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Sunday, Dec. 2, 2001


They're playing our song . . .

The Japanese penal system is a murky realm since contact between inmates and the outside world is limited. Much of what is reported about prison life is received from indirect sources.

Tonight, Nippon TV's "Document '01" (12:25 a.m.) takes a look at Yamaguchi Prison in Yamaguchi Prefecture. The prison holds 500 male inmates, all over the age of 26. Seven years ago, the warden at the time started a radio station whose programs are planned, produced and announced by prisoners. In the beginning, these programs were broadcast once a month for only 30 minutes at a time. Now the broadcasts last an hour and are aired once a week. Though other prisons in Japan have radio stations, Yamaguchi's is the only one where the inmates do everything.

The programs, which are heard only by the inmates, are typical DJ radio shows, and the playlists are determined by request cards submitted by the prisoners. According to the current warden, the idea is to "motivate the inmates to reflect on their situations now as well as on their situations before they committed crimes." Apparently, the prison authorities believe that by requesting nostalgic songs, the prisoners can better appreciate the freedom they once enjoyed.

A quick glance at some of the requests suggests that the warders are on the right track: Nostalgia and romantic fantasies predominate. One inmate, for example, requests a song from the late '70s by super-idol Momoe Yamaguchi because "it was a song my ex-wife used to sing all the time." Another wants to hear a song by rocker Tsuyoshi Nagabuchi because "it was played at my wedding." Songs about mothers and tunes that evoke high-school memories are also popular.

The program's producers try to infer the psychological situation inside the prison from the comments written on the request cards, as well as from the choice of songs themselves.

The subject of this week's profile series, "Dream Legends" (NHK-G, Monday, 11 p.m.) is Elizabeth Taylor, one of the first great movie actresses who was bred to be a star from childhood. Even when she was only 12 years old, Taylor was hailed as one of the world's great beauties, a label that would cause her a certain amount of personal grief, but in the long run has proven to be her greatest professional asset, even today.

Taylor is the last surviving star of the Hollywood system (not counting Katherine Hepburn, who is about 20 years older), and, consequently, her career and her life can be easily chronicled by means of milestones. She was the first female actor to get paid a million dollars for a movie. She was married eight times (twice to the late actor Richard Burton). And she may be the only famous person, other than Liza Minnelli, who still counts herself as a good friend of Michael Jackson.

Actress Kazuko Yoshiyuki and writer Man Izawa will discuss Taylor's career and private life, using news films and clips from her movies as illustrations. The two will analyze just what it was in her character that pushed her to marry so many times and how, despite the constant pressure of being in the public eye from a young age, she has maintained a reputation as a selfless friend in her private life, as well as a career as one of the 20th century's boldest and most honest screen actors.

Speaking of older actresses, Etsuko Ichihara is one of Japan's most respected and popular character actors. She usually plays maids or matronly types in TV dramas and movies. On this week's "Friday Entertainment" (Fuji TV, 9 p.m.), she gets to step out of character and be herself for two hours, albeit in an exotic setting.

The sixtysomething actress has always dreamed of going to Brazil and Cuba "to experience adventure." Fuji TV has made her dream come true. In Brazil, she visits the world's largest marsh, where she exercises her considerable skills as an amateur photographer, taking pictures of indigenous plants and animals. She travels two days down the Araguari River, a tributary of the Amazon, to observe the famous pororoca phenomenon, where the flow of the river suddenly reverses. She enjoys thrilling, colorful sunsets and eats fried catfish. She even fishes for pinaracu, a native species of fish, but first she has to catch the pinaracu's favorite food to use for bait: piranha.

In Cuba, Ichihara meets one of her idols, the 95-year-old singer and guitarist for the Buena Vista Social Club, Compay Segundo, who takes her on a date to one of his favorite nightclubs. She also meets an 18-year-old girl, who is trying out for the Cuban National Circus.

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