Chinese adaptations of Japanese shows and films fail to please audiences

By Wei Xi Source:Global Times Published: 2017/6/19 17:48:39

Promotional material for Midnight Food Store Photo: IC

Promotional material for Suspect X Photo: IC

Adapting a classic into a Chinese production is always a challenge no matter what country the source material is from. However, it seems that the possibility for things to turn out disappointingly increases when it comes to adapting a Japanese story.

The most recent case is Chinese TV drama Midnight Food Store, based on Japanese manga Shinya Shokudo (Midnight Diner). Directed by Taiwan director Tsai Yueh-Hsun, Midnight Food Store has a 2.5/10 from 72,277 reviewers on Chinese media review site Douban after 13 episodes. At one point the 40-episode drama even dropped as low as 2.3/10, becoming one of the poorest reviewed works on Douban.

Sharp criticism

There have been many adaptations of the Shinya Shokudo manga, including four seasons of a Japanese TV drama, two Japanese films, one South Korean TV drama and now a Chinese TV drama.

While the Chinese version has been critically panned, the Japanese TV drama Midnight Diner was extremely well-received by Chinese audiences - all four seasons have a 8.5/10 or higher on Douban. The South Korea version, meanwhile, has a lukewarm 6.8/10. 

A lack of originality seems to be the common thread that runs through most of the poor reviews of the Chinese version, with many reviewers saying the show is a complete copycat of the Japanese TV adaptation of the manga: The show is set in a Japanese-style gastropub, the owner dresses just like a Japanese chef, and a few of the supporting characters have the same exact names and stories as their Japanese counterparts. 

Aware of the criticisms of the show, Tsai has emphasized that Midnight Food Store is an adaptation of the manga, not the Japanese TV drama. He said that during production his team held in-depth discussions about the setting, costumes, cuisine and characters that would appear in the show.

"We had considered setting it in a Chinese restaurant, like a hot pot restaurant or a street stall, but none of them were right for the scenes that appeared in the original Japanese story; when the host stands in the middle of the restaurant surrounded by all his customers, for instance. People are more dispersed in Chinese restaurants," the director told the Global Times.

As for the clothing that the host wears, Tsai explained that his team discovered that many Chinese chefs actually dress in a similar style and wear white most of the time.   

There were some details from the original manga that Tsai kept on purpose.

"These are crucial to the story," he said, noting that the scar on the host's left eye remained the same because the manga's author, Abe Yarô, insisted on it.

"He had four demands for the adaptation," Tsai told the Global Times. "The first was to keep the scar in the same place."

Other complaints have taken aim at the amount of product placements in the show, with some joking that Midnight Food Store is just one long TV commercial.

According to the blog Yule Zibenlun, the show has a total of 20 sponsors with the first four episodes featuring a total of 47 minutes of advertising time.

Acknowledging that the TV drama has too many product placements, Tsai said that he had protested to the studio but had to compromise in the end.

"I couldn't even edit them out after shooting," the director said, going on to joke that he has fulfilled his childhood dream of becoming a commercial director.

Troubling trend

Midnight Food Store is not the only adaptation that has disappointed Chinese audiences. This year has seen many Chinese films and TV dramas adapted from Japanese stories, such as movies What a Wonderful Family and Suspect X, and TV dramas Operation Love, Solaso Bistro and Dating High.

However, few of these have found any success: Suspect X has the highest grade on Douban with a 6.5/10 while Operation Love has the lowest mark of 4.0/10.

Twenty-four-year-old netizen Qin Yue, posted on Sina Weibo that a good adaptation should be the recreation of someone else's work while adding your own creative touch.

"But all I saw when watching Midnight Food Store was 'someone else's' work, without any 'creative touch.'"

It seems that the strict demands of the Japanese IP owners can sometimes create difficulties for those working on adaptations.

According to a report on the Yangcheng Evening Post, during the process of making the Chinese TV drama Dating High, the Japanese side sent a supervisor, an assistant to the supervisor, two camera men and two lighting engineers to China to help with the production, while the Chinese script for Suspect X had to be reviewed by the Japanese IP owners, who forbade the Chinese production team from making any major changes. 

Cultural barriers are also a factor that can lead to the failure of an adaptation.

"Most Japanese dramas revolve around the country's unique culture… An adaptation involves importing a new culture and therefore is very risky," writes a report from The report noted that after Ge Ying, a professor at Shanghai University's School of Film and Television Art & Technology, saw an advanced preview of Midnight Food Store, he worried that the show would fail because "the script itself is a very Japanese product. Things like dining out at a small gastropub is very Japanese."

For instance, Operation Love involves a high school baseball club, which is something commonly seen in Japan, but practically absent in China.

"You still have to keep things reasonable when adapting stories. How many Chinese high schools have baseball clubs?" netizen Qiaoweidao de Maohe wrote on Douban taking aim at the show's lack of localization.   

The report also noted that while South Korean dramas tend to be similar to Chinese dramas, such as featuring plenty of conflict and contrasting characters, Japanese dramas tend to tell simpler yet darker stories that focus on the harshness of reality.

Newspaper headline: Cultural roadblocks

Posted in: FOOD,TV

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