Without the black suit, thick-rimmed glasses, and imposing posture, you could barely recognize Judge Masa from Japanizi: Going Going Gong.
Soft-spoken and reserved, Mark Masayuki Hashimoto, Masa’s real-world alter ego, seems to be the exact opposite of his character on the television show. But after watching one episode you can see how convincing he is as the show’s high-energy judge.
Loud and commanding, Judge Masa lets contestants on the game show know if what they are doing is good by yelling out Okay! or Dame! meaning bad, though sometimes Mark worries about being too intense.
“Sometimes when I yell at them on the inside I feel, ‘Oh, I wish I didn’t yell just now,’”, Mark joked with a smile. “I hope they don’t cry.”
Mark plays Judge Masa on Japanizi: Going Going Gong, a new game show that will be airing on YTV in Toronto and on the Disney channel in the United States.
Contestants are brought into the show blindfolded and thrown into the crazy world constructed by the show’s producers at marblemedia. While the set is fantastical and the challenges are challenging, the show’s hosts help it take off.
“Once I put on the jacket and glasses it just props me up,” says Mark.
“Anytime anyone wears a suit you just feel confident in yourself and your back just straightens up. From that posture, you feel like you’re getting into yourself and your eyebrow goes up,” he says.
This commanding stature allows him to interact with the contestants that range in age and temperaments. While Judge Masa and the show’s host Yoshi, and their small army of shinobi, bring them into the world its the interactions behind the scenes that keep that really ensures the kids have fun on set.
Behind the scenes, Mark interacts with contestants letting them know what to expect in each challenge, but he tries to stay in character. Though many of them are ready to take on the world of Japanizi, some kids are a little shy when exploring unknown territory.
“I’m not as a stoic guy as I show and for them to relax and only when the camera is running I’ll seem angry,” Mark said with a laugh. “In person, I’m a nice guy, so I’d like them to see both sides of me.”
What he passes onto each contestant, however, is a basic set of knowledge that acts as a jumping off point for both contestants and the viewers at home. Everything from learning simple Japanese vocabulary to participating in challenges reminiscent of every day Japan, the game show wants to give its contestants a look into Japanese culture through a kooky and funky medium.
Whether at the dojo or from parents, these three Japanese words are often the first among many Canadian children will learn.
These numbers represent a base for understanding basically everything about Japanese culture, though a lot more has to be learned to really feel at home in what the media often portrays as a strange and faraway land.
Although Japanizi brings the high-intensity aspects of the Japanese game show to Western audience, it also gives viewers a chance to learn something as simple as saying one, two, and three in the language.
“A lot of kids and parents if they take them to karate or any kinds of martial arts, those kids already know how to count,” Mark says. “Aside from that those who didn’t we wanted the audience to count with me. That whole repetition and constantly repeating these phrases help the kids learn while watching the show.”
It’s a soft mandate for the show, but it sets Japanizi apart from the crowd. While Mark plays a character who is all high-energy and intensity, in the real world there’s a down-to-earth sense about him. Behind the mask of judge Masa, is someone deeply embedded in Japanese culture and someone who wants to make sure this show is a proper celebration of its game shows.
“To enjoy, obey the rules, and learn how to count from one to ten,” Mark says is his message to parents while channeling Judge Masa.
Be sure to tune into the show at its regular time on Tuesdays at 6 p.m. on YTV, which is on channel 25 in Toronto.