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JAPANARAMA! Psycho TV From Japan




Too Far East presents a compelling, even addictive compilation of clips culled from a wide array of wild and crazy Japanese TV shows, mostly of 1990s vintage. Much of the footage is devoted to some of Japan's notorious, cheerfully sadistic extreme game shows, which feature such imaginative stunts as a transvestite attempting to apply lipstick while riding a high-speed rollercoaster. Another, beach-set show pits a pair of pro wrestlers against amateurs selected from the crowd, with predictably painful results. Our fave is Super Jockey, where entrepreneurs and their ubiquitous fetching femme companions can spiel their products for the same amount of time that they succeed in spending immersed in a tank of boiling-hot water (!); additional suspense is provided by the time limit imposed to change their clothes behind a curtain before they're exposed to the audience. The cassette also includes scenes from music videos by the likes of the Piss Kids, scenes from Infra-man-type adventure series, a Candid Camera clone and a host of commercials starring American celebs, many of whom wouldn't consider performing the same chores Stateside: The list includes Brad Pitt, Madonna, Mel Gibson, Juliette Lewis and Quentin Tarantino (in a spot for PerfecTV). The tape is only sporadically subtitled, but in many cases subtitling would seem supremely superfluous. If you, like Christian Slater in the abovementioned Tarantino-scripted True Romance, hanker to see what TV looks like in other countries, Japanarama! provides a provocative peek behind the kimono curtain.

-Joe Kane

If anyone had walked in on us the night that my friends and I watched this video, they probably would have called 911 immediately. I mean, what would you think if you saw a couch-full of people silently clutching their stomachs, as though in pain, rocking back and forth and writhing, with tears running down their cheeks? No, it was not food poisoning from the scarfed-down pizza, but it was the absolutely infectious joy of Japanarama! Psycho TV From Japan!

I read about this video in a weekly alternative magazine that praised its glory with so many delightful adjectives that my curiosity was piqued, and I ordered it off the internet. Oh. My. God. Talk about party fun!

The Japanese have been famous (or infamous) for their horrifically cruel TV game shows (I've heard that the censors more recently have forced them to tone it down). Once the Simpsons even spoofed these shows when our beloved cartoon family was trapped in Japan and had to win a trip home by being dunked in a volcano or fed to live sharks or some such thing. And the thing is, judging from this tape, that's not far from the reality of Japanese "reality" TV.

In this first volume of Japanarama! you'll see snippets of such TV shows where:

*Loved ones of the contestant have to answer questions in order to keep their man from being flung over a cliff on a bungee cord. I laughed till I cried as one guy's grandma failed to answer a question about a Japanese pop star, and giggled as her grandson was flung off the cliff screaming, "OBAASAN!" as he catapulted through the air until he was a speck in the distance.

*Big-time wrestlers humiliate 98-pound weaklings who try to challenge them in the ring. The skinny guys are flung out of the ring onto a metal electric plate where they scream and flop, or onto a platform of glue where they stick like helpless flies.

*Contestants have to sit in a tub of near-boiling water to gain air-time to advertise their product. For every second they tolerate the water (before leaping out in pain and rubbing ice all over their bodies), they are allowed a second of time to say as much as possible about their product before a door unceremoniously slams in their face.

And that is just a sampling.... There is much much more, including never-seen-on-these-shores TV commercials of Western stars plugging Japanese products. Mel! Madonna! Brad! And even Janet Jackson, who, by our untrained ears, had the most impressive spoken Japanese!

There are hardly any subtitles in Japanarama!, but that is just fine. It makes the watching experience all the more surreal, as you really have no idea what the hell is going on until you see the misery wreaked upon these poor (and willing) individuals. But I'll say, this 2-hour compilation of game show clips, even without explanation, made me laugh harder than any comedy I've seen all year. Seek this one out, and play it at your next party!

-Linda Gwilym

Psychotronic Video

Volume 1 - This is professionally edited clips from recent Japanese TV with ridiculous, often dangerous and humiliating quiz show stunts, candid camera imitations, wrestling, musical numbers, a drag show and some Ultraman type heroes. Several shows feature giggling young girls in bikinis trying to stay in a clear tub of extremely hot water, doing push ups on a clear floor (filmed from below) and doing other routines designed to show off their bodies. You could say this is evidence of an insane, sick nation, but we probably shouldn't be the ones to judge. Seeing the celebrity commercials is a revelation. Cars are endorsed by Mel Gibson, Brad Pitt, Christian Slater, Leonardo DiCaprio, Ray Charles, and Juliette Lewis (who speaks some Japanese). Madonna shills for booze, Michael J. Fox for fishing rods and The Three tenors (!) for an airline. Other actors, models, and sport figures appear, but best of all is Quentin Tarantino in a violent, funny, action packed spot for satellite dishes. I wonder if he directed it too.

Volume 2 - Nudity and painful, stupid and sadistic gags are common on modern Japanese TV shows. Some take Candid Camera ideas to new extremes. Many examples are on this enlightening compilation, along with commercials (many for beer and cigarettes, one uses "Papa Oom Mow Mow") and musical segments. A guy lights his farts and wrestlers are even wackier than American ones (and check out the blackface Don King imitator). "Robamimi" (a weather girl) wears a metal bra that pops open in public places and there's a public bath quiz show with nearly naked females jumping out of the water to push a buzzer. The most unsettling clips are men going gaga over tall American blondes with huge, bare, cartoonish silicone breasts. I liked the ad for the local version of Annie, a vintage 60s Ventures style instrumental band clip and the silly, FX laden video for the girl singing group Puffy. Shameless celebs seen making big easy bucks include a Samurai Madonna (booze), Jodie Foster (coffee latte), Dennis Rodman, Ringo Starr, Brad Pitt, Liv Tyler, members of Kiss, Beavis and Butthead and Demi Moore and Bruce Willis (not together). Two fun ads for cell phones feature Quentin Tarantino with Sonny Chiba (!). And then there's all the fish, insects and lizards.... The picture quality is excellent. See Psychotronic Video #25 for the equally amazing Volume 1.

