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Sunday, March 24, 2002

CHANNEL SURF

WAT'S GOING ON

Tune in for the final stretch

Next Sunday, Nippon TV's irreverent variety show "Denpa Shonen," the prototype of bizarre Japanese reality-TV programs, will once again end its long successful run with a pledge to be reincarnated in the near future. On Saturday at 9 p.m., however, there will be a special two-hour installment summing up the show's main features over the past nine months.

Recently, a number of variety shows have incorporated segments that convey a more responsible social conscience. On the Friday night TBS series, "KinSma," for example, young female "brand addicts" donate their Prada and Louis Vuitton fashion accessories to raise money to buy shoes for poor people in Cambodia. Late last summer, "Denpa Shonen" deposited 12 Japanese men on the Thailand-Cambodia border for the purpose of constructing 89 km of paved road all the way to Angkor Wat.

For every kilometer the team completes, each member receives 10,000 yen. This is all the money they have to live off of. Consequently, it has been a very rough nine months. Almost every week, at least one participant quits, though he is immediately replaced by a new volunteer. In addition, the group has a designated leader who also seems to change on a weekly basis.

Though the money is earmarked as living expenses, the men have found other purposes for it. Months ago, they pooled their excess cash to buy some machinery that would help facilitate the work. However, some of this equipment later broke down.

On Saturday, the team is expected to finish the last stretch of road to their destination, and the bulk of the special will be about the completion of the work. It will be broadcast live via satellite.

The special will also present the conclusion of another long-term project. A Japanese comedian has been living for a time in an African village and learning the local language for the purpose of creating a standup routine that will cause the villagers to break up in uncontrollable fits of laughter. On Saturday, he will present his routine at a village festival.

M ore reality TV. Tonight on TV Tokyo's "Sunday Big Special" (7 p.m.), comedy duo Bakusho Mondai will present two true stories of young Japanese women forced to fend for themselves in foreign environments.

Out of 100 applicants, the pair chose two women and gave each 100,000 yen. One woman was sent to Finland and the other to Guinea. They had to live there for one full month on the money they had received. Prior to leaving, they would formulate a provisional budget. Since the countries were not chosen until right before they left, neither woman had time to prepare for her respective destination. However, considering the fact that cameras recorded their every move, there was little reason to worry about their well-being.

The Finland contestant arrives at Helsinki airport in the evening and is forced to spend the night in a hamburger shop. The next day she starts looking for a place to live but discovers that the city is too expensive. She eventually finds a suitable dwelling in the suburbs. Soon, she gets to know her neighbors and starts exploring her community and learning about the local cuisine. She attends a sauna party and goes on an excursion to view the Northern Lights. She also loses her house key and is forced, near the end of her sojourn, to take baby-sitting jobs since her money is running dangerously low. The local newspaper runs a story on her.

The Guinea contestant has less of a problem with expenses since food and necessities are fairly cheap in the African country. In fact, her main inconvenience is the huge amount of currency she has to carry with her when she goes shopping. Her landlord is kind and helpful, but the local electrical service is spotty, and there are lots of blackouts. She learns to do her laundry and has her hair done up in dreadlocks. In addition, she participates in local cultural events.

Predictably, both women have trouble with the language and both end up preparing sukiyaki as a typical Japanese dish that they serve to their new friends.

O n Wednesday at 9 p.m., Fuji TV presents another bunch of weird tales on "Yo ni mo Kimyo-na Monogatari (The Strangest Stories)," an occasional omnibus series styled after "The Twilight Zone," but with a peculiar, postmodern Japanese twist. The "Springtime Special" features five new tales of outrageous weirdness.

"The Neglect Game" -- Naomi and Miwako are roommates who get along great . . . until one day when Miwako brings home her new boyfriend.

"Manhole" -- A salaryman who worries about losing his job due to restructuring activities at his office is walking to work one day and accidentally falls into an open manhole. He meets a "rat man" who introduces himself as his new "administrative director."

"Funny Town" -- A young company employee is sent on a business trip to Okashina City, where everybody he meets seems determined to make him laugh one way or another.

"The Lizard's Tale" -- A doctor tells a brilliant concert pianist who has lost his right arm in a traffic accident that there is a new, experimental treatment that may grow back his lost appendage. It involves the injection of reptile DNA.

"Man on a Night Train" -- A man who is taking an overnight train buys a lunch box in the station and subsequently becomes obsessed with the idea of finding the most appropriate way to eat it. Sounds like reality TV to me.



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