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Sunday, Jan. 20, 2002

CHANNEL SURF

Fifty lashings for serving up wet noodles

This week, former teenage beauty queen Ryoko Sakaguchi returns to "Tuesday Suspense Theater" (Nippon TV; 9:03 p.m.) for the fifth time. She stars in "Rinsho Shinrishi (Clinical Psychologist)" as college lecturer Yuri Matsunami, who uses her psychoanalytical skills to solve murder mysteries that leave the police scratching their heads.

This time, Yuri is brought in to counsel Natsuki, a 14-year-old girl caught shoplifting. During their discussions, the psychologist discovers that Natsuki's rebelliousness stems from problems in her family: Both her mother and grandmother seem to have their own psychological afflictions.

What is more shocking for Yuri is that the sessions with Natsuki reveal that the girl's father has been having an affair with a woman whom the police suspect of murder. Shortly thereafter, this woman herself is found dead, having jumped -- or been pushed -- from the top of a building. Yuri and her female detective sidekick decide that the solution to the murders can be found somewhere in Natsuki's extended family.

Therapy of a very different type is the subject of "New Zealand Journey of Healing" (TV Asahi, Saturday, 4 p.m.). Usually, Japanese travel shows are concerned with little more than eating and sightseeing, but this special attempts something more enlightening, even if the aims are a bit vague.

On a previous travel special, actress Saya Takagi went to Australia to undergo "dolphin therapy," which she hoped would help alleviate the depression she felt coming on because of the pressures of modern life. The treatment involved swimming and playing with dolphins, and since undergoing it Takagi has apparently enjoyed a renewed energy and determination.

Takagi's best friend, talent Noriko Tachikawa, is also experiencing a personal crisis -- she is about to get married and will likely quit show business as a result. She is anxious about the new life she is embarking on, so Takagi suggested they take a "healing" journey together to the unspoiled regions of New Zealand.

The bulk of the special shows the two Japanese women communing with nature, but much of the healing is supplied the old-fashioned way, through friendly human contact. They visit several local families and observe the close-knit communities that characterize semi-rural New Zealand. Consequently, they discover new ways of approaching life on a day-to-day basis and question their own received notion of what constitutes a fulfilling existence.

People who have fallen victim to the never-ending recession may find the strong-medicine scenarios enacted on TV Tokyo's popular Monday-night series "Ai no Binbo Dasshutsu Daisakusen (Loving Strategy for Overcoming Poverty)" (8:54 p.m.) stimulating and instructive. Or maybe not. Failing entrepreneurs, mostly from the food-service sector, apply to appear on the show, where they are retrained in their chosen field by tatsujin (experts) and advised in other ways on how to improve their business.

The show is famous for its no-holds-barred take on the Japanese apprentice system, where master-teachers humiliate and often abuse their charges until they get it right. On this show, however, the humiliation begins even before the retraining. It's obvious that many of the failing owner-cooks who appear on the program suffer from bad attitudes and not just bad culinary habits. Many are reticent or stubborn or both, and the tatsujin they study under scold them because they lack will. In addition, the financial problems are often linked to bad marriages, since in many cases the restaurant is owned and operated by a couple. Cuisine isn't the only thing these economic basket cases have to relearn.

Tomorrow night's installment is the first of a two-part special featuring three losers who want to become better at preparing ramen. One is a 47-year-old man who runs a restaurant in rural Nagano with his common-law wife and who thinks the reason his eatery is failing is because he offers too many dishes. Another is a 45-year-old woman from Osaka who owns a restaurant that serves Korean-style ramen. At first, her business was good, because her chef was a noted Korean food specialist. But she decided she could do just as well and make more money if she cooked herself, and thereafter her clientele evaporated -- as did her husband, who left behind 10 million yen in debts.

The final entrant is a 42-year-old man who runs a Chinese restaurant in Tokyo's Kanda district. The son of a Chinese chef, this man started his food career late and, apparently, still doesn't know how to make broth.

People with access to a digital tuner might want to check out NHK's three-part documentary travel series on indigenous music, "Communing With Ethnic Spirits" (NHK-BS; Monday-Wednesday, 7:30 p.m.).

On the first two-hour special, violinist Iwao Furusawa travels from the Middle East to Spain to follow the route of Roma (gypsy) music, which, the program says, is the basis not only of flamenco, but of European classical music as well.

On Tuesday, Kazushi Miyazawa, the vocalist of the Japanese roots-rock group The Boom, traces the spread of the Portuguese guitar to places as far-flung as Indonesia and Hawaii (where it became the ukulele) during Portugal's dominance of the seas in the 16th century.

And on the last special, heavy-metal rocker Demon Kogure goes to Ireland to study the real roots of rock 'n' roll, which sprang from Appalachian music that, in turn, was based on Scots-Irish folk songs taken over to America by poor immigrants.



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