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Sunday, Aug. 25, 2002


The man who holds the purse strings

For better or worse, the Ryukyu Islands, whose most prominent member is Okinawa, have produced more major J-pop acts since 1995 than any other part of Japan save Tokyo.

On Sunday afternoon, Fuji TV will present the third annual Music Fest Peace of Ryukyu, a J-pop event that was originally organized to coincide with the Okinawan G-8 Summit of 2000. This year's festival celebrates the 30th anniversary of the return of Okinawa to Japanese rule.

Held in the town of Ginowan, the festival will feature all the major J-pop acts who've emerged from the islands in the past several years (including a few that have already broken up): Flame, Folder 5, w-inds and the perennial Max. Hiro, Eriko Imai and Takako Uehara, formerly of the girl group Speed, will all do solo spots. The concert is topped off with an extended performance by Namie Amuro.

In addition, the boy band Da Pump will present its own Okinawan Top Ten, which does not necessarily include songs, but rather favorite places and products of the former island kingdom.

One of the great unsolved mysteries of commercial Japan will be explored in Sunday's edition of the economic documentary show "Dawn of Gaia" (TV Tokyo, 10 p.m.), namely, the continuing success of Chanel amid the ongoing economic slump.

News photo
TV Tokyo's "Dawn of Gaia" celebrates Chanel Japan's secret weapon: French CEO Richard Kuras

In fact, "success" is a pale word to describe the French company's business achievements in Japan. Last year, as consumer products continued to take a beating, Chanel posted a 20 percent increase in sales, and this for so-called luxury goods (pret-a-porter outfits will still set you back a cool 500,000 yen). Legend has it that Chanel's strength can either be explained by its bulletproof "brand power" or a secret marketing strategy that is planned down to the finest detail.

As the Gaia crew finds out, however, Chanel Japan's secret weapon is really its French CEO, Richard Kuras, a man who possesses an intimate understanding of both Chanel's traditional appeal and the Japanese market.

What people may not know is that Chanel's sales in Japan actually did drop off in the late '90s. Kuras' remedial strategy ran counter to what many people believe is Chanel's unique advantage, namely its high-end image. Kuras felt that the drop in sales reflected a feeling that the brand had become too snobbish.

His strategy, which the program describes as a "revolution," was to bring Chanel down to earth, to "lower the threshold" that separated the average consumer from the company's products. This strategy included promotional tieups with media that weren't ostensibly fashion-oriented and inviting nonindustry people to fashion shows. As a result, other high-end foreign fashion companies, such as Hermes and Coach, have been carried along in Chanel's profitable wake.

Two of Japanese literature's most enduring heroes are reunited on the small screen in the TBS mystery "Akechi Kogoro vs. Kaijin Nijumenso" (Tuesday, 9 p.m.).

Both characters were featured in a series of detective stories for boys written by Japan's master of mystery, Edogawa Rampo (say the name out loud and you will learn which American writer he takes after). Akechi, the detective, represents law and order, while the master of disguise, Kaijin (Nijumenso means "20 faces"), fronts the darker side.

Kaijin's specialty is fine art and jewelry, and this week the arena for his battle with the great detective is Japan's National Museum in Ueno. Someone at the museum discovers a letter declaring that all the national treasures contained therein will be stolen on a certain day. Akechi and Lt. Nakamura (Shiro Ito) wait at the museum at the appointed time, but right under their noses all the treasures are indeed snatched.

Akechi's assistant, Kobayashi, and a friend follow a lead to a circus that features a famous magician, and during a performance, the magician makes the friend disappear . . . literally. While searching for him backstage, Kobayashi comes across the magician's beautiful assistant, Fumiyo (Rie Miyazawa), who has been locked in the tiger's cage.

The all-star cast is headed by eternal heartthrob Masakazu Tamura as Akechi and eternal bad boy Beat Takeshi as Kaijin. Nondramatic bonuses include the first time Tamura has ever worn a hat in his 40 years as an actor, and the first time the National Museum has ever allowed a crew to use its premises for location shooting.

This week, NHK will present its annual summer helping of classic films by the late Akira Kurosawa, all on its BS-2 station. On Thursday at 8 p.m., it's "Throne of Blood," the master's 1957 rendition of "Macbeth," which British director Peter Brook once called the best film version of Shakespeare ever made. "Kagemusha," the lavish 1980 historical epic produced by Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas, will air Friday night at 8 p.m. A rare screening of Kurosawa's pre-Mifune 1945 adaptation of a well-known Kabuki tale, "The Men Who Tread on the Tiger's Tail," will be shown Saturday morning at 11:05. And that night at 10:15, NHK will broadcast "High and Low," Kurosawa's 1963 version of an Ed McBain thriller filtered through the sensibility of Dostoevsky.

As a prelude to these four films, there will be a special documentary on the life and work of Kurosawa on Wednesday at 8 p.m. The documentary will include interviews with people who worked with Kurosawa, as well as comments from famous international directors and opinion-makers on the influence the "Emperor" had on their lives and work.

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