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Sunday, June 10, 2001


All problems, great and small

Up-to-the-minute trends and subjects are often incorporated into the story lines of television drama series. Unfortunately, topicality is usually given more consideration than relevance, and the dramas themselves rarely explore the reality of problems such as AIDS or teenage depression.

The producers of "Puresoul" (Nihon TV, Mondays at 10 p.m.) treat their subject matter with much more care. In fact, the show has been cited with a letter of appreciation from the Senior Mental Health Association of Japan for its treatment of so-called youthful senility, a complex of symptoms and afflictions that includes Alzheimer's disease and that affects people in their 20s, 30s and 40s. According to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, there are between 25,000-37,000 people suffering from youthful senility in Japan right now.

The letter of appreciation was awarded to the show not only because of its script, but because the producers have set up a Web site ( excite.co.jp/puresoul ) where clothing that has been specially designed for the series is auctioned off, with the proceeds going to the association. So far the site has raised about 1 million yen. The auction will end June 25, just before the series' last episode.

Clothing is central to the drama, whose 30-year-old heroine, Kaoru (Hiromi Nagasaku), works in the fashion industry. Kaoru's increasing forgetfulness is eventually diagnosed as a form of Alzheimer's.

In this week's episode (to be broadcast at 10:30 p.m.), Kaoru, who last week discovered she is pregnant, decides to keep the child. Her doctor has told her that, although her condition will not adversely affect the baby, the process of pregnancy and labor may accelerate the adverse effects of her own condition. Based on this information, Kaoru's husband (Naoto Ogata) insists she should not have the child.

With the arrival of summer comes the rainy season and . . . house mites. Mites proliferate more in June than in any other month, and this week, NHK's science-you-can-use show "Tameshite Gatten" (NHK-G, Wednesday at 8 p.m.) attempts to give viewers ideas on how they can "reduce the harmful effects of mites" during the problem summer days.

One point the show will make is that house mites (dani) are always with us and always will be. It is not only impossible to eradicate them, but unwise to even try. Beating and airing futon and bedding, vacuuming tatami and rugs thoroughly, even using commercial insect bombs, have little or no effect on the number of mites in your home. The term "mites" comprises about 5,000 species of animals of all shapes and sizes, and it is estimated that the average Japanese household is also home to about 50 million mites.

Mites live off of the dust found in bedding, carpeting, tatami and on furniture. And while mite feces are often cited as a central cause of allergies, asthma and atopic skin disorders, the total extermination of mites would make the situation even worse, since the mites themselves check environmental allergens.

The important point is: How do we live with mites? Through scientific investigation and quizlike questions, the program provides some household hints to keep the harmful effects of mites to a minimum.

Japanese seem to have a special affinity for robots, as evidenced by the sudden popularity of Aibo, Sony's mechanical dog, and Asimo, Honda's humanoid public relations star. Much of this fellow-feeling for robots came from animated programs, especially "Tetsuwan Atom," whose title character is better known to Westerners as "Astro Boy."

Tetsuwan Atom fitted a general idea of robots that most people in the world can identify with (the character's identity problem with not being a real boy is as universal as Pinocchio's), but that other famous cartoon robot, Doraemon, seems peculiarly Japanese, even though the roly-poly earless cat is a star throughout Asia.

Much of Doraemon's Japaneseness is based on his living situation: He resides with and helps a little boy named Nobita who lives in a typical Japanese suburban neighborhood and suffers the same kinds of problems most Japanese elementary school students face. Also, Doraemon, as his name suggests, loves those uniquely Japanese bean-filled confections known as dora-yaki.

Besides being able to talk, Doraemon's main unfeline attribute is his famous "pocket," from which he can produce anything and everything, making him more like a genie than a robot. He can even produce other robots.

On this week's episode (TV Asahi, Friday at 7 p.m.), Doraemon has to go back to the 22nd century, whence he originally came, for a periodic maintenance check, but he doesn't want to leave Nobita alone and unprotected. So he pulls out of his pocket a Sokkuri (exact image) Robot Kit and makes a replica of himself to keep an eye on Nobita. The replica, however, does not run on its own, and Doraemon recruits Mini Dora, a smaller version of himself (one of many), to "drive" the replica. Mini Dora is so excited about the task that he overdoes it, with disastrous results.

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