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Sunday, Sept. 2, 2001

CHANNEL SURF

Let these be a lesson to you

Fuji TV, one of the main sponsors of the Year of Italy in Japan festival currently under way, will continue its promotion of all things Italian with a "docu-drama" that begins Monday night at 11 and runs for four consecutive nights at the same time. Each 40-minute episode of the "Itaria-tsu (Italy Expert)" series will take place in a different Italian city.

The premise of the drama aspect of the series is the Italian honeymoon of Japanese newlyweds Takeshi (Shinichi Tsu- tsumi) and Naomi (Koyuki). Takeshi pretends to be an expert on Italian culture and means to impress his new bride with his knowledge, but when he comments in a Rome restaurant that the Caesar salad Naomi orders is so named because "it was Julius Caesar's favorite dish," the entire restaurant explodes in derisive laughter.

Takeshi is eventually saved by a mysterious Japanese stranger (Toru Emori), who accompanies the couple on their tour and tells them the inside stories of the cities they visit. He explains Rome in the context of how it was built with the rise of the Roman empire.

In Venice (Tuesday), he explains the construction of the city and its most famous international son, Marco Polo. Florence (Wednesday) is the birthplace of the Renaissance, as well as the home of the ruthless Medicis and Leonardo da Vinci. The honeymooners end their tour in Milan, which is currently celebrating the 100th anniversary of the death of Giuseppe Verdi, the father of Italian grand opera.

On Friday night, NHK's educational channel will delve into more recent Italian history with a British documentary about the rise and fall of the Gucci fashion empire (10 p.m.).

The empire was started in 1923 when founder Guccio Gucci started selling leather goods in Florence. Over the next three generations, the family's fortunes climbed, and by 1960, Gucci was considered the world's top brand of accessories.

It has been all downhill from there. The various camps in the extended family began fighting over individual pieces of the business pie, and the company's financial situation declined accordingly.

The documentary uses computer graphics to chart the complexities of Gucci's 70-year history as a fashion powerhouse, which ended tragically in 1995 when Maurizio Gucci was gunned down by his ex-wife. Obviously, the Medicis had nothing on the Guccis.

Historical recreations and computer graphics also play central roles in an expensive documentary special this afternoon at 2 p.m. on Nihon TV. The subject of the special is the Great Buddha of Todaiji, the main temple in Nara and the largest wooden structure in the world, which has been designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. The current Buddha, which is 15 meters tall and made of bronze, is actually the third one. It was built during the Edo Period when the second one burned -- or, at least, the upper half did.

The purpose of the computer graphics is to create a visual representation of the original Buddha, which was completed in 752 A.D. A research team from the University of Tokyo, using high-precision laser sensors, has made the first accurate micromeasurements of the site in order to understand more specifically the circumstances under which the original Buddha was constructed. It is estimated that building the statue took 5,000 days. In addition to providing a graphic representation of the Buddha, the team will also build a miniature representation.

Taichi Yamada, who in the 1980s and early '90s was one of Japan's busiest drama series scenarists, has lately restricted himself to drama specials. His latest work, "Saikai (Reunited)," will be broadcast Saturday at 2 p.m. on TBS.

Yamada's specialty is marriage and family, a theme he explores in his latest work from the standpoint of "everyday practical reality," as opposed to the kind of romantic idealism that most Japanese dramas use as their starting point.

Mitsuko Baisho plays Yoshie, who suddenly leaves her husband, Kozo (Kyozo Nagatsuka), of many years as well as their children to marry another man. Kozo quits his job as a Self-Defense Forces pilot and eventually becomes a security guard. His daughter, Hiromi (Yuriko Ishida), marries and gives birth, thus providing Kozo with a small measure of comfort during late middle age. His son, Ryota (Yoshinori Okada) has quit school to take a job in a funeral home. Seven years after his wife left, Kozo's life has no particular direction, but it is at least stable.

And then Yoshie shows up again. Her husband has died, and she feels lost. Hiromi and Ryota find it difficult to forgive her, but Kozo still obviously feels something. They spend time together, and, after much soul-searching, Kozo asks her to come back to him. Yamada says the theme of the drama is that "the past can never be erased." He adds that because of the realistic aims of the script, viewers should not expect "a conventional happy ending."



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