Terrace House, the slow-paced, oddly addictive Japanese reality show that turned into a Netflix sleeper hit around the world, is back with a new season today — at least for some viewers. The first episode of Opening New Doors is available to watch on Netflix in Japan right now, though international audiences will have to wait until March.
The previous season, Aloha State, relocated the show to Hawaii, giving the show a more international, sun-kissed vibe — and earning criticisms from fans who preferred the more Japan-focused approach of the first two seasons. Opening New Doors brings the show back to Japan with a new house in Karuizawa, Nagano, a beautiful mountain town known for hot springs and snowboarding. For viewers who preferred to watch Terrace House as a window into Japanese life, it’s a welcome return to form.
“Of course Hawaii was great, but it really feels fun having Terrace House back in Japan,” panelist Reina Triendl tells The Verge and other reporters at a small gathering on the tiny Terrace House studio set in Tokyo. “The house and the cast — there’s a certain warmness to it all. I think people watching from abroad will also get to see a range of things like how young people in Japan deal with romance.”
“There have been a few different iterations of Terrace House so far, but this time it has a certain feeling. There’s an air of teamwork or warmth that we hadn’t seen before,” agrees fellow panelist Azusa Babasono. “The house itself has completely changed to a kind of Japanese style, which gives it a sense of familiarity that was not in the previous seasons. And of course, there’s that thrill of romance, but I think you will really get to feel the warmth of the cast this season.”
If you’re not familiar with Terrace House, it’s sort of like The Real World meets Norwegian slow TV. Six people live in a house together, get to know each other, go on dates; when they’ve had enough, they leave and get replaced by someone new. But what makes it so oddly compelling, especially compared to American reality television, is the combination of relatively high production values and its glacial pace. Friendships and relationships develop over months, and very rarely is anyone less than respectful. If you haven’t lived in Japan, it can be fascinating to watch the social mores laid bare. If you have, it’s still relaxing to see everything captured with the slick cinematography of a Swedish police series and hear the hilarious panelists comment on the proceedings.
“To be honest, with the Hawaii season I wanted to be more biting,” says the venomous comedian Ryota Yamasato, popularly known as Yama-chan. “But spitefulness didn’t really come out in the pleasant Hawaiian climate. Things like ‘Whoa, this person is the worst!’ or ‘That is just gross!’ were in short supply.” More than any other panelist, he relishes the conflict and interpersonal drama that sometimes occurs — albeit with far more gentleness than any American reality show.
“Usually as I’m first watching Terrace House I’m like, I want to fall in love, but at some point I start to think ‘Huh?’” Yamasato continues. “I start to lash out when I think ‘Oh, this one’s the enemy!’ Thankfully this season goes right into that urge to lash out in the first episode, getting my rage-o-meter going with a head start. There’s plenty of that to see, so, well, it’s fun! There’s so much to talk smack about.”
American viewers won’t be able to watch Opening New Doors until March 18th. That’s unusual for a Netflix original series, which usually sees worldwide release at the same time. According to a Netflix Japan representative, the disparity is rooted in Terrace House’s origins on broadcast TV. Japan gets each new episode one by one, while the rest of the world will get parts of the season in batches. The implication is that Netflix viewers around the world expect to be able to watch several episodes in one go, and the drip-feed schedule wouldn’t make as much sense.
That reasoning might not be altogether satisfying if you want to get into the new season right now, knowing there are episodes out in Japan (already localized with English subtitles, by the way) that you can’t watch yet. From what I’ve seen so far, however, it will be worth the wait. The setting of Opening New Doors promises to bring a unique feeling to this season — seriously, I’m not sure where they’re going to find date spots up in the mountains — that will play very well to Terrace House’s strengths.
Yamasato, naturally, says he senses conflict on the horizon, and he couldn’t be more excited. “It was super easy this time. I can just sense it right away, like, ‘Whoa, I hate this person!’” he says. “It almost comes too easily this time. More so than any of the other previous seasons! I just want to quickly drive them to leave in tears thinking, ‘I wish I had never set foot in Terrace House.’”
Other panelists foresee a return to the mellow, cooperative vibe that has defined the series and set it apart from more cutthroat reality television. “I don’t know what’s going to happen going forward, but I get the feeling that the drama that develops will be more subtle than before, like silently falling snow,” comedian and panelist Yoshimi Tokui says. “I get the feeling that there will be calm, quiet kinds of drama developing.”