The premise of the cult reality show “You Wa Nani-shini Nippon E?” (Why Did You Come to Japan?) is simple: a camera crew loiters at Narita Airport, Japan’s main gateway to the world, and zeroes in on unsuspecting foreigners to ask the crucial question. The responses, often from wide-eyed Western tourists drawn to food and popular culture, satisfy a national craving for affirmation from the outside world. But with visitor numbers triple what they were five years ago, the show also taps into an uneasy curiosity about the growing presence of gaijin in this insular country.
Also addictive in Amharic
Few people in landlocked Ethiopia speak English, and much of the media remains walled off from foreign influence. Now a new satellite television channel screening foreign shows dubbed into Amharic has Ethiopians of all ages and classes hooked. When Kana TV’s most popular offering, “Tikur Fikir”, a Turkish soap originally entitled “Kara Para Ask” (Black Money Love), finished, conservatives heaved a sigh of relief: rarely have Ethiopians been so distracted from family, work and prayer. But local film-makers remain fearful: now Ethiopians have a world of choice, they have a lot to lose.
Girlhood, on ice
The revolution of 2011 did little to stem the tide of people leaving Tunisia, legally and illegally, in search of a different life. More than 10% of Tunisians now live abroad. Zaineb (above) and her family, the protagonists of “Zaineb Takrahou Ethelj” (Zaineb Hates the Snow), travelled 7,000km to Montreal, Canada, where it snows for 59 days each year. Shot over six years, the documentary has enraptured Tunisian audiences with its delicate portrait of a less familiar face of migration: the tumultuous metamorphosis of a child navigating grief, puberty and culture shock. It recently bagged the top prize at the Carthage Film Festival.
La vie bohème
The generation of poets, bards and romantics that bloomed in the post-Stalin thaw is back in vogue. The latest hit is “Tainstvennaya Strast” (The Mysterious Passion), based on an autobiographical novel by Vasily Aksenov, chronicler of Russia’s hipster youth. The series follows some of the literary and artistic stars of the age, such as the poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko (played by Filipp Yankovsky, pictured top). Young Russians find their lives seductive because they were risqué, but also because they were comfortable. These bohemians were pragmatists who co-operated with the party – a message the lead producer, Konstantin Ernst, head of the state-controlled Channel One, is no doubt keen to convey.
Pulling new strings
Subversive comedy on state-run television isn’t the easiest thing to pull off in Iran, where the international press and social media are routinely blocked. “Khandevaneh” (its name is a portmanteau of the Farsi for “laugh” and “melon”) is the exception. The vaudevillian variety show is in its third season and at the height of its popularity. It represents a growing strain of liberalism permitting gentle mockery of politicians (if not religion). Co-hosted by satirist Rambod Javan and a folksy puppet called Jenab Khan, the show continues to push the boundaries of what Iranians can – and still cannot –laugh at in public.