Bottom line: I really don’t understand Japanese culture but Gaki No Tsukai is fun.
In Japan, for the past ten years on New Years Eve, a program called Gaki No Tsukai Batsu Game has been broadcasted. According to Wikipedia, the full title is Downtown no Gaki no Tsukai ya Arahende!! which translates to “Downtown’s This Is No Task for Kids!” Five comedians take part in a 24-hour challenge where they cannot laugh. If they do, they are punished (usually it’s a spanking at the hands of rod wielding masked men). They are comedians so they have a tendency to make each other laugh, but to ensure punishments the producers introduce humorous situations, gags, and cameos. The program has become so popular that it is around five hours long.
As a slight aside, there is a group called Team Gaki who write English translation-subtitles for the show. They not only translate the dialog, the signs, the text, but they include helpful culture cues. At one point, for example, one of the comedians is forced to dress up in a costume. When he walks into the room, all of the other comedians burst into laughter. It isn’t just a silly costume; it’s a character from a manga published in the early ‘70’s. Team Gaki puts a special explanatory note on the screen. It’s wicked awesome. Even better, they offer download links to the previous Batsu games (in high definition too).
Even with the translator notes, Gaki No Tsukai is a potpourri of culture that is lost on me. Occasionally, a junior member of the crew speaks casually to a senior member. The insolence of using a casual tone becomes a humorous point of contention. One, there is a language difference. In English, as you probably know, we don’t have a clear distinction between casual and formal speaking. Two, it’s interesting that even in these absurd situations, those cultural tenets hold strong.
I’d love to know more about the role of violence or physical comedy in Japanese culture and television. There’s a scene where two forty-year-old men dress in Sumo wrestler garb (so they’re nearly naked). The one tickles the other and if the other makes a noise, he loses. This tickle fight is performed in front of the five comedians who, again, will be spanked by masked men if they laugh. I don’t think you could get more homoerotic which, of course, is fine. I just don’t understand it, culturally.
Would I recommend Gaki No Tsukai? Well, it’s bizarre and funny at times. If you are down for watching something different and you’re into slapstick or physical humor, then definitely check it out. Thanks for reading!