Monday, August 22, 2011

The role of defeat in Japanese game shows

The popularity of these Japanese-style shows will be affirmed on Monday night, when the two-hour season finale of the cult favorite series “American Ninja Warrior” — in which Americans compete for a chance to travel to Yokohama to take on the brutal obstacle course of the semiannual Japanese televised competition “Sasuke” — moves from the cable channel G4 to its sister network NBC. For one night at least, the course’s rope ladders, half-pipes and rolling barrels will be shown in network prime time, keeping company with the likes of “Hawaii Five-0” and “Bachelor Pad.”

This increased exposure for “American Ninja Warrior” — and by extension for “Sasuke” — comes despite the fact that these shows’ distinctive, addictive premise is a profoundly un-American one: a game in which nobody wins.

Almost nobody, that is. In 26 previous “Sasuke” shows, dating to 1997, each including 100 mostly Japanese competitors, only 3 men have successfully completed the obstacle course: one in 1999, one in 2006 and one in 2010.
--Mike Hale, NYT, on the Japanese game show mentality