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Sunday, Dec. 27, 2009

CHANNEL SURF

The year's top news in brief, final 'Hidden Talent' show, and Shinichi Hoshi's short stories

SMAP's leader, Masahiro Nakai, is not just this year's co-emcee of NHK's New Year's Eve song contest again. He's hosting specials throughout this week and next all over the TV dial.

Monday night he's the emcee on "Ju-moji de Kaisetsu Dekitara Kako Ii!" (You're Cool If You Can Explain It in 10 Characters!; TV Asahi, 10 p.m.), where a studio full of "excellent students," meaning the usual complement of TV personalities "acting" like intellectuals, attempts to explain the top news stories of the year using no more than 10 written characters.

As any haiku fan knows, a lot of meaning can be stuffed into only a few characters, but this particular exercise seems to have more to do with the succinct shorthand represented by Twitter.

The students are asked to explain some news stories and then a panel of experts in politics, economics and other social sciences evaluate their answers. The best ones are rewarded with "luxury gifts."

We've been hearing about the end of television for most of the last decade, and one more nail in the coffin is the demise of Fuji TV's annual New Year's Day celebrity performance show "Shinshun Kakushigei Taikai" (New Years Hidden Talent Tournament; 6 p.m.), which was launched in 1964 and will end this Friday.

The premise of the tournament is that entertainers learn an entertainment art form other than the one that they make their living with and then demonstrate this new skill on TV. Former Group Sounds singer Masaaki Sakai has been a regular host and contestant on the show since the early 1970s, and is identified so much with it that his nickname is Mr. Kakushigei. Some of Sakai's performances in the past were playing Trinidad steel drums and forming a comedy duo with the Taiwanese pop singer Teresa Teng.

This last hurrah will mostly be a look back at the highlights of "Kakushigei" specials of the past, though Sakai and his two cohosts, Hideyuki Nakayama and Toshiaki Megumi, may break out some new parlor tricks for old time's sake.

Shinichi Hoshi, who died in 1997, was one of Japan's most celebrated science fiction writers, famous for his very short stories, usually no more than three pages in length.

On Sat., NHK will present the "Shinichi Hoshi Short Short New Years Special" (NHK-G, 11:10 p.m.), which visualizes several of the writer's 1,000 tales as animation and live action films. A slightly different version of this program was nominated last fall for an International Emmy Award.

Hoshi's stories are satirical and edgy. "Frozen Time" describes a cyborg living underground to avoid contact with humans, and "Afternoon Dinosaur" shows a new twist on the end of the world theme.



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