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Sunday, July 13, 2003

Channel surf

Few occupations are as clearly defined as that of a war photographer: You go into the thick of battle and take pictures. Ever since the Spanish Civil War, when Robert Capa captured the moment when a soldier actually caught a bullet, the job of photographing war has meant putting death on film.

Consequently, it takes a special kind of person to be a war photographer, and not just in terms of craft. Taizo Ichinose, who several years ago was portrayed by Tadanobu Asano in a movie version of his life, became a photographer for the Tokyo bureau of UPI in 1970, and then went freelance two years later. In 1972 and 1973, he covered wars in Vietnam, Bangladesh and Cambodia. While in Cambodia, he wrote that he wanted to take pictures of Angkor Wat, then occupied by the Khmer Rouge. He added, "I don't know where the land mines are. I am just going to walk there using the most direct route." He was never heard from again. He was 26.

During his very brief career, Ichinose's pictures appeared in many major newspapers in the world, including The Washington Post. His parents declared him officially dead in 1982, and several years ago they set about trying to develop a roll of film that he shot in Vietnam but which was never processed because a bullet had passed through the camera, destroying it. Ichinose left the camera, which he called his favorite, with his parents for safe-keeping, and recently they were successful in extracting the film and printing the pictures. Last year, Ichinose's 81-year-old mother published a book containing pictures from the roll of film. On July 13 at 12:25 a.m., the Nippon TV program "Document 03" will present these photographs and the story behind them, 30 years after they were taken.

Writer Takuji Ichikawa started posting installments of a fantasy story on the Internet in 1999. It is estimated that more than 120,000 people, alerted by word-of-mouth, read the story, and last year it was published in book form under the title "Separation."

This summer, Nippon TV is presenting a TV serial version of the story, but they've changed the title to "14 Months" (Monday, 10 p.m.). Saki Takaoka stars as Yuko, a newscaster who was once very popular, but sees her popularity wane after she goes freelance. Now, on the eve of her 35th birthday, she gets the feeling she's washed up. She lives with Satoru (Shunsuke Nakamura), a shy, bespectacled apprentice cook who is 10 years her junior.

In the first episode, which was broadcast last week, Yuko discovered that she was pregnant. She also met a 10-year-old girl named Natsuki, who claims to be the daughter of Natsu, who used to be Yuko's best friend. Natsuki gives Yuko a newly developed potion that restores her youth.

In this week's episode, Yuko takes the potion and her new vitality is immediately noticed by everyone. It seems her career might not be over after all. However, Satoru finds out that Natsuki is not, in fact, Natsu's daughter, but Natsu herself. She tells Satoru that she became 10 years old again by continuing to drink the potion. Satoru tries to warn Yuko not to drink any more of the potion, but it's too late.

As part of its 50th anniversary commemoration, NHK began a special support project for chronic shut-ins, people who, in Japanese, are referred to as hikikomori. The public broadcaster set up a special Web site that shut-ins, who have a deep fear of leaving their rooms, could visit and solicit advice and trade opinions with others in their position. Since the Web site was launched in February, it has received more than 300 formal inquiries from shut-ins every month.

On July 19, NHK's educational channel will broadcast a special two-hour program, starting at 9:30 p.m., about the Web site and a questionnaire that was filled out by the shut-ins who have visited it. More than 1,000 people responded to the survey, explaining their situations in detail and their wish to re-enter society and secure employment.

The most common wish expressed is for independence. Most hikikomori require the assistance of friends and family to help them survive. One problem with former shut-ins is that it is difficult to find work due to the obvious gaps in their resumes. Prospective employers tend to balk at applicants who do not have continuous job histories. Ninety percent of the respondents, in fact, say that the advice they desire the most is with regard to employment.

The survey is discussed by several professionals, including journalists, psychiatrists and former hikikomori who use their experience to advise those still suffering.



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