As anyone who has read this blog before probably knows, I am a huge TERRACE HOUSE fan. As I described in that earlier post, Netflix debuted the latest iteration, TOKYO 2019 – 2020 on Christmas Eve. I finished watching all 26 episodes in two days.
But that was before.
Since that time, Covid has become real. The global economy is at risk of crashing. Political unrest and economic uncertainty have become the norm. Nothing seems the same.
In addition, something happened on TERRACE HOUSE which makes it impossible to think of it the same way. One of the cast members killed themselves. A 22-year old named Hana Kimura.
The reasons for Hana’s suicide were complex but it seems part of it was because she was on TERRACE HOUSE. As this article in the NEW YORK TIMES about Hana’s suicide explains, she was vilified on social media and found the experience of being on the show extremely difficult.
Her death also raised questions about how “real” TERRACE HOUSE was in spite of its claims to be completely different from traditional, more drama-prone, reality shows.
I’m not going to write anything additional about those accusations. But it needed to be brought up because I wanted to get into something else. Something very subjective and personal. My own experience recently re-watching the show.
Netflix decided to still make the show available. So, I watched it. Again. Why? Too much time on my hands, obviously. But it was much more than that. The bottom line was that I needed to.
You see, to me, and I’m guessing to a lot of TERRACE HOUSE fans, watching the show is almost like living with the cast. They almost feel like they are YOUR roommates.
Part of that is the nature of spending so much time with any television character or personality. It is the stuff of stalkers. The kind who imagine they have actual, real-world relationships with that female reporter they see all the time. The only difference is that I (hopefully) have a better grasp of the very limited extent of my relationship to the cast. But the feelings are, in many ways, the same.
The peculiarities of TERRACE HOUSE make this phenomenon even more pronounced. It creates an atmosphere of naturalism unmatched by any other reality TV show that I can think of.
It does this largely by focusing on the mundane and trivial. The stuff of day to day life, like grocery shopping, cooking and arguing about house chores. The result of all this trivia, is a feeling of dull, yet honest, reality.
The fact that the cast of TERRACE HOUSE watches themselves on earlier episodes of TERRACE HOUSE reinforces that feeling even further. Especially when they “out” each other about pretending to act differently from their normal selves on camera.
It is the ultimate illusion. A realty tv show that confronts you with the fact that it is a reality tv show and all that it implies.
Yet, illusion or not, TERRACE HOUSE feels normal.
Normal. As in normal before Covid. Normal before the insane politics. Normal before civil unrest became almost routine. Normal before this horrible year had yet to even start.
I needed to see people living together and freely coming and going without wearing masks. Having intense conversations over diner about who did or didn’t find so and so attractive. I needed to see people go to sporting events and concerts together hemmed in by boisterous crowds. See people live in the world as it once was.
And so much seemed to happen: careers were made and lost, decisions to move to other countries were made, romances were born, died, and renewed all over again. People were hurt, happy, angry, whatever.
It was, in a word, life.
I found myself almost getting jealous of the people on TERRACE HOUSE. I wanted what they had. Those dinner conversations. Those sporting events. Having those worries about bland and boring things.
I still laughed. I still got caught up in some of the drama. I still found some cast members so irritating I really wanted them to go away. I found others attractive and interesting. Most of all, I still cared about what happened to them.
Which brings up one of the things I felt most torn by re-watching TERRACE HOUSE. The cast of the house comes and goes. People move out. New people move in. One of the female characters very abruptly announced to her housemates that she will be leaving the next day. She is moving to London to pursue her career goals. And then the show ends. Just. Ends. Even though there were originally many more episodes.
A text tribute comes up for Hana. And that’s it. Over. If you try to watch TERRACE HOUSE on Netflix in the U.S. now you will never actually see Hana Kimura in an episode. I can understand the wisdom of that decision. However, you will also never get to see several other cast members and events which took place.
One of the greatest moments of TERRACE HOUSE involves a guy named Peppe. He moves from Italy to Japan to try to become a working Manga artist. We watch him struggle and strain through ridiculous schedules and hardships to try to get his very first Manga published and distributed.
There is a scene of him in his local convenience store seeing his own work among the other manga and magazines. A moment where he, and the audience, see that he has actually pulled it off. He has done it. He has attained his goal after years of hard work and incredible struggle. Struggle which we got to witness.
It’s TERRACE HOUSE and its very best. And, like so many other things, it has suddenly just disappeared.