I’ve only watched a few episodes of Queer Eye so am pretty late to the party, but when Queer Eye: We’re In Japan! popped up on my Netflix recommendations I knew I had to watch it ASAP.
Most of you will have at least heard of the cultural phenomenon that is Queer Eye – aka the ‘more than just a makeover’ show. It’s insanely popular on Netflix and the premise is simple – the Fab 5 are on a mission to transform the lives of people around America. It’s not just about physical looks (although that’s obviously part of it), but about finding your self worth, learning new skills and shooting for the stars.
After four US-based series, We’re in Japan! is the first time Queer Eye has gone overseas. It’s a great introduction to the series if you aren’t already on the hype train, and a great addition if you’re a diehard fan and just need more of the Fab 5.
In case you need a reminder, the Fab 5 are Antoni (food and wine), Tan (fashion), Karamo (culture), Bobby (design) and Jonathan (grooming).
Over four episodes of Queer Eye: We’re in Japan!, the Fab 5 meet four very different people in Tokyo – a middle-aged care home owner, a young gay man struggling to be ‘out’ in Japan, a manga artist with very low self esteem, and a mild-mannered radio presenter whose marriage needs some help.
Because I needed an excuse to blog about Queer Eye, here are my 5 Fab Things about Queer Eye: We’re in Japan!
I think this is an important one to start with. The world is literally and figuratively on fire at the moment and, in the UK, you can’t escape debates on Brexit or the General Election. So sometimes you really just need something that’s uplifting, positive and reminds you that there is still a lot to be hopeful about. Queer Eye: We’re in Japan! is an easy watch and, for me, avoids being superficial like most makeover shows. That, of course, is down to the Fab 5 who are characteristically entertaining and fabulous. I will never get tired of how excited Jonathan is by people’s hair.
It’s sensitively done
It would be easy for a group of Americans, Canadians and Brits to ‘descend’ on Japan and approach the challenges that residents face in the same way they would in the US. It’s clear the producers did their research when putting the show together, and the Fab 5 went to the effort of learning the language (in some cases quite well) and are careful to avoid ‘Americanising’ everything. Thankfully everyone observes the obvious ‘shoes off inside’ rule.
I think this is best shown in the second episode where we meet Kan, the young gay man who feels he can’t be ‘out and proud’ in Tokyo. Karamo enlists the help of local Japanese guides and experts to take Kan around Tokyo’s LGBT downtown and talk to him about how their own journeys of accepting and embracing their identities. In many ways, Japan is a very socially conservative country which can make coming out to your family and colleagues much harder. One of my LGBT friends who used to live in Japan once said, ‘we’re there, but we keep quiet about it’.
It explores contemporary societal issues in Japan
I’ve touched on how the show explores LGBT issues in Japan, and it also looks at some particularly unique societal issues to Japan. Yoko talks about ‘giving up on being a woman’ (onna wo suteru, the loss of feminity and pressure to feel feminine). Like a record number of people in Japan, Makoto and his wife live in a sexless marriage and struggles to communicate his feelings. Similarly, Kae’s relationship with her mum lacks the warmth that British audiences might expect and has experienced serious bullying in school (there are many reports of particularly cruel bullying in Japanese schools).
With only four hours to explore all four of these complex issues, Queer Eye can only go into so much detail, but it is an interesting introductory study in a number of ways.
It’s not all about the Fab 5
It would be easy for the Fab 5 to dominate the entire series because they. are. fabulous! But the series also defers to local experts and features familiar Japanese pop culture figures, which helps to keep things fresh and make you feel that Queer Eye really is IN Japan. Japanese-American model Kiko Mizuhara acts as the Fab 5’s guide throughout the series – and she is a BIG DEAL. Plus size comedian Naomi Watanabe is also a well-chosen guest in the episode where we meet Kae, a lovely young manga artist with body image issues.
And because Japanese cuisine is fantastic, Antoni takes Kan to a yakitori restaurateur and Yoko to a bakery. Of course, he makes omurice.
If Queer Eye is in Japan…
It can come to the UK too, right? I just want an excuse to see the Fab 5 in London and hopefully not pass out.
Now, excuse me while I catch up on four whole series of Queer Eye…