Fall binge watching: 2nd Netflix installment of テラスハウス Terrace House

I shouldn’t be watching it, but I do, and I wish Netflix would buy and caption the prior seasons and movie from Fuji TV in addition to their next installment.   Releasing the older stuff would be a properly Netflixian thing to do, unless Netflix is trying too much to be a TV network now, which would make me sad.

What to say?

The premise of the show is: College dorm suite with 3 guys and 3 girls, if the dorm was at a Christian college in Ohio with fairly strict morals when it comes to relationship honesty.  The rules: You’re there to be filmed, people.  Date each other if you feel like it.  Don’t date off-screen characters. Don’t hide anything.  And don’t lie.  Although the most entertaining moment in all 46 episodes happens when someone is caught in a lie, and she gives some hilarious side-eye

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when she is grilled by the Relationship Lying Honor Committee.

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The back-story on this:  The droopy girl in the farmer suit is apparently the prettiest high school girl out of 640,000 in all of Japan.

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She is 18. She is dating the guy on the right in the black T-shirt who is a failed actor and chef trainee.  He is 29 and quite full of himself.

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They are apparently dating in secret so that any high school boy who is feeling Japanese when looking at her picture won’t have a dissonant image of her dating an older guy.  She is shown in another scene signing (or rather, her mother, even though she is 18, signing) a modelling contract.  She is seen shedding a tear during a bikini photo shoot when the photographer asks her to lean forward to show off her assets a little better.   We aren’t quite ready for a Miley Cyrus Mickey-Mouse-Club to Wrecking Ball transition here, but clearly some much milder kind of maturation is transpiring nevertheless.

What makes this interesting is that when she started dating the chef, she was really more interested in the other black T-shirt on the left.  Unbeknownst to her (even though the show is aired weekly in real-time in Japan, so she should have known), another girl was ahead of her on Black T-Shirt #2:

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So she was left with the chef.  So there is a smidgen of transactionality in her choices.  In this case, she made Hobson’s Choice.  But with sincerity and trust in the belief that, as the Prettiest High School Girl In Japan Of All 640,000, the second choice guy must really, really be in to her.

So they must snuggle in secret, because of her “career”.  And Black T-Shirt #2 offers great understanding in this matter.   Then when they are grilled by the Honor Committee, it’s up to her to explain.  He just kind of sits there, emoting creepiness for the camera.  Finally, he says “Well, I guess we have to break up, because of your career.”  She says “Don’t you worry about my career, that’s my problem.”  And he’s all, “No, no, no, I must be considerate.  Your career.  It’s most important.”

Finally she, and the Honor Committee, and the entire world, get it.  The Assistant Chef is hooking up with Prettiest High School girl not because she is so fantastic, but because she is available and they’re on a reality show and he’s a failed actor and this is his shot, but, beyond that, meh.   This, apparently, is the first time in Prettiest Girl’s 18 years on the planet that she’s run into a guy that wants to snuggle with her because she’s a girl, and she’s available, and not for any deeper reason.  This leads to some tears of anger in a 1-on-1 between them, and finally in a subsequent episode she gets to stand him up in a show-up-here-at-this-time-if-you-love-me subplot which is out of place in Japanese reality TV and really only works well on a Korean drama.  Spoiler alert: She doesn’t show up at the last minute, after great consideration or many difficult obstacles are overcome.  She runs into him over coffee at the dorm the next morning, giving him a polite Hello and some coolly delivered Japanese stink-eye.  She looks a lot more adult in this moment:

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So that was the most dramatic moment in the show.  Generally, in terms of dramatic moments, this show is as flat as Iowa.  The drama is more subtle and, for full appreciation, needs to be intepreted for you by this guy, who breaks it down from the persective of a 20-year-old male with frosted hair.

There are other dramatic moments in the show, some likable characters and some entertainingly unlikeable characters and some steadfast characters.  The tone, concerns and value space changes a lot as cast members come and go, which they do with some regularity, as they strike out romantically with others on the set (the format doesn’t seem to allow for off-screen romances, which is right and proper), or as they get something approximating real jobs.  One character is an architecture student who suffers as architecture students do, with crushing creative rejections in competitions which winnow out the 1% of architecture students who actually make it in architecture.  Other characters are attractive and funny.  One male character, a preening and fashion-fussy male model who sports the moustache of an early-1940’s Hollywood swashbuckler, goes on dates with a really attractive girl and then coldly rejects her for not having a “core”.  In another scene, he cries when taking leave of a male cast member.  No one calls him out at this point for possibly being an undercover Judy Garland fan, which seems to be a consideration which is out of scope for the tenor of the show.  (Again, all things considered, think Christian college dorm somewhere in Ohio.)

The show seems to heavily favor casting 3rd-tier models and failed actors.  If you run through the list of cast members, that seems to be the main theme.  Reddit provides a helpful list of their Instagrams and Twitter pages, so you can see for yourself.

Final note on the architecture:  The house itself is a fantastic creation which I guess will list for $20 or $30 million dollars now that they are done.  It’s a 4-story mansion in the heart of central Tokyo, so go figure.  We don’t get to see how awesome until the last episode, when you get glimpses of a gigantic jacuzzi shower with plate glass window views.

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We never see the elevator.  When never get a full tour, although it seems to be a 4-story building.  Reddit to the rescue!  Let’s see if my price is correct.  $30,000/month rental.  6 bedrooms.  Private swimming pool.  Central Tokyo.  Here’s a guide.  ¥149,000,000.  So I’m about right: $22MM.  For 6 people..

But that’s serious overkill.  They barely use the pool.  There’s a private bedroom on top that’s only used by one couple.  They never use that great bathroom for any shot.  You mostly see them in the living room, in the kitchen, in the TV room, or in the boys or girls bedroom, each of which has a 3-decker bunk bed like your 8-year-old son would have.  They could be anywhere.  So it sets a cool tone, but crazy overkill.  It takes you slightly out of college dorm territory, but it’s all reinforced concrete and formica, so by the tight angles and limited use of the set, it puts you right back into college dorm set and setting.

One final note:  We get 46 half-hours out of 9 months of occupancy of 17 characters.  Not once do we see the crew or cameras or mikes.  This aspect is meticulous and differs from most American reality shows.  And they leave out 99% of the work and away-from-the-house private lives of the characters.  Still, its a little spooky how they get some real-seeming moments on video of the interactions between the characters.  It’s kind of like watching a live-action version of The Sims.  I guess you could say that about any reality show, but it’s both more real and more subtly unreal in this show.

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