TV in Japan

Michael Badzik mike
Fri Aug 28 16:47:57 EDT 1998

S. A. Thornton wrote:

>... I would like to point out what I consider to be a problem: the
>disparaging and excuse me ethnocentric condemnation of Japanese cliches
>in Japanese TV shows.  
>I'd like to make two points.  Cliches are the core of the narrative
>strategies and attention has to be paid to them: what do they mean? how
>are they used? what is their value in terms of performance and
>production as well as reception? 
>Just because these narrative strategies are not American does not mean
>that they have no value in their own culture.  I thought that the
>prupose of studying Japanese film/TV was to figure out what the Japanese
>were doing? The American model has to be addressed and then dropped.
>Japanese cultures and traditions get ignored by American
>specialists/scholars of Film/tv and we all lose by it.

It's not often I get called ethnocentric (well, actually never). I have
watching Japanese television for almost thirty years now, and as I have 
said here before, I do enjoy it. I watch for my own enjoyment, no one pays 
me for my opinions on television or film (I earn my living as an engineer),

and I have no scholarly reputation to uphold. Over these nearly thirty
I have watched how Japanese television has evolved, watched trends come 
and go, seen what has been well received and what has failed.

Now, if by cliches being the core of narrative strategies you are referring

to what I would call the native symbolic language of the medium (or the 
shared nonverbal language of a culture, if you prefer), then we may just 
have a definition problem here. I am a fan of the _Otoko wa Tsurai Yo_ 
movie series and have never viewed it as cliched; although it does use a 
lot of the same elements in every story they work to strengthen the 
meaning of the story as a whole (or the series, actually).

But when "cliches" are used to avoid having to write good dialog, or to 
attract attention in the way a game show might hire a young woman to just 
stand there and be beautiful, or so that the writer or viewer doesn't have
do a lot of thinking, than I think that there are legitimate grounds for 
complaint. My remarks on cliches were in regards to the NHK morning 
dramas; for a perspective from a Japanese writer on the subject consider 
the following by Sata Masunori (from "A History of Japanese Television 
Drama", edited by Masunori Sata & Hideo Hirahara; Tokyo, Japan Association 
of Broadcasting Art, 1991):

   The decline, however, can also be attributed to the changes in the
   of television drama itself. NHK's morning Television Novel still has a
   rating. Although the stories are different for each novel in the series,

   there is a tendency to follow the same formula, and it cannot be denied 
   that the program does seem to exist as a convenient "clock for telling
   time" in the morning with audiences watching the series from force of 
   habit. The same may also be said of the Television Saga series, in order
   make the tale interesting to and provide suspense, the plot tends to
   into cliches that rely upon technique only.

Further evidence that the Japanese don't like cliches any more than anyone 
else can be found in the morning drama ratings at (in Japanese only), where you can see a 
year-by-year decline in ratings until the big jump up when _Futarikko_ was 

I am in complete agreement that Japanese television has to be judged as a 
distinct medium - and have said so here before. And yes, its meanings are 
tightly bound with the culture, which is part of why I also see television 
as a real anthropologist's playground.

Michael Badzik
mike at

More information about the KineJapan mailing list