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Sunday, Aug. 5, 2001



Terrors, real and imagined

August means hot weather and ghost stories to add a little chill to the muggy air. Tonight, on TV Tokyo's "Sunday Big Special" (7 p.m.), host Tsurutaro Kataoka will explore various occultish phenomena for either your terrified delectation or your nonbelieving derision.

Kataoka will visit three places in Tokyo with spooky reputations, including a bridge that has had more than its share of traffic accidents. Some people claim to have seen the spirit of a woman who committed suicide at the site, while one fortunate individual who survived a near-fatal car crash there recalls how he heard bells just before reaching the bridge -- and how his next memories are of waking up in the hospital.

In addition, occult writer Juri Tsunoda will visit a "real" haunted house in Aomori and will accompany someone with "supernatural powers" (ESP, telekinesis, that sort of thing) to a famously haunted spot on the Izu Peninsula. And, of course, there will be lots of photos and videos submitted by viewers showing images of people who weren't there, corporeally at least, when the photos and videos were shot.

Later, at 9 p.m., NHK will examine a rather different and much more believable terror on this week's NHK Special: the proliferation of small arms throughout the world.

According to the United Nations, there are more than 500 million military-issue firearms in the hands of nonmilitary personnel throughout the world, mostly in former or current security "hot spots." These arms, including pistols, rifles and machineguns, have killed some 500,000 people since the end of the Cold War -- about 25 times the number slain by land mines during the same period.

The particular threat of military-issue small arms is that they are inexpensive, easy to use and extremely lethal. In some cases, they have been sold to civilians by soldiers who need quick cash, others are even traded for food. The United Nations says that most of these weapons started out as military surplus in developed countries and somehow found their way into the hands of civilians, private militias and mercenaries in war-torn areas. The market for these small arms, both legal and illegal, amounts to around $10 billion a year, yet most developed countries prefer not to address the growing problem.

In July, the U.N. held an international conference on illegal arms dealers. The NHK special covers this conference and measures discussed there, and will also travel to the Republic of the Congo, where such small arms are being used to fight a bloody civil war.

Japan loves to build sports facilities. The problem is that there aren't always enough sports events to fill them. This afternoon, on TV Tokyo's "Toto Special," Olympic gold-medal swimmer Daichi Suzuki, sports journalist Midori Masushima and former soccer star Michel Miyazawa will go to Europe to "search for the next generation of sports culture," since foreign coaches and players have proved instrumental in shaping Japan's current sports culture.

The three presenters travel to Britain, France and Germany, where they look at current trends (including facilities) in such sports as rugby, hockey, soccer and even judo. They visit community boxing clubs to see how local talent is cultivated at the grassroots level. The report even considers how governments sponsor national sports teams and Olympic athletes with initiatives such as sports lotteries . . . just like Japan's Toto soccer lottery system.

Nihon TV's long-running drama series, "Wataru Seken wa Oni Bakari" (the title is a take on an old Japanese proverb and translates roughly as "the world is just full of demons"), has continuously topped the ratings since its first season in 1991. The program is produced by legendary "home drama" high priestess Fukuko Ishii, who was responsible for the highly influential "Arigato" series of the '60s and '70s, and written by Sugako Hashida, who penned the heartbreaking early '80s NHK serial "Oshin," one of the most widely viewed drama series across Asia. "Wataru" continues the grand theme that characterizes both women's work: the nobility of female sacrifice.

"Wataru," however, explores this theme in smaller, more intimate doses, as it tells the stories of five sisters in modern-day Tokyo and their various familial and romantic crises. If Hashida's world often seems incongruous with our own experience (every scene has to include at least one long, cathartic speech delivered in choked sobs), the ideals she promotes with the gusto of a true believer obviously touch a lot of nerves in TV land.

In the past five years or so, the focus of the series has shifted to the children of the five sisters, thus allowing Hashida to offer her view on today's youth.

In this week's episode (Thursday, 9 p.m.), teenager Ai (Kyo Yoshimura) goes on a date with her boyfriend Masanori (Yuji Miyashita), who is somehow injured. Ai remains at the hospital with him without telling her family. She had planned to break up with Masanori because of her father's and grandmother's disapproval, but now has to wait until he recovers to do so.

Meanwhile, Ai's father Isamu (Takuzo Kadono) is introduced to Masanori's father (Masaki Kanda), and the two become friends, thus altering Isamu's opinion of Masanori. Ai's mother, Satsuki (Pinko Izumi), forever stuck between her husband and her mother-in-law, is relieved that Isamu has changed his mind, but there's always mother to contend with.

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