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Sunday, Aug. 26, 2001



Dogs and penguins and affairs, oh my!

If you have a dog who doesn't do what you say, you might want to tune in this morning to Asahi TV's Sunday talk show "Tokusuru TV (Beneficial TV)" (9:30 a.m.), where actors Masayuki Watanabe and Wakako Shinozaki play-act at being a couple who entertain guests with interesting tips for everyday life.

Today's guest is animal expert Masanori Hata, better known by his nickname Mutsugoro, who runs a kind of "animal kingdom" on his ranch in Hokkaido. For almost 30 years, Mutsugoro and his ranch were the subject of seasonal specials on Fuji TV, which some people claim were single-handedly responsible for the Japanese "pet boom." Last year, however, the scruffy naturalist retired from the series and has since turned to Internet kamishibai (picture-card plays) to promote his work with our four-legged friends.

Mutsugoro will advise Watanabe on how to communicate with his 9-year-old golden retriever, Gonta, whom Watanabe always talks about on other TV shows, usually describing the dog as being thick-headed. (Watanabe won Gonta as a puppy on a quiz show on a competing network.) Mutsugoro will use Gonta to demonstrate how anyone can communicate effectively with his or her pet, and thus prove that you can teach old dogs new tricks.

Animals are also the theme of this week's installment of "Anyone Can Be Picasso" (TV Tokyo; Friday at 9 p.m.), the long-running art-related variety show hosted by comedian Beat Takeshi, who here goes by his nom de cinema Takeshi Kitano.

"Picasso" takes a very prosaic look at art and artists, from the great masters to the amateur painter who lives next door, as a way of promoting its idea that "everything is art." Tonight's guests include Fumiya Kamakura, a photographer whose sole subject is penguins. The 42-year-old Kamakura fell in love with penguins when he was a small child and has since traveled repeatedly to Antarctica and South America to photograph the birds in their natural habitat. Of the 18 known species, he has photographed 14.

Shingo Saotome, a self-taught painter who didn't pick up a brush until he was 25, will exhibit his realistic representations of animals in the wild and demonstrate his technique both in the studio and out in the field.

Rounding out the guests is traditional animal voice artist Edoya Nakohachi, who will imitate animal sounds to the accompaniment of famous classical music works.

If you despair over the lack of truly compelling TV dramas these days, you might want to tune into NHK-G Monday night at 9:15, when the network will present a drama based on the winner of the 25th Annual NHK TV Script Contest. The competition is open to any scenarist, professional or amateur, who has never had a script produced on television.

Akio Sugimoto's "Sen'yu Kazoku (Resident Family)" deserves attention for its subject matter, which puts Japan's current economic crisis in sharp perspective. The concept of "resident families" is perhaps unique to Japan, where it is almost impossible to evict people from their homes. When property owners run too far behind on their mortgage payments, creditors invariably foreclose and the title to the property is sold through a bidding process. Sen'yu kazoku can refer to the family facing eviction or to a "false" family that is installed in the residence (usually by yakuza) to hold the property illegally.

The protagonist of Sugimoto's drama is Morisaki (Yutaka Mizutani), a professional dairiya. Dairiya hire themselves out as proxies for any purpose, be it as wedding guests or as film extras. Morisaki is employed by a 17-year-old girl to live in her repossessed, unfurnished house for the purpose of holding onto the property after her bankrupt father runs away. Soon, a woman named Eiko moves in herself. Eiko means to buy the house at a rock-bottom price through the courts and sell it for a profit. The three strangers form an uneasy bond that is eventually destroyed by the strain of their conflicting goals.

When it rains, it pours. On TBS at the same time will be another worthwhile drama about poet Misuzu Kaneko called "Akarui ho e, Akarui ho e (Toward the Light, Toward the Light)." Kaneko, whose poems for children have recently enjoyed a resurgence of popularity for their "healing" properties, and who is also the subject of a feature film opening this fall, was born in 1903 in Yamaguchi to a family that ran a bookstore. Discovered by a famous poet of the time when she was only a teenager, Kaneko published 512 poems between the age of 17 and her suicide at 26.

The NHK drama centers around the relationship between Kaneko (Takako Matsu) and her younger brother, who was adopted as an infant by another bookstore-owning family in Shimonoseki. The boy, however, is never told of his adoption, and later Kaneko's mother marries Matsuzo (Tetsuya Wata), the man who adopted him. Ignorant of the fact that Teru -- Misuzu Kaneko's real given name -- is his blood sister, the boy grows up nursing a crush on her, a crush that becomes the impetus of her literary talent. Stepfather Matsuzo, noticing where the relationship is going, forces Teru to marry one of his employees, a lazy, boorish womanizer who mistreats her.

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