Friday, 11 February 2011

Just watched: Justin Lee Collins: Turning Japanese

I once saw Justin Lee Collins live. He wasn’t doing an act – he was just waiting for a train at Bristol Temple Meads station. So now I’ve established my close personal relationship with the presenter of this three-part documentary, what did I make of the show itself?

It was shown on the UK TV channel Channel 5 recently, and the first episode was about sex and the sex industry in Japan, starting of with the lack of dating opportunities which has left some people exploring some pretty strange avenues to satisfying their libidos. While I understand that programme makers want the opening episode to be talked about to generate an interest in the rest of the series, I definitely got that sinking feeling that the next time I mention I like Japanese culture to someone, this will be what they talk about in reply.

The second episode focused on how the Japanese spend their leisure time, and was mostly about manzai: fast and physical double act stand up routines, and Justin's attempt at putting together a double act of his own. This was pretty interesting, although I did wonder why they didn't show any clips of mainstream acts like Downtown or Bananaman. Then I guessed that, since it was Channel 5, they probably couldn't afford the rights.

The third and final part was loosely about the work ethic and society. This was the one I enjoyed most, because it was the one that taught me the most. A theme park where children are taught about the realities of a working routine sounded terrible, but in the end looked like a lot of fun. Another interesting part concerned the woods near Mt Fuji which has become a magnet for suicides.

Justin Lee Collins was an amiable host, pretty funny and keen to join in. He also made it clear when he disapproved of things, such as a restaurant which has a monkey doing some of the waiting on tables. Mind you, animal rights aside, when the monkey is introduced it is wearing a mask and a wig, so it looks more like something out of Ring, rather than a cheeky monkey.

In summary, I enjoyed watching Justin struggle with Japanese culture, although his production team seem to have chosen some pretty off-the-wall topics, and also given him a translator who took great delight in forcing him to eat disgusting food. It was a bit rambling, though. The themes covered in each episode seemed to overlap, so much so that I suspect a section of part two was actually intended for part one, but they couldn't squeeze it in. But on the whole I enjoyed it.

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