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Sunday, Sept. 15, 2002


It's time for family feuds!

The inter-season "specials" period is in full swing, and this week there appears to be more than the usual number of variety programs dedicated to dysfunctional families. If you're into this type of thing, which usually involves cameras invading homes where husbands and wives fight, kids fight or in-laws fight, you'll have plenty to choose from.

Monday night at 7 p.m., TV Tokyo presents another "Joho Spirits (Information Spirits)" special about large families, hosted by Kazuo Tokumitsu. As usual, all the families have problems, and some, it would seem, are quite serious.

In one segment, a camera crew drops in on the reunion of a clan of nine whose problems became so intractable they had to split up into various smaller units. This will be the first time the whole family has been together in six months. All the family's problems stem from extreme penny-pinching, but the reunion is meant to be the beginning of a reconciliation.

Another segment profiles a family of 13 who run a traveling vaudeville show and looks at all the hardships that such a life imposes on children who can't go to school the way normal kids do.

In the weirdest report, a crew follows quadruplet siblings on their first day of elementary school and then sticks around as they hang out at home unsupervised and cause all sorts of trouble.

At the exact same time, TV Asahi will present "Grand Couple Battle-Live," a title that's pretty self-explanatory. Using fly-on-the-wall cameras and mics, the program lets viewers in on the marital problems of average folk. The first part is about a husband who is not only irrationally jealous, but spoiled and immature to boot.

In another, a serious research scientist is shown to be a monster at home, exhibiting bizarre behavior whenever he's in close proximity to his wife. In the last episode, an eternally straying husband returns to home and hearth once again to beg forgiveness from his ever-suffering spouse. Will she take him back for the umpteenth time?

Domestic problems are dealt with a little more responsibly on "Let's Have a Family Meeting," hosted by Masahiro Nakai (TBS, Wednesday, 9 p.m.). Broadcast twice a year, these specials, which started in 1999, feature the SMAP leader convening a conference of normal people with grievances as a means of explaining the source of their discontent and coming up with possible solutions. Unlike most variety shows of this ilk, the discussions are not played for laughs.

Among the topics discussed are problem marriages, parent-child conflicts, adolescent rebelliousness, the secret lives of teenagers and social problems as reflected in domestic strife.

The overall theme of this season's discussion is the "importance of life," which may sound self-evident but, in terms of the special guests, takes on real meaning. The studio will be filled with young people who cannot control their frustration and rage, and who admit openly that they harbor a very real desire to strike out and kill someone.

Nakai, a bunch of celebrities and the studio guests will discuss exactly how and why such extreme feelings of violence manifest themselves, and professional counselors will offer advice. In addition, case studies will be presented.

In 1997, director Kon Ichikawa's dark comedy "Kuroi Junin no Onna (Ten Black Women)," was revived as a midnight show at the Cine Saison theater in Shibuya and became a huge hit. What was surprising about the film's popularity was that when it was originally released in 1961, it bombed big time, despite the fact that Ichikawa was already an established big-name director (though, granted, the movie was unlike any he'd ever done) and the cast included many of Japan's top actresses.

Set in the then brave new world of television, the story revolved around a selfish married TV producer who conducts ongoing affairs with nine different women, practically simultaneously. After a certain amount of bickering among themselves, the nine mistresses, along with the wife, decide to knock the guy off. Their hatred of the jerk, however, has less to do with his superhuman philandering than with his superhuman ability to avoid giving a straight answer about anything. The wronged women cover a wide range of occupations, including actress, waitress, announcer and assistant director.

A Fuji TV producer saw the movie when it played at Cine Saison and decided it would make the perfect TV movie. He contacted the 86-year-old Ichikawa for permission to remake it, and was shocked when the master not only gave his blessing, but also offered to direct it himself.

Needless to say, the TV version of "Kuroi Junin no Onna" (Fuji, Satuday, 9 p.m.) will feature many of the most popular young actresses of today, though it remains to be seen if they can perform up to the level of the great stars who were in the original. The production will also give viewers a chance to look behind the scenes of the traditionally back-stabbing TV industry, which, according to all reports, hasn't changed one bit since 1961.

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