Japan’s Version Of Love Island Is Taking Netflix By Storm
Between the World Cup and Love Island, the Great British televisual-viewing public has its collective eyes glued to the screen, watching as people (and football) may or may not be coming home after potentially being kicked out of a very important competition.
There have been tears of joy and sadness as athletic, sporting youngsters win the spoils of hard graft, on and off Russian pitches.
The love games of these UK representatives have been particularly ‘explosive’ so far:
As the Australian version of Love Island gets ‘out of control‘, curated modern-day coupling continues between the young British Islanders and Casa Amor opens its doors for Raunchy Races designed to induce heartache.
This year, it seems the contestants are suffering 52 years of hurt in the space of one single summer, between the letdowns and breakups of the likes of Georgia and Josh and the abusive behaviour of Adam.
But, for those of us romantics desperate to watch young Casanovas and hopeful consorts couple up while living under the same roof, without waging psychological warfare, there is another way.
Welcome to Terrace House, the Japanese answer to Love Island. The premise might be almost identical but the point is world’s apart. It’s all in the name and it’s super ‘normcore’.
Six young people – three men and three women – become housemates in a universally beautiful, secluded mansion in the lush woods of Karuizawa, where they continue to go to work, rest and play for months on end, meandering through life’s little love trials with respect and goodwill.
Here’s a little taste of life in the Terrace House:
You might think it sounds boring. It’s not. It’s actually captivating, charming, beautifully-shot escapism the likes of which Love Island couldn’t muster with all the aesthetic appeal of its surroundings and residents combined.
The residents come and go as they please in this totally unscripted on-camera social experiment. Absolutely no scenes are ‘created for your entertainment’.
The Love Island producers try to pull the wool over the eyes of us meta-aware viewers who’ve become media savvy, attempting to discreetly place mic pouches on swimwear.
So, we’ve all developed a ‘dual perspective’ of ‘partly detached and cynical’ and ‘partly engaged and invested’ to retain our ability to separate reality TV from reality itself, says Sally Brown, a media commentator and BACP-registered therapist.
Terrace House viewers, meanwhile, can enjoy their really real TV conflict-free.
The participants develop human relationships with dignity, at a comparatively glacial speed over 24 episodes filmed throughout the year and aired over three seasons in March, May and June.
It’s not just a hot summer of love, it’s a slow-burn…
And it’s the Adam-antidote we all need right now.
Here in the UK, Love Island acts as a distraction from the anxiety-inducing rolling news channels and high-tension crime dramas which populate the TV guide, Brown told UNILAD.
Brown explained how Love Island soothes our hectic souls:
There is a need for more ‘soothing’ TV programmes, sufficiently engaging to stop us overthinking or worrying, but not overtaxing or stress-inducing. Love Island ticks all those boxes.
It’s also very funny at times which is therapeutic.
And yet, vapid though it may be, the yelling and screaming and tears and tantrums in the villa are actually highly-curated, awfully-augmented reality which – IMHO – frustrate, upset, delight and anger viewers in equal measure.
They also, whether you like it or not, glamorise some pretty dastardly behaviour for impressionable young viewers who aspire to D-list celeb status and conventional good looks.
Last year, 2.43 million viewers tuned in live to see Kem and Amber crowned the winning couple in 2017; the year before, the Love Island final was watched by 1.3m viewers, while the first was watched by 737,000 viewers in 2015.
It might be so-called trash TV but we love it in our millions.
Let’s take a walk down memory lane to Love Island 2017’s best bits, shall we:
In the Terrace House, clad like a Western cabin in the woods with cosy patterned throws and boy’s and girl’s bunk rooms, there’s a similar hegemony of beauty, talent and privilege.
But it’s low-key, quiet and considered. It’s not informed by toxic masculinity or backwards ideals of relationships.
It’s more fun for the family, featuring love and romance and face masks, than feuding fits of rage:
Each (exclusively heterosexual) housemate has their own independent life to lead, and they keep their jobs and their very own bunk bed.
One 19-year-old aspiring chef, called Yuudai, keeps his two soft panda bears on his top bunk during his stay.
They each have their own key too:
The residents are regarded and respected as individuals, prized not on their ability to win a mate, but to act cordially with each other.
The bikinis and short shorts of Love Island are replaced with slippers and working wardrobes, the Calvin Harris soundtrack and screaming replaced with the subtle noises of deep, meaningful conversation over a hot pot cooked together and the crackle of firewood.
We watch the same sort of sizing-up and the subtlety of jealous first glances, but rather than cajoled with the carnal assumption of sexual rivalry, they are overcome with mutual respect, as the housemates bow in greeting to each other.
