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Strangers Act Out Love Scenarios on TV Show

January 16, 2001
A TV show in which ordinary people "act out" semifictional storybook romances has proven immensely popular. (TBS)

Deep down inside we all harbor a wish to live out a storybook romance. Now a television program has given ordinary young people just such an opportunity. In Mirai Nikki (Future Diary) (the Website is only available in Japanese), a man and woman who have never met are handed copies of a "script" containing only a rough outline of a romantic story; all their conversations are spontaneous. Strange as it may seem, going through several semifictional episodes together seems to rouse mutual feelings of romance in most of those who star in a series. The story is touched up at the end with a genuine, nonfictional climax, moreover, promising a highly dramatic viewing experience.

Fact or Fiction?
Mirai Nikki began airing in summer 1999, as part of a TV show emceed by a popular comedy pair. Individuals chosen from among the viewers "act" out a romantic scenario based on the "entries" of the Future Diary, and their actions are aired on the show.

The most popular series thus far was the fifth, in which a Japanese man and a Taiwanese woman overcame the language barrier and came to understand each other. "Arriving at [a certain Japanese] airport, he rings up the girlfriend he has never met," begins the diary. This entry is followed by other instructions such as "He takes her around the town where he grew up." In the course of various dramatic episodes that take them even to Taiwan, they are gradually drawn to each other. But, as is always the case in the show, in the end they must part.

The true climax begins here, however. The "actors" are free to make their own choice and follow their hearts' desire. How the rest of the story goes is up to their passion and luck. In the fifth series the two, by now an ocean apart, are shown a diary entry that simply says, "The two meet up at ----." Both head for the same place in Japan, and there, no longer obliged to say or do things against their will, they finally kiss.

Romeo and Juliet
What has made Mirai Nikki so popular? As viewers observe the balance--or at times the imbalance--between the unrelenting, set-in-stone script and the unpredictable actions of these "ordinary people," they come to empathize with the actors. And since the epilogue is done largely in ad-lib, there is no guarantee that the actors will really meet one another again in the epilogue, so that the viewers are kept in suspense right until the very end. There is a compelling sense of reality to the cast members' expressions of joy or distress that rivals anything by even the best professional actors, moreover, and this has won the hearts of many viewers.

Another reason for the show's popularity is that the story is punctuated with numerous mean twists, in which the actors, though in reality beginning to hold romantic feelings toward their counterpart, are forced to act contrary to their feelings. Such frustrating experiences help to heighten their yearning for one another. A psychologist explains that the various challenging situations set out in the scenario strengthen the attraction between the cast members--a phenomenon known as the Romeo and Juliet effect--and witnessing this fascinates the viewers. One young person admits, "In real life, you can't experience pure or exciting love like in a TV drama; but watching Mirai Nikki makes us feel as though we too are the stars of a love story."

Successful Spin-Offs
The popularity of Mirai Nikki has outgrown the TV show. For 40 days in summer 2000, an amusement park in Tokyo offered an attraction in which couples could experience a scaled-down version of Mirai Nikki, attracting a total of 123,000 visitors. A movie version of Mirai Nikki was also produced, and on its opening day in August 2000 young couples formed lines to see the movie. As for television, the eighth series is currently being broadcast.

The title of the theme song for the fifth series outlined above, "Sakurazaka" (sung by Masaharu Fukuyama), is the name of the place where the two kiss at the end. For some time after the series was aired, the quiet suburban neighborhood was crowded with couples every day. Due in no small part to the popularity of the TV series, both "Sakurazaka" and "TSUNAMI"--another theme song performed by the Southern All Stars--became smash hits.

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Trends in JapanCopyright (c) 2001 Japan Information Network. Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.