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Sunday, June 3, 2001


From simple folk to the royal couple

When the American folk revival landed on the shores of Japan in the early '60s, it gave rise to the "modern folk" movement. Japanese musicians copied The Kingston Trio and Peter, Paul and Mary, and it was only a matter of time before students started writing songs that reflected their own situations.

Japanese folk is the wellspring of J-pop, and this week NHK will present a special four-part series, "Folk Song Anthology 2001" (BS-2, Monday-Thursday, 7:30-8:50 p.m.), that will chronicle the evolution of folk using interviews, in-studio performances and archival footage.

On Monday, the show will explain the "college folk music" movement of the '60s, wherein iconoclastic students took antiestablishment hints from the likes of Bob Dylan and created their own "message" songs. From this environment sprung Nobuyasu Okabayashi, the first underground superstar of Japanese pop. Okabayashi was shunned by major labels who felt his music was too personal and dangerous. Disillusioned by his status as "the folk god," he withdrew from the scene at the height of his popularity.

Tuesday night covers the first half of the "Golden Age of Folk," when regional artists ruled. With the Vietnam War still raging, these musicians dealt with both the personal and the public in ways that didn't sit well with the authorities or the industry.

The second half of the Golden Age of Folk will be covered on Wednesday. With the end of the turbulent student movement, folk music during this time softened into yojohan music, yojohan meaning, literally, "four-and-a-half tatami mats," or the size of the rooms normally occupied by single young people of the time. This music was personal but also much more sentimental. Kaguyahime, whose mid-'70s hit "Kandagawa," about a young dosei (unmarried but living together) couple existing on nothing but love, marked the turning point. Folk musicians, who once shunned TV like the plague, were all over it now.

The last night will cover New Music in detail and the emergence of singer-songwriters like Yumi Arai (now Matsutoya), whose style was less like classic folk music and more like Western pop. With the arrival of New Music, kayokyoku (popular music) diversified along generational lines.

Before comedian Sanma Akashiya made Tamao Nakamura famous for her scatterbrained behavior, she was one of Japan's most respected movie actresses. In 1992, she took the role of the head nurse of a large general hospital in the daily afternoon drama "Inochi no Genba kara (From the Scene of Life)." The seventh season of the series started last week on TBS (Monday-Friday, 1:30-2 p.m.).

Though not exactly "ER," the series aims to "look at the world of medicine from the patient's point of view" and reach some kind of understanding as to "what medicine should accomplish." This week, however, the plot elucidates what medicine shouldn't accomplish, mainly the death of patients as a result of careless mistakes. After a botched blood transfusion, a young patient dies, and the hospital is plunged into the biggest crisis in its history.

The Imperial Household Agency has asked the media not to report anything about the Crown Princess to avoid any undue stress during her pregnancy. Considering her sheltered existence, it's difficult to know just how much exposure she has to the press in the first place, but, in any case, the media seems to be toeing the line. That is, except for Nihon TV.

This week, the documentary program "Super TV" (Monday, 10 p.m.) reports "The Truth About Her Majesty Princess Masako." "Truth," however, seems to be a loaded word here, since most of what will be reported is how sound the royal marriage is.

We'll learn from palace insiders about how the princess herself made bento for the Crown Prince whenever he went off to play viola in the Gakushuin Alumni Orchestra. We'll also find out how the couple has recently "rekindled their love" for each other, and there will be something about a "secret love story" from within the Owada family (i.e., the Crown Prince's in-laws).

All this love and romance may strike some viewers as less than exciting, but in any case it probably won't cause the princess any undue stress.

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