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Sunday, Feb. 3, 2002


It's not just who's cast but how they're cast out

A nother milestone in Japan-Korea cultural relations is achieved with the two-part drama special "Friends" (TBS, Monday and Tuesday, 9 p.m.). Japanese idol Kyoko Fukada and Korean heartthrob Wonbin portray a couple who meet in Hong Kong and then strike up a cross-Japan Sea e-mail exchange that turns into a long-distance romance.

The four-hour drama, which is a coproduction between TBS in Japan and MBC in Korea, will be aired in both countries. Fukada is already known in Korea for her work with Yun So-Na, a popular Korean TV actress, in a Japanese drama series last summer. In "Friends," however, she actually gets to speak Korean. As far as milestones go, the series will mark the first time a dramatic series will be shown in Korea with a Japanese actress in the leading role. The producers in both countries are projecting ratings of more than 40 percent.

Fukada plays Tomoko, a rather average young Japanese woman who works in a department store. Her mother is an assistant editor at a prominent magazine, and Tomoko can't help but compare her humdrum existence to her mother's exciting life. While sightseeing in Hong Kong with a friend, Tomoko becomes the victim of a pickpocket. She chases a young man whom she believes to be the culprit and hands him over to the police, but the man, Ji Fung (Wonbin), an amateur filmmaker from Korea, is not the pickpocket. Instead of being angered by her accusation, he asks Tomoko to model for him. They become friends and, after returning to their respective countries, begin their e-mail exchange.

Exchange is conducted a little closer to home on the popular variety series "Ichi-oku-nin no Daishitsumon! Waratte Koraete! (Questions for 100 million people! Try not to laugh!)" (Nippon TV, Wednesday, 7 p.m.), hosted by George Tokoro. With the purpose of "rediscovering the best traits of the Japanese people," the show travels all over the archipelago, supposedly at random, in order to interview average people as they go about their daily routines.

The centerpiece of the show is a segment where Tokoro throws a dart at a large map of Japan. A video crew then travels by van to the city, town, or village struck by the dart and stops people on the street with the simple-but-complicated question, "What are you doing?" Months ago, this question was sometimes met with confused silence or even suspicion, but lately the notoriety of the show precedes the crew's arrival, and they often get invited into people's homes for tea and even full meals.

This week, the dart falls on a small town in Kochi Prefecture that is hemmed in by mountains, sea and river. The town's most famous local product is greenhouse watermelons, and the TV crew also brings some local "baby tuna" back to the studio for Tokoro and his celebrity friends to enjoy.

In addition, a comedy group named TIM travels to Shimane for another regular segment about kindergartens around Japan. The comedians dress up as oni (demons) for the annual setsubun ritual of driving demons out of the house by throwing beans at them. Traditionally, young children are terrified by these demons, but TIM tries to make the monsters kind and polite.

The show also visits a music high school in Hiroshima where, of the 164 students, only 20 are boys.

If you are determined to quit smoking but haven't yet managed to, tune into NHK's practical science show "Tameshite Gatten" this week (NHK-G, Wednesday, 8 p.m.). According to surveys, 22 million Japanese people "want to quit smoking" but, of these, only 10 percent will fully succeed. Normally, people who fail to quit are said to be "weak-willed." However, studies have shown that for people who do succeed in quitting, their willpower had nothing to do with it.

The show explores the popular belief that smoking helps increase powers of concentration. Nicotine, in fact, acts as a substitute for neural transmitters in the brain, so when people stop smoking all of a sudden the synapses don't function normally, thus creating a feeling of distraction. Viewers will be shown a method for regaining neural transmitters without nicotine, as well as "image training" methods to relieve the irritability and restlessness that often accompany quitting.

Tonight, "The NHK Symphony Hour" (NHK-E, 9 p.m.) features a performance of Sibelius' Fifth Symphony conducted by Paavo Jarvi, one of the fastest-rising stars among the crop of relatively young Northern European conductors who have been attracting a great deal of attention lately.

Born in Estonia in 1962 and now a naturalized American, Jarvi is a member of one of the most esteemed musical families in the world. His father, Neeme, who leads both the Detroit and Gothenburg Symphonies, supposedly holds the world record for the most CDs produced by a living conductor. Paavo's younger brother, Christian, is currently making a name for himself as a conductor in Europe and Japan. This evening's performance marks Paavo's debut with NHK, which is considered a big step up for any world-class conductor.

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