If you have looked at Netflix over the past few days, there is an overwhelming chance that you will have been bashed over the head by a weird-looking Japanese documentary. No matter what your viewing history is – whether you prefer Bridgerton or Stranger Things, Breaking Bad or second world war documentaries – there it is. Floating in multicolored bubble letters, devoid of any context whatsoever, is the title Old Enough. Which begs the question: what the hell is Old Enough?
Unfortunately, the initial explanation is even more confusing than Netflix’s aggressive push. Old Enough is the wildly popular Japanese show Hajimete no Otsukai (My First Errand), an entertainment documentary show where toddlers are sitting out into the world completely alone, to go shopping or navigate public transport. In Japan, Old Enough has been airing for 30 years, with two three-hour shows broadcast each year. When it airs, a fifth of all Japanese viewers tune in. It’s a true phenomenon.
The length between episodes can be explained by the sheer level of preparation that goes into each task. All the errand routes are inspected by parents and production staff, to check for dangerous roads or “suspicious persons”. The children are chosen after a laborious selection process, the camera crew and safety team are given hiding places so the kids won’t spot them and all the local neighbors are informed of the task, so as not to freak out and call the police when they see a four-year-old wandering aimlessly through the streets.
Part of the appeal, from what I can tell, is the show’s ability to instill confidence into the children. They’re all aged between three and six years old, and they’re almost always scared to death when they first set out. Rightly so, because walking a mile to a shop alone can be a terrifying prospect for a toddler. However, the big heartwarming punch that usually comes at the end is a newfound pride in their abilities. The kids had an adventure, and they weren’t helped, and they did it.
So that’s what Old Enough is. Netflix’s aggressive stance on shoving it at the top of everyone’s homepage is harder to explain. The arrival of Old Enough was greeted with a flurry of press releases from the Japanese broadcaster Nippon, hailing a partnership with Netflix for 30 of its shows. Whether those shows – including Death Note, Your Turn to Kill and Life’s Punchline – will be given the same attention remains to be seen.
Now for the big question: is Old Enough any good? The answer is a resounding “sort of”. The good news is that the Netflix versions are much shorter than the original programs. These are all less than 20 minutes long, rather than three hours.
It is a resoundingly sweet show. For the most part, you can’t help but root for the children. In the first episode, a very young boy walks to the supermarket to pick up three items, narrating his adventure from him to himself as he goes. Later on in the series, we see a young girl attempt an errand, only to rush back to her mother in tears after getting lost before overcoming her nerves and setting out again. It is an absolute rollercoaster of emotions that leaves you in tatters, and you suspect this is why it has such a dedicated following in Japan.
That said, this is a very Japanese show, in terms of concept and execution. Japanese words continually pop up onscreen in cartoonish font, and each onscreen action is accompanied by what sounds like canned laughter or applause, which can be off-putting. Either way, if you think Old Enough is inescapable now, just wait. A British remake is apparently in the works.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism