Photo: ‘Run for the Money’
‘Run for the Money’ is one of Japan’s most popular and long-enduring reality television shows. Created in 2004 and still going strong in terms of popularity in various Asian countries, this show has a very simple premise: famous Japanese celebrities are tasked with evading “Hunters” in order to win an ever-increasing sum of prize money. If they get caught by the Hunters, all hopes of winning any money are lost. For 18 years, ‘Run for the Money’ has been broadcasted primarily on Fuji Television. Now, it has been picked up by Netflix. The new episodes started dropping on the streaming giant this past Wednesday.
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The fact that it’s being brought to Netflix means it will be more immediately available to an even broader audience. The show is already popular, having won multiple awards throughout its run. It has also become incredibly popular in other countries as well. There are plenty of instances of Japanese media becoming a crossover hit in other countries, and America is no exception. I have a feeling that this will blow up in popularity in America as well. There are a lot of ingredients that make up this show that point in this direction. The universal appeal of this show has to do with celebrity culture, the adrenaline-centered nature of the game, and the internal debate contestants go through during the chase.
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‘Run for the Money’ – Celebrity Culture
One could argue the nature of reality television is geared towards either placing already-minted stars on to get people to watch, or turning non-celebrities into celebrities through the publicity of the show. In ‘Run for the Money,’ an eclectic group of 29 Japanese celebrities of all different kinds (from comedian Hollywood-Zakoshisyo to singer ELLY from Exile Tribe to mixed martial artist Shibatar) are put together. America loves celebrity culture. Some of the first reality television shows in the U.S. in the early 2000s were based around this idea. ‘Keeping Up with the Kardashians’ and ‘The Simple Life’ played around with celebrity culture, and it has continued into reality shows today. Shows like ‘The Masked Singer’ and ‘The Masked Dancer’ are perfect examples of already-minted celebrities participating in American reality television.
This tactic definitely increases viewership, as they’re people who the audience most likely has some form of parasocial relationship with and therefore an attachment. It also definitely comes from a shared cultural appreciation and veneration for the roles celebrities play in our lives. Americans love celebrity culture, and incorporate this into many facets of our everyday life besides television.
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‘Run for the Money’ has a premise that makes for inherently heart-pounding television. To start, the contestants have 60 seconds to run and hide before the “Hunters” are allowed out of their trucks to prowl the streets in search of them. This was a surprise to the celebrities, and added a layer of fear and desperation. And that’s just the beginning of all the sweat-inducing moments. When the show gets going, it feels as if there’s a palpable danger for the contestants around every corner. The Hunters are intimidating and normally quiet, heightening the creepiness of the chase sequences even more. Add in some shots of celebrities appearing terrified and on-edge most of the time creating a perfect storm of adrenaline in the person watching.
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Americans love adrenaline, and this also reflects in our reality television. One of the earliest progenitors of the current reality television landscape is ‘Survivor,’ which was filled with contestants pulling anxiety-inducing stunts that made the audience worry. Even before the specific challenges, the whole concept of trying to compete with others for survival on an island with little resources for a cash prize is stressful to watch and think about. Another popular American reality television show that harps on this angle is ‘American Ninja Warrior.’ The adrenaline inherent in ‘Run for the Money’ definitely would appeal to an American audience, as we’re primed for enjoying exciting television with shows like the ones mentioned above.
In ‘Run for the Money,’ there’s a moment where the contestants feel like one of them is going to confess and turn them into the Hunters and reveal their location. This would obviously benefit them because there would be fewer contestants to compete for the cash prize. In another less brutal moment, a Hunter Elimination button appears for them to find and to push. The question becomes: do they continue to hide and forgo the button for fear of losing the cash prize, or take the risk and make it safer in the long run for the rest of the contestants? There are many moral dilemmas celebrities find themselves in that naturally arise from the premise of the show. What each contestant will be willing to risk for the cash prize is consistently interesting and often changes.
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Once again, the U.S. has many parallels to this when it comes to television. Reality television shows are rife with internal debate and struggle. While it’s not as nearly as intense, ‘The Bachelor’ is a show that deals with people that are constantly weighing choices that are varying levels of moral or immoral. On ‘Survivor,’ many people are often forced to choose others or themselves, each choice having immediate consequences in some way. Competitive reality shows are filled with this central question: in a system that encourages us to focus on mainly helping ourselves, how much can and should we try to help others in the process? When these types of questions are engaged with by shows like ‘Run for the Money,’ it makes them think about what they would do in a similar or same situation.
‘Run for the Money’ will almost definitely be a huge hit in America if it hasn’t already been a huge hit here. There’s adrenaline, intrigue, moral quandaries, and celebrity culture acknowledgment: a recipe for a show that America will enjoy. It has enjoyed countless shows like this in the past, and I can’t think of a reason why ‘Run for the Money’ would be an exception.
Cast: Win Morisaki, Hollywood-Zakoshisyo, ELLY, Shibatar, Yoshio Kojima, Hiroe Igeta, Hikari Kiroki
Producers: Takashi Sasaya, Taro Goto, Misato Sato, Kôye Watanabe
By Zachary DePiore
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