Itou Koudai’s impression of Kaiji.
In late November, I first heard that TBS is going to air a game show based on Kaiji around the New Year’s Eve. After the thing was over and gathered plenty of attention from Japanese netizens, I was determined to seek it out and watch the show. How could I miss that? And so I did – you can find some rips on Youtube.
The rules of the game are simple: win your way through three stages of familiar-looking trials for a prize in cash, to pay your debts off. The number of participants in this real-life version of the exciting story about victims of life that is Kaiji is twelve. Some of them had incredibly bad luck in life, like the dude who lost both of his parents at once and inherited all of their debts. On the other hand, some look like incorrigible losers who have only themselves to blame for their misery. Do mind that this impression might only be caused by how they’re presented – the show wants you to look down on them, after all… The chosen twelve includes such personalities as Yamane the desperate orphan who works both day and night to secure a decent life for him and his sister; Glasses boy Fukuda Tsuyoshi, malnourished and permanently jobless; A 24 years old homeless man; And multiple small-time entertainers with hardly any income, like Itou Koudai, whose bits and letsplays you can watch on Youtube. Some of the players were selected to appear in the show for jokey reasons, like a dude named Kaiji or the poor housewife Tonegawa. Many of them, when asked about where they work, say they hate their jobs (if they have one) and would rather not work. Of course, the show wouldn’t miss the opportunity to show their responses for some more Bum Factor. As if that proves anything. Who the hell likes their job in 2018?
Lines from Kaiji everywhere.
The first challenge for them to overcome is taken straight from the comic/anime. The participants are divided into four groups and have to cross steel bars connecting two rooftops. Three people, two bars and one winner in each group. The show is mean-spirited from the very start. The host, Tonegawa, welcomes the players with a speech where the word for “trash” comes up multiple times in a sentence, throws in a few quotes from Kaiji, and then the contest begins. Neither the audience or the players are informed what happens when someone falls off the bar (even after it inevitably happens). Thankfully, not even one person gets pushed off the bar by a competitor – not that it was likely, given how simply remaining on it was hard enough. Next, they play a game where they each receive a card of one of two colors – red or blue, are given the option to change colors for money, and have to somehow negotiate with the others to become the majority: the players who end up with the lesser-popular color will be eliminated from the game. Then, they’re taken to an underground facility where they receive nice green uniforms you maybe recognize and… put ballpens with the logo of Teiai Group together for eight hours. Guess what you can win in the obligatory contest for the viewers. Finally, the winner emerges after a session of a giant board game where the players serve as pawns. The most you can roll out with the dice is 4 – the game’s organizers need to stay in character after all. The fields you can land on after rolling the dice include one that forces you to return one of your competitors to the very start of the board. Or lets you donate blood in exchange for an extra roll. Finally, one of the four remaining players wins a mountain of money and some tears are shed. What a heartwarming ending.
The moment I first saw the news about the existence of this show, I knew it’s probably not a good idea. An exploitative and evil one, one straight from a tabloid journo’s imagination. And that’s exactly what the show is. Full of vile moments where the game makers introduce new rules as the game goes on, all for the sake of entertainment. It might have been an amazing experience in comic form, but this time, all the terrible things happen to flesh-and-blood people instead of pointy-nosed cartoons, and it obviously steps into truly evil territory. I do realize that the level of difficulty is way lower that in the original. Still, the show never acknowledges it, either to the participants or the viewers, for the sake of authenticity. And well, it’s madly entertaining. Just look at the buzz it caused in Japan. However, it made me feel like I read a damn tabloid: I could not watch it without cringing.