Like Love Island, Brown continued:
We talk about [reality TV] like we’re anthropologists or sociologists, analysing the behaviour of the human species, the cultural expectations on men and women today and basic theories of the human need to be loved and accepted.
It can spark philosophical debate about what is right and wrong.
Just take a look at this:
Where, in this season of Love Island, concerns have been raised over the practice of gas-lighting and coercive control, in the Terrace House past series, even the cruellest Lothario – nicknamed Mr. Guilty – was described as ‘proper’ and ‘agreeable’.
In the latest series, titled Opening New Doors in a reflection of the pensive romanticism and low-key hope of the six residents, watching them all meet for the first time is something like watching a new boyfriend meet the parents.
They’re full of interest for each other’s dreams, hopes and aspirations – which extend much further beyond becoming an Instagram influencer and getting a BooHoo discount code.
Jess and Dom, we’re looking at you:
This cycle two housemates, Shion and Ami, have modelling aspirations.
Shion is already signed but looking towards the Parisian runways while humbly admitting his reason for being in Terrace House is somewhat ‘frivolous’.
Another, a semi-pro ice hockey player called Tsubasa, says she’s shy and would like to help promote female winter sports in Japan while building her own confidence and self-worth.
In fact, she has lived in Karuizawa since third grade. Taka, who makes his living as a pro snowboarder, grew up in the mountainous region.
It’s not a holiday for the residents.
They get a nice place to stay and two nice cars between the six and they’re left to their own devices. It’s reality TV which shows the reality of living.
Admittedly, they live in the lap of luxury which is perfectly captured in rolling footage framed to perfection. There’s a hot tub with a TV, which was sweetly marked out on day one as a great place for the women to bond.
Both Love Island and Terrace House offer an incredibly close insight into gender types, and heterosexual expectations – good, and bad – of modern dating rituals.
Brown explained our sentimentality with some real psychotherapy talk, which applies to Terrace House:
People project a lot of their own emotions onto the characters so… we are often thinking about our own experiences in similar situations.
Seeing beautiful and seemingly confident people being rejected or failing at love gives us a sense of perspective about our own problems, allowing us to accept that heartbreak happens to everyone, rather than being down to our unique flaws or failings.
But at the heart of [Love Island] is our deepest biological drive, the need for love and acceptance, which makes the chance to watch and analyse a group of people trying to couple up irresistible.
Except with Love Island, many of us watch on in horror as the contestants put their hearts and self-worth through the ringer for a half-share of £50k and few of us envy them. As Brown puts it, ‘there’s more of a ‘thank goodness that’s not me’ feeling’.
Not so for the six Terrace House residents.
They can play music, watch TV, use their phones and computers, take a break from the housemates, date other people outside the house, go to work, have sex, lead a fulfilled and normal existence while experiencing this once-in-a-lifetime experience and, at the end of the day, they can leave if they’re not enjoying themselves.
There’s no prize money or popularity contest carrot-and-stick method. Yuudai’s grandma even entered him into the house. It’s the opposite of salacious, all the while being seriously engrossing.
The six have so far spent more time talking about hot pot stock than who they think is hot or not. They cook together, eat together, go on dates, share their stories and explain their emotional needs in relationships empathetically.
If it’s the beach you’re after, they even go to Hawaii one season:
Ultimately, it’s relaxing and reassuring to see young people treat each other with respect, knowing that kindness and fun aren’t mutually exclusive.
The subtitles force us Brits on our IKEA sofas streaming via Netflix to actually watch and – here’s the unique thing about Terrace House – we do watch, enraptured, alongside a panel of six Japanese TV presenters and public figures who commentate on the residents’ social interactions, from their own on-set sofa.
There’s no rushing off to Twitter to share a still and commemorate an aching heart in meme-form. Your water cooler gossip debrief is in-built in the programme, as the narrative cuts away to the presenters.
And yet you don’t lose the community, tribal feeling Brown says we all crave and get with watching Love Island.
Indeed, a new presenter this season, Shono Hayama, eagerly joined the sofa and told his fellow people-watchers he’d been watching since season one, along with everyone else at his high school.
It’s the ultimate people watching, with layer upon layer of watching people watching people, without the need for a Caroline Flack-type figurehead stirring things up.
And, funnily enough, Terrace House Twitter is all over it:
The beauty of Terrace House is it proves reality TV can be both entertaining and a reflection of reality at the same time.
After all, it’s often the low-key love stories of friendship, contentment and passion which stay with you the longest.
If you have a love story to tell, contact UNILAD via [email protected]