“The Fab Five bring their message of self-care and compassion to four Japanese men and women while exploring the country’s rich culture and cuisine.” This blurb is the caption for the mini-series special of the hit show Queer Eye on Netflix, in which the Fab Five (Antoni Porowski, Tan France, Karamo Brown, Bobby Berk, and Jonathan Van Ness) take a new foray into a foreign culture, bringing their magic and cleaning products with them to Japan.
Queer Eye: We’re in Japan! is a mini-series that takes the now familiar formula of five men coming into your home to makeover your whole life and adds the aspect of travel to it. Throwing the Fab Five into Japan seems at first to be a random choice by the producers but breathes a new excitement into a show that was feeling a bit predictable.
When this series popped up in my Netflix feed, I was apprehensive as the original has been criticized for its promotion of materialism, its failure to be more politically engaging and sensitive toward some of the cast members’ situations, and much more. However, We’re in Japan! pleasantly surprised me when it introduced the audience to its four heroes: 57-year-old hospice nurse Yoko who gives everything to her patients and leaves barely enough for herself, radio director Makoto who finds himself lost in his marriage, manga artist Kae who at 23 is still affected by the bullies of her past, and Kan, who struggles to live as a proud gay man in a culture that emphasizes discretion.
The producers were deft in making the Japan mini-series more of a collaboration with Japanese citizens. They shifted the narrative from five foreigners brazing into foreign territory into a more nuanced and culturally balanced show by helping the Japanese heroes get their groove back with the help of locals—including American-Japanese model Kiko Mizhuhara and Japanese comedian Naomi Watanabe.
The show was not without its faults. I raised my eyebrows when Bobby, the interior designer, decided to give Yoko a bed when many older Japanese people typically sleep on futons. The Fab Five also revealed their individualistic Americanisms with statements like “you have to live for yourself,” which was met with a blank stare from Yoko who has lived in a collectivist society all her life.
While We’re in Japan! managed to avoid major controversy, I wonder about the possibilities future shows going internationally with local Fab Five members. Local versions of Queer Eye can seamlessly connect more with audiences on a cultural level with their heroes.
As we wait for the producers to take us on another adventure, you can stream We’re in Japan! on Netflix. Just remember to keep the tissues nearby.