Japan has some of the strangest TV ever! Iron Chef originally came from Japan! I was all about Chef Sakai!
Then a few weeks ago I stumbled across another strange thing on a channel called G4TV. I do not know what G4TV is! But they run weekend-long marathons of Ninja Warrior! I did not know what Ninja Warrior was, either, (I think it is called Sasuke in Japan), but I was mesmerized. I think it is in part because the commentator yells in Japanese while you watch the guys (and girls, there is a division for women) work the obstacle course – but there are subtitles for those of us who do not speak Japanese! The announcer has to find many new ways to say “Oopsie!” every episode!
It is an athletic competition on a huge course in Japan, with obstacles over water! The contestants swing from ropes and climb up walls, and if they miss a step, they fall in the water! The water does not look that nice, either, it is muddy! They are so polite when they fall in! In Japan they have not perfected the art of Trash Talking!
The obstacles have fun names like the Salmon Ladder, the Spider Wall, and the Warped Wall. The men do mostly upper-body-strength tests, with a balance test thrown in somewhere; the women do the opposite. I have seen women compete with men but I have not seen men with the ladies.
As near as I can tell, each cycle has a set of five to seven episodes: in each of the first four, 25 people try to get through the course of maybe six or seven obstacles in a certain amount of time. Usually only 1 or 2 will make it past each of these first rounds, sometimes none!
They have some people in this category I think of as “reality show whores” – they have absolutely no ability to do this but they want to be on TV. Then there are some people who just like to play (like The Octopus, 57, who seems kind of sweet but should find another hobby before he gets hurt), but they have some serious athletes too, gymnasts and trainers, and they fail too – this is hard stuff!
Then, the five or six people who made it past Round 1 do a different course with different obstacles (sometimes there is a third round), and they usually end up with one or two people in the final. Then the final is a timed climb of some kind. Most cycles nobody wins! I think there are only three or four champions and they have done this 35 times! I did not watch all 35 cycles during the Marathon, that would be ridiculous!
One of the very few champions who achieved Total Victory, as they call it, is Makoto Nagano, a fisherman, and they show him working out on his fishing boat! He climbs the ropes and holds himself out perpendicular to the ground just by his arms! That is pretty amazing! And it still took him many tries. Then there is champion Yuuji Urushihara, a shoe salesman! These guys are 30-somethings, not young kids!
In May, the first American Ninja will be on TV! I am betting that, like Iron Chef, the American version will not be as fun. I think there is just something inherently goofy about the Japanese versions that does not translate. Or maybe it is the Japanese commentator that gives it that surreal quality!
It is a lot of fun, and very addictive!