Full of literal toilet humor and heart, this Amazon Prime series is a breath of fresh air.

Living in a foreign country is full of learning experiences. Things we take for granted in our homelands transform into near epic challenges abroad. For example, what ex-pat among us hasn’t tried to buy a toilet seat, only to get wrapped up in the intrigue of an inter-dimensional war?

That’s the very same slice of life that’s depicted in The Benza, an award-winning short film that grew into an award-winning Amazon Prime Series. 

It follows the misadventures of Chris and Kyle as they go through the rites of passage that every non-native resident of Japan must face; from dealing with restaurant staff forcing English menus on you to getting chased through a haunted house by a pirate ghost while a sexy teacher tries to destroy your friendship.

The series takes the form of a sort of live-action anime/cartoon. I use both terms because it does seem to employ styles and gags from both eastern and western forms of animation seamlessly, to the point that if either a giant transforming robot or the Harlem Globetrotters made a sudden appearance, it wouldn’t feel out of place.

That being said, the humor might be a little mature for youngins such as scene where an NHK-style English teaching program helps one of the characters by giving her the phrase: “Follow me and I’ll cut your balls off.” 

And yet despite that, the show maintains a certain wholesomeness that’s really hard to not to like.

But what really stands out about The Benza is that it depicts foreigners in Japan as normal people rather than the stereotypes we are used to seeing on Japanese TV. Star, writer, and producer of The Benza Christopher McCombs told us how that was a driving factor in the creation of this series:

“I had only been here for six years but I had already realized that the quality of roles for foreigners in Japan were not (and are not) very good.  Lost gaijin, loud gaijin, rude gaijin…
To make matters worse, there is a lot of confusion in Japanese culture as to who is ‘talento’ [celebrities who often appear on TV as themselves] and who is an ‘actor.’  So, when you are appearing as an actor and playing the fool, it is often mistaken for ‘talento.’  People assume you are…a fool.
However, back in 2014, the president of my agency, Freewave Entertainment, gave me great advice.  Mutsumi Takahashi said simply, ‘Don’t wait for a great part. If you want one, write it yourself.’
What she said really rang true to me.  I didn’t learn Japanese and fight my way this far in the Japanese entertainment world to give up.”

And so, McCombs along with other actors and filmmakers created the production company Tokyo Cowboys and set out to make something totally different. It wasn’t easy, however. The entire series of The Benza was made on a shoestring budget of only 2,000,000 yen (US$19,000), much of which came out of the pockets of the cast and crew themselves.

For them, it’s a small price to pay for creative freedom, as co-star Kyle Card points out.

“Sometimes you have to make your own moves, and make your own opportunities, in which you can hone and showcase your craft instead of sitting on the sidelines collecting dust. That’s what we’ve done in Tokyo Cowboys, created our own opportunities, and shared them with the world. With each project we learn more about our respective crafts and more about ourselves, and the freedom of expression couldn’t be more fun and exhilarating.”

Needless to say, The Benza is a labor of love and no one is just showing up for a pay check. Also, with a nice balance of Japanese and foreign performers, the result is a series that is able to poke fun at each other without ever being demeaning.

▼ Kyle Card (top left), Chris McCombs (top right), Masahito Kawahata (far left), Lee Min Kuk (far right), Haku Inko (bottom left), Michiko Noguchi (center), Janni Olsson (bottom right)

“Everyone is in on the laugh in The Benza.  We are trying to give people a place to escape to for a moment. Have a laugh. Take a breath. Then get back to what ever challenges might be waiting for you.
It’s important to know that what ever kind of bad day you are having, Kyle, Tamura, Alena, Inko Sensei, Za and Chris will be waiting for you to show you a good time!”
[Christopher McCombs]

And a good time you will find The Benza, season one of which is now available on Amazon Prime in the U.S., Japan, the U.K., and Germany. But if we are to see more of this series or its kind, Tokyo Cowboys need us to join the movement by sitting on our butts and watching the crap out of The Benza!

Together we can make a difference.

You can check out The Benza through the following Amazon Prime services: USA, Japan, UK, Germany
© Tokyo Cowboys