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Sunday, Jan. 12, 2003

CHANNEL SURF

Living on the edge and acting the part

There's an article in the current issue of Shukan Bunshun lambasting the "foolishness of no-talent celebrities" on all those overblown New Year's TV specials. But what's more annoying than the specials themselves is that they pre-empted the few shows that were worth watching, like "The Tetsuwan Dash!" (Nippon TV; Dec. 12, 6:55 p.m.), which took three weeks off right in the middle of some of Tokio's most compelling projects.

Tokio is, of course, the all-male idol singing group whose members are the stars of "Dash." They neither sing nor dance on the show, but instead carry out real-life projects. One of their current projects is building and operating a solar car.

Last year, the boys took a simple light van and outfitted it with a battery-operated motor and a solar panel. They did all the work themselves, including wiring and refitting the transmission. They tested the vehicle in a closed environment and fine-tuned it. Finally, they applied for a special solar-powered car license and registered the vehicle.

The final test is a hito-fude (one brush-stroke) tour of Honshu, which means an unbroken journey around the edge of the main island. Driving in shifts of two, Tokio's five members will drive their solar car along the coast of Japan, trying to stay as close to the ocean as possible. Two months ago, they embarked from Harumi in Tokyo, and as of the last episode in December, they still hadn't gotten out of Chiba Prefecture. Staying close to the beach means driving on hills and unpaved narrow roads, and sometimes even in sand. Since sunshine is required to make the car run, cloudy weather only slows them down. The big question for this week's installment is: Will they finally make it into Ibaraki Prefecture?

Also on this week's show, Tokio will unpack the miso (soybean paste) they made a year ago using ingredients (rice, wheat, soybeans) they grew themselves on the Dash-mura farm. Miso needs to ferment for a long period under specific conditions, and the difficulty was in providing those conditions without artificial means, such as refrigeration.

Most people have an idea what the word "Eurasia" means, even if they might differ on what, exactly, it represents geographically. NHK defines it as the nexus between the two component continents, covering the Middle East and Central Asia. This week's "NHK Special" (NHK-G; Jan. 12, 9 p.m.) takes a meandering journey through the five countries that form the heart of Eurasia as a means of exploring the lives of many of its inhabitants who are not necessarily defined by nationality. Nomads, traveling merchants, religious pilgrims and other rootless peoples comprise a large portion of the area's population, a situation that current news stories -- which are obsessed with the region -- tend to overlook.

Iraq, for example, freely allows religious pilgrims to enter the country, though NHK finds that fewer are taking advantage of this freedom due to the threat of war. Turkey is caught in a sociopolitical bind. Many of the country's leaders want to join the European Union, while others feel it is more urgent to strengthen the central government's relationship with Turkish-speaking separatist tribes and other Muslim groups. Iran, despite its label as part of President George W. Bush's "axis of evil," is making a concerted effort to stabilize the entire region around it. Afghanistan, of course, seems to have become a permanent homeland of refugees, while Pakistan struggles with fundamentalism.

Though Monta Mino is the most ubiquitous personality on television, his job description is limited: He's an MC and nothing more. On Wednesday at 8:54 p.m., however -- the only day of the week, by the way, that he doesn't currently host a prime-time variety show -- he'll make one of his rare forays into acting, on TV Tokyo's "Women and Love and Mystery."

Mino plays Inspector Minoya, a Tokyo police detective who also happens to be an inveterate gambler. Widowed, he lives with his daughter, Yoko, and plays the ponies whenever he has the chance. As it so happens, a housewife named Natsuko is found murdered in Oi, which is not far from one of Tokyo's main racetracks. Minoya and his rookie assistant, Hori, investigate but find nothing helpful.

Then, Minoya learns that one of his racetrack buddies, Okazaki, has committed suicide. He attends the funeral, which also happens to be in Oi, and meets Okazaki's daughter, who, it turns out, was a classmate of the murdered Natsuko. She tells the detective that Natsuko was being blackmailed, and a few days later the plot thickens when another classmate is found dead.



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