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Sunday, April 28, 2002

CHANNEL SURF

A suck-up, a thumbs up

Ever since SMAP-man Goro Inagaki returned from self-imposed exile, during which he supposedly reflected on his heinous parking infraction, he seems to be everywhere, as if he were making up for lost time. Perhaps as a spoof on his capacity to demonstrate self-effacement, he's currently starring in his first full-fledged comedy series, "Yoisho no Otoko" (TBS, April 28, 9 p.m.), as the most obsequious salaryman in Tokyo.

Yoisho suru is a contemporary verb phrase that conveys the same meaning as the more traditional goma-suri, or "apple polishing." Generally, it refers to the kind of corporate behavior that one has to demonstrate toward superiors in order to be promoted within the organization. Kotaro Sakurai (Inagaki) has reached a supervisory sales position at the insurance company he works for faster than any of his peers, precisely because he has cultivated a "super power" for sucking up to his betters. Consequently, he is resented by these peers and not entirely trusted by his longtime girlfriend Naomi (Akiko Yada), who appreciates his innate kindness but feels uncomfortable with his need to please everyone all the time.

Things at the company have become complicated, however, with the arrival of a new sales division manager from a foreign company that is thinking of buying the ailing insurance firm. Makiko Ogata (Yuko Asano) has an MBA from a prominent American university and very little tolerance for traditional Japanese corporate culture.

In this week's episode, Kotaro's colleague, Eiji Shiraishi (Someguro Ichikawa V), is invited to one of Kotaro's karaoke nights and, because he hates karaoke, decides it's the last straw. He tells Makiko he's quitting and goes out for drinks with an executive from a rival company who has been headhunting him.

Several weeks ago, the animated favorite "Crayon Shin-chan" moved to its new time slot on Saturday evenings. Its old time slot, Fridays at 7:30 p.m. on TV Asahi, has been filled with a new animated series, one that, like "Shin-chan," is based on a popular comic strip.

"Atashi n'chi" was a staple in the Yomiuri Shimbun on Sundays during the mid-'90s and has since been packaged in a multivolume comic book series that has sold more than 500,000 copies. The title, a contracted form of the phrase watashi no uchi (my home), describes the extremely simple premise of the comic but doesn't do justice to its unique and hilarious visual style.

The Tachibanas are a typical Japanese family to the point of exaggeration. Mother is an obsessive housewife who doesn't always grasp how her obsessions affect others. Father is the kind of reticent salaryman who leaves the door open when he uses the toilet. High-school-age daughter Mikan is average in every way, including her contempt for her parents and their unsophisticated ways. And junior high school student Yuzuhiko is shy and unassuming.

The stories tend to focus on very small, almost insignificant details of domesticity -- lunch boxes, inviting friends over for tea -- and then turn them into major crises. But the real appeal of the comic is artist Eiko Kera's rendering of the Tachibanas, especially the mother, who resembles a thumb with a fringe of steel-wool hair. Watch out when she blows her top.

On Saturday, the TV Tokyo documentary series, "Navigator 21" (11 p.m.) looks at the current state of teijisei high schools. Teijisei high schools, also referred to as "night high schools," were set up in the '50s for junior high school graduates who wanted to continue their education but had to work in family farms or factories. Classes were usually held at night at local public high schools.

In the '60s and thereafter, the function of teijisei schools expanded in accordance with social needs. Dropouts who, as adults, wanted to return to school to get their diplomas would enroll in teijisei programs. Some of these adults were in their 30s and 40s, and many remained in the program for years and years, dropping out and then re-enrolling again. During the '90s, when employment started to dry up at the lower end, there were no longer good blue-collar jobs available for junior high school graduates, and those who normally would have foregone high school had no choice but to try and get a diploma. If they couldn't pass the entrance test for a public school and didn't have the money for a private one, they often opted for teijisei.

"Navigator 21" will look at a new trend, one that almost brings the function of teijisei full circle back to its origins. Nowadays, teijisei enrollment is increasing because the breadwinners in many urban households have lost their jobs due to restructuring. That means one of two things: Parents do not have money to pay for private schools, or children have to work to help support their families. Either way, teijisei is the only alternative if they want to continue with high school.



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