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Sunday, Feb. 24, 2002


The suspense is just killing them

Director and screenwriter Yoji Yamada, who helmed all 48 installments of the record-setting "Otoko wa Tsurai-yo" movie series, and actor Toshiyuki Nishida, who has starred in Yamada's other two movie series, "Tsuri Baka Nisshi" and "Gakko," team up for a one-shot two-hour TV drama Monday night at 9 p.m. on TBS.

As anyone familiar with Yamada's work knows, his dramas tend to include a liberal dose of sentimental comedy, and the veteran director has decided that the TV suspense genre could use an infusion of laughs. "Urifutatsu," which is the title of the drama, is an expression meaning "like two peas in a pod." It is also the name of the title character, played by Nishida.

Futatsu Uri is a small-time yakuza kingpin in Hokkaido who, as the story opens, is just getting out of prison. His gang, which consists of three men, one of whom is Uri's own son, is waiting with bad news. The recession has pushed them to the edge of insolvency.

Uri comes up with the idea of taking out a large insurance policy on his own life, but he doesn't plan on dying. The gang will find a suitable victim, "cause" his death and make him look like Uri. The insurance money will be used to pay off the gang's debts, thus freeing all the members to start new lives on their own.

The victim who is eventually chosen is a born loser named Tanin Akano, which is another joke. The expression "aka no tanin" means "(s)he has nothing to do with me." Akano is a small businessman who has lost everything, and the gang learns that he is headed for Hokkaido with the intention of ending his life. And since he bears a striking resemblance to their boss, the opportunity is almost too good to pass up.

Needless to say, Akano is also played by Nishida, so the actor's infamous capacity for mugging will be exercised to the fullest, not to mention the technical crew's skills with computer graphics.

M ore big-name suspense is in store for Saturday night. Beat Takeshi stars in "Harikomi (Stakeout)" (TV Asahi, 9 p.m.), a TV adaptation of a famous short story by detective mystery master Seicho Matsumoto to commemorate the 10th anniversary of his death. "Harikomi" has been adapted for both the big and little screens several times, but this particular version has been updated to the present (the original was written 50 years ago) and the setting moved from Kyushu to Gunma Prefecture.

Takeshi plays Yuki, a veteran rank-and-file police detective who is teamed with a college-educated inspector, Shimoka (Naoto Ogata), on a prolonged stakeout. Their target is a housewife named Sadako (Mayu Tsuruta), who was once the lover of a suspected murderer now on the lam. Yuki is convinced that the suspect will eventually try to contact Sadako, but his partner thinks they are just wasting their time. Most of the conflict in the story is between the two detectives, one a simple cop who worked his way up from the bottom, and the other a privileged "elite" officer.

In a secondary plot, Yuki starts to wonder why such a beautiful, young woman like Sadako has allowed herself to be trapped in a cold marriage with an unpleasant man who already has two children from a previous marriage.

T onight, the biography-variety show "Shitteiru Tsumori" (Nippon TV, 9 p.m.) deals with a topic that has generally gone underreported: the fate of Japanese soldiers taken prisoner by the Soviets at the close of the Pacific War. Many of these prisoners were shipped to gulags and forced to work long after Japan capitulated. Some of these men married and remained in the Soviet Union, while others were eventually repatriated, but most of them died in captivity.

The subject of tonight's biography is one of the unlucky ones, Hata Yamamoto, who died in a Soviet gulag about nine years after he was taken prisoner. Yamamoto, however, left behind a document, which is extraordinary since Soviet jailers did not allow Japanese prisoners to write anything down. Yamamoto defied them and thus had his sentence extended for "spying." A man of some refinement, Yamamoto also wrote a kabe shimbun (wall newspaper) for his fellow Japanese prisoners, "published" a literary magazine and organized lectures on the classical poems of the "Manyoshi."

When he realized that he was dying, Yamamoto wrote a long will and testament. Later, some of his fellow Japanese prisoners were set to be released, and they learned that the Soviets would not allow them to take the document back to Yamamoto's family since they thought it might contain secret information. So each of the 10 men memorized a tenth of the document.

It took another 30 years for the entire will to be reassembled. The program describes not only Yamamoto's life, but the lives of the 10 men who carried his legacy back to Japan.

A n accomplishment of an entirely different kind is documented on tonight's special, "Tales of Great Mothers" (TV Asahi, 6 p.m.), which is about Mitsuko Ishihara, who bore the brothers Ishihara: novelist-politician (and current Tokyo governor) Shintaro and his late younger brother, actor-singer Yujiro.

Born of a good family in Hiroshima, Mitsuko came of age during the famous Taisho Democracy, a period in the early '20s when Japan enjoyed a brief flowering of social and cultural liberalism before fascism reared its ugly head. Having entertained notions of becoming a painter, Mitsuko eventually entered into an arranged marriage with an older executive of a prominent shipping company. With her husband away almost constantly, she focused all her energies on her two boys.

Most of tonight's program is a kind of Mom's Manual on how to raise two sons with completely different temperaments for success. Shintaro was the type who took everything in stride, while Yujiro worked more by instinct. Understanding their respective traits, Mitsuko raised them accordingly.

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