Streaming: Japanese documentary with children to conquer Netflix

Japanese documentary with children is set to conquer Netflix

Miro is old enough to do something unaccompanied for the first time. Photo: Vendor/Nippon Television Network Corporation/Netflix/dpa

© dpa-infocom GmbH

Japanese films such as “Drive My Car”, which was recently honored with the foreign Oscar, enjoy worldwide popularity. Shortened episodes of a Japanese TV entertainment documentary recently began streaming on Netflix.

Hiroki faces the greatest adventure of his life. The little Japanese is just two years and nine months old, but now he is supposed to go shopping for his parents all by himself for the first time: flowers for the house altar and a pack of curry and fried fish cake.

“Take care of yourself,” his mother calls out to him one last time as Hiroki makes his way to the supermarket. This is how an episode of the Nippon TV entertainment documentary “Hajimete no Otsukai” (first order), which has been popular in Japan for three decades and now wants to win a global audience, begins: Recently, selected and shortened episodes have been available on the Netflix streaming service under the English title «Old Enough!» (Old enough!) to see.

The first time alone

Children between the ages of 3 and 6 are sent by their parents to do something unaccompanied for the first time. Of course, this doesn’t always go smoothly. At first, the children feel queasy about going off alone. No wonder: Hiroki’s way to the supermarket is one kilometer long. Another time is a little girl returning to her mother in tears after getting lost. But then the little one sets off again.

The children, whose first names are only shown, have an “amulet bag” hung around their necks with a wireless microphone on it. This allows viewers to hear when the child is talking to themselves or humming a tune. In addition, you hear the narrator’s voice and in between short studio laughter, a concept common for Japanese TV shows. Of course it can happen that a child forgets what to do because of excitement.

Independence should be encouraged

All of this is touching, even if at the end of the day a child is proud of having made it. On the one hand, the aim of the program is to promote the independence of the children. On the other hand, television viewers should be encouraged to think about the relationship between parents and children and about raising children.

“There are certainly not many countries like Japan where it is safe for children to walk around the city,” wrote Japanese IT journalist Munechika Nishida, explaining why the show is now making an international breakthrough with the Netflix deal. In Japan, however, the episodes last much longer than those on Netflix: three hours per show. They are only broadcast twice a year as the shows take months to produce.

Little adventures for children

The children are selected after a complex selection process. Parents and staff walk the routes together to make sure the roads are safe and there are no suspicious people. The camera team and the watchers are assigned their own hiding places. All neighbors in the area will be notified of the process so they don’t get too excited to call the police and report an unaccompanied child wandering the streets aimlessly.

The format has enjoyed great popularity for three decades: the ratings in Japan average between 15 percent and more than 20 percent. According to Japanese media reports, there are even cases where children who appeared in the amusing documentary in the past are now parents themselves and now want the same adventure for their children. It remains to be seen whether the shortened episodes provided for the Japanese company’s deal with Netflix will be met with an equally enthusiastic response.


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