Let me introduce you to the wonder of ねほりんぱほりん (Nehorin Pahorin).


Let me introduce you to the wonder of ねほりんぱほりん (Nehorin Pahorin). It's a talk show on NHK, now in its second season, that I think is utterly brilliant. It's all done with puppets. But the show isn't for kids. The hosts interview real adults, mostly couples, about some unusual circumstances in their lives, but because of the whole shame culture here, they don't reveal any identities. The voices are real but distorted like they do on the evening news.

The brilliant part is how the puppeteers then act out the people's words with the puppets, moving arms and heads and everything as if the puppet is speaking. The hosts, a man and a woman who are fairly well-known TV personalities, are depicted as a pair of moles (or perhaps some other ground burrowing rodent). The male host even wears a miner's hat and a pickax on his back, and the animated opening sequence shows the pair digging through the ground like in the 80s video game Dig Dug. The name of the show means something like "we dig deeper" or something like that. (Orine was fuzzy with the words.)

The guests are all depicted as different pigs, which isn't meant to be insulting at all. We watched a little segment that showed how they do it. First the couple is interviewed. That interview is recorded and turned into a paper puppet script, which I gathered is a bit like written stage directions. Then the recording is played while the puppeteers act it out, and that's what's broadcast.

The studio has a whole wardrobe of children's clothes and a mess of various costume accessories -- wigs, beards for the guys, jewelry, eyebrows and eyelashes, and so on. They even use rubber bands to change the shape of the pigs' bodies. So, for example, for a segment featuring a large-breasted woman, they put rubber bands around the pig's midsection, which pushed the stuffing up and down into "breasts" and "hips." They can also take stuffing in and out of the body as necessary though a zipper at the back.

The result is oddly fascinating. There's this surreal contradiction between the look and movement of the puppets (and their distorted, high-pitched voices) and the subject matter of the interview. One woman was fighting a serious drug addiction, for example. One of the couples was having real problems because the guy was a complete clueless deadbeat who didn't get why he couldn't live jobless off his girlfriend and masturbate to porn with her sleeping in bed right next to him.

But as crazy as that sounds, it's not quite like Jerry Springer or Maury or whatever, where half the time you're not sure how much of the backstories have been faked and where the audience is invited to jeer at the losers on stage -- although obviously there will be similar elements since the couples here are chosen for their exceptional circumstances. But in typical Japanese fashion, everyone is quite respectful. And knowing they are safely anonymous, the guests open up every detail of their lives, often laughing at the sheer ridiculousness of it all -- all in the medium of puppetry.

The puppeteers even act out "flashbacks" in different settings (other than the interview room pictured below) when one of the guests is recounting prior events during the interview. Some are sad, some are serious, some are quite funny -- as far as I can tell. I wish someone would make a similar program in English. (Or have they?)

Here is their Twitter account, where you can see some pictures and short clips: https://twitter.com/nhk_nehorin

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