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Sunday, June 16, 2002

CHANNEL SURF

Life's a bitch and then some

This week, Fuji TV will begin airing the entries in its Eleventh Annual FNS Documentary Grand Prix, a contest that honors video documentaries submitted by Fuji network affiliates. The winners are eventually selected by a panel of media experts.

This year's contest features 28 entries. Two documentaries will be aired each week for the next 14 weeks on Tuesday and Wednesday late at night (or early in the morning, depending on how you look at it).

The first entry (Tuesday, 3:05 a.m.) comes from Kansai Television and is titled "Kazoku Yakara . . .," which is Osaka dialect for "Because it's family . . ." The "family" member cited in the title is a dog, more specifically an aged dog. Right now, there is a great deal of public and private concern about the so-called graying of society, but discussions on the subject are invariably about people. This documentary focuses on dogs and how owners cope with the problems of an aging pet.

The report visits a number of families with aging and ailing dogs to show that caring for a pet can be as emotionally draining as caring for an ailing relative. In one segment, an old dog is bedridden and the family must constantly change the dog's position in order to prevent bedsores. Another dog suffers from senility, which causes it to howl and cry all night long. On the other hand, one elderly family pet still demonstrates vigor and excitement, despite having lost a leg to disease.

The second entry (Wednesday, 2:55 a.m.) is from Shin-Hiroshima TV and follows the efforts of Komosuke, a 70-year-old koshakushi (traditional storyteller) who wants to perform in Hawaii.

Komosuke specializes in stories about Hiroshima that have been handed down from storyteller to storyteller for generations. He himself has added to the repertoire tales about the atomic bomb that fell on Hiroshima in 1945, an event he witnessed. He has told these stories to many schoolchildren and has even performed them in South Korea, but his dream has always been to go to Hawaii and tell them to the children and grandchildren of immigrants from Hiroshima.

A number of obstacles stand in his way. First, many of the immigrant children do not understand Japanese fully. Following the events of Sept. 11, his proposal to give a performance no such a sensitive issue is rejected outright, but after months of further negotiations a performance is set up. The difficulty now is deciding on which story will be appropriate. Komosuke suggests the tale of a man killed in the blast whose shadow was permanently printed on the ground, but his hosts reject it as being too disturbing.

W hen he died in 1975, Dmitri Shostakovich was prematurely hailed as the greatest composer of the 20th century. While this opinion has altered considerably over the last 25 years, the composer's stature in the symphonic canon remains firm for historical reasons as much as for musical ones.

During his life, Shostakovich's only real rival in his native Soviet Union was Sergei Prokofiev, though the two artists' destinies were quite different. Prokofiev was born and raised in Czarist Russia and escaped the Bolshevik Revolution to eventually settle in Paris. In the 1930s, he was persuaded to return and subsequently suffered mightily at the hands of the authorities, who constantly questioned his work.

Prokofiev's Soviet-era compositions are generally considered inferior to his pre-Soviet ones. Shostakovich was also persecuted by the authorities, but perhaps because he grew up in the Soviet system and never left it, he had a more balanced idea of what could be accomplished within its strictures.

On Sunday at 9 p.m., the NHK Symphony, under the baton of Alan Gilbert, will perform Shostakovich's Fourth Symphony, which the composer wrote in 1936 but hid from view until 1961, when it was performed for the first time. Music historian Shinichiro Ikebe will explain the circumstances behind Shostakovich's unusual decision.

Train mashers get their moment in the sun on this week's "Women and Love and Mystery" (TV Tokyo, Wednesday, 8:54 p.m.), which is titled "Chikan Enzai Satsujin Rensa," or "Chain Reaction of Murders for a False Accusation of Sexual Molestation."

Misawa (Hiroaki Murakami) is a popular elementary school teacher, but during his commute to work one morning a young woman accuses him of molesting her on the crowded train. He vehemently denies the charge. His lawyer, a woman named Saeko (Misato Tanaka), tells him that if he admits to the charge and pays a fine, the case will remain a secret, but Misawa insists on fighting the accusation in court.

Things suddenly become much more complicated. The plaintiff, it turns out, is the mother of a child that attends the school where Misawa is employed. In addition, the woman's father was once accused of molesting another woman on a train and as a result committed suicide. The person who caught the father and brought him to the police was none other than Misawa.



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