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Sunday, Aug. 24, 2008

Channel surf

Nihon TV's special drama, "Kiri no Hi: Karafuto Maoka Yubin Kyoku ni Chitta Kyu-nin no Otometachi (Fire in the Mist: The Nine Girls Who Perished at the Karafuto-Maoka Post Office)" (Monday, 9 p.m.) describes one of the lesser known tragedies of World War II. Five days following Japan's surrender on Aug. 15, 1945, the Soviet Army was approaching the town of Maoka on the northern island of Karafuto, which Japan controlled. Nine young women were working there as telephone operators, and remained at their stations right up until the Soviets arrived, at which point they all poisoned themselves with potassium cyanide.

The drama is told as a flashback by a witness to the tragedy, an old woman named Sumie (Etsuko Ichihara), who lives in a nursing home. She desperately wants her young caregiver, Aiko (Karina), to understand the sacrifice these girls made, and begins her tale with her move to South Karafuto from Tokyo in 1941.

The main appeal of the antiques appraisal show "Kaiun! Nandemo Kanteidan (Good Fortune! The Anything Appraisal Team)" (TV Tokyo, Tuesday, 8:54 p.m.) is not so much the antiques but rather the stories that go with them.

The celebrity guest this week is "new-half" TV personality Ai Haruna. New-halfs are transgender entertainers who started out life as males but have since made some degree of transition to female identities. Haruna's object for appraisal, a masu (wooden measuring box often used for drinking sake), isn't particularly noteworthy, but the signature on it is.

Ten years ago, Haruna attended a 50th anniversary party for the Ferrari F1 racing team. There she met the team's star driver, notorious Irish playboy Eddie Irvine. The racer was quite taken with the Japanese beauty and flirted with her aggressively. He autographed her masu to get closer, unaware that she was a new-half.

This week's installment of NHK's history documentary series, "Sono Toki Rekishi ga Ogoita (The Time History Changed)" (NHK-G, Wednesday, 10 p.m.) looks into the so-called pumpkin bombs that the U.S. military dropped on Japan during the last months of World War II.

Pumpkin bombs were designed to be the same weight and shape as those of the atomic bombs that would be dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Their purpose was for training the bomber crews who would eventually drop the nuclear devices. According to recently declassified documents, hundreds of pumpkin bombs were dropped on Japanese cities that were candidates for nuclear attacks. Many of these bombs were inert, but according to investigations by Japanese researchers at least 49 were not. Though they contained no fissionable materials, their explosive power was immense.

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