Ellen Page's new docu-series dropped twenty-four hours ago on Viceland's YouTube channel and as someone who has lived and worked in Japan for almost three years, I have to say it's legit.
Within the first minute Page, who is sitting in the back of a Japanese cab, makes quick work of the problems which currently exist in Japanese society from the lack of same-sex marriage legislation through to the even more troubling absence of anti-discrimination laws to protect LGBT people.
This sets the tone for everything to come as Page and Ian Daniel take us on a whirlwind tour through some of Tokyo's oldest and quirkiest queer establishments, investigate the mainstream fetishism of homosexuality by straight women, interview a man currently in a "friendship" marriage, two gay lawyers, and the the first openly gay member of the Japanese parliament Kanako Otsuji. They experience a gay wedding ceremony at Kyoto's Shunkoin Zen Temple, and even sit in on one man's emotional coming out to his mother.
Over the course of the first episode, I was struck by how thorough and well researched it was. Page and Daniel didn't shy away from tackling the tough issues such as how LGBT people in Japan face very little open public discrimination but are kept shut away by societal expectations to not disrupt the harmony of the community at large, or how the Japanese often view their body as being not their own, resulting in a huge amount of expectation surrounding Meiji-era, nuclear family values and the idea that they are not entitled to happiness if it exists outside of this model.
It's safe to say they covered a significant amount of material, and also managed to pull out a couple of truly memorable "only in Japan" segments:
One stand out moment was their interview with two fujoshi or "rotten women" - a term widely used in Japan to describe women (usually straight) who consume gay male yaoi manga.
Women reading about gay male relationships is hardly new territory. Kirk and Spock fan-fiction has long been publicized as the straight woman's domain, and the interview seems to tap into this thread from the beginning.
It starts out funny as Page and Daniel sit in a karaoke booth listening to fairly graphic audio of two guys getting off, while two adult Japanese women squeal like a couple of schoolgirls who just saw their first penis in a textbook.
The segment is equal parts awkward and hilarious, mainly because neither Page nor Daniel understand a word of what is being said to them prior to translation, and are clearly trying to maintain straight faces throughout the ordeal.
However, when the women start giggling uncontrollably, not even a language barrier can hide their perception or interpretation of so-called "boys love" and Ian looks legitimately uncomfortable.
It is at this point that pervasiveness of this kind of fetish culture becomes clear.
The explanation provided by these women is that they became fujoshi for the sense of danger and immorality associated with same-sex unions in Japan. One even admitted to having gay male friends who disapproved of the hobby, explaining that he believed it disregarded the reality for gay men in Japan.
Page was quick to narrate that these women were more interested in objectifying gay sex than they were about understanding the challenges faced by gay men, even those they considered friends.
We could all ponder why this is any different to the wider gay porn industry. However, the classification of same-sex unions within the realm of semi-socially acceptable fetishes and, as Page so aptly puts it, "naughty hobbies" in Japan is one of the root causes of the "don't ask, don't tell" mentality. It keeps many members of the LGBT community in the closet, questioning the legitimacy of their own feelings.
Yaoi manga is not made for the gay community, and it certainly isn't helping them either.
The second most notable mention was the final segment featuring a young Japanese man who hired a stranger from a company called Family Romance to be his friend and support him when he came out to his mother.
Somewhere along the line, Page and Daniel managed to get themselves invited to this coming out party in a tiny Tokyo apartment, along with their video cameras.
I don't know how to put this segment into words. On one level it made me feel incredibly awkward. A coming out is very personal moment, and I don't think his mother appreciated being blindsided in a room full of strangers, as she clearly had no idea her son was gay.
On the other hand, the fact you have an individual raised by a single parent who felt he needed to literally hire a friend and invite two random foreign nationals along for support says a lot about the loneliness and isolation experienced by LGBT people in Japan.
Overall I think the situation was handled respectfully, and the insight into Ellen Page's decision to come out despite the possible ramifications to her career was something I think anyone who has spent any considerable amount of time in the closet could relate to.
At it's core, Gaycation: Japan is a well thought out, insightful look into the LGBT community of Japan. It is informative without being overly bleak, providing just the right amount of WTF to keep it interesting but without detracting away from the central issues they're trying to address.
As the first episode of the series, it has left me excited to see what Page and Daniel will do next.
You can check out Japan (GAYCATION Episode 1) below: