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Sunday, June 30, 2002


Please, Hama, don't hurt 'em

Actor Masatoshi Nagase became a star in Kaizo Hayashi's 1993 tribute to Cinemascope noir, "The Most Terrible Time in My Life," as private detective Mike Hama, a none-too-veiled tribute to Mickey Spillane's hard-boiled shamus Mike Hammer. The movie was a hit, both domestically and overseas (England's "Time Out" called it "a rapturous entertainment"), and led to two sequels and a ton of movie jobs for Nagase, thus allowing him to forgo TV dramas for 10 years.

He returns to the small screen Monday night at 10 p.m. on Nippon TV with a 12-week series based on the Hama character. Each episode will be a self-contained mystery directed by a well-known filmmaker, though, interestingly, Hayashi isn't one of them. Among the directors on board are Shinji Aoyama ("Eureka"), Akira Ogata ("Boys Choir"), popular music video artist Suguru Takeuchi and even the guy responsible for the Boss coffee commercials that have revived Nagase's career. Adding to the show's hipness quotient is a theme song by the semi-underground group Ego Wrappin' and a title sequence shot by the English fashion photographer who's responsible for the Prada campaign.

Viewers unfamiliar with Mike Hama are encouraged to tune into the pilot episode, since Mike's constellation of friends and family are reintroduced. Fans should perhaps note that Mike's office, which was on the second floor of the Nichigeki movie theater in Yokohama, has been moved to the roof of the same building owing to nonpayment of back rent. Otherwise, things haven't changed much. Mike is still a lady-killer and still dresses like a bisexual fashion hound favoring makeup, nail polish, leather coats and accessories, and floral-print shirts.

In the premiere episode, Mike stumbles over a mummified corpse and, several days later, receives in the mail 500,000 yen in cash.

More suspense-oriented media synergy on this week's "Number One Summer Mystery" (TBS, Wednesday, 9 p.m.), which exploits another 10-year-old series, though this one has nothing to do with movies. "Kamaitachi no Yoru" was one of the first full-fledged role-playing computer games, often referred to as a "sound novel." In other words, the text of the story appeared on the monitor accompanied by appropriate sound effects and images. The mystery plotline could develop in several ways, depending on the choices made by the player.

The television drama will, of course, follow only one plotline. College students Toru and Mari (not their real names, but rather their Internet "handles") arrange to meet eight other fans whom they "met" in a virtual chat room dedicated to the game. Toru finally wants to "visualize" these people whom he has only imagined. The meeting place is a pension in the mountains of Nagano Prefecture. After he and the other guests are locked in by a blizzard and cut off from the outside world, they find a mysterious note in one of the rooms predicting "compensation in death." That night, one of the guests is found murdered in his room with a stab wound to the neck.

Though the story is different from the one in the computer game, the characters are mostly the same. Not coincidentally, a new version of "Kamaitachi no Yoru" will go on sale July 18.

Last week, the city of Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, which is home to conductor Seiji Ozawa's annual Saito Kinen Music Festival, announced that it planned to build a new opera hall. Some critics wondered out loud why a small city like Matsumoto needed an opera hall, but considering Ozawa's standing in the community and his assumption of the music director's post at the Vienna State Opera, it doesn't take much imagination.

Still, they'll have to fill it with something. Ozawa has taken it upon himself to cultivate homegrown opera musicians with his annual One-month Seiji Ozawa Courses, which the former Boston Symphony conductor launched three years ago and which will be profiled on this week's "Human Document" (NHK-G, Thursday, 9:15 p.m.).

The maestro assembles 70 student instrumentalists into an orchestra and rehearses them in an opera that is given a full-stage performance featuring soloists from around the world. Ozawa has said that he is distressed by Japanese musicians being viewed abroad as cold technicians. His aim is to foster originality by exposing young artists to the full development process that goes into mounting an opera. This year's production will be Mozart's "Don Giovanni."

Child-care is a crisis issue in Japan right now, as more women take full-time jobs while facilities remain inadequate. One of the less discussed aspects of the crisis is profiled Sunday afternoon on the documentary series "The Nonfiction" (Fuji TV, 2 p.m.).

Since "day care" is the norm for the few nursery facilities that do exist, what do parents do when they have to work at night? Several years ago, labor laws were changed to allow women to work in the wee hours. The fact is, many women who work late at night, mostly as bar hostesses, are single and if they have children they have nowhere to take them since public facilities tend to close at 5 p.m. and private facilities usually don't have the resources to operate around the clock. Sunday's documentary profiles several mothers who work late at night and what they do to secure "night care" for their children.

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