“Terrace House”: The Kinder, Gentler Japanese Alternative to Reality TV

Inside the craze that’s taking over Netflix

The first group of members. From left to right: Shion, Tsubasa, Taka, Ami, Miyuki and Yuudai.

I’ve only watched Terrace House: Opening New Doors but there are several different options based on several different Japanese cities. There’s Tokyo, Aloha State and more. I haven’t watched all of the different ones so I can’t comment on those directly, but they all follow the same premise as Terrace House: Opening New Doors.

The premise is simple and conventional. Six young people live in a house and we follow their interactions and budding romantic relationships. It’s like “The Real World” Japanese edition. And “The Real World” is arguably the first popular reality TV show format. But while Terrace House keeps in tradition by using the same general format; the feeling is a lot different.

New members Shohei (far left) and returning star Seina (middle with furry boots) replaced Yuudai and Miyuki.

For starters, Terrace House: Opening New Doors takes place in Karuizawa. It’s in the Nagano prefecture —  a bullet train ride away from Tokyo and a short car ride from the ski slopes. More of a small town feel, we see lots of natural scenery, snowboarding and playing in the front lawn. The pace is slow and the turn of the seasons allows us to see the house year round.

An igloo they made in the front lawn during the wintertime.

What exactly makes it gentler? Here are the main differences.

The Naturally Occurring Drama 

Whether it’s The Bachelor or Real Housewives or pretty much anything that can be considered Reality TV, a lot of it is either fake or very well orchestrated. Reality TV is ironically not very “real”, but more artificial. That doesn’t make it any less entertaining, much like wrestling is for their fans. It’s about the stories, the betrayals, the power struggles. That is why people tune in. Whereas the Bachelor was in hot water for a copious amount of producer intervention (they would tell contestants that they won so that they’d be upset when they didn’t, amongst many other things); Terrace House is unscripted and doesn’t seem to be orchestrated. 

There are no quick cuts, no slow mo reaction shots, no “throwing water in the face” moments or instances where someone slaps another. 

Instead, the drama organically swells from the discomfort of getting used to living with strangers and with group dynamics. Friendships form, love interests take shape but in a slow and patient pace. Love triangles are very respectful of people’s feelings. And love stories are kindly followed from a distance.

Tsubasa and Shion

The best romance story was between Shion and Tsubasa. It took a few months between their first date and their first kiss. We were able to see a more natural development of their feelings, constantly evolving with each thoughtful gesture or stolen moment rather than a more sensationalized storyline. They did not scream at each other, nor did they passionately make out. This was… oddly refreshing.

The Freedom of the Contestants

Adding to the absence of constructed drama or producer interference, the contestants are pretty much free to do whatever they want during the day. They still work at their jobs, still meet up with their friends; maintaining their careers and social lives. This is more relaxing because often, the show is the reality stars’ livelihoods, so they fight for the spotlight and blow little things out of proportion.https://filmreviewsblogfood.wordpress.com/media/3f22040ec98a5bbaf9ee52fd8dac873bRemember this iconic KUWTK moment?

Terrace House members can also choose when they want to leave. They are never pushed out of their comfort zone and can leave the house at any time, for reasons as simple as: they’re not finding love, they want to focus on their career, or they’ve gotten enough from the experience. This freedom is quite different than “Survivor” or “90 Day Fiancé” where the rules and time parameters are already set in place. Because it’s a leave-when-you-wish mentality, Terrace House has a lot of turnover. The cast changes completely by the end and we see a lot of new faces!

Two separate rooms. On the left is the boys room and on the right is the girls room.

Litany of commenting hosts

The third way it’s different than a lot of the reality TV we normally digest was the presence of many hosts, called “panelists”. There’s usually one standard host on most of the Western-world reality TV, typically as someone who explains the rules of the situation to the contestants or as their moderator. The hosts interacts often with the contestants. In Terrace House, the hosts never interact with the people living at the home. They are instead, watching the show with us and then commenting on what they saw. 

They interact more with the viewer and share opinions on contestants’ personalities and concoct predictions about romantic entanglements. There is also as many hosts as there are house members. Six hosts (also divided into 3 men and 3 women) who talk for a a while after every act break. The hosts are an integral part of the show and become just as important as the house members. You wait to see what they have to say, and try to make sense of what we all just witnessed together. Having this “critique chorus” helps the viewer understand what’s going on and feels like a gentler way to show Reality TV. By bringing the audience into the conversation and not telling us how to feel, it provides a more organic experience. We are all watching the same thing in real time.

All these things make Terrace House a nice Japanese alternative to reality television. Refreshing, patient and free: a kind approach.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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