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Sunday, March 3, 2002

CHANNEL SURF

Hard realities and total fabrications

Ten years ago, Chikako Kaku was the most popular actress in trendy dramas. Though not classically beautiful, she was good at conveying the type of well-bred charm that's considered a paramount virtue in Japanese wives, while at the same time possessing a formidable capacity to exhibit nail-biting fear. She was a perfect match for the kind of domestic psycho-dramas that were the fashion on Japanese TV in the early and mid-'90s.

News photo
"The Kyoto-Kanazawa Nursery Song Murder" tracks TV reporter Rinko's (Chikako Kaku, above right) investigation into some mysterious deaths at a kimono-dyeing house.

As soon as the kids started taking over trendy dramas, Kaku was banished to TV commercial land. Tuesday night, however, she makes her inevitable move into the realm of one-night mystery shows, the final resting place for over-30 TV actresses.

In "The Kyoto-Kanazawa Nursery Song Murder" (Nippon TV, 9 p.m.), Kaku plays Rinko, a reporter working out of a television station in Kyoto. She learns that a respected kimono-dyeing house has been the victim of a large-scale burglary. Since she once did an in-depth report on the house, she looks into the case.

It turns out that one of the main apprentices in the house, a man named Goro, has gone missing, and when the trail leads to Kanazawa, she stumbles onto the dead body of the house's other prominent apprentice, Junya. Tests reveal that Junya was murdered by means of a poison that was extracted from a flower used to make a certain kind of dye pigment.

Another drama special this week presents the true story of TV announcer Aki Mukai, who can be seen every weekday morning on the Nippon TV wide show "Let's." Several years ago, Mukai had her uterus removed because it was cancerous and has since become a kind of poster woman for those who want children but cannot bear any themselves. The weekly women's magazines continue to cover her attempts to have a baby by any means possible.

"Sixteen Weeks: The Happy Hours With You" (Fuji TV, Friday, 9 p.m.) is based on Mukai's memoir of her ordeal. Yuki Matsushita plays the announcer, who marries a professional wrestler (Taishu Kase). During a routine examination for pregnancy, two discoveries are made: that she is, indeed, pregnant and that her uterus is cancerous.

Mukai decides that the life of her unborn child is more important than anything else and pledges to have the baby, even if it means the cancer will go untreated and thus will likely kill her in the end. She eventually meets Dr. Kojima, who, unlike the physicians she has talked to before, treats her as an adult with a mind of her own. They talk candidly about her condition and that of her child. Armed with all the facts, Mukai is forced to make an extremely difficult decision.

The widespread corporate restructuring that has resulted in the dismissal of thousands of middle-aged Japanese managers is generally reported as an inevitable development in the current world economic order. But some commentators have complained that the work ethic that brought Japan prosperity after the war is being discarded along with the outdated management structures.

"Weekend Special" (NHK BS1, Friday, 10 p.m.) takes a look at how other Asian countries are taking advantage of these changes. Middle-aged Japanese managers who have been downsized, especially those with technical backgrounds, are being actively recruited to help burgeoning industrial companies in China and Southeast Asia.

The documentary mainly focuses on a "human resources bank" headquartered in Shanghai. This bank has done very well recruiting laid-off or retired Japanese managers for various Asian companies.

These workers are valued because of their business experience and refined technological knowhow. When the bank learns that a large Japanese company is restructuring, it contacts Japanese personnel agencies with the hope of recruiting any skilled managers who have been let off.

The program also shows how older Japanese workers have found fulfillment in going abroad and helping new companies build their businesses. In many cases, these workers are able to start entirely new lives.

More important for the long term, however, is that these workers are transferring technologies that once made Japan the most formidable manufacturing power in the world. Inevitably, they are helping Asian companies compete with Japanese companies on an equal level.

Starting tomorrow night and continuing for the next three nights, Fuji TV will broadcast Part 3 of its "Knowledge Expedition" series about the human brain (Monday-Thursday, 11 p.m.). The previous two parts dealt with memory and the concept of time. Part 3, "navigated" by rehabilitated SMAP-man Goro Inagaki, is about music.

The first night's special will investigate why some songs become hits and others do not. On Tuesday, the program travels to the far corners of the world to explain why human beings love to sing. The physical effects of music on the human body are explored on Wednesday night. And the final program looks at why some types of music make us weep.



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