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Sunday, Jan. 28, 2007

Channel surf

Sooner or later, Japan had to come up with a Davinci Code-like story of its own. TBS's "History Mystery" special (Mon., 9 p.m.) attempts some kind of connection between Oda Nobunaga (1534-1582), one of the great leaders of the pre-Edo Era civil-war period in Japan, and the Vatican. Actor Masaya Kato visits a number of famous places associated with Nobunaga, discussing their relevance and re-enacting important episodes from the great general's life. The purpose is to solve the mystery of Nobunaga's death at the age of 49 at the hands of one of his own men in his castle in Honno-ji Temple in Kyoto. The people behind the assassination remain unknown and there may be an Italian connection. Somehow, a valuable folding screen that was believed to have been in the castle at the time of the assassination is now in Vatican City.

One of the most common themes on Japanese TV is "Where are they now?" Former stars whose fame has faded are tracked down and interviewed. However, one star remains stubbornly private. Naomi Chiaki was one of the first idol pop singers, even though she made her debut at the age of 21 in 1968. In 1972, she won the Japan Record Award for her hit "Ka-ssai" (Applause), which was humorous and more "adult" than most Japanese pop songs at the time. Thereafter, she enjoyed a lively career on record and television. In 1978, she married an actor and retired from show business for a short while. During the 80s she would occasionally reappear with a hit and her popularity undiminished. However, after her husband died in 1993, Chiaki completely disappeared. And though her songs have since enjoyed a huge revival in interest, she refuses to appear in public. The art variety show "Anybody Can be Picasso" (TV Tokyo, Fri., 10 p.m.) will look at Chiaki's career and speculate on what made her drop out.

Another female artist is profiled on NHK's "New Sunday Art Museum" (NHK-E, Feb. 4, 9 a.m.). Setsuko Mihashi, who was born in Kyoto in 1939, was an acknowledged prodigy when she studied painting in college. Immediately accepted into Japan's rarefied art world, she flourished. However, in the early '70s she was diagnosed with cancer, which eventually led to the amputation of her right arm. She taught herself to paint with her left hand, and in the remaining two years of her life she produced what are considered the greatest works of her career. She died in 1975 at the age of 35.

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