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Sunday, Dec. 30, 2001

CHANNEL SURF

A holiday basking in the blue glow

Depending on how you feel about the New Year's holidays and Japanese TV programming in general, the first week of the year is either the best week for TV or the worst. Most New Year's specials mimic what the average Japanese family is doing at home. Celebrities sit around in their finest holiday duds drinking, eating, and, it is hoped, being funny. The main joke, however, is that most of these shows were taped at the end of November. The celebs usually spend their New Year in Hawaii.

Dec. 30

"The Best Ten 2001," 7-10:54 p.m., TBS

Originally broadcast from 1973-89, "The Best Ten" was the king of all music programs, coinciding as it did with the rise and fall of the first idol era and featuring as hosts, Tetsuko Kuroyanagi, the fastest mouth in the business, and the young Hiroshi Kume, who left the show in 1985 to start "News Station." This reprise special features Kuroyanagi but not Kume and is divided into two parts -- a quiz about music covering the show's golden years and a run-down of this year's top hits. Guests include once-and-future idols Seiko Matsuda and Akina Nakamori.

"Soramimi Special," 11 p.m.-12:54 a.m., Asahi

Perhaps the funniest five minutes on Japanese TV, "The Soramimi Hour," has been a regular feature on the long-running late-night comedy show "Tamori Club." Viewers send in the titles of foreign pop songs whose lyrics they "mishear" as being in Japanese. The show's staff then fashions outlandish videos around these lines. This special program will feature more than 100 videos.

Dec. 31

"Inoki-gun vs. K-1," 9-11:24 p.m., TBS

If the idea of watching NHK's "Kohaku Utagassen" fills you with dread, what better alternative than to watch a bunch of muscle-bound bruisers beat the hell out of each other? Live from the Saitama Super Arena, former Upper House lawmaker Antonio Inoki and members of his New Japan Professional Wrestling Association take on the stars of K-1, which in case you weren't aware, is the hottest martial sport to hit Japan since yearend bargain sales.

"Overcoming Grief," 9-11:30 p.m., Fuji

Fuji TV takes the higher New Year's Eve road with a documentary omnibus that covers some of the prominent tragedies of the year. A family that once resided close to the World Trade Center is profiled. Following the Sept. 11 attack, the family was forced to move and, consequently, was split up. There is also a report on Cambodian children who have been maimed by land mines, and one on Dr. Tetsu Nakamura, a physician who has worked in Pakistan and Afghanistan for more than 17 years.

Jan. 1

"Muscle Battle," 7-11:24 p.m., TBS

The 20th anniversary special of another New Year's tradition features some of Japan's most famous professional athletes, including baseball star Tuffy Rhodes and action-star wannabe Kane Kosugi (but don't expect Ichiro or Shinjo), competing in general tests of strength and endurance. In addition, a bunch of old-timer baseball stars will partake of a quiz that tests their powers of memory and concentration. As the saying goes, use 'em or lose 'em.

"Vienna Philharmonic New Year's Concert," 8-9:45 p.m., NHK-E

Live from Vienna, Seijo Ozawa's premiere New Year's performance with one of his new employers, the Vienna Philharmonic. Tickets have been trading on the Internet for as much as 340,000 yen, so count yourself lucky that you can get a ringside seat for free.

Jan. 2

"Kakushigei Tournament," 7-9:54 p.m., Fuji

Another annual tradition. Celebrities from every branch of show business show off skills that they aren't normally famous for: dramatics, dance, magic, musical performance, whatever. Among the surprising displays this year are sexy idol Ai Iijima playing the Theremin and superstar boy band Da Pump doing a difficult dance routine suspended from ropes.

Jan. 3

"To Waltz with the White Dog," noon-1:35 p.m., NHK-E

A 1993 American TV dramatization of a novel by Terry Kay that has, in the past year, become a surprise best seller in Japan. Earlier this year, a small bookstore in Chiba displayed a sign handwritten by the owner promoting the book as one of his favorites of all time. The publisher copied the sign, handwriting and all, and distributed it to other bookstores. The novel became a runaway hit. The drama stars Hume Cronyn as a widower who takes in a stray dog as comfort after the loss of his wife. Also starring the late Jessica Tandy who was, in fact, married to Cronyn.

"Love and Spirit: Takarazuka," 9:03-11:25 p.m., Fuji

Until the 1960s, almost all female actresses and singers in Japan were trained at the Takarazuka Kagekidan (theater company) near Osaka. Even today, many young female stars are veterans of the troupe's all-female musical extravaganzas. This drama special is the story of several fictional members of the troupe, showing what it's like behind the scenes. It stars Norika Fujiwara, who did not graduate from Takarazuka.

Jan. 4

"The First Errand," 9-10:54 p.m., NTV

A special two-hour version of NTV's occasional series in which young children, usually 3 to 6 years old, are given errands to carry out by themselves. Hidden cameras then follow the children to see how successfully they execute their tasks and, presumably, to make sure nothing happens to them. Among the videos is one of a 3 1/2-year-old boy who goes to take photographs of a steam locomotive to use for his New Year's greeting cards.



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