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Thursday, Dec. 30, 1999

MEDIA MIX

A recap of 1999's top media: mavens, meddlers, madmen

By Philip Brasor

Media person of the year: Sachiyo Nomura The feud between Satchi and actress Mitsuyo Asaka deserves some kind of recognition for dominating the tabloid press in the spring and summer. Beyond that, however, the smug-expressioned, overly made-up and garishly dressed Mrs. Hanshin Tigers (formerly Mrs. Yakult Swallows) epitomized all that's shallow and pointless about Japanese TV: the unblinking deference to celebrity, regardless of how it was obtained; the transience of behind-the-scenes loyalties, which are more central to one's success than originality or talent; the authority of bogus "personality"; and, above all, the casual acquisition and disposal of manufactured images.

What's still amazing about the Satchi saga is not that she lied about her educational and social background -- specifically her claim that she graduated from Columbia University -- but that anyone actually believed it in the first place. Even Stanford grads aren't that insufferably snooty.

Runner-up: Knock Yokoyama Despite all that happened to the erstwhile governor of Osaka in 1999, he exited the year much the same way he entered it: clueless. In contrast to fellow funnyman Yukio Aoshima, who never found a way to adapt his cleverness to the PR exigencies of the Tokyo governorship, Yokoyama always gave the impression that adaptation was never a consideration. Japanese comedians by definition parade their inner weaknesses (so they can be picked on easily), and the citizens of Osaka elected him because, regardless of what he said or did, they figured they knew him better than he knew himself.

As with Satchi's expansive recounting of her past, Yokoyama's denial of the incident in the van that led to his resignation turned a lot of people off because in their hearts they believed the campaign worker's story. He turned out to be just another lying politician, and a sukebei ojisan to boot.

Unlike Satchi's downfall, however, Yokoyama's contains a note of pathos. He obviously believes the groping wasn't really groping. That, of course, opens up a whole other can of worms, and sexual harassment is now finally accepted by the media as a violation of one person's physical and psychological well-being by another, rather than good old healthy inter-gender dynamics, which is what Yokoyama obviously still thinks it is.

Most valuable player: Konishiki

Most voluble player: Terry Ito

Plot device of the year: femme fatales Many of the year's drama series were built around "Does she or doesn't she?" storylines, which featured this year's idols as possible murderers, extortionists or other unsavory types. As always, the themes reflected current events, in this case on the spate of recent crime stories involving female perpetrators; which has seemed like a tendency ever since Mayumi Hayashi was fingered by the media as the culprit in last year's Wakayama Curry Poisoning case.

The top-rated fall series, Fuji's "Kori no Sekai," featured flavor-of-the-moment actress and model Nanako Matsushima as a mysterious woman who's collected on more than one life insurance policy. Why do you think they call them "trendy dramas"?

Best TV commercial: Sony Music Entertainment's fall lineup Simplicity is always best, but with this spot it was the whole idea. Utilizing those low-tech inserted filmed mouths that I remember so vividly from the old "Clutch Cargo" adventure series, the SME ad draws piercing absurdity from the most mundane elements: a black-and-white snapshot of two people in conversation, one a matronly woman with a hairstyle only Connie Francis would love, and a much smaller, much older, much frailer gentleman with a huge toothy grin. Frozen in photographic stasis, with only their mouths moving, they discuss the albums that Sony wants you to buy this fall.

Actually, "discuss" is a generous word, since the woman does all the talking and the man does all the agreeing. (She: "And Mariah Carey, she has a nice body, you know"; He: "Ahhh, Mariahhhh . . . ") Some will say that makes them married, but it's a commercial whose visual weirdness renders analysis totally beside the point. I've watched it with the sound turned off -- which means I've watched a still picture on TV -- and laughed just as hard.

Big deals: kaigo hoken, nuclear safety, shoko loans

No big deals: the Imperial pregnancy, gurus, Daisuke Matsuzaka

Scapegoat of the year: ganguro For a while now, the media has focused intensely on what they see as the spiritual and moral dissipation of Today's Japanese Youth. From bullying to butterfly knives to enjo kosai they were there, probing, analyzing and pointing fingers. According to the media, ganguro -- those teenage girls with the deep tans, white lipstick, sparkly makeup, bleached hair and outrageous mock-'70s fashions -- represent the latest and, so far, most reviled phase of youth's descent into the abyss. Why? Because they flout convention and talk funny? No, because they're not cute!

Brave New World Award: JRA The Japan Racing Association's savvy, sexy and often funny ads featuring Takuya Kimura have not so much promoted horseracing as confirmed that it is now considered a legitimate form of entertainment, like piano recitals or mud-wrestling contests. JRA's success, especially in targeting young women, has emboldened similar associations that oversee bicycle racing, boat racing and motorcycle racing to move their own TV spots out of the shadows of late-night TV to the bright environs of prime time. None of these ads even hint that gambling is the main reason to partake, but that goes without saying. Or does it?

Silver Lining Award: NHK's China coverage While the Western media prick the consciences of Western governments with their coverage of China's human rights record, NHK avoids the issue. In the rare instance that Japan's public broadcaster reports on human rights in the People's Republic, it does so by reporting on others' reports on human rights.

The reason is simple: NHK has enviable access to political and business sources in China, access that would be immediately cut off if they offended the Chinese authorities.

However, the occasional Sunday night "NHK Specials" that have looked at everything from venture businesses to political corruption in the PRC were the best programs on Japanese TV this year, and offered a view of China that is bracingly immediate and not at all flattering.



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