Verdict: Iron Chef America fails to translate the original's quirky brilliance.
Most cuisine-themed television tends to fill me with a sense of claustrophobic despair—those airless soundstage sets, that histrionic chatter, those long static takes of glossy telegenic food—but coming across an old episode of Iron Chef during a channel-surfing session is always a moment of pleasure. There's so much to dig about the Japanese Iron Chef: the opening shot of the flamboyantly costumed Chairman Kaga Takeshi biting lustily into a yellow pepper; the high theatrics and samurai machismo of the cooking competition itself; the glorious inanity of the celebrity tasters. But minutes into the first episode of Iron Chef America (on the Food Network), a four-part series in which famous American chefs Mario Batali, Bobby Flay, and Wolfgang Puck face off with Iron Chefs Masaharu Morimoto and Hiroyuki Sakai, I realized that the appeal of the original Iron Chef (which, alas, ceased production in 1999 and is now available only in reruns) has nothing to do with food. I can't weigh in on what made Iron Chef so popular in Japan, but its success as an American import has everything to do with language and with the mysterious gulf that separates one culture from another. Sadly, everything that was charming, exciting, and moving about the original show has been, quite literally, lost in translation.
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