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Sunday, Nov. 11, 2001


Taking things one moment at a time

Monday night, the Nippon TV documentary series "Super TV" (9 p.m.) chronicles the last six months of a man with terminal cancer. Last year, the show's producers received a letter from the man's children, who explained their father's situation and asked them "to record his life right up until the last moment."

Hifumi Takahashi, a construction company employee from Fukushima, was first diagnosed with cancer three years ago during a routine health checkup. A small tumor was found in his lung and removed, but later it was discovered that the cancer had spread to his intestine. Following another operation, his liver became cancerous, and he was told there was little that could be done.

News photo
The last days of Hifumi Takahashi are documented on "Super TV."

Rather than fight the disease in the hospital, Takahashi decided to devote his remaining time to his wife and four children, ages 4 to 11, three of whom suffer from chronic lung problems. Takahashi travels with his family throughout Japan (against doctor's orders), composes video letters to friends and acquaintances, and discusses his funeral with a mortician. The children help their mother cope and practice songs on the piano that they will play at the funeral. Since there is no money coming in, the family runs up a large debt, but they know they will receive a life-insurance payment later. As per the children's request, the cameras tape everything, including Takahashi's last breath.

Actors Masahiro Motoki and Yuki Amami seem to be everywhere these days, and in the current fall drama series, "Suiyobi no Joji (Wednesday Affair)" (Fuji TV, Wednesday, 9 p.m.), they appear together as a couple who, on the surface, seem happily married. However, Eiichiro (Motoki) is having a clandestine love affair with his wife's best friend, Misao (Hikari Ishida).

Though hardly an original concept for a drama series, the writers go out of their way to break free of the normal cliches common to the furin (marital infidelity) genre. The result is an uncommonly wry take on marital-sexual politics. The main point, according to the producer, is that the protagonists "are sophisticated people who completely understand their situation but somehow can't control themselves."

Dramatically, the show's main attraction is the way it constantly confounds the audience's expectations. While the two lovers endeavor to keep their affair secret, there is absolutely no sentiment or guilt involved. Instead, embarrassment is the operative word, especially in contrast to the even, calm surface that all the characters show the world.

In this week's episode, Misao gives Eiichiro an ultimatum: If he wants to continue the affair, he has to kill his wife. In the meantime, the wife in question, Ai (Amami), decides to celebrate the engagement of two of her friends and invites Misao along.

This week's installment of TV Tokyo's culture-travel show "Geijutsu ni Koishite (In Love With the Arts)" (Friday, 10 p.m.) travels to one of the most artistically fertile areas of the world: Catalonia. In a 50-year period, this region in the north of Spain produced five of the 20th century's greatest artists: architect Antoni Gaudi (b. 1852), cellist Pablo Casals (1876), and artists Pablo Picasso (1881), Joan Miro (1893) and Savador Dali (1904).

Much of the art of Catalonia cannot be separated from the area's experience with war and loss. Barcelona, the capital of the region, resisted fascism with more violence than any other city in Spain (or, for that matter, Europe) and paid for it in blood. The tragedy of the Spanish Civil War is reflected in the art of Picasso and Dali, and exemplified by Casals' habit of ending every recital he ever gave with a Catalonian folk song.

The program is hosted by musician Chisako Takashima, who is actually more famous for her volubility than for her violin playing. She discusses the five artists and their works with other women celebrities in the studio between video clips illustrating the topic at hand.

On Saturday night at 9, TBS presents part three of its ambitious 50th-anniversary documentary series on what it means to be human. The first special, aired in 1997, was about the brain's function in reproduction, in other words, the biological explanation of "love." The second installment explored how the brain developed.

This week's special looks at altruism, a phenomenon that is generally believed to be limited to humans. We learn about the brain's "empathy mechanism" and how multiple personalities can arise in a single person. The show also travels to Mongolia to show how self-sufficient people with no electricity, no gas and no running water live in harmony with nature. The host is master MC Ichiro Furutachi, and the commentator is Takeshi Yoro, a renowned brain expert.

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