A wonderful homage to the human side of makeovers, and a startling reminder of how no matter what culture we are from our overwhelming desire to be happy and healthy reigns supreme.
Queer Eye has now graced our screens for a total of nearly 40 episodes, offering audiences moments of tear-jerking joy as we watch those with little self-confidence transform into people of beauty. Beauty in relation to Queer Eye is used to describe so much more than the outer appearance of one’s fashion or grooming, it extends to the subject’s overall well-being. The commitment and sheer dedication to healing every part of a person’s mental and physical health has led Queer Eye to be one of Netflix’s most popular series. With no signs of holding back, Netflix has delivered a mini-series, Queer Eye: We’re in Japan, set in the culturally rich country of Japan, the Fab Five take on a new selection of ‘heroes’ this season, tackling new issues both political and personal. Often these issues are one and the same as we meet those affected by the cultural standards and political landscape of Japan in their everyday life.
When Queer Eye: We’re in Japan was announced, I couldn’t help but feel a little reserved and skeptical of the idea of the Fab Five taking on a culture so different from their own. My main reservations lay in how the Fab Five were going to approach sensitive cultural differences, differences that may not necessarily be helped with western ideals. Furthermore, I had concerns about how Netflix was to represent Japan, a country often fetishized and shown as being almost ‘otherworldy’. To be truthful my confidence was low as I wondered if Netflix had only chosen Japan for this special due to the stark cultural difference but still held hope that it would be handled tastefully and respectfully.
Thankfully all of my concerns were for nothing, Queer Eye: We’re in Japan is touching, sensitive and you’ll be glad to hear, just as tear-jerking as it has ever been, maybe more so! This season blew me away over and over again, with each episode choosing to tackle a topic that admittedly are issues that western audiences associate with Japanese society. The Fab Five approach matters such as declining birth rate, normalization of decreasing sexual relationships in marriage, homophobia and beauty standards. Netflix and the Fab Five have done marvelously to tackle such subjects with grace and dignity, allowing the heroes to bring a human element to stories we’ve only heard through western sources. Not to mention the slick and impeccable editing helps to create a believable and fluid sense of conversation where it seems as though the Fab Five respond and react in real-time to our Japanese speaking heroes.
Queer Eye: We’re in Japan was also greatly improved by the presence of American-Japanese model Kiko Mizuhara as she takes the Fab Five around Japan introducing them to the cultural spots of interest. Kiko is a breath of fresh air as she adds joys and positivity between heavy hero narratives. Providing audiences a new take on Japan, Kiko often breaks down stereotypes, which is ever so evident when she takes the Fab Five to a gay bar that is completely dedicated to the queer legend that is Freddie Mercury. Queer Eye: We’re in Japan is also blessed by special guest appearances including the endearing Japanese comedian and designer Naomi Watanabe known as the ‘Japanese Beyonce’. The guest appearances and informative hosts only add to make the show ever more inclusive and representative of the sheer diverse nature of Japanese culture.
Now, this all goes without saying, but of course, you can expect a few minor cringe moments that arise when the team tries to install western wisdom on our heroes. These mainly come in the form of advice that doesn’t necessarily apply to East Asian culture. Still, the heroes heed the advice and it, in fact, opens the floor to interesting dialogue as the Fab Five and heroes compare struggles and experiences. Not to mention, there are a few eye-rolling moments, such as Antoni explaining a Japanese dish… to a trained Japanese chef or the Fab Five dropping in the word ‘Kawaii’ (the Japanese word for cute) a little too frequently in conversation. Never the less these are small blips on the radar that are certainly forgotten about when it comes to the compassion and empathy the Fab Five and the heroes share in their journey to better well being.
Overall Queer Eye: We’re in Japan is a wonderful homage to the human side of makeovers, a startling reminder of how no matter what culture we are from our overwhelming desire to be happy and healthy reigns supreme. The Fab Five remain fresh and exuberant as they take on never before spoken issues in a country not of their own. The overall special is delightfully warming, tear-jerking and surprisingly sensitive, the Fab Five took on a stereotypically reserved society and flourished. The special may serve to expose viewers to a culture they’re unfamiliar with whilst proving that when it comes to core values both sides of the world are, not surprisingly, the same. I can only hope this season is the start of many specials where the Fab Five travel and deliver love and their infectious thirst for life to the people of the world.
Kelly has been a film critic for Ready Steady Cut since 2018. Kelly gained a BSc in Film Production and Technology leading to her most notable credit for the production designer for a short film screened as part of the London Film Festival line up.