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Sunday, July 1, 2001


Oh, the places they'll go and the people they'll be

Ultraman, Japan's original TV superhero, first appeared 35 years ago, and since then there has been a string of Ultramen who adhere to the same cosmic rules (he can only remain on Earth for three minutes maximum) but who have embodied different values in line with the changing times.

The latest incarnation, "Ultraman Cosmos," starts a new series on Saturday at 6 p.m. on TBS. UM Cosmos represents a return to the original values of "goodness and strength" that characterized the original Ultraman, but with a twist: UM Cosmos can change his mode of action according to the task at hand. He changes into "lunar mode" (blue color scheme) when his job is to defend monsters, and reverts to "corona mode" (red color scheme) when his job is to fight monsters, most of which resemble dinosaurs.

Ultraman Cosmos' secret human identity is Musashi, a young man working for the six-member Team Eyes, whose mission is to preserve world peace and help monsters, tasks that some people will find contradictory, but that's the 21st century for you. As a boy, Musashi met Ultraman Cosmos, who made him promise to remain "pure and brave" and gave him the "Cosmos Plaque." When he holds the plaque in the air, he is transformed into UM Cosmos.

Viewers who wish to find out how Musashi could both meet Ultraman Cosmos and be Ultraman Cosmos will have to go see the tie-in summer movie, which opens at theaters in coming weeks. The other thing the new show preserves are the cheapo production values that have endeared the series to generations of Japanese TV viewers. If you want computer graphics or animatronics, look elsewhere.

Speaking of secret identities, how many people dream of throwing their current lives away and starting over from scratch? The heroine of the new Nihon TV drama series, "Fure Fure Jinsei" (fure is a kind of cheer, and jinsei means human life), which premieres Monday at 10:30 p.m., is offered a chance to take over someone else's identity.

Yuki Matsushita plays Makoto Kamioka, a 33-year-old "bridal adviser" living in Akita, in the north of Japan. She and her boyfriend decide to get married after she becomes pregnant, but later she suffers a miscarriage that makes it impossible for her to ever become pregnant again. This crisis prompts her to question the life she has been leading so far.

According to Matsushita, Makoto "had believed that unless she acted cheerful all the time, no one would love her, but then she discovered that being cheerful all the time was counter to her nature." After an old friend who lives in Tokyo goes missing, the missing woman's husband offers to sell his wife's identity to Makoto for 10 million yen.

In the first episode, Makoto attends a class reunion in Akita where her former classmates complain about their present lives and open a time capsule that they buried when they graduated.

Conductor Yutaka Sado is considered by many people, and not just in Japan, as the heir to the legacy of the late Leonard Bernstein. No, Sado isn't a chain-smoker or an idiosyncratic composer or a publicity-seeking social lion; but he was once assistant to the great Lenny, and has developed Bernstein's last great project, the Pacific Music Festival, into a world-class event following the American conductor's death in 1992. He also translated another of Bernstein's enduring legacies, the Young People's Concerts, into Japanese.

Sado, who grew up dreaming of conducting the Berlin Philharmonic, almost didn't make it to the podium. In his youth, he sent an audition tape to Seiji Ozawa's Tanglewood Music Camp, and a production assistant judged it so bad he didn't even send it on to the jury. But somehow Ozawa heard it and, though he admitted it wasn't good, felt it demonstrated great potential. Sado went on to an apprenticeship with Bernstein, as well as principal conducting gigs in Japan, America and Europe. He is especially popular in France, where he conducts half a dozen orchestras on a regular basis and is a kind of national celebrity.

Tonight on NHK's classical music talk show, "Geijutsu Gekijo" (Educational, 10 p.m.), Sado will discuss his current project, a Japanese-language production of Bernstein's legendary but seldom-performed musical "Candide," with the production's director, Amon Miyamoto. Sado will talk about Bernstein's conception of the musical and how he himself came to conduct it.

Like magicians, professional wrestlers are not supposed to talk about the reality behind their performances, even though everyone knows they're tricks. On Thursday at 3:15 in the morning, a new half-hour series, "Shibuya-kei Pro Wrestling" (Asahi TV), will show you everything you need to know about the theatrical aspects of the sport.

A dozen "beautiful girls" from Shibuya have been selected from a pool of applicants collected through magazine solicitations and talent agencies. These girls, aged 14 to 19, will learn all about pro wrestling in preparation for their professional debut in December. The training will concentrate on the "entertainment" aspects of pro wrestling rather than, say, the "athletic" aspects -- meaning fighting -- which means viewers will be able to watch the sport as "drama" rather than sport. (As one participant describes the pastime: "It's 1 percent truth and 99 percent fantasy.")

The show will spin off a number of related entertainment products, including photogravure books, DVDs, CDs and other multimedia.

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