When I first started watching Terrace House, the Japanese reality TV show beloved by Jezebel staffers, I didn’t get the commentators. The handful of comedians and celebrities who joked about the cast members and their antics seemed like a waste of space. I was used to American reality television, where a host might move in and out of the show on occasion to eliminate a contestant, but over time I came to love the Terrace House gang. Suddenly, I was giddily anticipating how Yama-chan or Reina might react to some weird meal a housemate cooked or a botched date request.
But the recent news that Hana Kimura died by suicide after making a series of posts about cyber-bullying she was enduring online has cast Terrace House’s commentary in a different light. A bubbly but shy professional wrestler who joined Terrace House’s latest season, Hana was endearingly earnest for a show where housemates’ true intentions can often be nefarious. While others use the show as an opportunity to boost their brand as influencers or celebrities, Hana seemed to be truly looking for love for the first time. Prior to her death, she reportedly posted a message alluding to criticism: “Nearly 100 frank opinions every day. I couldn’t deny that I was hurt,” she wrote.
According to CNN, Japanese officials are now promptly considering implementing laws against cyberbullying:
The wave of online criticism and harassment was heightened after an episode that aired on March 31, showing an argument between Kimura and another cast member.
That abuse came under scrutiny and widespread condemnation after Kimura’s death.
Japan’s Minister of Internal Affairs and Communication, Sanae Takaichi, pledged on Tuesday to speed up government discussions around cyberbullying legislation.
Terrace House can’t shoulder the blame for Kimura’s death, but the tragedy calls into question the ethics of the show’s baked in commentary directed at its young, fumbling stars. There was another breaking point this season when housemate Emika Mizukoshi broke down after hearing the harsh criticism of the commentators during a previous episode. “It’s TV, and I know it’s out my control,” she said crying on the phone with a friend. “I can’t remember the last time I felt this low… Living in this house is excruciating.” She left not long after.
Appearing on reality television is a gamble in terms of the extent of your portrayal. The genre always comments on its stars, but usually covertly through selective editing; anyone can be a villain or a hero with the right manipulation. Viewers may think they’re forming their own opinions about contestants without realizing the show is guiding them to those opinions strategically. But there’s nothing subtle about Terrace House’s commentators, who offer responses to the show’s scenes like any rando on Twitter, except as a legitimate part of the program. They don’t always agree either, but when they do in condemnation of a certain member, it’s as if Terrace House the show has voiced a stance on its own star.
The show can’t wrangle millions of strangers on Twitter or Instagram harassing its stars, but Kimura’s death shines an uncomfortable spotlight on how Terrace House normalizes harsh commentary, which spreads to its fans as well. While it’s currently on hiatus due to covid-19, as the show goes into a new season it will have to reckon with the format of its panel and take, in part, responsibility for the sake of its viewers and cast.
If you or anyone you know is struggling with suicidal ideation, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.