem.
As a colleague said to me: "This show got me through 2016."
It is a reality television series that bucks most expectations of offerings in that genre (or I would not have watched it).
Terrace House is everything your typical American reality TV show and its participants are not: well-mannered, congenial and even uplifting in its positivity at times. Yet, anything but dull.
The show focuses on the six men and women who live together in said house (with a terrace), as they go about their everyday lives, with all of its prosaic appeal.
And that's perhaps the key to the show's success: it's a novelty in our current TV diet, an intimate look at the lives and culture of the Japanese, from the point of view of its young adults.
Seasons 1 and 2 are based in Japan, while the third season takes place in Hawaii. All three are Japanese in tone and language.
Don't fret if you're of the nihon-go wakarimasen variety; the show is so brilliantly subtitled that you're able catch the subtleties and humour of all that goes on.
Terrace House busted many of my preconceived notions of the Japanese (many of which were probably put in place by Japan Hour, I'll admit).
While conservative, the show's participants were surprisingly direct and open with their thoughts and feelings. Uncomfortable moments and potentially explosive issues weren't left to fester, but were dealt with promptly, with much gentility (and bowing) - and typically to everyone's satisfaction.
Screaming, plotting or backstabbing - de rigueur in many Hollywood productions of this genre - are refreshingly and thankfully absent.
You might wonder what could possibly be entertaining about this - and I can see that the show would probably appeal more to those already fascinated with Japanese culture - but there is something remarkably instructive about watching these young adults deal with life's difficulties with such introspection and grace.
And then there's the food. Food featured on the show is handled with the reverential attitude we've come to expect from the Japanese: Terrace House boasts many lingering close-ups of the meals consumed or prepared by the housemates. Even simple dinners culled from leftovers are prepared with much care. (Eat your heart out, Japan Hour.)
Food also serves, at times, to drive the plot along. In Terrace House Season 2: Boys & Girls in the City, 21-year-old Minori Nakada spells out "coward" in Japanese, using ketchup, atop the omu rice she prepares for 23-year-old Tatsuya Uchihara, when she gets frustrated waiting for him to make his move. Uchi doesn't need any further prompting then.
Still, I have to say, the best part of the show for me, hands down, is its group of commentators.
The show cuts back and forth from them, usually after an emotional or eventful moment in the house. And their comments are heartfelt, sharp, remarkably insightful and wickedly funny.
The motley crew of Japanese comedians, actors and TV hosts take apart the conversations and actions - even the most nuanced - of the Terrace House participants, and impart meaning and context to the developments.
For example, in Terrace House Season 3: Aloha State, 27-year-old Eric de Mendonca tries to apologise to 23-year-old Naomi Frank for being insensitive in the way he treated her when the group went surfing. She's watching an NBA game on the computer at that point, and Eric asks her to come over to the dining table where he's at, so that he can apologise to her.
The commentators pounce.
Comedian Ryota Yamasato: "He called her over, even though he's doing the apologising!"
Actress and singer Yu: "Is that how it is in America?"
Comedian Yoshimi Tokui: "I don't think that matters! Wasn't there a chair next to her?!"
Yu: "He wouldn't be a good lover."
They also jump on Eric's propensity to mention to his housemates when he needs to go to bed.
Yu: "Eric is really just an old man."
Yamasato: "His useless comment - that he's going to sleep at 10pm. It's like, who cares? It's something your dad would say."
Some of the funniest remarks are also wonderfully ribald - and probably too raunchy to repeat here.
I wasn't used to the idea of commentators at first; but now I feel that every TV show - and heck, even my life - needs Yamasato, Tokui and Yu to lend meaning to them.
Here's hoping you'll enjoy the show as much as I have. Itadakimasu!
- Cult Status is a monthly column focused on the best products, services and experiences we come across.