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Sunday, Jan. 6, 2002


All the tricks, touch-ups and trip-ups of the trade

TV Asahi's new dramatic comedy series, "Trick 2," which premieres this week (Friday, 11:15 p.m.), fits comfortably into the current TV zeitgeist of pop spiritualism and magic shows. A lot of the renewed interest in paranormal phenomena has been boosted by the addition of debunking elements. On many recent variety shows, experts are brought in to show the fakery behind UFO and ghost sightings, and the illusionary techniques behind classic magic tricks are revealed.

As the title indicates, "Trick 2" went over this ground earlier, back in the summer of 2000, to be precise, when the first series aired. The drama centers around a less-than-proficient magician named Naoko (Yukie Nakama) and her frequent collaborations with a "genius physicist" named Ueda (Hiroshi Abe), whose life's work is exposing fraud disguised as ESP, magic, spiritualism, telekinesis and the like. Though these two oddballs invariably resent each other, they often work together to solve mysteries that baffle laypeople, including the police.

In the season opener, Ueda is approached by a man who owns an old Japanese inn located deep in the countryside. The innkeeper says that on Jan. 11 of every year, someone who happens to be staying at the inn that night dies. The deaths, which have so far claimed a political secretary and a writer's assistant, are completely random and unpredictable, but since they always occur on the same day, it is believed evil forces are at work. Despite the infamy of the place, guests continue to come. Ueda and Naoko agree to investigate.

Atrick of quite different proportions is achieved by the protagonist of "Koi Suru Top Lady," another new drama series that premieres this week (Fuji TV, Tuesday, 10:10 p.m.). Miki Nakatani plays Chiharu, a "normal young lady" who comes to prominence by unhappy accident but succeeds on the strength of her own intellect.

Chiharu's father is the mayor of the city, but when he dies suddenly, Chiharu is persuaded by his backers to run for his vacant seat. She wins, but to the surprise and consternation of political insiders who expect her to be a rubber stamp in high heels, Chiharu turns out to have a mind of her own. Though her ways and means are amateurish, her ideas are anything but, and she manages to break down years of entrenched political and bureaucratic interests that have since rendered the municipal government impenetrable.

The series mixes screwball comedy and semi-serious social drama, and, of course, contains a healthy dose of romance, mostly in the form of a bodyguard played by Toshio Yanagiba, whom Chiharu falls for big-time.

This week's "NHK Special" (NHK-G, tonight at 9:15 p.m.) reports on attempts to "restore" a series of 900-year-old picture scrolls that were created to illustrate the original manuscript of Murasaki Shikibu's masterpiece, "The Tale of Genji."

Just as "Genji" is considered the world's oldest novel, these drawings are believed to be the oldest surviving picture scrolls in Japan. Only 19, in fact, remain out of a presumed 100 or so illustrations. Since the physical objects are frail to the point of near disintegration, the restoration is not performed on the scrolls themselves, but on computers.

The project, which NHK followed closely for two years, was carried out by the Tokugawa Museum in Nagoya. Using digital technology, a computer-image copy is made of each picture scroll. Then, using contemporary documents as references, the pictures are re-created and the colors, long since faded, are filled in.

The results are quite amazing. Heian artists were very much taken with ultra-vivid colors, and current artists express surprise at how advanced their technique was. Pigments are even analyzed at the molecular level to find out just how they were produced.

Noted actors and actresses read from Murasaki's text in order to provide a kind of reverse illustration to the re-created illustrations themselves. If you have a high-definition TV, your appreciation of the documentary will probably be even greater.

If you still haven't had enough of dumb New Year's TV specials, you can get your final fix of the holidays tonight at 7 p.m. with Nippon TV's "Zoom-in Super!" a special two-hour edition of the popular early-morning light-news show.

"Light" doesn't even begin to describe tonight's content, which consists mainly of home videos (150 of them) contributed by viewers over the past year and grouped into very general categories: funny, warm, surprising, etc. Naturally, there's a whole section devoted to pets, including a cat that can sit up straight and a dog that regulates the temperature of the family bath, as well as a section with children doing weird things.

There is also the requisite segment of "NG scenes" -- bloopers -- collected from NTV affiliates all over Japan. Most of these show local reporters flubbing their lines, falling down or doing both. Sometimes, they even report the news.

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