Terrace House an endlessly fascinating look at relationships in Japan

The Japanese reality show about strangers living together has a brilliant, playful set-up

Terrace House: Boys & Girls In The City, an endlessly fascinating Japanese reality show in which six handpicked, good-looking strangers live under one roof at a time, strikes gold with hip-hop dancer Yuuki Byrnes, who moves in and promptly falls in love with entertainer Misaki Tamori.

By the end of Episode 38, just his third on the show, he has gone out on a dinner date with her, given her a dress at her birthday party and gushed about how cute she looks in it. Now they are curled up around a sofa in the living room and he is making eyes at her, then confessing his feelings point-blank.

It is the sort of moment that may make you want to squeal, call your friends and bombard them with emoji - and the show knows this. So it often cuts to television presenters who have gathered round another sofa in another living room: your instant buddies who are watching the episode and reacting or overreacting with you.

Singer You and comic Tokui Yoshimi are the older, wiser people, feeling nostalgic about young love. Model Reina Triendl is a squealer, getting girlishly excited about romance. Comedian Ryota Yamasato is a scream, giving voice to outrage and envy at the slightest hint that love is running smoothly.

The interactions among the six stars of Terrace House: Boys & Girls In The City are fascinating. PHOTO: NETFLIX


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The genius of Terrace House lies in this multidimensional set-up.

On one level, it is an understated fly-on-the-wall show about the intricacies of living with strangers and forming relationships, while being Japanese and extremely polite.

For example, it isn't a show that does anything as brutal as booting off unpopular housemates. Instead, they lose their housemates' favour, are quietly ostracised and volunteer to move out.

On another level, the show has a built-in chorus, the presenters who serve as commentators, cheerleaders and jeerers, amplifying significant moments and spelling out which of the beautiful people is a monster or a user.

When medical student Yuriko Hayata uses her cute voice to charm tap dancer Yuki Adachi into taking her to Blue Note, a pricey jazz club, during an early episode, it is Yamasato who calls her out.

He notices that she wants to go to Blue Note more than she wants to go out with Adachi.

On the other side of the presenters' room, Yoshimi is the expert at picking up on sexual tension. When hairstylist Tatsuya Uchihara gives model Minori Nakada a head massage, Yoshimi likens it to tantric sex or "Indian foreplay".

Then the show reaches a whole other level of meta, when the housemates start to watch themselves on TV.

Byrnes even watches an earlier episode for research. He is about to ask Tamori to go steady with him and feels the need to study the instalment when she went on a romantic date to Yokohama with a previous housemate, but got rejected by him.

Late in the season, the show implodes a little, when two of the housemates are revealed to have been dating in secret, while pretending on camera that they haven't even held hands.

And even then, it is kind of brilliant. On the one hand, such dishonesty does shake to its foundations a show that is supposed to be about real people having real relationships. On the other hand, the revelation casts a new light on the secret couple's humdrum episodes. Now, you might have to rewatch them.

How do and don't people connect? It is a question buried in Terrace House and many of Makoto Shinkai's anime, including his current hit Your Name.

Some of the Japanese director's works are on Netflix, such as Voices Of A Distant Star (2003) and The Place Promised in Our Early Days (2004), early films where his theme, the distance between people, was still at an embryonic stage.

A more fully formed work is The Garden Of Words (2013). In the story of two strangers who keep meeting on rainy days, the cityscape is transformed into a landscape that is lush with possibility - where romance, however improbable, may sprout and flourish.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 18, 2017, with the headline 'Many-sided house of love'. Subscribe