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Sunday, Jan. 27, 2002

CHANNEL SURF

Can't start a fire without a match

A popular format for variety specials is the omiai, bringing together single men and women for the purpose of making couples. Often the stated goal is nothing more than dating, but of course the ultimate goal is matrimony.

Over the years, these kinds of specials have become more specialized. Potential wives are solicited for lonely farmers, and potential husbands are collected for middle-aged spinsters.

On tonight's "Sunday Special" (TV Tokyo, 7 p.m.), the matchmaking theme is gyaku-tama. Gyaku means "reverse," and tama is taken from the phrase tama no koshi, which refers to a poor woman marrying a rich man. In other words, what we have here is poor men looking for rich wives.

More specifically, young women who happen to be the only children in families that own profitable businesses. That means any man who marries one of these women is automatically a muko-yoshi, meaning a man who marries into a family business and, thus, takes his wife's name rather than vice versa. Traditionally, being a muko-yoshi is considered humiliating.

Tonight's show will feature four eligible bachelorettes, each of whom will be visited and wooed by three single men. Actually, it is the women's families who must be wooed, since in these cases romance takes a back seat to running the family enterprise.

One of the women is 21 years old and set to inherit a huge 72-hectare dairy farm in Hokkaido, though whether the farm's 150 cows will have any say in the selection isn't clear. The second omiai competition is for the hand of the 25-year-old daughter of a famous monkey trainer in Nikko. The "principal" of this monkey school will do the deciding instead of his daughter, since the business brings in 2 billion yen a year. Then there's the young lady from Yamagata who helps her widowed mother run a huge, prestigious inn. Anyone who wants to marry her has to prove he can clean windows.

The final sweepstakes involves the daughter of a "charisma" beautician from Saitama, whose 5 billion yen company operates seminars and beauty salons all over Asia. Which one of our three Romeos knows how to do a spit curl? Tune in and find out.

L ove of a less-splendored kind is the subject of this week's "Friday Entertainment Special" (Fuji TV; 9 p.m.), which is a two-hour drama by award-winning scriptwriter Taichi Yamada. "Kono Fuyu no Koi (This Winter Love)" is, according to Yamada, a love story with a message: Can a man and a woman whose love is based only on money find any true happiness?

Well, they can try. Keiko (Misako Tanaka) and Yuka (Eriko Watanabe) are two single women in their late 30s who co-own a successful housecleaning business. Keiko has money to burn, and often goes to host clubs to unwind with the handsome young men who work there.

One night, she meets a new face, Katsu (Jun Kaname), and offers him a deal. If he quits and promises to "service" only her, she will support him. He agrees, and the two sign a "love contract" that, in fact, discourages any emotional involvement, but is based completely on money and sex.

Inevitably, Keiko becomes attached to Katsu, but before she can sort out her feelings, he drops a bomb on her. He has met someone else, and they are engaged.

D amaged youth helping damaged youth is the theme of "Hito ni Yasashiku (Be Kind to People)," one of the most popular new drama series of the season, due to the participation of three ultra-cute leading actors: Shingo Katori of SMAP, Mitsuru Matsuoka of the rock band Sophia and comedian Koji Kato. The trio play former bad boys now sharing a house in Harajuku in relative poverty. Matsuoka's character works in a boutique, but the other two are "freeters," meaning part-time workers who drift from job to job.

One day, they find a sullen little boy on their doorstep with a note written by his mother saying she can't take care of him anymore. Begrudgingly they take him in, but with their competing schedules and personal agendas, the little boy turns out to be a pain in the neck . . . at first.

We soon learn that each of our heroes has experienced childhood trauma of his own, traumas that have left them with damaged personalities, but not so damaged that they don't know wrong from right. In the end, they always do right by their young charge.

In this week's episode, the boy thinks he sees his mother on the street, and while following her gets into an accident. Though his injury is minor, he sinks deeper into depression and refuses to go to school. Keep in mind, however, that "Hito ni Yasashiku" is called a comedy.

Ayoung boy cast away in a different sense is the subject of "Gonza no Yume (Gonza's Dream)," a special one-hour program about one of the most mysterious emigrants in Japanese history, to be broadcast next Saturday afternoon at 2 p.m.

About 270 years ago, when Japan was closed to the world, a 10-year-old boy named Gonza left his home in Kagoshima on a boat bound for Osaka. The ship ran into a storm that blew it off course, and the ship eventually landed on the shores of the Kamchatka peninsula. Years later, Gonza ended up in St. Petersburg and became a teacher of the Japanese language. He also compiled the first Japanese-Russian dictionary. He died at the ripe old age of . . . 21.

Talent Tsuyoshi Ujiki will attempt to retrace Gonza's path, from the Kagoshima Prefectural Library, which has microfilm of Gonza's writing, all the way to a museum in St. Petersburg, which has preserved an "image" of this unusual young traveler.



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