My last article mentioned a popular Japanese television series called “Before After”. In the cultural wasteland of Japanese television, dominated by cult-celebrity panel variety shows, it stands out as one of the few gems worth watching. Despite being a show ostensibly dedicated to home improvement, it might also be one Japanese TV’s most emotional…
Here’s the formula:
As with most Japanese shows, “Before After” is inexplicably hosted by a panel of comedians and B-list celebs. Each week we see a family in dire straits. The “Before” section exposes squalid living conditions backed by edgy moaning of dissonant synthesizer track. Hidden cameras reveal the family’s daily routine as they attempt to make do with their dysfunctional living arrangement. We see buildings in decay, belongings stacked to the rafters, and grandma sleeping in the hallway.
Next, we see the white gloved builders move in, pulling the ceiling down in one fell swoop. Work begins at a frenetic pace.
Enter strapping young architect
Each week the show’s producers assign some up-and-comer to sort out the problems of our family in crisis.
While the design is not always worth writing home about, the ingenious space-saving solutions often are. Most projects incorporate traditional elements of Japanese design (tatami floors, sliding shoji screens, etc) with modern innovations and Westernized features. The designer usually try to retain or relate some family heirloom, or the client’s personal interest within their final design. Now for the great unveiling.
Cue weepy orchestral score
As we omnipotently glide through the finished interior, a matronly narrator describes our tour. Doors magically swing open. Still shots of the before fade into the majestic outcome (is it my imagination or do they actually apply a bit of artificial glow to these shots?). We often see black and white photos of long-dead ancestors who once lived in the home before bequeathing it.
Finally, we see the family (they have been kept away all this time) approaching up the street, ready to take in their newly appointed home for the first time. This homecoming segment is always contrived to elicit teary scenes. Mother usually breaks down soon after entering, overcome with the transformation. If that doesn’t get her, the architect always saves a final flourish for the end. It may be a lovingly restored family heirloom or an ingenious way to accommodate the owner’s eccentric hobby or occupation.
As they bow deeply before the architect to say “arigato sensei” (obviously my favorite bit), I always feel slightly sorry for these people who seem penitent before the camera. The Japanese are intensely private people and bearing the public shame for one’s prior living conditions and seems to be the price of the makeover.
More tangible building costs are helpfully displayed at the end of the project. This provides a useful benchmark for anyone with an interest in refurbishing their own home.
Human drama aside, “Before After” provides great insight for those interested in Japanese domesticity. I have embedded a couple more choice segments.
More clips can be found on Youtube (feel free to comment with any interesting clips I might have missed).