PRINT Summer 2001


“The Fuccon Family”

ON JAPANESE TV, the later the hour, the weirder the programming. After midnight (when station directors and major sponsors check out), things really get interesting. Anything goes—from violent cartoons to chat shows hosted by nubile young things in the altogether. In the US, the Bible Belters would have a field day—these aren't even pay channels—but no one in Japan seems to lose much sleep over the tawdry stuff.

Not, that is, unless they stay up late enough to catch Vermilion Pleasure Night, a wee-hours variety show directed by Yoshimasa Ishibashi, a member of the performance and video collective Kyupi Kyupi. During his show's first six-month run (new installments are planned), Ishibashi presented sexy homemakers leading cooking lessons in traditional Japanese verse and nurses spanking a xylophone of red-painted bottoms. But for black comedy, nothing rivaled his recurring sketch “The Fuccon Family,” which stars a trio of mannequins. The first twelve episodes of the cult hit—combined to form a thirty-seven minute short—had a US premiere in April at New York's New Directors/New Films, co-organized by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and the Museum of Modern Art, and further appearances on the film-festival circuit are in the works.

Barbara and James Fuccon are human-sized Barbie and Ken clones decked out in Cleaveresque wardrobe, their son, Mikey, a smoothly combed youngster. The couple scuffle over Mikey's future, bitch about each other's infidelities, and ultimately threaten to kill each other—all the while with giant smiles on their plastic faces. Mikey stands by and cheers, “Hurray, hurray! It is a marital dispute!” That's before the kid acquires his own problems, like being abandoned by his parents, kidnapped by a psycho, and possessed by the devil. Each skit ends with the family's canned laughter—not a little unsettling, particularly after the kidnapper sends a dismembered Mikey home in a box.

The Fuccons were a smash among bloodshot-eyed viewers, who raved on Internet chat rooms about the manga-like freeze-frames and outrageously morbid story lines. While Americans might suspect a jab, Ishibashi insists there's no cross-cultural criticism at work. His idea sprang from an ad in which guests at a party were frozen in bright-faced poses. “It was so fake it made me laugh,” the director says. He based his postwar suburbia on old episodes of Bewitched. The fair-skinned, blue-eyed mannequins were chosen because “the Japanese-looking ones had really serious expressions,” he says. And the lewd-sounding surname? Fuccon doesn't mean anything in Japanese—Ishibashi just thought it sounded funny. 'It's not commentary,“ he says. ”It's art."

Lisa Takeuchi Cullen is a Tokyo correspondent for Time.