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Sunday, June 29, 2003

CHANNEL SURF

Those were the days

Part of comedian Beat Takeshi's appeal is his down-to-earth image, which was boosted in the '80s by a famous NHK drama series about his childhood -- growing up in the shitamachi area of Tokyo in the '50s. The series epitomized the sentimental memory of postwar domesticity: an artisan father who's an irresponsible drunken lout and a strong-willed mother who sacrifices everything for her children.

This week, Asahi TV launches "Kikujiro and Saki" (Thursday, 9 p.m.), a new 10-part version of the drama series, with Takenori Jinnai as Takeshi's house-painter father, Kikujiro, and Shigeru Muroi as the mother, Saki.

In the opening episode, eldest son Shigekazu (Toshiki Kashu) wants to bring his new girlfriend home, but doesn't want his father to be there when he does. Saki tells him to do it while Kikujiro is at work, but the girlfriend insists on meeting the man of the house.


Growing up is also the theme of another new drama series that starts this week, the suspiciously titled "Stand Up!" (TBS, Friday, 10 p.m.), which is about four high-school students who, embarrassed that they are still virgins, are determined to have their first sexual experience over the course of the summer. Comparisons to "American Pie" are inevitable, but, considering that the lead character is played by Kazunari Ninomiya, a member of the idol pop group Arashi, which is managed by image-obsessed Johnny's Jimusho (SMAP, Kinki Kids, Tokio), salaciousness will likely be kept to a minimum.

The four best friends who enter on this "adventure" are all quite good-looking, but their failure to make it with girls is mostly due to their awkwardness. Female classmates tend to make fun of them. In the opening episode, a girl named Chie, whom everyone had a crush on 11 years earlier before she moved to another town, suddenly returns. The four pals are shocked by the change in her.


Though the rest of the world sees them as refugees, the desperate people who flee persecution and starvation in North Korea are called, in China, "escapees" (dappokusha), a semantic nicety that allows the Chinese authorities to send them back rather than give them sanctuary, which the United Nations says China should do since these people surely face imprisonment and probably death back in North Korea.

For the past 10 years, video journalist Jiro Ishimaru has covered the refugees who live illegally along the China-North Korea border. Ishimaru himself has sneaked back and forth over the border, interviewing people who have escaped or who were planning to escape. He has lived with many refugees for weeks at a time and has gotten to know them intimately.

On June 29, NHK's "BS Prime Time" (BS-1, 10 p.m.) will broadcast Ishimaru's latest reports from the refugee frontier, where he recently revisited several people he had covered in the past in order to see how they have got by since then. One thing he has discovered among recent refugees is a greater willingness to denounce the dictatorship of North Korea. In the past, people simply said they fled because they didn't have any food.

Among the people Ishimaru interviews is a family who have been continually on the move for years and who are now living in a mountainous area of China. Another is a young girl who was left in China by herself after her mother was caught and sent back. He also talks to several families who left Japan for North Korea in the 1960s, and who have since defected and are now living in South Korea.



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