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ACMI Re/commends: Terrace House

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Terrace House is a popular Japanese reality TV show with a vocal fan base worldwide. Thanks to Netflix, this franchise has gained notoriety since its premiere in 2012 and is now five seasons deep. 

The chief enjoyment of Terrace House comes from the acerbic wit and insight of the commentators, taking the tired reality TV format to new levels with a practice that is uniquely ubiquitous in Japanese television: pop-up boxes known as waipu. You might have noticed (as I did on a holiday visit) that Japanese TV will often deploy a talking head in a smaller screen – often a celebrity personality, and particularly on game shows.  

Terrace House expands upon this trope, engaging a group of commentators whose primary function is to analyse, reflect on and occasionally critique the conversations and interactions that occur on-screen. In this case, at well-timed interventions rather than as a constant picture within a picture.  

The regular group of studio commentators, consisting of actors, models and comedians, introduce and back-announce, eagerly watch with one white earbud, and make jokes about the participants. The hopeful housemates strive to find a relationship or discover themselves in a sharehouse environment. As the Terrace House commentators point out, the show is entirely unscripted, but well edited, and a fascinating insight into the cultural norms of Japan.  

There is something comforting in the community discussion, I find myself glued to the screen, marvelling at the formalities of courtship, the tension and drama of interpersonal relationships in modern Japan.  

Sometimes it provides insight into the social conservatism and rigor of politeness, and as someone who doesn’t speak Japanese, I feel like it reveals that phrasing and ways of stating can create very different outcomes in conversation. Often the commentators will pick up on nuances of phraseology that they find meaning in, but are lost in translation when English captions are applied. It doesn’t interfere with the enjoyment of the series, in which romances, drama and personality clashes unfold in a steady rhythm.  

I think the reason I love it so much is the power of its self-referential analysis. The deconstruction and analysis that follows the observation of people interacting is something we all love to do, and I am always interested to hear what the commentators have to say, even if I disagree with their perspectives.  

Given there are five seasons to choose from, I recommend the best starting point as ‘Opening New Doors’ as it has the best mix of drama and romance, and memorable people that enter the house.  

By Anaya Latter, staff writer


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