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Sunday, July 21, 2002


The men of the house

The TV show that has most successfully exploited the current housing "reform" boom is Asahi's "Daikozo! Gekiteki Before/After (Big Construction! Dramatic Before and After)" (Sundays, 7:56 p.m.), which was the only program during the recent World Cup that managed to pull in double-digit ratings opposite a broadcast of a match featuring the Japan national team. Right now, many housing companies are going out of business, and those that manage to survive are doing so by shifting some of their resources into reconstruction work on existing houses.

Each program focuses on a single housing reform project that has been given a fixed time for completion and a fixed budget (usually under 5 million yen). The designers are taken from a pool of takumi, or "masters," in a specific architectural discipline such as lighting or ventilation. Cameras follow the work closely, and the designers explain why they are doing certain things and how they save money.

At the same time, we learn about the family that lives in the house. Often, the family has problems that are directly connected to the house. The designer is supposed to take into consideration the way the family lives as well as each member's character.

Tonight, the program tackles what the producers claim is "the most difficult reform problem we've ever had." A family of three -- a 57-year-old widow (her husband died in March), her 27-year-old daughter and 22-year-old son -- lives in an old, dilapidated house in Koshigaya, Saitama Prefecture. The son does not have his own room, but sleeps in a tiny prefabricated vinyl structure set on the second-floor veranda and has to go through his mother's room to get there.

Years of mold cover the walls, and the clutter is unbelievable, since there is almost no storage space. In addition, the family keeps eight cats, which like to sharpen their claws wherever they please.

Tonight's takumi is a specialist in natural materials, but his main concession will have to be to the son, who, despite the cramped sleeping conditions, has formed a sentimental attachment to his little plastic shack.

The reform boom receives fictional treatment in the new drama series, "Tokyo Niwa-tsuki Ikkodate (A Tokyo House With a Garden)" (Wednesday, 10 p.m.). The nine-part serial, in fact, takes in several urban trends, including the sudden population increase in the center of Tokyo.

This sudden growth has mostly been in the form of new condominiums. The NTV series, however, is about a teacher, Kazuo Tameyama (Yoshio Harada), who, three years after his wife's death, quits his job and blows his entire severance pay on a fairly large house with a garden in the trendy, upscale Shirogane district of Tokyo, a move that would be unthinkable for the average salaryman. He talks his five daughters into moving in with him, including one, 34-year-old Yuka (Akiko Matsumoto), who is married and has two kids.

The house has a lot of flaws, and because Harada is an extremely fussy guy, most of his waking hours are spent railing against builders and designers who have worked on his house. He wants his daughters to share his indignation at the shoddy workmanship and poor professional attitudes he has to deal with, but the girls have other, more personal concerns, most of which revolve around men and careers.

In this week's episode, the third in the series, four of the daughters, including Yuka, tell their father that they will attend a housing reform seminar, where they will learn all about problems common to Japanese housing and what to do about them (such seminars are very popular right now). Instead, they go to a karaoke establishment, where the three single girls try to pick up men and Yuka accidentally runs into her husband Saburo (disco maven Papaya Suzuki).

If any vestiges of soccer fever still linger, they will probably be eradicated during this week's "Friday Entertainment" (Fuji TV, 9 p.m.), which will present its annual mid-season, two-hour baseball bloopers special.

The program collects video footage taken since April at pro baseball games, mostly in Japan but also in the United States. Great plays are reviewed, as well as embarrassing fielding and batting mistakes. Also, funny scenes from the stands, the dugout and practice sessions are shown.

The main attraction this week is the return of Monta Mino as the narrator. Mino, who is undoubtedly the busiest man on television right now, actually launched his TV career (he started in radio) narrating the baseball bloopers specials many years ago. His humorous way of explaining the action on the screen probably had as much to do with the popularity of the specials as the bloopers themselves.

Among the special features is a closeup look at the remarkable ascendancy of the Hanshin Tigers, which spent the last four seasons in the basement, and their volatile new manager. Also, the private life of pitcher Kazuhisa Ishii in Los Angeles, where he plays for the Dodgers, will be revealed for the first time. You can believe the "exclusive" claims of the previews: Ishii's wife is a Fuji TV announcer.

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