What’s up: Netflix’s “Queer Eye: We’re In Japan!” is a special, Japan-set season of the reality makeover show “Queer Eye.” The full cast travels to Japan, where they team up with U.S.-born, Japan-raised model Kiko Mizuhara. Together, they explore Tokyo and make over the lives of “heroes” (the term the show uses to describe the makeover subjects).
This season follows the same basic format of regular “Queer Eye” seasons, but with a slightly expanded scope. Unlike the seasons set in the U.S. South, this season spends much time highlighting the beauty of the backdrop. The cast takes care to learn Japanese customs. As such, the season blends the travel show genre with the makeovers.
This season begins in a much more staged way than normal. The opening features Mizuhara tapping on her phone with one finger. She “sends” a text message to the cast: “Japan needs ‘Queer Eye’!” The cast members all “receive” this message and then nod their heads. Tan France “texts” back “Kiko Mizuhara!” to Mizuhara. Then, through animation, the cast flies to Japan.
The main cast includes Bobby Berk, Karamo Brown, Tan France, Antoni Porowski and Jonathan Van Ness, with Mizuhara also appearing this season.
“Queer Eye: We’re In Japan!” runs four episodes of roughly 50 minutes each.
Sum-up: Given the linguistic and cultural barriers, this season doesn’t feature the same emotional connections between crew and heroes of the stateside seasons. As much as it tries, it simply isn’t the same tear-jerker. That said, the charismatic crew still carry the episodes through sheer force of energy. Their wonder over exploring Tokyo brings a new type of on-screen joy to watch (no such exploratory wonder happens when the crew travels around Georgia). This is ultimately a vacation to experience vicariously.
The show’s makeover formula doesn’t quite translate, though. The first episode focuses on a woman who runs a hospice, rarely changes her clothes and sleeps on the floor under a table. In a confusing aspect of the episode, she states she has also given up on the idea of being a woman, something Mizuhara explains is common for older women to do in Japan. Per the show’s explanation, this means giving up on appearing physically attractive per the cultural standard.
While stateside, the crew seems to have all the answers, but the Fab Five look unsure of what to do with these heavy revelations. In the second episode, the show decides to make over an already-stylish and fairly thriving young gay man. They frame the episode around how hard it will be for the man to express his sexuality in Japan. But at the end of the episode, the hero just seems fine and mostly indifferent to the makeover.
Basically, this season is for the “Queer Eye” completists rather than a first-time viewer.
Heads up: This season comes across as much more forced and unnatural than the stateside equivalents. The cast doesn’t speak Japanese and communicates via an unseen translator, yet many scenes are edited so that people appear to be talking to each other and reacting without a translation, which comes across as fake. The traditional version of the show is at its best when the cast members have heart-to-hearts with the heroes ― when they can authentically cry with them. This season tries to manufacture these moments, and it doesn’t work.
Close-up: In an episode called “Japanese Holiday,” the show repeatedly reminds the viewer that the hero wants to be more like Audrey Hepburn, the star of the movie “Roman Holiday.” The cast repeats her name over and over again. The episode frames the makeover as making the hero more like the actress.
In France’s style makeover, he has the hero meet him in a hotel suite overlooking the city. He says he wants to give the hero a “beautiful experience” by hanging out in the beautiful room with the beautiful model and co-host this season, Mizuhara. The model says how it’s always beautiful to embrace fashion and that the hero shouldn’t be embarrassed to do so. Then France has the hero try on new clothes he describes as Hepburn-esque.
The show tries to frame this as convincing the hero to believe that she can be beautiful. But the extreme clunkyness of framing this ideal around traditional beauty, lavishness and model-esque physical beauty makes the scene incredibly strained. The awkward scene is one of the most shallow of the series (even given that this series often stumbles into shallow moments).