Hidetomo Masuno says he thinks too much. The 41-year-old comedian who goes by the name Bakarhythm says he spends most of his waking hours deep in thought — “but first,” he stresses, “I observe.”
Observation is what led him to create the blog, book and, eventually, TV series “Fictitious OL Diary” (“Kaku OL Nikki”).
“I was fascinated by the things women said to each other, and the stuff they felt was important in their lives,” Masuno tells The Japan Times. So, in 2006, he began mimicking the conversations he overheard for a blog in which he pretended to be an OL (office lady). The term isn’t quite the equivalent to a Japanese “salaryman,” often representing women in the workforce who perform administrative jobs. The blog became a two-volume paperback series in 2013 and, even after the cat was out of the bag, a lot of readers remained under the impression that the writer was just some nice young woman commuting to her job at a Tokyo bank by train.
“I loved it when I got positive feedback from female readers,” Masuno says. “It made me think I was getting it right.”
Earlier this year, Hulu Japan and Nippon TV aired “Fictitious OL Diary” with Masuno in the lead role as the nameless female protagonist. He also penned the script.
“The series is really important to me,” Masuno says. “I had a lot of creative leeway, which I very rarely get to have. The fact that I wrote and acted in it meant I didn’t have to follow anyone’s vision but my own, so it’s a very special project.”
Having said that, Masuno says he still had to listen to director Takashi Sumida when it came to things like choosing a wardrobe.
“I didn’t want to be too cute,” Masuno says. “I wanted to lounge around in sweats at home and then go to work in a drab suit or something. The director disagreed, however, and said that my character should care about how she looked, like many other young women. I have to admit, he was right.”
In the series, Masuno’s character wears matching pajamas at home and goes to work in a casual jacket and skirt. Both ensembles are immediately what come to mind when you think of “OL fashion.”
Upon arrival at work, though, Masuno must change into the company uniform like all the other OLs (played by Asami Usuda, Maho Yamada, Ryo Sato and the singularly named Kaho) — but none of them actually disrobe. Masuno says the lack of skin is intentional as he purposely avoided sexualizing his characters.
“I didn’t want to get into sex or boyfriends or relationships (on the show),” he says. “It would have ruined the ambience and completely wrecked the structure of the story — it’s about OLs, just being themselves, engrossed in the details of everyday life.”
Who would have thought that a bunch of OLs “just being themselves” would yield so much entertainment?
“It’s not easily understandable,” Masuno says. “It’s not like you can gobble these stories up and then forget about them. I wanted these women’s conversations to connect with the viewer, especially if they happened to be male.
“Men tend to tune out women talk; they think it’s not interesting. But the truth is that their talk is no more or less trivial than women’s. Men talk about sports and games, and women talk about makeup and sweets. I don’t really see a difference.”
Masuno says he has always loved hearing girl talk, even when he was at school.
“I was the boy who loved talking with the girls,” he says. “Boys tended to bore me and the girls could see that. They were relaxed and uninhibited around me, saying whatever they wanted. As I grew up and started dating, I was delighted and surprised to know that adult women weren’t all that different from the girls I knew at school. They laughed, got upset, cried over similar things and got into such passionate discussions about the million tiny details that make up their lives.”
One example of such detailed conversation comes in the fifth episode of “Fictitious OL Diary” when a full half of the runtime is devoted to a discussion on what zapping body hair feels like (snapping a rubber band on the skin, according to the OLs).
Throughout the series, the office workers complain about their male bosses: their bad breath, gross habits and, most importantly, their condescending attitudes.
“Men like to believe that OLs are really into bad-mouthing each other,” Masuno says. “My experience, though, is that women are a lot less malicious and more loyal than men like to believe they are.”
While male comedians have a long tradition of dressing up as women for quick laughs, “Fictitious OL Diary” doesn’t poke fun at women and aims for authenticity.
“The series was never meant to be campy or snarky or even satirical,” he says. “It’s just a peek into the OL world, which is a world that I happen to find deeply interesting. People ask me about the male or female gaze and I have to say that I haven’t intended either — this is just my own perspective based on decades of observation and listening.”
The comic adds that he’s also not interested in dating any of his show’s characters.
“I’m not projecting my ideals or fantasies onto these women,” he says. “True, there are certain characteristics that I like or admire scattered among them, but there’s no lone heroine, no girl-of-your-dreams here. The very ordinariness of these women is what drives the series. If they resemble you or someone you know, I consider that a mark of success.”
For more information, visit www.kaku-ol.jp.