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Sunday, Jan. 19, 2003


Regaining control isn't always easy

SMAP's golden boy, Takuya Kimura, may have lost some of his sexual luster since becoming a husband and a father, but he's still a viewer magnet when it comes to trendy dramas. Having been shoehorned into a number of unlikely professions in past series (architect, classical pianist, thief, prosecutor), no one is going to blink when they see him in a pilot's uniform on "Good Luck" (TBS; Sunday, 9 p.m.), which premieres Jan. 19. It's especially unsurprising considering that SMAP is the official spokesgroup for All-Nippon Airways.

Kimutaku's character, Hajime Shinkai, is a copilot, and his gig is the Honolulu-Narita run. During a flight from there to here, however, the captain is suddenly taken ill, and Shinkai is forced to take over the controls. The landing is a rough one, but Shinkai has averted disaster with his quick thinking.

He leaves the airplane feeling pretty good, only to overhear a young, female mechanic named Ayumi (Ko Shibazaki) comment that the landing "was a pretty bad example of flying." But the worst is yet to come. Shinkai's supervisor, Kazuki Koda (Shinichi Tsutsumi), reprimands the young copilot, saying that he has not been certified to land a plane and therefore was not authorized to assume control as he did. Shinkai is placed under administrative investigation.

Shinkai seeks solace from Noriko (Hitomi Kuroki), a veteran cabin attendant and his best friend. The young copilot's tribulations will continue in the weeks ahead, but the series has its lighter side as well. For one thing, it will explore the lives of young flight attendants, whose goal in life seems to be to snag pilots as husbands.

Last year, more than 30,000 Japanese people committed suicide, which is about triple the number who died in automobile accidents. The number of suicides has remained above 30,000 since jumping sharply in 1998, a change that is being blamed on the ongoing recession. A good portion the figures is made up of men who have lost their jobs and leave behind families. Consequently, the increase is considered by many to be a social problem. However, suicides are completely the concern of the police. There is no government bureaucracy charged with studying the matter and relating it to social welfare.

For that reason, several nongovernmental organizations have taken it upon themselves to tackle the problem of suicide and its aftermath. This week, NHK's "Human Document" (NHK-G, Thursday, 9:15 p.m.) looks at one case, a 20-year-old boy named Hideki Inoue, whose father committed suicide when he was in junior high school. The death has continued to haunt Inoue, who for years blamed himself. "Why didn't I recognize my father's despair?" he says on camera. "What could I have done to prevent him from killing himself?"

For years, he was unable to talk to anyone, even his own family, about his guilt and sadness. Then he attended an overnight camp with other children who have lost parents to suicide, and by discussing his feelings with people in the same situation was able to come to terms with those feelings. The camp was organized by an NGO called Ashinaga Ikueikai, which means Long-Legs Scholarship Society. In this case "long-legs" refers to adults or guardians. Originally, the society helped children who lost fathers to disease or accidents with monetary assistance for education, but over the years it has also become a kind of spiritual support group for any young person who has lost a parent.

The documentary followed Inoue for a year, during which he also counseled other young people whose fathers had committed suicide.

Kabuki is considered one of the great national art forms of Japan, and as such it has a reputation among young people as being difficult and boring. However, kabuki was and is an art that is aimed at common people. Plays are written and staged for maximum entertainment value, and all the hallowed trademarks of kabuki are meant to make it more accessible to the average theatergoer, not less so.

This week, on "Geijutsu ni Koishite (Fall in Love with the Arts)" (TV Tokyo; Friday, 10 p.m.), superstar kabuki actor Nakamura Kankuro will give a nuts-and-bolts introduction to kabuki in plain language, including:

*A tour of the 100-year-old Kabukiza theater in Ginza.

*An explanation of the stage and sets, which feature a trapdoor/platform (seri) and a catwalk (hanamichi) whose purpose is to bring the actors closer to the audience.

*A demonstration and explication of all the gestures, which are purposely exaggerated to focus attention on the actor, just like a closeup in the movies.

*An explanation of the white makeup, which was once necessary because there was no lighting.

*A history of the art, including the definition of "kabuki," which comes from the word "kabuku," meaning "anything goes."

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