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Sunday, April 13, 2003

CHANNEL SURF

New heroines: women at work

The spring television season has arrived, and with it a new crop of dramas. Most of the leading characters are women, but whereas heroines once meant romance or family themes, this year the theme is work.

"Tokyo Love Cinema" (Fuji TV) premieres this Monday at 9 p.m. with a special 69-minute opener. Naomi Zaizen plays Haruko, an employee of one of Japan's major movie distribution companies. In the first episode, she travels to an international film festival and successfully acquires a number of major movies for the Japanese market. However, later, in a corporate reshuffle, she's transferred to the "mini-theater" department (a Japanese word best represented by the English term "art house," meaning movie theaters that don't play major Hollywood movies) department, a move that she interprets as a demotion.

On her birthday, she dejectedly goes by herself to a mini-theater to take in a movie and there runs into Masaki (Yosuke Eguchi), who runs a very small film distribution company that happens to have its office in the same building where Haruko's company is headquartered. Masaki's company, however, is on the verge of bankruptcy, and he's bet everything he has on a small Turkish film he acquired at the same film festival where Haruko made her big deals.


"Marusa" (Fuji; Tuesday, 10:15 p.m.) gets its theme and its comic tone from the late Juzo Itami's 1987 film, "Maruso no Onna (A Taxing Woman)," about a relentless female investigator for the National Tax Bureau.

Each episode of "Marusa" is a self-contained story. Makiko Esumi plays Kaneko, an employee of the No. 3 Tax Inspection Division, which has the bureau's worst record in the bureau for catching tax evaders. Part of the problem is Kaneko's ineptitude, but mostly it has to do with the fact that her supervisor, an "elite" career-track bureaucrat, worries more about his promotion than about doing his job. In any case, the morale in the division is noticeably low.

The series' premise is that everyone evades taxes, or at least wants to. In this week's episode, Kaneko goes undercover to investigate a well-known cosmetic surgeon who seems to be underreporting her income. Kaneko learns that a famous and successful talent agency president has been making frequent visits to the clinic during non-business hours. Based on the data she collects, the tax investigator concludes that the president is bringing potential "idol" singers to the clinic for plastic surgery before their debut and then paying the surgeon money under the table to keep her mouth shut and the account books free of his name.


Traditionally, an okami is the wife of an important man who often runs his business for him. It's mainly used for women who run Japanese inns, and over the past 30 years or so, with the proliferation of TV travel programs, okami have become superstars in their own right; so much so, that there are now okami schools where young women can learn how to manage Japanese inns. In the past, a woman had to marry into an inn-owning family and receive instruction from her mother-in-law.

One such fictional okami school is the setting for "Okami ni Narimasu," which is NHK's new nightly 15-minute serial. (NHK-G, Monday-Thursday, 11 p.m.) Noriko Sakai plays Natsuko, a young okami hopeful who has cleared her preliminary hurdles and is now installed with 12 other junior okami at a famous inn called Sansuikaku where they are receiving on-the-job training.

In this week's episode, the series' third, Natsuko and her pal Yuka successfully pass the grueling test for laying out and putting away bedding for guests. And when Natsuko receives good marks from the head cook an important friendship is formed.

However, during the trainees' day off, Natsuko visits the nearby town and hears a rumor that Sansuikaku is having serious financial problems and may go under.



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