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Sunday, Nov. 10, 2002

CHANNEL SURF

Clueing in on death, crime and happiness

The three dominant themes of this season's crop of drama series are detectives, fathers and hospitals, all of which can be found in this week's "Monday Mystery Theatre" (TBS, 9 p.m.). In "The Man Who Pursues the Truth," a brilliant surgeon investigates the death of a man who, like himself, lost a daughter under mysterious circumstances.

Dr. Jinguji (Nenji Kobayashi) is one of the most famous heart surgeons in the world. His life is turned upside-down after his daughter falls out of a window. Despite all his surgical efforts, he cannot save her. Deeply depressed, the doctor gives up medicine and becomes obsessed with finding out why she fell. He doesn't believe the police, who conclude that the death was an accident.

A year later, he attends a memorial ceremony for one of his medical mentors and meets a man whose own daughter also died under mysterious circumstances. One night, the man is rushed to the hospital complaining of severe abdominal pain. He is diagnosed with an acute ulcer and admitted to the hospital for routine treatment. But the next day, the hospital calls his family and says that he died during the night. Dr. Jinguji, thinking it strange that someone suffering from an ulcer would die under hospital care, decides to become involved in the case from a medical standpoint. When he studies the dead man's medical charts, he discovers some disturbing things.

The drama draws on themes of medical malpractice that have lately been a hot topic in the news.

Detective work is also the topic of this week's installment of "Suisupe (Wednesday Special)" (Asahi TV, 7 p.m.), the new variety show whose host and theme change every week. This week's host is Beat Takeshi and the theme is forensics.

Focusing on the scientific technology that is now used in criminal investigations, Takeshi and a group of celebrity guests look at several real-life cases that might have gone unsolved if it weren't for cutting-edge techniques in forensics.

A former FBI agent is on hand to relate a particularly bizarre case that took place in 1992 in Oklahoma City. A 27-year-old man called the police and reported his 42-year-old wife missing. The detective in charge of the case found the man's statements and behavior slightly odd, but he could not uncover any real evidence that pointed to foul play, especially given that they couldn't find the woman, either dead or alive. However, the detective was eventually able to gain entrance to the couple's house itself and, thanks to a combination of insight and technical knowhow, he managed to uncover what could have been the perfect crime.

During the recounting of this and other true tales, Takeshi and his guests carry out scientific experiments in the studio that correspond with the forensic data related in the stories. They also try to solve the mysteries themselves through powers of deduction.

Yoji Yamada is mainly famous for directing the "Otoko wa Tsurai yo (It's Tough Being a Man)" series, otherwise known as the Tora-san movies, which still holds the world record as the longest feature film series in the history of international cinema. But Yamada has directed many other movies. One of his most beloved is the late '70s melodrama, "Shiawase no Kiiroi Hankachi (The Yellow Handkerchief of Happiness)," which starred Ken Takakura as a convict who is uncertain whether his family will take him back after his release from prison. The "yellow ribbon" of the old Tony Orlando song is here replaced by yellow handkerchiefs, which symbolize forgiveness and reconciliation.

The movie takes place in the town of Yubari in Hokkaido. When the movie was made, Yubari was a mining town, but since then the mine has closed down, and the locals have turned to melon farming and movie promotion (The Yubari Fantastic Film Festival) for income.

Yamada's movie was filmed on location and the house that was used in the film has since become a tourist attraction. Over the past 25 years, visitors have left a veritable mountain of yellow pieces of paper inside the house. Each slip contains "a bit of happiness," something that the writer values spiritually.

On this week's "NHK Special" (NHK-G, Saturday, 9 p.m.) Yamada will read from a selection of these yellow slips of paper and discuss how people's conception of happiness has changed since he made his movie.



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