In the fourth season finale of HBO’s hit TV show “Girls,” a comedy that follows the exploits of a group of 20-somethings navigating New York, Shoshanna (played by Zosia Mamet) surprises her roommate, Jessa, by declaring “I’m moving to Japan,” while leafing through a travel book and practicing her chopstick skills.
“You’re going to make a really great geisha,” Jessa replies.
For the past two weeks, the crew of the show has been busy filming scenes for the upcoming Japan episode. Executive producers Jenni Konner and Lena Dunham, who also plays Hannah on the show, tell The Japan Times that the story in Tokyo will focus solely on Mamet’s character and her new boss, played by guest star Aidy Bryant from “Saturday Night Live.” Even Dunham, who came to Japan to produce the episode, won’t make an appearance.
“We really wanted to give Shoshanna the chance to find herself without the other girls,” Dunham says. “So this is her moment to figure out ‘Who am I by myself?’
“Such a big part of being in your 20s is taking these adventures, and sometimes loneliness allows you to become closer to yourself and understand yourself better. So this trip for Shoshanna is so much about self-discovery and how much you discover about yourself when you’re placed in a circumstance that is so alien to you.”
Konner and Dunham want the episode to inspire viewers and make them interested in a place they both admire very much.
“I was in Japan about a year and a half ago, and I fell in love with Tokyo and felt like I never wanted to leave,” Konner says.
Dunham says she accompanied her mother on a trip to Japan in 2009, but says she became interested in the country at a much younger age when she began reading children’s books such as “Sayonara, Mrs. Kackleman.”
“(The book) gives you this incredible sense of this world, and so I was obsessed with Japan as a result of that,” she says. “And we read ‘Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes,’ which actually mostly made me scared that I had leukemia, but also made me want to come to Japan.”
Konner says she came up with the idea of bringing “Girls” to Tokyo after seeing the city’s wild street fashion, which reminded her of Shoshanna’s own unique hair-dos and flashy outfits.
“I kept writing Lena emails with photographs of girls and I was like, ‘Look, there’s another Shoshanna! There’s another Shoshanna! Shoshanna has to live here. This is her place, these are her people,’ ” she says.
Thus the pair crafted a story arc in which, after enduring countless rejections and snide remarks, the somewhat timid Shoshanna finds and accepts a marketing job in Japan, which is where the cameras pick up and tell her story. Many scenes in “Girls” are inspired by the producers’ awkward and embarrassing anecdotes from their own lives, and the Tokyo episode is no different.
“Some of the wilder times are from Lena’s stories,” Konner says.
“And some of the food-influenced times are from Jenni,” Dunham adds.
While the pair says they wanted to share their own experiences in Japan through the show, they also wanted it to be a visual love letter that didn’t fall on stereotypes or cliches.
” ‘Lost in Translation’ did it really beautifully,” Konner says. “It showed the strange parts of Japan and the otherness of Japan from our culture. It did it very, very respectfully. And that’s sort of the balance we’re trying to find.”
“I think to us, the line is always, we want to do something that is funny, realistic and respectful, and because we have so much love for this culture, we definitely have tried to make sure that we weren’t making any choices that weren’t accurate to this location,” Dunham says, adding that Japanese cast members, including actor Hiro Mizushima, had a say in which outfits looked and felt natural to them. “What I do feel proud of is that we have some really beautiful, quiet, poetic moments and not just crazy stuff like ‘Everyone has a cat on their head!’ ”
“Although we do have that, too,” Konner says.
Dunham then pulls down her shirt to reveal a scratch on her chest, an on-set injury sustained at a cat cafe.
“I snuggled too hard and he wanted to get away, and I didn’t allow him,” she explains.
In addition to pet-themed shops, the episode will follow Shoshanna as she explores sentō (public baths) and fashionable youth spot Takeshita Dori, a street in Tokyo’s Harajuku area filled with brightly colored shops and everything kawaii (cute).
“It’s our spiritual home,” Dunham says. “Shoshanna gets very Harajuku, very quickly.”
After dealing with jet lag, culture shock and unhappy cats, the pair just wants their passion for Tokyo to shine through.
“I hope that, even though every moment Shoshanna has isn’t perfect,” Dunham says, “it will make people feel excited to pursue sort of outlandish dreams or make that wild choice that seems impractical but puts yourself in the way of new experience.”
“Girls” airs Wednesday nights at 9 p.m. on Star Channel. Seasons 1-3 will be aired again starting in November.
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