Back in 2010 I made the decision to move across to Japan. I began studying the language, I doubled down on my efforts to learn all the social etiquette cues and intended to take my extensive collection of records and try to make it as a DJ over in Japan. My plan was to fly over to Tokyo in 2011, spend a good week or so adjusting and then begin hustling for work. Alas, fate has a weird way of taking your life in unexpected directions and months into prep work I met my (now-ex) wife and those plans quickly dissipated and became distant memories. As it turns out, a month after I would have originally flown over, the horrific tsunami consumed the region.
Having not pursued my dreams of flying over, my passion and wonder for Asian culture is something that’s never subsided. As James May himself comments in his six-episode travel documentary, for Westerners Japan feels like a very alien place. Intending to show the true beauty of this mysterious land, James May teams up with Amazon Studios and his plucky crew to deliver six wonderful episodes that dive into the heart of Japanese culture. Beginning in the northern snow-peaked wilderness and travelling over 7223Km down to the Southern tip, along the way James May brings with him his usual wit and humour, wrapped up in a jazzy, feel-good tone that explores this weird and wonderful world.
From the very first episode, James May makes it clear that this is a travel program unlike other travel programmes. Tokyo doesn’t even show up until episode 3 and with plenty of establishing shots across the six episodes, The Grand Tour star delivers an educational, interesting and humorous plunge into Asia’s prolific island. “It’s a bit of a lark”, James remarks and this much absolutely comes through. With limited linguistic skills, ongoing jokes around “sumimasen” and haikus to sandwich everything together, there’s a consistency to the series that helps this one stand on its own two legs.
I love An Idiot Abroad and for me I think that remains the stronger candidate in terms of humour and traveling but to be honest, James May delivers a really compelling and entertaining documentary here that’s well worth a watch. It’s not all laughs either and there’s a couple of well-placed poignant moments early on, especially during episode 2 where James sees the after-effects of the aforementioned 2011 tsunami on the region.
There’s some truly breathtaking moments here too and whether it be the digital beauty of teamLab Borderless in Tokyo or the eerie village of dolls in Shikoku, there’s a great array of areas explored. Of course, alongside these areas are the different activities that James indulges in and with food such a large part of the culture, these moments are interspersed throughout the series, allowing James to really dive into the culinary experience and try all manner of food, including octopus and tongue. That’s to say nothing of the giant robots, driving around in a go-kart or even eating cheeky digestive biscuits in Kyoto; there’s so many memorable moments it’s hard to fit them all in here.
If you’re a fan of other travel documentaries or James May himself, Our Man In Japan is well worth a watch. The documentary captures the beauty and strangeness of the country, while delivering some beautiful camera work in the process. The fourth wall breaks, self-aware jabs at the travel program format and ongoing jokes help to keep this one light-hearted but it’s balanced wonderfully by the educational facts and different activities James takes part in. While it’s unlikely to reach the same acclaim shows like An Idiot Abroad have achieved, Amazon Prime’s travel documentary starts the year off in style and reignites that desire I once had to visit Japan. Time to dig out the passport I guess!
|James May: Our Man In Japan is available to watch on Amazon Prime. Feel free to click here and sign up now to check this show out!|
Verdict - 7.5/10