You all know that I watch way too much Japanese TV. But that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy a good American show. And when that show decides to have episodes spoken entirely in Japanese, seemingly out of nowhere, it’s something I have to talk about. Westworld is a fairly new (2016) HBO show about artificial intelligence, robots, and cowboys. It’s probably one of the most confusing shows of recent TV, but an incredibly fun ride.
It takes place in a “Wild West” Theme Park filled with robots. That was until the middle of season 2 (which just finished), where they dedicated an entire episode and a half to “Shogun World.” The setting shifts to Edo Japan in the 1800s and things… get… wild.
When American TV brings in Japan or a Japanese theme it is usually fairly quick and done without much authenticity. If it involves the Japanese language, it is usually spoken badly. Often they won’t even bother getting Japanese actors and will just use generic Asian actors instead.
This would normally be satisfying enough, but what really stood out to me was that the regular non-Japanese actors take the time to actually sound good at Japanese. This is rare, and worth watching.
The main bad-ass character of Westworld, Maeve, does most of the talking. Since she’s a robot, her programming gives her fluent Japanese. While that may be the case for the character, that shouldn’t be the case for the actress. While her accent and pronunciation may not be fluent, and her lines just rehearsed, her Japanese comes off as quite impressive. It’s not the typical ear-piercingly bad Japanese that Hollywood actors sometimes use. She put an amazing amount of time to sound good, and this made it so much more enjoyable.
The actual episode
Samurai, war, violence, blood and gore. This goes on par for the series as a whole, so it’s just of a different variety. It’s HBO though, and they have the budget and audience who like this, so it goes way above what a Japanese film would show. There’s some robot story in there somewhere and Maeve kicks ass as always. But it’s a distinct style of samurai drama which you may or may not like.
The actual spoken Japanese is fairly complex. Anything that involves samurai is inevitably going to use that semi-classic Edo era of speaking. For the Japanese learner, this can be frustrating. Even simple pronouns like I and You can be impossible to comprehend.
Then add in Westworld’s standard all over the place plot, on top of the fact that all the characters are purposely thrown into a story they don’t understand, and you may be scratching your head for a long, long time.
Unfortunately, the Japanese adventure isn’t long-lived. They leave Shogun World, with all the new colorful Japanese characters introduced never to be seen again (except for one minor side character who doesn’t do much). I was kind of hoping that Kikuchi Rinko would join the main cast (and they definitely tease it), but alas it wasn’t meant to be.
Japanese episodes of American TV
Are you a Westworld fan? What did you think of these episodes? Or do you have a strong memory of other “Japanese episodes” of American TV that you found memorable?