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Sunday, Aug. 10, 2003

Channel surf

One of the biggest Japanese box-office hits of 2001 was "Waterboys," a movie about a bunch of high school boys who want to start a synchronized swimming team. Right now, Fuji TV is in the midst of a TV serial version of the movie. (Tuesday, 9 p.m.)

The series centers on five boys living in a small town who are determined to start a synchronized swimming team, despite the fact that most people consider it exclusively a woman's sport. They are ridiculed by their fellow students and when they apply to their high school to start a synchronized swimming club, the school turns them down. The only they can do is start a synchronized swimming appreciation club.

They continue trying to pursue their dream, but in secret. For a time, they all get jobs at a nearby hot spring resort and after hours use the spring for practice. They try to use the pool of a municipal health club but are kicked out when their intentions are discovered.

This week, in Episode 7, the boys try again to convince school authorities by submitting a proposal to do a synchro demonstration at the high school culture festival, but the vice-principal is adamant. The boys decide to bring their case to the board of education, and while the board doesn't want to get involved, they learn that one member plans to attend the festival. They decide to carry out a "guerrilla" synchro demonstration when the official arrives and enlist the help of a former synchronized swimmer to help them train.

Every year at this time, both NHK and the commercial stations are filled with historical documentaries about the war years. Most of these documentaries, regardless of the specific topic, use the same footage over and over. The bulk is taken from official newsgathering sources at the time, which means it was mostly sanctioned or controlled by the wartime government. It is also entirely black-and-white, since no color film was used during those years.

On Aug. 14, the day before the 58th anniversary of the Japanese surrender, NHK will broadcast a special documentary, "A Visual Record: Showa in War and Peace" (NHK-G, 9 p.m.), consisting of recently uncovered color footage shot in the years leading up to war. Most of the film was shot for personal reasons, meaning it consists of home movies about family events and tourism. However, there is also footage about soldiers leaving for battle.

Many Japanese will find this footage startling because of its context. Since it's in color, the film has a warmer, more human feel than the official black-and-white footage that until now provided the only documentary moving-picture record of the era.

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