In the Loop

Japan's own "West Wing?"

Posted at 12:15 PM on July 1, 2008 by Jeff Horwich

Given Americans' ABC-fueled summer obsession with Japanese TV (see Sanden's post a few days ago), it's interesting that one of the most popular shows over there right now borrows one of our own most successful formulas.

change.jpg"Change" debuted in May, starring a veteran of Japan's long-running boy-band phenomenon, "SMAP" (don't ask me -- I guess the word "SMAP" sounds cool and sexy if you're Japanese). My two sentence synopsis: Unassuming, honest school-teacher is compelled to follow in his father's footsteps and run for parliament. Circumstance quickly propels him to Prime Minister, and his naive compulsion to actually do good brings inspiring change to the halls of power.

Aw, shucks.

Granted, it stars a boy-band idol, who doesn't quite have the gravitas of Martin Sheen. And, in true Japanese fashion, he ascends not by merit but through family connections. But you only have to watch the title sequence to see the "West Wing" influence:

The show is popular with viewers (a Wall Street Journal article today used it as a reference to highlight how bored and frustrated the Japanese are with their current PM, Yasuo Fukuda).

Apprently, though, it kind of sucks, or so says the Japan Times. Then again, the JT reviewer concedes that he thinks just about all Japanese TV dramas suck.

I'm getting a kick out of browsing the first couple episodes. And kind of warms your heart to see that -- just like Americans and "West Wing" -- the Japanese can at least turn to their popular culture for a vision of something better than the politics coughed up by the real world.

(If you want to watch more than just the clip above, you can find the full first two episodes here.)

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