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Sunday, May 25, 2003


The boy bachelor

Last week, the National Tax Bureau released its annual list of the country's top tax-payers, and at the summit of the pile of show business personalities was Masahiro Nakai, the self-effacing leader of the boy group SMAP. Nakai's high salary is easy to understand: He appears in at least a half-dozen TV commercials and is the host of three very popular variety shows.

This week, he adds a fourth show to that list, "Wakachuki" (Nippon TV; Sundays, 10:30 p.m.), which is a revival of a show that Nakai and his co-host, veteran announcer Hitoshi Kusano, appeared in several years ago. The new version's title is a kind of contraction of the earlier series' title, which was "Wakarete mo Chuki-na Hito (The Person I Still Love, Though We Broke Up)." The use of the baby word chuki for the more standard suki gives a good indication of the program's tone. The concept is dead simple. Nakai and Kusano interview "unique" couples who either talk about their relationship problems or relate funny, bizarre or salacious details about their love life.

However, the subtext of the new version is apparently the program's main selling point. Throughout their interviews, Nakai and Kusano take on an almost adversarial relationship. Kusano, in effect, is always trying to sell marriage as a sacred and beautiful institution to perennial bachelor Nakai. In publicity interviews for the show Nakai has said that he has "no intention of marrying, or, at least, no intention until I'm, say, 40." (He's now 31.) He also says he "prefers living alone." Nakai, in fact, cultivates this confirmed bachelor image on other programs, especially "Kin-suma," his Friday night variety show where he mostly berates young women for their tastes and habits.

This week's Tuesday night installment of the popular NHK modern history series, "Project X" (NHK-G, 9:15 p.m.), will focus on the work of Masatoshi Koshiba, the Tokyo University professor who won the Nobel Prize for Physics last year.

Since time immemorial, scientists have searched for the smallest element in the universe. Most physicists believe that the smallest particle is something called a neutrino, which is so tiny that it cannot be perceived by any sort of conventional means. It is believed that neutrinos pass freely through the Earth and human bodies, which is why it is often referred to as a "ghost" particle.

In July 1983, Koshiba and his colleagues began an extremely ambitious project to prove the existence of neutrinos. In order to filter out as much radiation and interference from the universe as possible, they dug 1,000 meters into the Earth through an abandoned mine in Kamioka, Gifu Prefecture. The density of the rock they encountered in the mountain was five times denser than concrete.

Underground, they built the Kamiokande facility. With 1,050 individual photon sensors, it is the largest such facility ever made. For 3 1/2 years they waited for something to register, and in February 1987, Koshiba, about to retire from the university, was ready to give up. And then . . .

It has been 10 years since the two halves of Germany reunited and more than 13 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall. This week, NHK's documentary series "BS Prime Time" (BS1, Sat., 10 p.m.) looks at the current state of the restored capital of Germany as part of its ongoing series of profiles of the world's great cities.

Berlin is still plagued by unemployment, which can reach as high as 20 percent. Free enterprise did not suit the majority of East German companies after reunification, and most have gone belly up since then. In addition, migration into more affluent areas have left less affluent areas even more desolate and dilapidated than they were before the Wall came down. Consequently, the tax base continues to drop.

However, the most intractable problem facing the government is the more than 30,000 lawsuits that have been filed since reunification by citizens who want to reclaim property confiscated by the former East German government. During the Socialist era, whenever an East German defected or otherwise escaped to the West, his or her property was taken by the East German government and given to someone else. Since the fall of the Wall, the original owners have gone to court to sue the present residents in order to repossess that property.

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