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Sunday, July 7, 2002

CHANNEL SURF

They say that love is blind

Ingenue Ryoko Hirosue finally returns to the TV drama series fold after a year of milking her French-language movie debut opposite Jean Reno in "Wasabi." The image she cultivated in that movie -- punky, cynical and a year or two behind the fashion curve -- is exploited to a certain extent in her new role, that of a blind girl with a decidedly negative view of human relations. The attitude of her character, Ako, is summed up neatly in the title of the 10-part series, "Ai wa Nante Irane Yo (Don't Gimme That Love Crap," or something like that), which premieres Friday at 10 p.m. on TBS.

Ako's misanthropy is a product of her upbringing. Her father owned a company that was constantly expanding and therefore constantly demanding his attention. He never spent time with her when she was growing up, though he was the only family she had. As a result she has become suspicious of human kindness when it is actually offered to her. Then her father dies in an accident.

Enter Reiji (Atsuo Watabe), a Kabukicho con man who has just been released from prison after completing a six-month sentence. Reiji, a cool charmer, is buried under a mountain of debt and needs a quick cash infusion. He hears about Ako and comes up with a plan to bilk her out of her inheritance by showing up on her doorstep pretending to be her long-lost brother. You can probably guess everything that happens after that.

NHK's very popular documentary series, "Project X," which usually explores in detail the technological ingenuity that fueled Japan's economic miracle, this week looks at a more recent project.

Japan's national bird is the Japanese crested ibis, which in Japanese is called the toki and whose Latin name is Nipponia nippon. In the 18th century, crested ibises could be found throughout the country and were noted for their red-tinged white feathers. The shoguns so valued the beauty of the bird that it was forbidden to kill or capture one. However, after the Meiji Restoration, this edict was rescinded and the crested ibis was extensively hunted, not only for its feathers, but by farmers who mistakenly thought the birds destroyed rice fields because they were always found walking through the paddies and picking at food. But what they were picking at was tadpoles, snails and tiny fish, and not the rice itself.

In any event, agrochemicals and other environmental pollutants took their toll and, by the 1960s, the crested ibis was believed to be extinct. Then, in May of 1981, six birds were discovered in Japan. Unfortunately, of the six only one was male, and when the Environmental Agency captured the six in order to carry out an artificial reproduction project to sustain the species, the male was the first to die. Though the species of crested ibis that lives in China was not Nipponia nippon, it was close enough, and a male was imported, but no offspring were produced.

This week's documentary (NHK-G, Tuesday, 9:15 p.m.) chronicles the joint Japan-China efforts in 1999 to produce a crested ibis from a pair imported from China. Despite differences in methodology and general disagreements between the two teams of scientists, the union produced a number of viable eggs.

In NHK's latest poll of the Most Likable Showbiz Personalities in Japan, the top female vote-getter was comedian Masami Hisamoto, who is mainly known as a variety-show talent. However, Hisamoto also runs her own stage company called Wahaha Honpo (Ha-ha-ha Headquarters), a kind of vaudeville comedy troupe that specializes in silliness for the sake of silliness. Based mostly on modern cultural artifacts familiar only to Japanese, such as popular manga and movie stars, the troupe's humor is exceedingly narrow in scope.

That narrowness, however, seems to qualify it as "art," and Wahaha Honpo will be featured this week on "Dare demo Picasso (Anyone Can Be Picasso") (TV Tokyo, Friday, 9 p.m.), Beat Takeshi's art-oriented variety show. Hisamoto and her crew will offer several of their most famous routines and sketches, some of which poke fun at artists themselves.



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