Last night I dreamed I saw Patsy Stone trapped in a warm embrace with an over-sized, dancing seal. The sun was shining, Patsy was grinning wildly, and the world was exactly as it should be.
But this wasn’t another of my legendary Absolutely Fabulous/marine creature mash-up nightmares. This was real life, aka Joanna Lumley’s Japan, which truly does begin with Joanna Lumley standing on sea of ice while hugging a giant seal wearing a shell on its head.
“It’s ridiculous!” our intrepid host says gleefully, her arm wrapped around the seal’s furry neck. Sure, but in the timeless words of seals everywhere: we’re never gonna survive unless we get a little crazy.
Welcome to Japan, welcome to Joanna Lumley, welcome to all our travel dreams come true.
There’s a charming mix of crazy in Joanna Lumley’s Japan and Joanna Lumley’s Trans-Siberian Adventures, Lightbox’s two new travel documentary series. In Japan, Joanna begins her journey with old mate Seal and ends by dancing with a 92-year-old rock star. There are monkeys in hot pools and magical emporiums bursting with plastic food and an all-singing, all-dancing female pop group whose average age is 84. 84! Press the golden buzzer, we have a winner. Japan, I’m in love with the shape of you.
Things get chillier in Trans-Siberian Adventure, as Joanna takes a 6400-mile rail journey through wintery China, Mongolia and Russia. She visits a Russian nuclear bunker, dines with an oligarch who serves gold-flaked vodka, and meets a Siberian fisherman who keeps a jar of liquid fungus in his kitchen. Joanna’s never met a fungus she doesn’t like, and she’s all over that mushroom smoothie quicker than you can say “Sergei is the Benjamin Button of Siberia”.
“Let’s drink to the fungus!” Sergei suggests, and if there’s one thing Joanna Lumley shows us about travelling, it’s always try the fungus. Hug the seal, sleep next to a herd of Mongolian cattle, rage against the hotel robot who refuses to bring you champagne. Life is for living, and also for digging giant Japanese radishes out of the ground. Make of that what you will.
Big vegetables are all good and well, but the best part of watching Joanna Lumley’s travel documentaries is, of course, Joanna flipping Lumley. She travels in a perpetual state of genuine delight, regardless whether she’s massaging rice in a sake factory or resting her glorious face against an oversized ice sculpture. She’s intrigued and astonished by the world around her, and her enthusiasm spills out in an endless spiel of superlatives.
“This is awesome!” she cries as she flies over Tokyo. “Oh, what a beauty!” she says of an especially large radish. “I’m positively giddy with anticipation!” as she prepares to see Mt Fuji for the first time.
In fact, after watching both Japan and Trans-Siberian Adventure, I’d like to kidnap Joanna Lumley so she can travel with me everywhere, like my own personal giant seal mascot. With her extraordinary powers of positivity, even the most mundane supermarket trip would become an exhilarating journey of discovery. “Oh, how marvellous!” she’d gasp in the shampoo aisle, and “that’s utterly incredible!” as we stroll through the pick n mix.
Then we’d link arms and she’d rest her head on my shoulder, because Travelling Joanna is sensitive and kind and always knows what to say. She’s warmer than the can of coffee she bought from one of Japan’s five million vending machines. By the time we reach the frozen foods aisle, we’re officially best friends for life.
I think I’m in love, and I’m not just talking about Sergei’s fungus.
Travelling with Joanna Lumley is a delight from start to finish. Joanna is a karate-kicking, rice-massaging, rage-against-the-robot tour guide who delivers two entertaining and intriguing packages of travel television. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll dig deep into your own personal giant radish of emotion. Like a kiss from the rose on the grave, what more do you need?
You can watch both of Joanna Lumley’s travelogue series on Lightbox right here:
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