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Sunday, March 11, 2007

Channel surf

Seventy-five years after it was established by the House of Saud, the kingdom of Saudi Arabia remains a land of contradictions and mystery. It is a country that enforces Islamic law and which is known for its public executions of criminals and prohibition of dating and most forms of entertainment. However, young people seem to know a lot about international pop culture and everyone owns a cellphone.

On Monday at 9:10 p.m., NHK's BS-1 satellite channel will air a bilingual report about Saudi Arabia as part of its "World Documentary" series. The program will look at the country's history and its vast oil wealth, but it will mainly talk about these contradictions that outsiders can't really grasp by looking at them from the inside.

Closer to home, NHK's "Sono Toki Rekishi ga Ugoita" (The Time When History Changed; NHK-G, Wednesday, 10 p.m.) will look at a controversy that has split local historians for many years: the exact location of Yamataikoku, the kingdom governed by the legendary female monarch Himiko in the third century A.D.

There are two theories. The first says that Yamataikoku was in Kyushu and is based on evidence of iron tools that were discovered on the southern island. The second theory places Himiko's realm in the Kansaii's Kinki region because that is where a local clan received a sacred copper mirror from the Asian mainland. The mirror imparted divine power on its owner.

The program will discuss recent research and its relevance to both theories.

Japan's first superstar female comedian is given the dramatic biography treatment this week in "The Story of Chocho Miyako" (Asahi, Friday, 8 p.m.).

Real-life comedian Masami Hisamoto plays the title character, who was born in 1920 and began performing at age 7 in her family's traveling theater show.

Years later she was scouted by an executive of the long-standing comedy talent agency Yoshimoto Kogyo, who paired her with another comedian, Toshio Tachibana.

The combo was very popular, but because she was a woman, Chocho had to constantly endure bullying and ridicule from other comedians.

She was often defended by the rakugo storyteller Ryushi Sanyutei, and the two eventually married and started working together. However, after they established their own company, they disagreed about the direction their comedy should take.

When Ryushi started seeing another woman, Chocho ran away and was taken care of by Ryushi's apprentice, Suzuo, with whom she started performing routines as a manzai act. They became the first fufu manzai (married couple standup) performers in Japanese showbiz history.



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