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Sunday, April 21, 2002


Tireless fighters and flightless invaders

Truth may not be stranger than fiction, but it's usually more dramatic, as proven in a series of best-selling memoirs by Mayumi Takeda. The 32-year-old writer has lived what some people have described as a "roller-coaster life," and Monday night on Nippon TV's "Super TV" documentary program, this life will be presented in full.

Takeda lost her hearing at the age of 3 following an illness. When she was 6, she was raped by a stranger and, throughout her school days, she was a victim of bullies. Suicide was always on her mind.

But she persevered and, determined to become a fashion designer, she entered a technical school in 1989 and did very well. After graduation, she worked full-time for employment publishers Recruit, but also developed a fascination for American soldiers, and started hanging out at bars and clubs near U.S. military bases in and around Tokyo. She decided to go to New York and so quit her job to work in the sex industry, where the money was much better. The fact that she was deaf gave her some "added value," and she became one of the most popular "fashion health" (massage parlor) workers in the business.

She finally moved to New York in 1997 and married an American she met there. This man belonged to a notoriously dangerous gang, however, and was not able to support them. Takeda was forced to work as a topless dancer in the Bronx, and as the months went by, her husband became abusive to the point that Takeda was hospitalized for mental and emotional problems. She filed for divorce and, while waiting for it to come through, met another American man with whom she had two daughters.

In 1999, she published the first of three memoirs, "Fight," which has sold more than 300,000 copies to date. In November, her divorce was finally granted, and last month she and the father of her two children (a third is on the way) were married.

Another unusual woman with a fighting spirit is the protagonist of the new Nippon TV drama series "Gokusen" (Wednesday, 10 p.m.). Yukie Nakama stars as a high-school teacher who is also the daughter of a prominent yakuza family. The title of the series combines the words gokudo (way of the yakuza) with sensei (teacher).

Based as it is on a popular comic, the stories are far from serious. Kumiko Yamaguchi (Nakama) is in charge of the "worst" class in the school, the one where all the misfits and troublemakers end up. No one at the school knows about her background, and mostly she acts like a proper professional. Every so often, however, something happens that tries her patience -- and her yakuza values and temperament come to the surface with humorous and violent results. In an early episode, one of her students was accused of stealing a bag of money from the vice-principal's office and she later learns it is in the possession of a gang of punks. She not only breaks down the gang's door, but beats everyone up, all the time snarling like a true Yamaguchi.

Which isn't to say she doesn't have a feminine side, only that she constantly has to check herself to make sure it's always pointed in the right direction. She has also developed a crush on a handsome, polite young man who rides the same bus in the morning, but later finds out, to her dismay, that he's a policeman.

In this week's episode, two of her students get into a big fight. Kumiko believes that the one who was accused of starting the fight is innocent of the charge and does what she can to prove it.

Another fighter is pianist Mitsuko Uchida, considered by many of her peers to be the world's foremost performer of Mozart's keyboard repertoire. Having decided many years ago that Japan was too "distracting" a place for a world-class classical musician, she has been based in London for the better part of her career and comes home to Japan only once a year to play recitals at Suntory Hall -- and maybe a concerto. She almost never talks to the press and keeps a strictly low profile.

Having mastered Mozart a long time ago, the studious, ultraserious Uchida followed the usual "Germanic tradition" by then tackling Beethoven. She is now in the midst of her Schubert phase.

Sunday at 10:30 p.m., NHK-E will broadcast a recent Uchida recital that includes Schoenberg's "Three Piano Pieces," Schubert's "Sonata No. 18," Webern's "Variations for Piano," and Beethoven's "Sonata No. 5."

Penguin lovers won't want to miss Monday night's "Amazing Nature" special (NHK-G, 8 p.m.), which is about a small town on the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa that has been overrun by the flightless birds.

Cape penguins are relatively small (3 kg), but in the mid-'80s they started migrating from the coast to a resort area near Simonstown and have essentially taken over. The creatures mingle with tourists on the beaches, cool off in swimming pools and garages, and even nest in greenhouses. The locals have almost gotten used to their peripatetic invaders, and some are even in the habit of hosing down the birds when the weather gets too hot.

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