Wednesday, February 16, 2005

boob tube

Tomorrow I head down to the real estate agency to have a cup of tea with my new landlord, have a little chit-chat, and get the key to my new place. I'll start moving in tomorrow, the utilities will be on by February 20th, and I'll be sleeping there from March 1st. Since one of my housemates is moving into his girlfriend's fully furnished apartment, he's been nice enough to give me several of his appliances here. All of this leaves me with a philosophical crisis. TV or no TV?

Somewhere in the middle of high school I lost interest in television. I remember one particular day being absolutely exhausted, getting home late from school jazz band practice while the family was clustered around watching Seinfeld. "Jamie, you have to see this! George and Kramer are..." and in that moment I was swamped with this overwhelming angsty teenage feeling of alienation from my family. I mean, for real, not like what everyone feels in high school, this was, like, totally unique. Really.

Fast forward to a few years later as an exchange student in Japan, living with a few foreign and Japanese housemates in a drafty two story fire trap in the Kyoto suburbs. Sunday nights were reserved for huddling around the idiot box and watching Warau Inu no Boken (Adventures of a Laughing Dog), this sketch comedy show put on by five of Japan's best comedians. Like Monty Python, a lot of Japanese humor relies on non sequitur and bizarre juxtapositions that don't make much sense, so even with my bare bones Japanese I didn't need much translation. Sexy cow femme fatales, three guys in crow costumes doing coordinated dance moves and ending every phrase with a long drawn out "kaaaaaaaaaaa" and a magical male cheerleader squad who prance around in nothing but oversized leaves over their privates: this is the Esperanto of comedy.

When I came back to Japan in the summer of 2002, Warau Inu had just been cancelled, and I didn't have any nerdy housemates to translate for me, so the TV that had come with my apartment got shoved in the closet and made occasional appearances as a movie-tron.

But lately I've suddenly found myself sucked into the hyper-frenetic world of Japanese TV again. Everything is fascinating, brain melting eye candy. There are the stunningly produced reality surpassing 15 second ads that seem to be inserted into shows at random. There is the Friday night comedy variety show Warakin where the best new comedians cut their chops against each other. There is the unbelievable Dochi no Ryori, where two master chefs prepare two opposing styles of meals using some of the finest ingredients in the world, and seven celebrity guests have to choose which one they will eat. Whoever chooses in the majority gets to eat the meal, whoever chooses in the minority has to sit and watch them enjoy the meal without eating anything.

Then there is the nightly parade of unbelievably weird stuff. The TV Asahi evening news is without a doubt Japan's worst news program; their anchor is a former sports announcer, they usually lead off with some fluffy scandal or murder story, and wrap up with stuff like robots that can do traditional Japanese dance.

Stupid? Yes. Mindless? Sorta. Consumer brainwashing? No doubt. Useless? Well, it helps my Japanese and gives me conversation fodder. So what's the use of Japanese TV? Well, in my mind, American TV takes itself way seriously. Even from here I see discussions of the Super Bowl ads in major newspapers, the cancellation of Friends makes the cover of Newsweek and a bevy of critics who retroactively praise its historical importance. Yes, Friends. Japanese TV has no such pretensions. It is designed to be perfectly inane, sidebars and subtitles letting the viewer understand who's talking about what in about three seconds. It doesn't try to be anything more than a mindlessly entertaining diversion that you flip on for a few minutes during dinner.

But then again my room is cluttered with a bass slowly going out of tune, a half finished copy of Moby Dick, a few barely used cookbooks, and a poor lonely journal that has fallen into disuse since this blog started. I could be out organizing against the bullshit. But if I ditch the TV, I will sorely miss my new favorite Japanese comedian Hiroshi. His entire shtick is to stand slightly askew in a spotlight on a darkened stage, a slow jazz ballad sung in Portuguese playing behind him. He will spin out slightly bizarre one liners about his sad sack life in a slow monotone that hovers between feeble resolve and self pity.

"I am Hiroshi. Why is it that even though I haven't touched any, my hands always smell like freshly cut grass?" "I am Hiroshi. The seat of my bicycle is gone!" "I am Hiroshi. If I had a chihuahua, would you come hang out at my apartment?" "I am Hiroshi. If I could play a flute made out of fish paste, do you think I could get on TV?"

This is gonna be a tough decision.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Warau Inu is the best Japanese TV show ever. Classic stuff. There are some translated videos here