-Michael J. Weldon


GUILTY PLEASURES - I must admit to hating Japanese Television. To me it's an endless stream of cooking shows and crappy musical groups. Yet amid all of this rubbish certain programs are simply fascinating. Thank God for Too Far East, for they have sorted through the dross and pulled a few of the more egregious violations of good taste into a video feast entitled Japanarama! Volumes 1 & 2. The videos, two-hour video compilations of crazy game shows, commercials and other mind-boggling Japanese TV, are so terrifyingly engrossing that even I devoured them with relish.

Over the years, I have developed a theory of sorts that explains the state of TV in Japan today, and that is that the Japanese are an inherently voyeuristic people. Information, especially private information, is like a drug, and an especially addictive one at that. In fact voyeurism, along with its tele-friendly siblings, humilation and slapstick comedy, have become powerful influences on much of the fare flickering on Japan's screens. So much so that sometimes they seem to be the organizing force of the medium, the opiate of the late 20th century Japanese masses. Of course, this phenomena is hardly restricted to the Japanese archipelago alone, it's just that here it seems to have reached the refined state of an exact science. And the natives are not the only ones in Japan hooked on the stupidity pouring out of the tubes. Many of my foreign friends desperately try to hide the dirty little secret of their overpowering addiction to it as well.

Which brings us back to Japanarama! Vol. 2. This collection hits all the highlights when it comes to base entertainment. Witness my personal favorite, an episode I'll simply call "fartman". Here we witness the black art of the "nigiri pei", or "grabbed fart". I laughed guiltily as a young man, fortified with beans and cola, discharged his gaseous bounty into a cupped hand. The studio audience and I were swept into hysteria as he then released it in the face of a sleeping co-worker who had the misfortune to have passed out on a couch in the television studio. Along the way, fartman also sets fire to his noxious eruption and peeks in on a snoring "ojisan", who is stunned into silence while being gassed by our serial farter - Oh, the thrill of it all!

Volume 2 covers everything floating on the ether into homes today, the big bust contests, the nude weather woman, the sadomasochism of Beat Takeshi and the "Downtown" boys. Where else could you see skits where butter is smeared on a lad wearing only underwear, handcuffed inside a cage of ravenous, licking dogs? How to explain the otherworldly understatement of a tuxedoed announcer assigned the task of guessing the weight of some impossibly large, blonde "onesan" breasts by fondling them? And who could come to Japan and say they had not witnessed the infamous whisky commercial in which Madonna states "I'm pure" with a knowing, ironic glance that only she is capable of. In fact, the whole collection is not only deeply troubling and shockingly politically incorrect (by Western standards, that is), it's endlessly fascinating, hysterically funny, and just plain bizarre. I must admit, I loved every minute of it!

With Christmas fast approaching Japanarama! Volumes 1 & 2 are ideal presents for Grandma and Grandpa, cousin Earl and Aunt Margaret. The whole family will want to know what you are up to here in Japan, and what better way than to give them a peek at the traditions of Japanese Television? Japanarama! Vol.1 & 2 are available in all foreign video standards (for countries with broadcast standards different from that of Japan). You can own copies by contacting Too Far East. Just order and pay on delivery. The "Ultimate Omiyage" is now yours!

-Doug Breath

Giant Robot

Some of the funniest and twisted clips of Japanese Television you'll ever see. I've seen gross X-rated works, but if you want some rated R weirdness, here you go. Both tapes have clips from Beat Takeshi's weird-ass variety show where guests boil themselves in water for promotion time or get wrestled down by pros. In between are funny commercials with Tarantino, Madonna, Mike Piazza, and more. But I get off on the clips of exploitation movies. Music videos of terrible idol groups, kids live action shows, and anything that's got pain or naked stuff are on the tapes. Dig the Japanese men checking out the American girl's huge breasts and tripping out.

-Erik Nakamura

Shock Cinema

Welcome to a brain-numbing, two-hour compilation of the weirdest, most outrageous moments from current Japanese television. And despite a lack of subtitles, this is all so bizarre, fast-paced and colorful that few are needed. Although there are a few slow portions (music acts, clips from old movies), most of this is prime material. There's a game show where losers are bungee-catapulted over a gorge, naked, with flares strapped to their feet; transvestites try to apply their make-up while on a moving roller coaster; and a program makes its contestants (often underdressed females) sit in a tank of boiling water, in exchange for commercial air-time. Much of this is rather sadistic, but the contestants seem to love it! Theres an outdoor wrestling show where guys are tossed out of the ring, onto a giant glue-trap or a bed of fireworks; live scorpions are secretly placed on peoples heads; and men in bathing suits slam each other with buckets of hot wax, during a game of rock-paper-scissors. My favorite bits are the trippy commercials, which range from a (badly named) product called Funky Egg to a video store that proudly boasts of stocking rape and animal videos. Its particularly amusing to watch high-profile US stars happily kissing corporate ass in Japanese ads. There are car commercials with Mel Gibson, Brad Pitt, Jean Reno, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Ray Charles (who cant even drive a car!); a saki-peddling, samurai Madonna battling a lame CGI dragon; Michael J. Fox hawking fishing gear; and The Three Tenors for an airline. By far, the most annoying has Quentin Tarantino playing an action hero for Perfect TV. This vastly entertaining sampler of Japan's media madness makes excellent party fare, and almost made me think that American TV wasnt the most IQ-squashing fare on the planet, after all.

-Steve Puchalski


all reviews used with kind permission

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