© Kelli Falls/Netflix

TV

Queer Eye: We're in Japan! breathes fresh air into the series that you didn't know it needed

The Fab Five have gone on a jaunt to Japan, breathing a new lease of life into an already brilliant programme and making people cry across continents

If you’ve watched Queer Eye before then you’ll already know to only press play once armed with a box of tissues. It’s not that it’s a sad show, it’s just so utterly wholesome, kind and uplifting, their makeover participants so in need of some self-love, that the waterworks start almost as soon as an episode has begun.

Take the first episode of the Fab Five’s latest miniseries, Queer Eye: We’re In Japan!, for instance. Within the first ten minutes, we meet 57-year-old Yoko Sukama, a hospice nurse who has transformed her home into a place for patients to die peacefully after her own sister died in hospital. She now cares for so many residents that she’s given up her own bedroom and spends her nights in a sleeping bag under the kitchen table. She tells Karamo, the Fab Five’s resident culture-expert-cum-life-coach, that she felt as though her life ended when her sister died, so now she just wants to make sure that other people are able to enjoy the rest of their lives, no matter how long they’ve got left. If her story of selflessness doesn’t make you cry then perhaps you need to soften up.

© Courtesy of Netfix

So, yes, the Fab Five have taken a trip to Japan. Why? To “bring the [Fab Five’s] message of self-care and compassion to four Japanese men and women while exploring the country’s rich culture and cuisine”. It does seem a bit random, as though Netflix and the production crew just fancied a jolly to Japan for a few weeks, but the end result is just as endearing as all the other series, if not more so for the way they approach issues that are more unique to Japanese culture. Yoko feels as though she has “given up on being a woman”, a phrase we learn is often used in Japan to describe women who dress unconventionally – in her case, baggy jumpers and woolly hats to disguise unkempt hair. But she also adores Audrey Hepburn’s femininity and dreams of motherhood. She hasn’t given up on being a woman, she’s just given up on herself. Despite her fears over the language barrier (before the credits, an off-camera interpreter is revealed to the audience), by the end of the episode she feels “happier than happy” wearing a skirt and red lipstick.

Of course, with this series comes the danger that a group of American and British people bulldozing through someone’s life in a different culture could come off as offensive, even with the Fab Five’s superior levels of empathy and tact. This hurdle isn’t confidently cleared, wobbling slightly every time someone says, “Oh, my God! You look so kawaii!” but the team are aided by American-Japanese model Kiko Mizuhara, who is on hand to explain the cultural nuances of circumstances such as Sukama’s, while also sharing her own experiences with participants when the Fab Five’s expertise hits a wall. And naturally, the gang are keen to learn and be respectful anyway. One of the first questions Tan asks Kiko is how he should address Yoko and whether he should greet her with a hug. It turns out that she’s not really a hugger in the first place, but that quickly changes over the week and during her makeover reveal she hugs her best friend for the first time ever.

© Kelli Falls/Netflix

The truth is, an episode of Queer Eye is so formulaic, the five-point makeover format so finely tuned, that this trip to Japan breathes fresh air into the show that you didn’t even realise you were gasping for. Only the location, language and culture has changed, but the new themes that come with those changes are enough to make you pay attention once more – and not just because you have to read subtitles. It seems obvious, but it’s comforting to know that no matter how different a person’s world may be, often all it takes is compassion and some genuine, caring attention to improve their sense of self-worth. Although Queer Eye is a makeover show, the pillars of which are intrinsically materialistic, its overall message digs much deeper than that. It’s about self-care, obviously, but it’s also about the power of community and human connection. The home renovations are fabulous, but the moments that cut deep are usually when participants realise how much they are loved by those around them.

Elsewhere in the series, we’ll meet a gay man struggling to live out openly in society, a manga artist who has been bullied since childhood and a shy radio host who has withdrawn from his marriage. Their stories will probably also make you cry, but they’ll make you smile and feel fuzzy inside much more, because that’s what Queer Eye does. It’s a warm hug from your virtual best friends, even though you’ve never hugged them before. It’s exactly the kind of television we need at a time when we’re reportedly lonelier than ever. Maximise its impact by inviting people over to watch it with you. After all, that’s what the Fab Five do.

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