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Sunday, May 20, 2001

CHANNEL SURF

Ten weddings and a quiz show

'Timeshock" was one of the original Japanese quiz shows, an uncomplicated but tense trivia contest that kept viewers glued to their screens in the '60s and made its voluble host, the late Jiro Tamiya, a superstar. The heart of the show was the intense one-minute barrage of questions that the contestants had to undergo in order to win prize money. Speed was the thing, and keeping one's cool the secret to success.

Since returning to the air several years ago, the program has been jazzed up with variety-show formulas to satisfy a more jaded, contemporary TV audience. Two teams of contestants come to the studio in hopes of winning the ultimate 10 million yen prize, and for the purposes of the show it helps if they have a specific use for the money, such as sending students to Salt Lake City to watch a classmate compete in the Olympics, or helping a community boxing club pay for renovations.

The teams are asked to identify people or objects shown in complex computer-graphic puzzles, and the team that makes the most correct identifications gets to perform in the Timeshock portion.

This week's program is a two-hour special (Monday, 7 p.m., on TV Asahi) featuring 10 groups of competing contestants who all need money for weddings they can't afford. Two of the groups are celebrities, and while it's common for celebrity teams to appear on the show (playing for charities), it's rather uncommon for them to be unable to pay for weddings. As is often the case, the show may be interesting for reasons other than those having to do with the quiz.

This week, TBS's hard-hitting newsmagazine "Hodo Tokushu" (today at 5:30 p.m.) looks at the current development of so-called retail banks, which were inaugurated on May 15 by the supermarket and department store chain Ito-Yokado.

Called IYBank, Ito-Yokado's system does not offer teller or other personal services but simply ATMs installed at designated locations, mainly 7-11 convenience stores, which belong to the Ito-Yokado corporate group. The bank will start off with about 60 ATMs in and around Tokyo, but the plan is to expand to 1,000 by the end of summer.

The sales point is, of course, convenience, but the program will look closely at a number of hurdles the company is facing, including a plan to offer services round-the-clock, fierce opposition from existing banks and the drawing up of guidelines for expansion into specific banking services.

Variety shows now command the bulk of prime time on the commercial networks, and even venerable NHK has succumbed to the trend with "Barae-tei Japan" (Mon.-Thurs. at 7 p.m. on BS-2). The word "barae-tei" is, of course, a pun on the word " variety," with the final character "tei" standing for "a house of entertainment."

On the show, the estimable public broadcaster often utilizes the kind of comedians found on commercial TV variety programs but for more edifying purposes.

Monday's show will feature the popular young comedy team Bakusho Mondai and veteran rakugo-ka (traditional comic storyteller) Tachikawa Danshi, who will discuss various forms of traditional Japanese entertainment. In addition to rakugo, they will look at Japanese musicals and ryokoku, a stylized songlike storytelling form set to sanshin music. They will also discuss how the new generation of entertainers, such as Bakusho Mondai, are changing the face of gei (entertainment arts).

On Tuesday's show, rotund victim-comedian and impersonator Kuniyo Matsumura will accompany actor Masahiko Tsugawa to Tsugawa's hometown of Kyoto, where they will see the sights and discuss Tsugawa's long career as a stage and screen actor. Matsumura, however, will be impersonating Tsugawa for the length of the journey, and, in fact, will come up against another impersonator, Koji Tomita, who will challenge Matsumura with his own version of Tsugawa.

Wednesday's program features the current "three princes" of traditional Japanese entertainment: kabuki actor Ichikawa Someguro, garaku musician Togi Hideki and kyogen performer Motoya Izumi. All three young men are extremely popular right now, especially among young women, and can be seen in many advertisements, especially Izumi. The three will discuss their lives, both professional and private.

The week's festivities wind up Thursday with "Ongaku Yume Hiroba (Music Dream Plaza)," which will feature accomplished amateur musicians from all fields: pop, jazz, classical, min'yo (folk music) and kayokyoku (Japanese pop ). The musicians will talk about how they balance their musical interests with their everyday lives and will be shown performing and practicing.



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