When studios in Japan suspended production of new programming due to concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic this past spring, TV stations turned to nostalgia to fill the suddenly vacant spaces on their nightly schedules. Reruns of dramas, in particular, proved successful, whether they were from a few years ago (“The Full-Time Wife Escapist,” 2016) or a decade back (“Jin,” 2009 to 2011). What better way to take a break from the terrors of 2020 than to slip into an idealized, scripted past.
This trend is continuing into autumn, and one new series is returning to the peak days of America’s “war on terror.”
“24 Japan,” which debuted on Oct. 9, airs on TV Asahi every Friday night at 11:15 p.m. Episodes are available on the streaming platform AbeMa TV as well. The show is based on (though, “nearly replicating” might be a better way to put it) “24,” the action-packed counterterrorism series that started its run in the fall of 2001 and became one of the defining American shows of George W. Bush’s presidency.
The Japanese version follows the same beats as the original. Playing out in real time, the “24 Japan” equivalent of Jack Bauer is Genba Shido (played by Toshiaki Karasawa), an agent for a counterterrorism organization who endures a wild day of plot twists to thwart a conspiracy to assassinate a politician. All the hallmarks of the American version appear, from the beeping digital clock popping up to remind us where we are in the story, to the split-screen presentation and intersecting stories and sub-stories.
These details helped make the original “24” a hit in Japan during the 2000s, and with the 20th anniversary of its release on the horizon, it’s natural for production studios to attempt to revive past successes. This take could appeal to both the now middle-aged audience that once rented out bulky DVD box sets from Tsutaya and a younger generation not as familiar with the series. “24 Japan” isn’t the first attempt to remake the show — an Indian version launched in 2013 boasts two seasons — and it’s easy to see why from a potential profit point of view.
Of course, it’s expected that the Japanese update would pay homage to the original, but the show goes even further by recreating almost every moment from the American version’s first season. There are very few changes that account for life in 2020 or the Japan setting. The only notable shifts are the levels of gore and bafflingly small details (in the American version, a main character’s two children eat pizza before visiting their parents, the children in “24 Japan” bake apple pies with their grandmother).
The best way to experience “24 Japan” is to hop over to Hulu Japan after watching an episode and bringing up the corresponding hour of the American version. It reveals how much of a rehash the 2020 production is: The Japanese subtitles from 2001 became the dialogue. It’s tough to get excited about TV Asahi’s work when every plot turn gives you a feeling of deja vu.
Yet this exercise also reveals where the two diverge. The original season of “24” remains an exhilarating watch modelled to look like an action film. “24 Japan” seems more like a J-drama where people sometimes get hit with a tranquilizer in the leg, and its shots are far more static and built around conversation. That’s not necessarily bad, given the current COVID-19 backdrop. Perhaps nonstop action centered on the potential collapse of a nation isn’t what viewers want during stressful times, and a slower-paced story is more comforting.
There is one element, though, that nails the urgency of the original, rather than simply allowing viewers to luxuriate in the past. In a setup that reflects the original’s fictional senator who goes on to become the first Black president of the United States, Yukie Nakama plays Urara Asakura, a politician poised to become Japan’s first female prime minister. In the show, Nakama’s character presents very real issues Japan will have to face in the future, and she serves as a reminder to viewers that post-COVID Japan won’t be as tranquil as we might hope.
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