Netflix's Terrace House: Opening New Doors is a major return to form

Ami Komuro and Shion Okamoto
Photo by Sam Byford / The Verge

Terrace House, the glacially slow reality show about young Japanese people agonizing over where to get taco rice and whether to hold hands, is back on Netflix today worldwide. It’s been airing week by week in Japan since December, so I’ve seen the first 11 episodes already, and here’s the main thing you need to know: after last season’s weird and sometimes awkward detour to Hawaii, this is a major return to form.

The new season, Opening New Doors, sees Terrace House head back to Japan. This time the house is in Karuizawa, an upmarket resort town in the mountains of Nagano surrounded by ski slopes and hot springs. As a result, the vibe is completely different to the previous season, Aloha State, with its sun-kissed scenes of surfing and clubbing. Everything feels more low-key and relaxed, even during the tense, excruciating moments of subtle conflict that have become the show’s signature. And really, that’s the way it should be.

I visited the house itself last month and met with its current residents. I’m not really sure what I was expecting — the house is both more and less secluded than I imagined, requiring a 15-minute bus ride through dense forest from a train station that’s nevertheless only an hour from Tokyo. It looks, well, like a house, with little sign of ongoing TV production beyond the occasional wandering cameraman.

The Terrace House itself
Photo by Sam Byford / The Verge

It’s a beautiful house, but I was struck by how little space there is beyond what you see in the episodes. There are the boys’ and girls’ bedrooms, a communal living space and kitchen, an additional “playroom” with a TV, a hot spring-style bathroom, and the outdoor area with a barbecue — which was covered in snow when I was there. While it’s a huge house by Japanese standards, it really feels like it was chosen to encourage interaction between the residents. “I’m pretty confident I’m having the most fun,” says 23-year-old model Shion Okamoto. “I liked living with roommates when I was in Tokyo, so it’s a lot of fun for me to be in an environment where there’s six guys and girls living together.”

To that point, something I really wanted to know was how everyone in the house watches the show as it airs — do they find a corner to hide away with their phones, or is it more of a communal event? “It’s like, everyone, gather in the playroom on the first day of streaming!” says Tsubasa Sato, a 24-year-old amateur hockey player local to the Karuizawa area. “And then we all watch together.” I tell her this sounds potentially mortifying given the embarrassing personal drama that tends to play out on the show. “Oh, but it’s sort of like reflecting back on the past, like this happened and that happened… and the panel members are so funny,” she says. “We’re all like, ‘So that’s how they see us!’ We laugh quite a bit when we watch the show.”

Despite this, Opening New Doors has already seen several moments of toe-curling awkwardness, with one member in particular responsible for a lot of early friction. But as with Terrace House’s better seasons in the past, it rarely explodes into outright argument. Rather, the show’s slow pace and austere editing frame simple disputes in dramatic, relatable terms. And as ever, part of the appeal is figuring out what people are really thinking before the panelists show up to pour scorn on their actions.

Tsubasa Sato
Photo by Sam Byford / The Verge

Ami Komuro, a 20-year-old student, summed up how it can feel to be on the other end of the camera when talking about a particularly bad date. “I thought I was being considerate in my own way…” she laughed. “But it seems like that part didn’t really come through to the panelists or to the viewers — I felt like I wasn’t expressing myself very well. The fact that people probably weren’t thinking I was being considerate made me feel a bit empty. They were like, ‘Why is she even going on the date?’ but I mean, I was obviously being considerate [laughs] I was so sad that no one seemed to get that.”

“That’s about the only time it gets a little tense…” Sato laughs when recalling what it’s like to rewatch events like this as a group. “There were some parts that make us go, ‘Are you okay?’ but we enjoy watching the show. There’s no lingering friction.”

As for why exactly any of this is interesting to anyone who isn’t living in Japan, let alone the house, Okamoto has some thoughts. “Personally, I think part of it has to do with [viewers’] interest in things like Japanese culture,” he says. “I think it must be entertaining for people that find Japanese idiosyncrasies interesting, to sometimes see things that are unexpected for them.”

The titular new door
Photo by Sam Byford / The Verge

Opening New Doors is a great entry point into Terrace House, but there’s a catch — Netflix’s international scheduling means that you can only watch the first eight episodes right now, with another batch due to be released sometime in the near future. Once you’re done with this initial release, though, you can always watch all 46 episodes of the excellent Boys and Girls in the City season until the next part of Opening New Doors comes out.

However you watch Terrace House, it’s worth giving it a shot. It’s a reality TV show like no other, and so far the new season is living up to its best.

Comments

The Verge x Terrace House…what a time to be alive! Really excited for the new season, one of the few fans that didn’t hate Aloha State so not particularly excited for the return to Japan. One thing I’m curious to see is how big a role the city plays in the story. Tokyo/Yokohama (particularly the latter) were huge parts of the story of B&GiTC, so was Honolulu in AS. Doesn’t seem like a sleepy resort town will be quite as riveting, guess I’ll see very soon.

They definitely make good use of the location, but I wonder how long they’ll be able to keep it up. Might need a lot of road trips.

I love love love this show. Definitely agree that last season off. Thanks for this article! Here comes the binge…

I adore Terrace House but will never understand the need to prop it up as somehow revelatory or even especially unique. It’s just good. That’s enough for me.

One of my favourite shows! I can’t wait to watch Opening New Doors!

I’m a big fan of Boys and Girls in the City, yet to get to Aloha State.

Good to see this brilliant show gets some coverage here, and really hope Netflix will bring some proper primetime Japanese dramas for the English-speaking crowd in the future.

Keep up the reporting on terrace House not being a reality TV show fan at all… I came in short sided I binged watched aloha state and then I watched the original I thought it was better then aloha state tbh can’t wait to see this also watching with the commentary from the panel live makes it feel a little mystery science theater I’m a fan I agree with the other comments would like to see other Japanese TV come to Netflix.

I really love this show but I saw a tweet from the official TH:AS account with a behind the scene photo of the surfer dude and the ubercute woman on their date on the windy beach… and it looks super staged, or at least not as barebones as I expected. Kinda ruined my suspension of disbelief tbh. Well, they still gotta make beautiful TV, and I’m gonna watch it anyway.

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