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Aside from the massive ratings Top Gear used to bring in, one of the biggest losses for the BBC when Jeremy Clarkson and co shimmied off to Amazon Prime Video was the documentary-making of James May.
May was always proud to show off his nerdy stripes whether he was exploring history or mucking around with big toys and his bumbling and shuffling Britishness made him the perfect documentary maker. Somewhere in the middle of Louis Theroux and Michael Palin with an added train-spotter vibe.
The BBC's loss is Amazon Prime Video’s gain as he takes a break from Grand Tour-ing for a new travel series, where he visits Japan to soak up the sights, sounds and incredible toilets of “the most abroad place you can go as British person”.
James May is smart enough to know what viewers probably expected to see in a travel doc about Japan. Sushi, a fast train, a busy cross-roads with the bumbling Englishman stood in the middle. May doesn’t skip over the stereotypes and clichés we have in the West about Japan – but the thrust of the series is always on parts of the country that are rarely seen in documentaries.
Starting in Hokkaido, the icy north island sets the tone, taking on a scary and bumpy sleigh ride through the picturesque snow-covered mountains rather than heading into the hustle and bustle of Tokyo.
The bumbling Brit
One of the funniest running gags through the series is all the Japanese locals who burst into laughter at May, even when he’s not saying anything funny.
His dithering and extreme Britishness which has made him a TV star clearly translates abroad, even when they have zero idea what he’s saying.
And for British viewers, the sight of May barking like a dog for a Japanese animation, trying to keep a straight face as a man explains the possibilities of Japanese toilets and him failing terribly to catch an octopus is both hilarious and endearing.
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Karaoke, penis festivals and dunk with a monk
Yes, James May takes part in all the above.
There are varying degrees of enthusiasm and bewilderment for the activities, but trust us when we say you won’t want to miss Mr May’s rendition of Rapper’s Delight in a karaoke bar.
May is open-minded and willing to give everything a go – from snowball fights to go-karts in busy streets. But importantly, the series never takes a mocking tone, celebrating the idiosyncrasies and different cultures, rather than peering at them from afar.
What they said about Our Man in Japan
Fifteen years after James May first visited Japan as a baffled tourist, he embarks on a quest to understand the unique, extraordinary and complex country. The birthplace of the haiku and classical art forms driven by the principles of Wabi (stark beauty) and Sabi (natural inspiration) and Yugen (grace and subtlety), Japan is also the place that’s given us Godzilla, Hello Kitty, Cosplay, and some of the strangest obsessions on the planet.
James will embark on an epic journey across all of Japan from North to South, determined to understand why this unique land and its people are the way they are, what drives their whole culture and what their approach to life can teach the rest of us. James can’t speak the language, he is clueless about Japanese etiquette, but at least he knows there’s a small tree called a banzai...
What James May said…
"Japan is the most amazing place I’ve ever visited.
"Everything about it is a surprise: a boiled sweet, a bullet train, an unexpected ancient temple, and the challenge of eating a single edamame bean with chopsticks. It’s a Class A stimulant for all the senses, and an etiquette minefield for the unwary.
"I intend to immerse myself in it completely, in the pursuit of enlightenment and life balance. And I bet the noodles will be fantastic."
What Prime Video said…
"We're incredibly excited to announce this new project with James, which will see him take on an epic thousand mile journey across ancient Japanese islands, mega cities, and all points in between,” said Georgia Brown, Director of Prime Original Series in Europe.
"The Grand Tour fans around the world will be delighted to hear that they will have even more James May on their screens. We can’t wait to see what James and his talented team produce from this ambitious adventure."
What does this mean for the future of The Grand Tour?
The Grand Tour series four is a series of specials, being filmed around the world.
The Grand Tour presents Seamen - a 90 minute special in Vietnam and Camodia was released in December.
The second special coming in 2020 was shot in Madagascar.
When is James May's Our Man in… Japan released?
It's streaming now on Amazon Prime Video.
You can boost your BT TV package with Amazon Prime Video.