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Sunday, Feb. 15, 2009


Historical fact and fiction from 'Mito Komon,' Tokugawa Mitsukuni special and 'Hissatsu Shigotonin'

The long-running historical drama series "Mito Komon" (TBS, Mon., 8 p.m.) is about an itinerant nobleman who travels the land incognito with a retinue of followers, righting wrongs and giving exploiters and other bad guys their just desserts. It is thus a good means for regions to promote themselves as tourist destinations. This week's episode finds the elderly, white-haired hero in Hofu, Yamaguchi Prefecture, on the Seto Inland Sea. He has come to investigate rumors that girls in the area are being kidnapped. Officials assure him that it is only a rumor. However, Den Hachiro, who works for the ofuna tegumi (a kind of local coast guard), believes the officials are lying. He wants to help Mito Komon search for the missing girls, but his superior won't let him. So Satsuki, one of Mito's followers, offers herself as bait to lure the kidnappers out in the open, but the plan backfires.

Mito Komon was a real person whose name was Tokugawa Mitsukuni. He was a relation of the shogun, and this week on "Nihonshi Suspense Gekijo" ("Japan History Suspense Theater") (Nihon TV, Wed., 7:58 p.m.), some of the myths that have grown up around this figure because of the TBS series are examined with the help of dramatizations. For instance, Mitsukuni is thought to have been a man of impeccable morality, but in fact he was something of a slacker in his youth, hanging out at brothels and getting drunk. Also, the Nihon TV show implies he was a great traveler, but he rarely left his home of Mito, situated in what is now Ibaraki Prefecture. And while some of the characters who accompany him on his journeys on the TV drama existed, many are fictional. The program explains how many of these myths started. Some preceded the TV show by more than a century. Mitsukuni became something of a legend at the end of the Edo Era (1603-1868), about 200 years after his death, when society needed such a hero.

Heroes of a more violent sort are featured in another long-running historical drama series, "Hissatsu Shigotonin" ("Assassins") (TV Asahi, Fri., 9 p.m.), about a group of professionals who, like Mito Komon, root out evildoers. However, in this case, the evildoers are killed outright, usually in quite a creative fashion. In this week's episode, assassin Shogoro (Noriyuki Higashiyama) visits the house of lowly public servant Togoro (Kazuhiko Nishimura), whose wife is very ill. Togoro is too poor to buy medicine and Shogoro lends him what little money he has. Togoro becomes involved in a scam cooked up between a physician and an onmyodo (a practitioner of esoteric Chinese-derived healing arts) to bilk the sick and the susceptible.

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