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Sunday, March 31, 2002


Everything you need to know: Shin-chan's still in kindergarten

One cultural export that Japan does very well is animation, as evidenced by the fact that the Japanese word anime describes its own special category overseas. But while old reruns of "Astro Boy" are still shown in the West, "Crayon Shin-chan" probably never will be.

Shinnosuke, better known as Shin-chan, is a smart-aleck, scatologically obsessed kindergartner. Potty-mouthed little boys have become international superstars via "South Park," but Shin-chan's brand of humor is peculiarly Japanese. And while a lot of Japanese parents would rather not have their kids copy Shin-chan's antics or speech patterns (which, of course, they do), they usually don't prohibit them from watching the show.

In fact, Shin-chan, whose vocabulary is more like that of a libidinous but socially ignorant middle-aged man, tends to appeal to adults as much as he does to kids, though you won't find many adults admitting to it. Shin-chan's parents experience adult problems having to do with sex and money and social relations, and while a lot of kids aren't going to understand much less care about these problems, a lot of adults aren't going to laugh at the sight of Shin-chan teaching some new friends a "game" that consists entirely of pulling down your pants, bending over and dancing around with your naked bottom exposed. Or maybe they will.

The long-running half-hour series usually airs on Fridays at 7 p.m. (TV Asahi), but this week, Asahi will air a series of "classic" segments Monday through Thursday at 10:30 a.m. because the kids are on spring vacation. Parents might want to monitor the shows to make sure their children don't get corrupted. Or for other reasons.

At the opposite end of the anime spectrum is "Sore Ike! Anpanman" (Nihon TV, Friday, 4:30 p.m.), which is so innocent and didactic as to be practically a parody of itself.

Anpanman is a superhero made out of bread with sweet bean filling. He has all the usual superhero traits -- amazing strength, the ability to fly -- but his weakness is that if his face is soiled or damaged, he loses these powers. His allies are also food-based beings, such as Currypanman (curry-bread man), Shokupanman (white-bread man) and Tendonman (deep-fried-prawns-on-rice man). His enemy is Baikinman (germ man), who, though heartless and devious, is also pretty cute.

The stories are just as fantastic as the characters. This week, Cream Panda is making a bread delivery when he (she?) comes across a magic lamp with a genie that promises the usual wish-fulfillment. Baikinman hears about it and, disguising himself as Cream Panda, fools the genie into granting him the wishes.

Another villain called Kabirunrun (moldy something-or-other) deposits some mildew on Anpanman's face, thus rendering him immobile and unable to stop Baikinman from taking the genie captive. Hold on to your doughnuts . . .

It was only a matter of time. "Survivor," the popular reality-TV show that began in Britain but made its mark in the United States, is finally coming to Japan. The real series starts April 9, but this afternoon at 3:30, TBS will air a special program about the auditions for the contest.

Hosted by the comedy trio Neptunes, the auditions were held to reduce a field of 40 applicants down to the 16 required for the show. In all, 2,500 people originally applied to try their luck at the 10 million yen prize (as opposed to 50,000 applicants for the American show, where the prize was $1 million), then the group was pared to 40.

Most of the audition consists of interviews with Neptunes. The most important criterion is motivation. A unemployed man in his 20s says that he wants to be on the show to prove he's just as good if not better than other people. A housewife in her 30s says she's tired of always "acting" to get along in society. A Buddhist priest says that he has reached the "ultimate extremes" of human knowledge through his training and wants to see if such experience is helpful in the material world.

Of course, the main attraction will be seeing just how the basic premise of "Survivor," which is finding a balance between group solidarity and self-interest, will translate in a Japanese context. The contest will take place on an uninhabited island in the South Pacific and will adhere to the system used on the British and American shows. Two teams compete in a series of games, with the losers forced to "vote" one of their members off the island. When the total number of survivors is 10, then it's every one for themselves.

NHK's 15-minute morning drama series has been a ratings winner for decades. Always centered around a young woman who overcomes adversity, it has launched many a successful acting career.

For the first time, NHK will extend the idea to the evening. Starting this week, it airs a 15-minute drama serial at 11 p.m., Monday through Thursday, for the next two months. These will be more adult in theme to attract a slightly different demographic (working women in their 30s and 40s).

In the first series, Asaka Seto plays Noel, a popular film actress who is also the mistress of a powerful underworld figure. She has a secret affair with her lover's chauffeur and then gets the idea of translating her experiences into a movie -- an idea that scares the chauffeur out of his livery.

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