I have no sense of direction. Before smartphones and the ability to call up a map at the touch of a button, I honestly have no idea how I managed to get anywhere. One trip from the East Midlands up to Manchester to see a band play required extensive printouts and notes, and I still couldn’t find the hotel (causing a bit of a row with the young lady I was with at the time)!
At that point, I was 19. Any younger than that and you can forget it. So my jaw was on the floor firing up the new Netflix imported Japanese show, Old Enough, where toddlers as young as 2 are sent out ‘alone’ with an errand to run.
Old Enough (under the name Hajimete no Otsukai / My First Errand) has been running for 30 years in Japan and each new release regularly tops the ratings. Watching it also topped my anxiety levels.
Obviously these children aren’t utterly abandoned. Ranging from not much above 2 through to 6 years old, each short episode features a small child given some sort of task to achieve by their parent.
It could be to go down the street to the store to pick up some groceries, head up to a shrine to get a charm, or transport some clothes to the dry cleaners.
The parents may wave them off but nimble camera operators hide and follow the children, plus it is clear that adults along the way have been informed so as to not panic when a tiny child ambles past on their own.
The charm of this show is clear to see. What goes through the minds of small kids when they don’t feel observed? As they are given satchels with hidden microphones to wear, we get to hear them chuntering on as they try to remember where to go or what they should be doing.
The first episode is a prime example: a young boy tasked with collecting a shopping list of three things from the store. After safely navigating a pedestrian crossing (there must be adults keeping the roads safe) he meanders in through the automatic doors, just about avoids the temptation of treats, makes his purchases and leaves before stopping in his tracks as he remembers the third ingredient.
Is Old Enough Worth Watching?
At its best Old Enough is a heart-warming testament to the resourcefulness of the very young when given the confidence to have some responsibility.
Good manners and polite talk is abound where these tasks involve interacting with adults, although amusingly the boy tasked with simply going home and making fresh juice to take back to his family toiling in the fields goes astray as the child, free from supervision, takes the chance to simply roll around and chase a dog instead.
The downside is that, no matter how strongly researched and planned each ‘task’ may be, some children simply baulk at the idea of going out alone. Watching a 3-year-old’s face crumple as she wails that she doesn’t want to go (only to be chastised by her mother before – and I’m not making this up – the administering of eye drops which seems to cheer her up again) made me squirm.
When parents, aware they are being filmed, try to rationalise to a 2-year-old that he needs to take clothes to the cleaners, the manipulative reality of creating such apparently charming content is uncomfortable viewing.
Old Enough has great ability to be charming and a lovely watch. Those children who do take to their tasks do so admirably.
My heart went out to the little girl who tried for an hour to wrench free a fully grown cabbage from the farm (having forgotten to get the pre-picked one from the shed) until finally ripping it out as the sun dipped below the horizon.
So long as these sweet kids are on board, then so am I.
Words by Mike Record