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Sunday, June 24, 2001


Condiment of champions

To celebrate its 50th anniversary, TBS will broadcast a 24-hour special, "Fight TV 24," starting at 8 p.m. Saturday.

Nihon TV occasionally airs 24-hour marathon specials to raise money for charity, but TBS's only charitable aim is to urge people "to do their best, because if you don't try, you can't succeed."

Accordingly, the five-man idol band Tokio (probably the hardest-working young men in Japanese showbiz) will host the event. Tokio hosts two regular weekly series in which they attempt major projects as amateurs. On their Sunday night show "Dash" (NTV, 7 p.m.), they do things like build houses, plant and cultivate rice, and cut timber. On their Tuesday night show "Gachinko" (TBS, 9 p.m.), they help average young people overcome obstacles to their dreams, usually by participating in the effort themselves (if some girls want to lose weight, they lose weight, too).

The main task on "Fight TV 24" will be assembling a group of disaffected dropouts for the Gachinko Fight Club. The kids will learn how to box under the tutelage of a former world champion. The culmination will be a real championship boxing match between current WBA lightweight champ Takanori Hatakeyama and a contender from France.

Several regular TBS shows, such as "Broadcaster" and "Sunday Morning," will air as usual but their features will be related to the "Fight TV 24" activities and will include live feeds from throughout Japan of average people taking on daunting tasks.

As frivolous programs go, TV Tokyo's "TV Champion" (Thursday at 8 p.m.) is occasionally quite substantial. The show invites experts in certain fields and puts them through difficult tests until three contenders remain. These three then go through a mind-boggling final round. Sometimes, the field of endeavor can be highly skilled -- pastry chefs, caricature artists, animal trainers -- but most of the time it's pretty arcane: ramen (eaters, not makers), Pokemon or Hello Kitty collectors, that kind of thing.

This week's subject falls into the latter category: "mayo-ers," or people who are obsessed with mayonnaise to the point that they put it on everything, from rice to watermelon.

Round 1: Participants will carry out a "Mayolympic," in which they are each given a 200-gram salad and a 300-gram tube of mayonnaise, and have five minutes to finish both. If they all finish in time, winners will be determined by speed. If they don't finish, winners will be determined by how much mayo is left.

Round 2: Contestants are presented with 30 different kinds of foods and are asked to explain which ones go best with mayonnaise. A jury will decide which explanations are most convincing.

Round 3: Contestants will prepare dishes using mayonnaise as the main ingredient. Again, the creations will be judged by "experts."

Round 4: Seven different brands of mayonnaise, all from different parts of the world, will be presented. By taste alone, the contestants much identify the type and origin of the mayonnaise.

Consolation round: Eliminated contestants will recommend restaurants that appeal especially to mayo-ers.

Final round: Remaining contestants are subjected to a "super-difficult cult quiz" about the history and culture of mayonnaise.

Back in the '60s, actor Makoto Fujita starred in one of Japan's first situation comedies, an Edo Period series called "Tenya Monya Sandogasa," which was broadcast live every Sunday night. The only program at the time that rivaled it in popularity was the Saturday-night variety show "Hachiji Da Yo Zen'in Shugo (It's Eight O'Clock, Everybody Get Together)," featuring the comic musical group the Drifters, which was also broadcast live. In fact, once, when Drifters leader Chosuke Ikariya was sick, Fujita was brought in to replace him for one week as a publicity stunt.

This week, the long-running series "Hagure Keiji Junjo-ha" (literally, "Straying Police Detectives, Naive Section"; TV Asahi, Wednesday at 8:54 p.m.) brings together the two rivals once again. Fujita has starred as veteran police Detective Yasuura since the series began 14 years ago. This week, the colorful cast of regulars is joined by ex-Drifter Cha Kato, who will play the precinct's new forensics expert.

"Hagure" goes light on the action, stressing police procedural plots that look at family and social problems with a sentimental eye. This week, Yasuura investigates the death of a woman who appears to have fallen down the stairs in her home. The forensics man, however, comes up with a theory linking her death to a door-to-door cosmetics saleswoman.

If that isn't enough Fujita for you, he is also currently appearing in a five-part miniseries, "Kenkyaku Shobai (The Trade of the Swordsman"; Fuji, Tuesday at 8 p.m.), which, like "Tenya," takes place during the Edo Period.

As the title suggests, Fujita plays a retired expert swordsman who is also an epicure. He plans to spend his remaining days in blissful dissipation with his new wife (who is 40 years younger) partaking of excellent food and drink.

As written by popular jidaigeki (historical drama) novelist Shotaro Ikenami, the series' main appeal is its close attention to period detail. Though there is a plot, a good deal of the dialogue has Fujita explaining cultural aspects of Edo Japan, concentrating mainly on food.

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