VSand you really fall in love with a stranger you meet on a tv dating show? Maybe you have a better chance than in real boring life – if you can suspend your disbelief and give in to the tricks the producers play to let the good emotions flow. The Future Diary, a new Japanese reality TV series, takes a full look at this collective illusion, giving two young people instructions on exactly how they are going to win each other’s hearts. The stunts he uses are so man-made that they should never work, on the participants or on us at home, but damn it artificial TV romance sometimes can’t be effective.
Student Maai Nakasone is 19 years old and lives in Naha City, Okinawa; Takuto Wakamatsu, 24, is a trainee chef from Otaru, Hokkaido. They follow a series of unusual dates, made even more intense by the written messages given to them by the producers of the show, each presented with magnificence in the form of a “personal diary” bound in leather and cardboard. They can be rules (the couple can’t exchange phone numbers or meet outside of the filming process) or exciting prophecies (“you are kissing in a field of blooming sunflowers”), and, on occasion, one receives a message that has not been seen by the other: Nakasone, for example, is ordered that, if she develops feelings for Wakamatsu, she must not express them and must wait that he goes first.
The duo are informed by an introductory video, shown in a cinema in Yokohama. When the lights come back on, the dozens of extras who were sitting around them magically disappeared, leaving the two potential lovers alone. Surprise means pulses are already high as they hold their first proper meeting over iced tea and coffee at a cafe, discussing how many siblings they have and how far apart their localities of Okinawa and Hokkaido. The conversation is hesitant and basic, but the scene is all about those little gestures and expressions that say: something could happen here.
As it goes, The Future Diary mixes tender little moments with elaborate setups, designed to foster a whimsical vision of love in which Wakamatsu is a strong and humble protector and Nakasone a pure companion waiting to be impressed. They get on a cruise ship but, oh no! A manager appears to say that the chef is indisposed. Could Wakamatsu recreate his day job by making pan-seared beef tenderloin and legume garnish for 12 diners, with Nakasone as sous chef? It is ramping up, although it never has the responsibility of overseeing a full service at work. Then they go on a road trip in a Volkswagen Beetle, but what is it? The car has broken down and Wakamatsu has to push it, sweaty but heroically, to its destination? Well, okay, that’s tough chivalry.
Yes, this is all absurd, which the show acknowledges by sporadically cutting to a studio – laid out like a library, for some reason – where four Japanese celebrities, including singer Daigo Naitō and Tokyo TV host Reina Sumi, react to what has been seen so far. They’re all in on it but make it clear that the underlying concept – at the end of the show, the couple will not supposedly be contacted and therefore never see each other again – is “cruel.”
No time to worry about that, however, as we are now too busy watching a simply lovely scene where Nakasone and Wakamatsu are walking down a street in Otaru, with her having the secret task of holding his hand in the dark. good time. When she finally rallies the courage and ties her fingers to the outside of a KFC branch, the expression of shy euphoria on her face is irresistible. You wonder if The Future Diary would work with different participants: change it for an even less open-minded woman, or him for a man with only a hint of cynicism or selfishness, and the whole sweet edifice could crack.
Like stage hypnosis or any structured reality program, The Future Diary works if you want it to work. The spell isn’t even broken by the somewhat absurd cliffhanger at the end of the three episodes used to kick off the series, before it goes weekly: There’s an implication their dates might not continue, but we do know. that they will because we have seen flashforwards to scenes that have not yet appeared. We can, it seems, expect a kiss and a lot of splashing tears. They all look pretty real.