The tension in the air lifts as director Suzuki signals a cut with a quick “arigatou gozaimasu.” Hosts Chiaki Horan and Nicholas Pettas relax their careful stance while the soundscape fills with the rearrangement of studio cameras and personnel. Producer Iizuka, arms behind his back, observes the shift in scene thoughtfully from the back of an ornate room that has been temporarily outfitted with the show’s branding. With everyone in position, the production assistant begins the time-to-transmission countdown. “Yon, san…” he counts the remainder with silent beats of an outreached hand.
In less than a three week’s time, what is captured in the following moments will be aired to over 160 countries around the world. This is the production of imagine-nation, an English-language television show broadcasted on NHK WORLD-JAPAN, the international service for Japan’s sole public broadcaster. Created to share ‘J-Pop’ with international audiences, a typical episode has the two lively hosts providing exclusive insight into topics within the Japanese entertainment industry. Director Suzuki is careful to clear any misconceptions about the term “J-Pop” as he uses it. “‘J-Pop,’” he explains, “is not music. It is anime, games, and manga. It is so-called ‘J-Pop culture.’”
Rocking slowly from leg to leg, acclaimed manga artist Kotobuki Shiriagari watches as the hosts on stage build up to his introduction to the show. “Arigatou gozaimasu.” Brief adjustments are made. Kotobuki is brought to the side of the stage right out of sight. “Yon, san…” The production crew applauds as the hosts welcome him to the stage. Smiling, he takes a seat at their prompting. “Arigatou gozaimasu.” More adjustments. “Yon, san…” Chiaki jumps into the interview with a question, to which Kotobuki listens attentively. Then, strangely, she rapidly asks the same question in Japanese. He noticeably brightens up and responds quietly in Japanese. The hosts then animatedly react in English, to which the manga artist vaguely smiles.
The audience, of course, will see nothing of the oddity of this interaction.
From a technical standpoint, imagine-nation is produced in a similar fashion to any other television show for broadcast. Three studio cameras and microphones orient around a brightly lit stage and feed to the monitors and mixers of a production control table. Several crew members around the set coordinate as they execute specific roles. The key differences when creating a television show for an international audience lies in accommodating English-speaking viewers.
“The production staff is Japanese and the creators they interview are Japanese,” producer Iizuka says, “so everything must be translated.” This manifests in the hosts having to ask questions and react in both English and Japanese. The order in which the hosts ask the questions is important: by asking questions first in English and Japanese second, the production team has space to edit the clip as if Kotobuki is responding directly to the English question. To top it off, Kotobuki’s response will be dubbed over in English as to erase any auditory discord for the audience.
“We think Japanese audiences depend more on visuals, whereas overseas people lean towards audio,” director Suzuki explains. “So, we value narrations [in imagine-nation].”
imagine-nation must address not only linguistic barriers, but also cultural barriers. “While some styles of clothing may be acceptable in one country, they may not be acceptable in others,” producer Iizuka says. The same, director Suzuki adds, goes for violence and consumption of alcohol. However, while they strive to be culturally sensitive, television shows for NHK WORLD-JAPAN are not tailored for each country. “We need to balance it so that it can be shown everywhere. If we cut everything to suit every country, however, we risk making the show boring.”
“The basic concept [of imagine-nation] is the same,” producer Iizuka says. The point of the show is to provide information. For that information to be valuable, they need to be among the first. In the past, they could take more time, but now there is pressure to be faster.
Increasing information on the Internet regarding ‘J-Pop’ topics means the time in which they need to produce a show so that it can be valuable is getting shorter. Since before, exclusive background interviews with anime directors or manga artists such as Kotobuki Shiriagari continue to provide value beyond what viewers can look up. However, even those insights can come out, so that window has also been getting shorter. With the extra time needed to translate everything, producing an international television show faces an increasingly challenging landscape.
Producer Iizuka is enthusiastic in his demeanor as he speaks of the show and fans around the world. He encourages them to continue reaching out via email and social media with their suggestions. “We do so much work before we even start filming,” he says. “We are very happy when we get messages of support.” The hard work he references before filming is in the legal processes: they must coordinate with many companies and people to gain permission to share ‘J-Pop’ content on air. When they get messages of encouragement, they know the show has reach and get motivated to do even more of that hard work for their fans. You can contact via their website, or tag any of the NHK WORLD-JAPAN social media profiles (Facebook,YouTube, Twitter, Instagram)
So, don’t hesitate to drop them a line – they welcome any suggestions for what you want to see in the next episodes, any criticism, or just saying “thanks” or “greetings from X”!