This Week in Tokyo Pop Culture | Oct 25: Food, Strong Women & Kamen Rider Road Rage

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It always pays to keep it safe and have a spare, well, everything, at least according to Japanese TV. In the last week, it’s released a bunch of shows that explore two weirdly similar topics – food and strong women – probably so that if you don’t like one series, you can just switch over to the next one. Here are your options:

FOOD: Hitori Kyanpu de Kutte Neru (TV Tokyo) and Grand Maison Tokyo (TBS)

Japan is reportedly experiencing a boom in camping, so obviously TV Tokyo decided to cash in on that craze by making a show about food. The first episode of Hitori Kyanpu de Kutte Neru (~ “Eat and Sleep at Camp Alone”), which premiered on October 18, tells the story of Kento (Miura Takahiro), who lives off canned food while camping. One day, he befriends another camper, Mamoru, and learns about smoking food, like nuts etc., using wood chips. And that’s the show: an excuse to celebrate different ways of cooking outside of a fancy kitchen.

It’s a very simple premise but it’s more than enough to keep you coming back to the show to see what dish it will show off next. You don’t really experience that with Grand Maison Tokyo.

The show premiered on October 20, telling the story of a talented Japanese chef (Kimura Takuya) with a two-Michelin-star restaurant in Paris. He then loses the restaurant and tries to rebuild it to earn that third star, and that’s just a really weak premise. There are absolutely no stakes in a plot about a superstar chef wanting to become a little more famous, and while all the food on GMT is undoubtedly beautiful, that’s not enough to carry an entire series. One point to the camping show.

FEMALE MAVERICKS: Miss Jikocho (NHK), Hidarikiki no Eren (TBS), Haru: Sogo Shosha no Onna (TV Tokyo)

“Progress is built on failure.” That’s the premise thrown at us by the new show Miss Jikocho (premiered on October 18) focusing on Manako Amano (Matsuyuki Yasuko), a brilliant engineer who studies “failure.” Specifically, she studies past accidents and their causes, essentially creating a new science that opens the show up to all sorts of possibilities.

But while Amano does have potential to be an interesting character (she’s comically obsessed to the point of tactlessness), the show cannot stop patting itself on the back for coming up with the “failure” premise. The word is thrown around ALL THE TIME and every character or plot development is shoehorned into the “failure” narrative, making the final product feel forced and inorganic.

Similarly, Hidarikiki no Eren (~ “Lefthanded Eren”), which premiered on October 20, also has the potential for greatness, thanks to a story about social rebellion, but it really needs to focus more to get there. The show deals with Asakura Koichi (Kamio Fuju), a designer for an advertising agency who feels suffocated and unfulfilled by his sell-out job, yearning to become something more. This causes him to remember and fantasize about Eren, a genius artist who is genuine and free in all the ways Koichi is not. She is what will make or break the show. But after the first episode, Eren simply doesn’t feel fleshed out enough, and runs the risk of becoming just a symbol of Koichi’s revolt against the corporate world, which would completely rob her of her agency.

The new series Haru: Sogo Shosha no Onna (~ “Haru: Woman of a General Trading Company”) doesn’t have that problem. After just one episode, which premiered on October 21, it already established itself as a celebration of strong women. The story revolves around single mother Umihara Haru (played masterfully by Nakatani Miki) who becomes the executive of a trading company where her innovative and progressive ideas collide with the conservative culture of corporate Japan. But throughout all that, Haru remains interesting, unflinching, and as powerful as a calm before the storm. A clear winner in the Female Maverick battle.

Fighting Rage with Humor

On October 17, a motorist in Toyoake, Aichi Prefecture, was attacked when a crazed man jumped out of nowhere onto the hood of their car and smashed their window for no reason. The incident was caught on dashcam and started a national conversation about road rage and mental illness in Japan. But the internet didn’t care about that. Instead, it used the footage to have a little fun by editing it, among other things, into a Kamen Rider intro. Never change, internet.

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