Thursday, September 24, 2009

Now That's Good Television! (テレビタイム)

Two weeks and two interviews filmed for Japanese TV. It's a pity I'm leaving Japan next week; my career as a TV personality seems to be taking off!

My first encounter occurred on the Nakamise shopping street behind Asakusa's famous Kaminari-mon Gate. A representative from Fuji TV, clearly targeting oblivious gaijin, approached me and asked me in English if I'd be interested in participating in a short interview. Not having anything better to do at the time, I agreed.

After two large German men finished their interview, I was ushered to a small tourist-free nook, and placed in front of the camera. The segment director was a lanky Japanese guy decked out in a plaid shirt and glasses. He appeared around my age. His thick British accent and excellent spoken English indicated that he was more than up to the task of interviewing oblivious foreigners.

The plump cameraman showed me two videos on a small portable DVD player. The first video was of some middle aged-looking Japanese woman wearing a billowy white dress. She was roaming through an empty house, pausing momentarily at the windows to let the sunlight stream down on her face.

The second video was of a transgendered male to female TV personality named Ai Haruna. In the video, Haruna was singing and dancing one of her energetic musical numbers. You can see her picture below.

Ai Haruna is a popular TV personality here in Japan. Flip through the nightly variety programs and you will almost certainly see her on a guest panel or two. Though she completed gender reassignment surgery and now lives her life completely as a woman, since she is a comedienne, it is part of her act to surprise guests with the "gender bombshell" or make joking references to her past life as a man.

The above paragraph is all information I was not expected to know at the time of the interview. After the videos finished, the segment director began asking me a series of questions in English. Examples included, "which woman do you find more attractive?" and "which woman would you choose as your girlfriend?" After each answer, the director would translate what I said into Japanese for both the cameraman and assistant director (AD).

I repeatedly answered Haruna, not because I wanted to play into their gag, but because the billowy dress wearing sunshine lady was so boring on film. I feared our make-believe relationship would never last.

The obvious slant was to get the unsuspecting foreigner to select Ai Haruna as more desirable. The big laugh would come at the end when she was revealed to have been born a man. After being asked if I'd like Haruna as a wife, I turned to the director and said in Japanese, "Well, I don't really know for sure because she was born a man and all..."

The entire crew froze. The red filming light went off.

Mouth agape, the director, stuttering to get the words out, asked me, "H-How did you know that!?" I responded that she's on TV nearly every night, so her personal history is no secret. The interview was clearly over at this point.

Smile turning to a frown, the director mumbled in English, "So, you speak Japanese then?"

"Yes," I said in Japanese.

"That's wonderful," he replied in English, clearly not meaning it.

All that was left was to cut to the end. I had to hold up a card with the name of my overall selection. They gave me the Ai Haruna card and told me to say her name into the camera. I did just that. I was told that my reading of her name was too "Japanese".

The exact quote from the director was,

"No, no, you sound Japanese. When you say her name, can you say it more 'gaijin-like', if you know what I mean..."

I responded with my best fake smile and foreigner accent.

"Aye Haroonah!"

This brought an end to my time with Fuji Television - don't look for me on the air.

EDIT: I WAS WRONG!!! I made it on the air! I was out of the city and didn't have a chance to see it, but a Japanese friend text messaged me to let me know that I did appear on this show.


My next encounter happened two days ago in Ginza. I was wandering around with my friend, when we spotted a huge queue of foreigners and a TV crew. This time it was a taping for the popular Saturday morning news program "Zoom In!! Saturday". I'd never heard of it, but my friend assured me it was legit. Apparently the announcer conducting the interviews was also quite well-known.

Having had my fill with the Ai Haruna bit, I was set to keep walking, however, repeated pleas from my friend finally broke my steadfast reserve. I waited in line for around 15 minutes before it was my turn to chat with the AD.

Unlike last time, this interview was conducted entirely in Japanese. I soon realized that all the foreigners waiting in line could speak Japanese, with varying degrees of fluidity. Since the AD asked lots of general questions to each participant, all the interviews were completely different.

During my pre-interview, I made sure to drop interesting information like the fact that I'm currently unemployed and that newly elected PM Hatoyama and I both graduated from Stanford. The AD scribbled notes on a piece of notebook paper and said that the interview would likely be about me trying to find a job in Japan. He lied!

With that, he pushed me in front of the camera and we were off!

The announcer and I proceeded to talk about video games for around 20 minutes. The entire interview was the two of us rambling about games. We didn't hit any other topics. I won't give a play-by-play of my interview at this point. Hopefully some of my footage will air and I'll be able to upload a copy on the blog.

Needless to say, the interview was very fun and funny. We talked about blowing into the old NES cartridges, Parappa the Rapper, and how great MGS4 was. The announcer was very knowledgeable about games and was lock-step with me the entire way. It was easy for us to banter back and forth about entertainment.

The final question was what, of all my games, would I choose to grab if running out of my burning house. Though this may not be entirely truthful, I said my "Taiko Drum Master" home version. Everyone in the entire crew, including the announcer, burst into tears of laughter.

...And I didn't even have to speak in my foreigner accent!

EDIT: This video game interview made it on TV as well! Several of my Japanese friends emailed me, saying that they had spotted me on the morning program. Apparently the interview segment they used was quite long.



. said...

Awesome! I hope you get discovered :)

Tony Mariani said...

Funny stories. The Japanese sure love pulling pranks.

happyholic said...

Hi! I just found your blog after reading the post about the Tokyo job fair. It's very interesting!
hahaha, you're getting big in Japan! I think viewers would like it that a foreigner was good at speaking in Japanese even though it was supposed to be a comedy stunt. ^^
I know a lot of female gaijin usually get interviewed for fashion and gyaru segments on tv. It's usually just footage of them in their outfits though :o