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Sunday, April 29, 2007

Bus system special, elderly comedy drama and a mystery at the lost-and-found office

This week's "NHK Special," entitled "Kosoku Basu Senso (Highway Bus Wars)" (NHK-G, Monday, 10 p.m.), looks at the fierce competition that has arisen in the tourism and transportation industries since deregulation in 2000 opened the market to hundreds of new bus companies.

The special report focuses on an accident that occurred in Osaka earlier this year, in which a night bus carrying skiers ran off the road. The driver had been working for seven hours straight and dozed off. According to regulations, a backup driver must be on board, but the backup person in this case, the driver's brother, was not even old enough to drive. The brother was the only person who died in the crash.

The accident highlights the cost-cutting competition among small bus companies, who are under pressure from the tour companies that hire them to keep fees down.

The Tokyo-Osaka corridor is a particularly busy route, and the pressure to keep fares as low as possible is constant, which means bus companies look for any way to cut their costs. In the end, safety usually suffers.

The problems of elderly people living alone are given the light comedy treatment in the drama special "Matsumoto Kisaburo Ikka Monogatari -- Ojiisan no Daidokoro (Story of the Kisaburo Matsumoto Family: Grandpa's Kitchen)" (Fuji, Friday, 9 p.m.)

After his wife dies, Kisaburo (Rentaro Mikuni) is left on his own for the first time in his life. His four grown daughters worry about him because they know he relied on their mother for everything. They believe he's totally helpless.

His third daughter, Yuko (Narumi Yasuda), takes it upon herself to teach him how to cook and keep house. Against all expectations, Kisaburo takes to housekeeping and independent living with uncommon zeal.

In the world of Japanese TV mysteries, any profession can harbor a budding detective, as proved on this week's "Saturday Wide Theater" (Asahi, 9 p.m.), which is titled "Tokyo-eki Owasuremono Azukari-jo (The Tokyo Station Lost and Found Office)."

Masanobu Takashima plays Kohei, who has been working in the lost-and-found office at Tokyo Station for a number of years. He has become an expert on the arcana of misplaced objects, capable of judging personalities based on the kinds of items they leave behind on trains. In this first of what promises to become an occasional mystery series, he receives a new employee, Yukiko (Junko Sakurai), who has just been transferred to lost and found.

The corpse of a woman is found in a sleeping compartment of an overnight train, and soon a red bag finds its way to the lost and found office. In the bag, Kohei finds a blood-stained wallet, which contains a company ID card identifying the dead woman.

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