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Sunday, Nov. 24, 2002

CHANNEL SURF

Some downright formulaic viewing

As sports go, you can't get more specialized than Formula 1 racing. Built completely around machines, it is a team endeavor that goes beyond pit crews to embrace entire engineering staffs and, theoretically, whole automotive companies.

The idea behind F-1 racing is both very simple and very expensive: to create the fastest car in the world. Toyota, Japan's biggest car company, had not participated in the sweepstakes until this past year. The reason for the sudden interest is a desire to finally enter the European market in a big way. Other Japanese car companies, mainly Nissan, have successfully made inroads into the continent, but Toyota has concentrated on the domestic and American markets. F-1 is as much about PR as it is about sport or technology, and Europe is where the races get the most attention. Toyota's main purpose in becoming an F-1 contender is to boost its brand image and, eventually, increase its European market share.

Since the goal is to come up with cutting-edge technologies that will win races more often, it is generally assumed by companies entering the fray that cost is no object. Toyota established its F-1 project base in Cologne, Germany, and hired the best European engineers it could find, technicians who already had lots of experience in F-1.

On Nov. 24 at 9 p.m., NHK-G will present a special documentary about Toyota's first season on the F-1 circuit, which started in August at the Hungary Grand Prix and ended last month at the Japan Grand Prix. Though Toyota's automotive technology is second to none, F-1 is an entirely different species of engine, and the difficulty lies in combining the company's current technical knowhow with the experience of the new European staff. Among the issues they tackle are increasing engine power and reducing air resistance on the body.

The human half of F-1 racing is the driver, and on Friday night at 1:15 a.m., NHK-G will present a 75-minute profile of Takuma Sato, one of the newer drivers on the Formula 1 circuit.

Operating F-1 cars is much more difficult than driving stock cars or other racing vehicles. Speeds can often exceed 300 kph, so an F-1 driver needs a cool head, split-second reflexes and exceptional decision-making abilities. He must also understand his limits completely, since the slightest mistake could mean millions of dollars down the drain (not to mention nasty injuries and even death).

Sato first decided he wanted to be a race driver when he was in elementary school and saw the late Ayrton Senna race. Ever since that day he has worked toward his dream on a step-by-step basis. In order to condition himself physically for the hardships of racing, he became a professional bicycle racer and eventually competed internationally. He then moved into automotive racing and last year was the FF3 champion in the U.K. This past year, he finally received his qualification to be an F-1 driver, an amazing achievement for a 25-year-old considering that only 22 people in the world are presently qualified to drive F-1 cars.

NHK looks at Sato's first season, which, not surprisingly, was characterized more by heartbreak than by victory. Winning in Formula 1 means accumulating points in each race, but as Sato found out, just completing a race is extremely difficult. In addition to showing how Sato prepares physically and psychologically for competition, it also gets up close and personal with the glamorous side of the sport. As mentioned above, PR is a major part of F-1 racing, and drivers have to attend a lot of parties and celebrity wingdings.

The Suntory Mystery Award is given out every year to an unpublished mystery novel. The winner not only receives a hefty cash prize, but has their novel published and then dramatized for television. On Saturday at 9 p.m., a drama based on the 19th award-winning novel, "Kotori (Child-stealing)," will be aired on TV Asahi. The author, Rui Umitsuki, will also appear in the drama in a cameo role as a piano teacher.

The plot is actually two stories that eventually merge. In the first one, Junko (Nagisa Katahira), a nurse who works in an obstetrics/gynecology clinic, is repeatedly harassed by a pharmaceutical salesman named Minegishi (Kazuhiko Nishimura). Apparently, Minegishi knows about a dark incident in Junko's past and means to blackmail her. His demand is that Junko perform an abortion on his girlfriend. At first Junko resists, but Minegishi's persistence and threats become too much for her to bear.

In the second story, a woman named Mitsuko (Chizuru Azuma) is finding it impossible to become pregnant. She is the bride of the eldest son of one of Kyoto's most prominent families, and her mother-in-law, the leader of the clan, is becoming desperate. An heir must be guaranteed, and she announces to the family that her son will be forced to divorce Mitsuko if she cannot produce one. On the day after the announcement, Mitsuko tells everyone that she is pregnant. Naturally, her husband is suspicious, but the truth is even stranger than anything he could imagine.



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