There, I said it. You want to know what I really did with my Christmas? I watched all 26 episodes of TERRACE HOUSE which dropped on December 24th. I finished yesterday, the 26th.
I would feel far more guilty if I hadn’t managed to also be slightly social and spent some time with actual, living humans. Or, for that matter, managing to watch most of my Christmas viewing list earlier in the season, including the brilliant but decidedly heavy, DECALOGUE.
But, yeah, I think I might have a problem. I love TERRACE HOUSE. As in, I was counting the days until the new episodes were released. And then binged on it like a box of bon bons. I just couldn’t help it.
So, what is this evil entertainment concoction that has infiltrated my very soul? It’s a Japanese reality tv show which is made by Fuji and Netflix. The premise is very simple. Three women and three men live in a house together. Not exactly a new idea, but stay with me.
The cast are all in their twenties or early thirties. Many tend to have interesting career goals like becoming a professional athlete or musician. They also tend to be pretty photogenic. That goes for both the males and females on the show. Again, not so unique. But TERRACE HOUSE is different. Really. Let me try to explain.
For me, it all started after reading a New York Times Magazine article by Andrew Ritker which praised the show to high-heaven. He talked about his own difficulties enjoying reality television. Then he said the following. “It wasn’t until I found TERRACE HOUSE, a staggeringly banal Japanese franchise, that I realized the format was capable of genuine literary excellence.”
I honestly wasn’t sure exactly what the hell he was talking about. “Literary excellence?” Seriously? But his description of the slow-burn drama of the show intrigued me.
I would also blame some of my interest on the fact I was about to go to Tokyo for the first time. I was generally fascinated by anything about modern Japan. How could I have known then that it would all lead to hours of my life sitting motionless on my sofa for days on end?
The show claims to be totally unscripted. After seeing it, I actually believe them. What I’m pretty sure they do is to shoot everything. And I mean, everything. Then they take that massive amount of footage and create the show as we know it in editing.
Even after all the editing, TERRACE HOUSE still feels incredibly leisurely. And it’s in these moments of pretty much nothing happening that you find the greatest reward.
Andrew Ritker was right. There were moments of emotional connection and human revelation in TERRACE HOUSE that were shockingly powerful. It’s almost like so little happens, that when it does, it feels like an explosion.
Most of the drama is over very small things. One of the housemates is not doing enough cleaning. A guy becomes so smitten by the pretty girl in the house that he barely has the courage to talk to her. Really trivial stuff. And it’s terrific.
I think a lot of these moments would absolutely fall flat if the cast were not Japanese. However, because the Japanese tend to be less direct more subtle than most other cultures, especially Americans, every little moment takes on a whole new meaning. Entire conversations seem to be had with a glance and an expression. And those are the exchanges that TERRACE HOUSE is so skilled at capturing.
In fact, the weakest moments of TERRACE HOUSE, by a lot, are those which do feel forced into big dramatic moments. For instance, when people voluntarily leave the house and move on there are these horrible scenes of long, teary goodbyes, accompanied by a shmaltzy soundtrack. These scenes make me cringe.
But what’s shocking is that those forced moments are the exception, not the rule. Most of TERRACE HOUSE feels heartbreakingly honest and natural.
There are also some excellent commentators on the show. There is a group of men and women, ranging in age from near-twenty to near-fifty, who react and comment on the show in little segments of their own during each episode. Some of it is very, very funny.
The commentators have been, more or less, the same throughout. They have a familiar, easy-going chemistry between them that makes me actually want to hear their thoughts and opinions. Something that I consider absolutely astonishing.
One of the most memorable moments of all time in the TERRACE HOUSE series has to do with another factor that I find fascinating. The show is incredibly reflexive.
The people on the show obviously know they are being filmed. But the show is shot and edited so quickly that part of the day to day events taking place on TERRACE HOUSE include the housemates watching themselves on TERRACE HOUSE.
It can lead to some strange things. More than one character has realized how badly they have come across on the show and struggled to readjusted their behavior.
However, the biggest drama came when a particular young female character was trying to portray herself as incredibly naive and innocent on the show. She got caught on camera doing things that would indicate she was anything but.
When her housemates saw the episode showing the girl’s most blatant behavior, they confronted her with it. She had not only been pretending to be sweet and innocent for the television audience but to her housemates.
The footage was used as evidence of her deception. Footage from a previous episode of TERRACE HOUSE was used on TERRACE HOUSE to confront her. It was such fantastic viewing! And just kind of weird, in a great way.
However, as I said, most of TERRACE HOUSE isn’t that sort of big drama. It’s small. And slow. The magic of it comes from things like the expression on someone’s face as someone else walks by. Or telling the other housemates about something at work. Or successfully cooking for everyone and having the meal turn out well.
Those moments feel sincere. Honest. And totally relatable. Which is why the show connects so deeply with so many people around the globe. TERRACE HOUSE has become an international sensation. A whole world of gluttonous coach potatoes.
Our day to day life isn’t usually about the big confrontation, it’s about those tiny struggles and small victories. TERRACE HOUSE is fun and silly but most of all, its real. At least in the ways that are important.
So, go ahead. Sit down and watch a couple of episodes. Many other people are. I just hope your friends and family are understanding when you cancel your plans with them so you can keep watching. TERRACE HOUSE is that kind of show.