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Sunday, Sept. 6, 2009


Kusanagi back with a vengeance, Downtown's Matsumoto behind the camera, and Hamako Watanabe's wartime mission

Mere months ago, SMAP member Tsuyoshi Kusanagi was disgraced and humiliated for having romped naked and inebriated in a Tokyo park. His subsequent rehabilitation has been so complete that this week you can see him every night on some variety show promoting his new movie, "Ballad."

However, he's the main regular attraction on the "outdoor" variety show "Pussuma" (TV Asahi, Tues., 11:15 p.m.), where he shares hosting duties with big-mouth actor Yusuke Santamaria. This week, they head to the Boso Peninsula in Chiba Prefecture, where they compete with guests Daisuke Miyakawa and Mari Sekine in an asonde oikura? (how much for pleasure?) tour.

Each pair partakes in some local sightseeing activities — fishing, barbecue, etc. — but only has a limited amount of money to spend for the overall tour. The challenge is to make it through all the activities without going over their respective limits. Speaking of movie promotion, Hitoshi Matsumoto, the more cerebral half of comedy duo Downtown, has just released his second film as director, "Symbol," and is the subject of the late night talk show "A-Studio" (TBS, Fri., 11 p.m.), which is hosted by rakugo (traditional Japanese storytelling) artist Shofukutei Tsurube.

Matsumoto arrives for the interview in the same polka-dot pajamas he wears in the movie. Tsurube says he's seen the film and admires it. The director runs through some anecdotes related to the making of "Symbol" before the program leaves the studio for a visit to Matsumoto's elementary and junior high schools, where old classmates run through some anecdotes of their own about the superstar comedian. Tsurube also digs out some previously unknown intelligence about the origins of Downtown and talks to Matsumoto's mother, who claims her boy is not as dark and cynical as his humor is. Hamako Watanabe was one of the most beloved popular singers prior to and during World War II. The two-hour docudrama, "Senjo no Melody" (Battlefield Melody; Fuji, Sat., 9 p.m.), looks at an important episode in Watanabe's career that has mostly gone unremarked in history books.

Following Japan's surrender, many captured Japanese soldiers were tried in the Philippines for war crimes. In these so-called finger-pointing trials the soldiers had no defense and were summarily convicted based on nothing more than their having been Japanese.

One of the soldiers wrote a song in prison and sent it to Japan, where Watanabe sang it on the radio. In the early 50s she went to the Philippines to try and secure the release of the remaining 108 prisoners by talking to Philippine officials.

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