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Sunday, Oct. 20, 2002


Apartment woes, life-or-death crises demystified

As proved by the Japanese government's successful lobbying efforts to retain the "Sea of Japan" on international maps to signify the body of water that separates the archipelago from the Korean Peninsula (South Korea wanted to change it to the "East Sea"), the Sea of Japan has an important value to all Japanese. However, the western coast of Japan itself has a very dark, depressing image that is influenced by the generally overcast conditions one finds there year-round. Historically, it is also an area that tends to be associated with tragedy (most of the North Korean abductions took place there).

For that reason, the Sea of Japan coast is second only to Kyoto among favorite settings for Japanese murder mysteries, and this week, two new suspense dramas, both written by Takuya Nishioka, will be broadcast on two different TV networks.

This week's "Monday Mystery Theatre" (TBS, 9 p.m.) will present the ninth installment of Nishioka's "Manbiki G-Men Nikaido Yuki," which follows the adventures of a female security guard named Yuki Nikaido (Nana Kinomi). This time, Nikaido is dispatched to the hot-spring resort town of Wakura, Kanazawa Prefecture, where a large food market has been plagued by a rise in shoplifting. While Nikaido is there making a study of the problem, a corpse is found floating in the sea near the town, and her investigation ties the shoplifting incidents to a contentious divorce.

Then, on TV Tokyo's "Women and Love and Mystery" series (Wed. 8:54 p.m.), Nishioka presents another of his popular female detective characters, freelance writer Tetsuko Naruse (Shigeru Muroi). In "The Hot-Spring Maid Murder Investigation," Naruse is hired to work undercover at the Unazuki Grand Hotel to find out why the hotel has been named the No. 1 hotel five years running in a survey of Japanese travel magazines.

Apparently, the owner of the No. 2 hotel, who hired Naruse, believes the secret has to do with the famously charismatic okami (female owner) of the Unazuki Grand Hotel. Naruse is to act like a normal guest in order to try and find out the okami's secret, but no matter how hard she attempts to annoy her with her willful requests, the okami is always gracious. So Naruse starts making friends with the maids and finds out that no one in the hotel knows anything about the okami's private life. And then, a famous guest of the hotel is found murdered nearby. And then another . . .

As almost every foreigner who has lived in Japan for any length of time knows, the country's biggest social problem is lack of decent, affordable housing. But do the Japanese themselves know this? Since Japanese people grow up in such a residential environment, they don't always have anything else to compare it with, which is why foreigners' complaints about cramped, substandard apartments and houses often fall on deaf ears.

On this week's "Daikaizo! Gekiteki Before/After," TV Tokyo's popular housing reform show (Oct. 20, 7:58 p.m.), the producers take a break from re-creating private homes and take a stab at something much more difficult: a rental apartment. And not just your normal rental apartment, but a rental apartment occupied by a man from South Africa who stands 193 cm tall.

Mr. G is married to a Japanese woman. The couple and their two children live in a 2DK apartment in a town in Nagano Prefecture. Due to his height and bulk, Mr. G has trouble moving from one room to another and often bumps into the tops of doorways and ceiling beams. He is constantly stooping. Even worse, he can never stand up straight while taking a shower. Two months after moving into the apartment, Mr. G developed serious back problems and now suffers from depression as well.

A father-daughter team of designer-reformers are brought in to figure out a way to make the apartment more comfortable for Mr. G. Their main obstacle, however, is not altogether a physical one. Since the dwelling is a rental unit, there are limitations on how much they can reform.

Among the celebrity guests commenting on the reform process is gaijin tarento Thane Camus, who will enlighten the other guests about the problems foreigners have with Japanese housing.

Fuji TV's brand-new series "Kiki Ippatsu SOS (Crisis Happening SOS)" (Mon. 7 p.m.) takes the well-worn variety format and adapts it to a topic that, for once, is not frivolous: What to do in life-threatening emergencies.

Hosted by the most ubiquitous man on TV, Monta Mino, the show addresses a specific crisis each week. On the opening program, it was major earthquakes, specifically when they strike commercial areas of large cities. Mino presents a dangerous scenario and asks the studio celebrities which course of action they would take. Then each course of action is analyzed by an expert. Most of the answers turn out to be fatal ones. The point of the show is that, in such life-or-death situations, people have no time to weigh their options. They must make split-second decisions, and the program's explanations provide viewers with the best options.

This week, the subject is fire in the home. Most fire deaths in the home are the result of clothing catching fire. It only takes a few seconds for a person to turn into a torch once a shirttail comes into contact with an open flame.

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