Gaycation is one of Vice Media’s new offerings on the new-look SBS VICELAND.
It features actress Ellen Page (Juno, Inception) and her best friend, Ian Daniel, visiting countries from Japan to Jamaica to see how GLBTQI communities are faring and how they differ from country to country. While it’s certainly not a fresh concept, there is always room for more diversity in TV’s big white straight tube.
The first episode, which runs around 40 minutes, is based in chilly Japan (everyone is rugged up to the max) and Page and Daniel being their travelogue in the queer bar neighbourhood of Ni-chome, where there are 300 tiny bars in a 5 block radius. On this gay bay crawl they meet the bar-owner boasting unique oral skills, a pioneering women’s bar, and a bar where patrons cross-dress in comfort. Fittingly, Ian Daniel decides to don a frock and get into the spirit of the venue, even if he still sports a beard.
“What happens inside, stays inside,” we learn.
The low-budget filming continues as we learn about the unique attraction of Yaoi, also known as ‘Boys Love.’ This comprises homoerotic manga comics written by straight women for straight women (are you keeping up?). Homosexuality, which is still a small sub-culture in Japan, is considered something foreign and taboo. “They see it as a fantasy, like a manga genre,” says one local fan. The more explicit the better -everything is pixellated here.
In Kyoto, where buddhist gay weddings are approved by one monk, Ellen and Ian go through the motions of a same-sex marriage ceremony. Our happy ‘couple’ are given the rock-star treatment by a local hotel, which they find somewhat overwhelming.
Sadly, one gay man will only speak on camera about the reality of remaining closeted with his voice and identity disguised by the production. It’s here that you get a sense of how far Japan still has to go.
But the highlight of the episode -and one that sits uncomfortably- sees our duo bring cameras along when a young Japanese man comes out to his mother. She has no knowledge of what is about to unfold, and the whole thing turns awkwardly to the Reality TV genre. But it is also the most compelling moment.
Gaycation covers territory that has been done a lot by cable television -even the Aussie series Out and About was doing this a decade ago on Foxtel- so perhaps seeing how the experience impacts on a celebrity who only came out a year ago will provide a point of difference.
It also does look at the world through a Canadian-American prism, which at this early stage kinda feels like a metaphor for the channel as a whole.
Gaycation screens 8:30pm Tuesdays on SBS VICELAND.