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Sunday, May 27, 2007

Eerie family drama, comedian interview special and conversations with Mr. Fish

The title of this week's two-part "NHK Special" is "Nippon Kazoku no Shozo (Portraits of Japanese Families)" (NHK-G), though the families that are portrayed are quite out of the ordinary.

Part One (May 27, 9 p.m.) is about Toshiko Hidaka, an 84-year-old woman who lived most of her life in a Kagoshima sanitarium for patients of Hansen's disease. When she was young, Hidaka was forced to abort a 7-month-old fetus by the doctors at the sanitarium. Two years ago she learned that the baby girl had been preserved and was still at the facility.

Hidaka had earlier given birth to a son, Kazuo, who grew up to become a successful businessman. Now 60, Kazuo is already retired because he wants to take care of his mother full time. Together, they go to the facility to "meet" the daughter who was taken from her so long ago.

Part Two (May 28, 9 p.m.) focuses on a Japanese emigrant farm community in Brazil that contains 86 people comprising 27 families and four generations. This community maintains Japanese customs and language, and because they are so isolated, they may be more "Japanese" than people who live in Japan.

Last year, one of the community's young female members said she wanted to marry a Brazilian man and bring him into the community. Many members objected, and the matter threatened to divide the community.

Comedian Sanma Akashiya hosts several weekly talk shows, and over the years he's probably managed to converse on air with every Japanese celebrity there is. This week, however, on his late-night show "Sanma no Manma (Just Like Sanma)" (Fuji, Fri., 1:50 a.m.), he interviews for the first time Hitoshi Matsumoto, the creative half of the popular comedy duo Downtown.

Matsumoto's movie debut as writer-director, "Dai Nipponjin (The Great Japanese)," will be released this weekend and was screened at this year's Cannes Film Festival. Despite Sanma's prodding, however, Matsumoto doesn't want to talk about the movie. He would prefer to talk about his success in quitting smoking and the early days of Downtown.

Sakana-kun, the preternaturally childlike ichthyologist with the ubiquitous blowfish hat, will be one of the teachers on this week's installment of "Sekai-ichi Uketai Jugyo (The Most Popular Lessons in the World)" (Nihon TV, Sat., 7:57 p.m.), where, perhaps for the first time in his professional life, he will don a three-piece suit (though the hat stays).

Sakana-kun is famous for his thorough and some might say weirdly intimate knowledge of more than 5,000 species of fish. In his lesson, he will explain why red snappers are red, how clown fish can change their sex under certain circumstances, and why female octopuses are softer and "better tasting" than male octopuses.

Sakuna-kun will also talk about the strange way that some species of mackerel lay their eggs, which has something to do with borrowing the services of tuna.

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