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Sunday, Oct. 12, 2008


TV "champions" return, and Kamiji the clown takes on a drama

Yusuke Kamiji, the chief representative of the currently hot baka tarento (dumb TV personality) trend, lands his first starring role in a comedy series as one of the title characters of "Serebu to Binbo Taro" (The Celebrity and Poor Taro; Fuji, Tues., 9 p.m.).

Kamiji plays Taro, who has been poor all his life. Since the death of his wife, his situation has become even more desperate as he has to raise his three kids by himself and has no real marketable skills. So when he applies for a job that he doesn't expect to get, as a chauffeur to a rich young woman, he's surprised when he does.

His employer is Alice (Aya Ueto), your usual spoiled rich kid. Her father is a hotel magnate and her mother a popular actress. She's never wanted for anything her whole life and expects to get everything she wants. She and Taro have nothing in common, and, at least in the beginning, all they do is get on each other's nerves.

During the Meiji Era (1868-1912), the Japanese government enacted a policy intended to develop Hokkaido that displaced the indigenous Ainu people and robbed them of their ethnic heritage by forcing them to assimilate into Japanese culture. However, one young Ainu woman helped to keep that heritage alive. Her story is told this week on NHK's history documentary show, "Sono Toki Rekishi ga Ugoita" (The Time History Changed; NHK-G, Wed., 10 p.m.).

Yukie Chiri transcribed folk tales that had been handed down through generations of Ainu and then translated them into Japanese as "Ainu Shinyoshu (Ainu Epics of the Gods)." The transcriptions were done in the Roman alphabet, and the tales were based on chants she heard from her grandmother. On the very night she completed the volume of stories, she died of heart failure. She was only 19.

TV Tokyo's great competition series, "TV Champions," finally ended its decade-plus run last month, and though it will be sorely missed, some of its heroes will live on in the new series simply called "Champions" (TV Tokyo; Thurs., 7:57 p.m.). "TV Champions" offered individuals with skills and knowledge both common (carpentry, cooking) and arcane (Styrofoam sculptors, train schedule experts) to compete with one another for the title of "king" in their respective fields.

Now, some of those champions will put their skills to use in the world. In a special three-hour premiere, a champion gardener goes to the South Seas island of Guadalcanal to help save an elementary school. An inventor of crazy, elaborate devices entertains patients in a hospital ward for chronically ill children. Lastly, ramen chefs visit a depressed shopping area in Fuji City to see if they can revive the town center with their culinary wizardry.

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