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Sunday, Dec. 9, 2001


And they call it puppy love

H igh on the cuteness scale this week is TBS's "Dobutsu Kiso Tengai (Unbelievable Animals)" (tonight, 8 p.m.), a variety-cum-quiz show that covers animals both wild and domesticated.

The long-running series is notable for its coverage of primates. Almost every week, chimps or monkeys are set to challenging tasks (extracting fruit from a trickily constructed box; figuring out the best way to cross a moat), and the celebrity panelists are asked to guess how the animal will solve the problem.

The show is also the medium that made creepy-crawly otaku Shoichi Sengoku a superstar in his own modest way. Though Sengoku is the head of the Natural Environment Research Center, he comes off as the kid down the street with the neatest collection of bugs and snakes.

Tonight's show includes Part 1 of a documentary about grizzly bears; an explanation of the secret lives of hedgehogs; and a report on sea cows. In addition, the pop group Garage Sale participates in a dangerous rodeo competition. Watch out for those mad cows!

* * *

Cute gets out of hand on "Pet Collection Pochi-Tama" (TV Tokyo; Friday, 7 p.m.), where the celebrity guests bring their pets and watch short video segments of other people's pets doing what pets tend to do. "Pochi-Tama" (Pochi is the name of the show's mascot dog, and Tama the name of the mascot cat) is what is referred to as an iyashi-kei, or "healing," variety show. The idea is that by watching adorable animals and the people who adore them, viewers can relieve some of their stress.

News photo
The dog Masao-kun, on "Pet Collection Poshi-Tama"

The show's most popular weekly segment is "Matsuo & Masao-kun." Matsuo is a young man, and Masao-kun his empty-headed Labrador. Actually, Masao-kun isn't so much empty-headed as singular-minded. Despite Matsuo's constant attempts to make the dog heel or sit or even just stop, Masao-kun has only two things on his mind: food and sex. M&M travel the length and breadth of Japan, stopping off in small towns and villages where they meet local people and their pets, which, regardless of species, Masao-kun always attempts to mount.

Since Christmas is upon us, Matsuo has decided that Masao-kun should have a proper date, and, while visiting the Ikebukuro and Sugamo districts of Tokyo, attempts to find a suitable, er, bitch. The choice comes down to an "older woman," a "high school girl," and a pair of gorgeous black Labradors that Matsuo dubs "the Kano sisters of the canine world." Masao-kun, needless to say, wants them all.

In addition, this week's show looks at a frightfully obese Welsh Corgi and his crash diet, and presents a special segment on rabbits.

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Saturday from 7 to 8:54 p.m., TV Asahi presents the sixth annual "31-Legged Race Tournament."

A 31-legged race is like a three-legged race except that, instead of two people with their legs tied together, there are 30 people, shoulder-to-shoulder, with their legs tied together. Teams of primary school students bound in such a way race 50 meters to the finish line. The winning team is the one with the fastest time. The rules: Only one false start is allowed, and if a binding falls off or a team member falls down, the entire team must go back to that point before continuing.

It sounds like another mindlessly simple entertainment concept, but the sport is quite thrilling. According to the show's producer, the main purpose is to get a large group of youngsters to work together as one body. The sport requires hours and hours of grueling practice, and winning is usually a matter of a hundredth of a second.

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