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Sunday, Sept. 16, 2001


Some hairy ordeals

Fans of the long-running historical drama series "Mito Komon" (Mondays at 8 p.m. on TBS) may have been slightly put off last spring when Koji Ishizaka, the actor who had just assumed the title role, opted to play it without the character's famous wispy white beard. Mito Komon just wasn't Mito Komon without the whiskers.

Apparently Ishizaka has relented. In tomorrow night's special two-hour season closer, Mito Komon is forced to execute one of his trusted retainers for betraying him by conspiring with his archenemy, the evil villain Yanagisawa Yoshiyasu, to spread rumors that he has gone mad.

Actor Koji Ishizaka as Mito Komon in the TBS series.

Though the execution is justified, Mito cannot banish his feelings of guilt and remorse, and so he enters a temple for the purpose of self-reflection. By the time he emerges, he has grown the famous beard.

Of course, Ishizaka did not really grow the beard. But, according to TBS, the actor was not satisfied with the fake ones he was offered in Japan, so he went to a famous makeup artist in Hollywood and had a special set of whiskers custom made. Ishizaka -- and his new beard -- will be back for the next season in January.

Another historical drama series will start Friday at 9:15 p.m. on NHK-G. Writer Futaro Yamada, who recently died, was famous not only for his novels but for his defiant attitude toward convention and sentimentality. During the war, he often got into trouble with the authorities for not going along with their propaganda efforts.

In Yamada's "Karakuri Jiken-cho," to be broadcast over the next nine weeks, this defiant attitude is personified in the lead character, Komai Sagaminokami (Keiju Kobayashi), a retired samurai who was the last bugyo (prefect) of the southern district of old Edo.

In 1874, the early days of the Meiji Restoration, society is unstable and rioting is rampant. Kawaji (Masao Konda), the head superintendent of the newly established police administration, has his hands full and takes most of his frustrations out on former samurai, who have found themselves without a place in society. Komai resents the new superintendent's attitude toward the samurai and other displaced people, and devises a plan to help those the police detain to escape.

In a bid to "help Japanese families rebuild their relationships," Nihon TV invited 400 of them (condition: four persons per family) to participate in its "Australia Breakthrough Adventure Family Quiz" (Wednesday at 9 p.m.)

The producers of the contest then selected 20 families to participate in the second round, which involves a 3-meter-high wall the family members must clamber over. The four families that make it over the fastest get to participate in the last round of the quiz, which takes place in Australia.

The 16 remaining families then compete in a different quiz. They give speeches in front of an employee of the Australian Embassy, which is partially sponsoring the quiz, on why they desperately want to go to Australia. The family who gives the best speech joins the other four.

These five families are each given a motor home and deposited on the northern coast of Australia. They then travel 5,000 km across the continent to a "mystery destination." Along the way, they must endure tests, including a "survival time race," crossing a river full of crocodiles and solving problems with natural resources. Whenever a family encounters a problem that requires a group decision, they will gather around a special chabudai (a low, round table) and work it out together, just as they would at home . . . ideally.

Tonight's "Sunday Big Special" (TV Tokyo; 7 p.m.) is about the do-it-yourself home-improvement boom. The program will show average people fixing up their own abodes.

In one episode, a husband attempts to turn a 4.5-mat room in his 30-year-old home into a tea room for his wife, whose dream has always been to live in a fine old English home.

Another sequence features a housewife who has decided to completely reform her kitchen, all by herself. Though her family doesn't particularly appreciate the large hole she leaves in the wall, she gets to work and shows us where we can buy the materials and how to use them.

A professional also offers tips on low-budget home improvement by changing a public housing unit into a "country style" home. The difficulty here is that he has to get around the building's strict rules, which prohibit the use of nails.

In a final pertinent episode, we meet a young single woman who moves into a cramped apartment near a medical center because she has decided to embark on a campaign to marry a doctor. Her problem is how to convert her apartment into a place where "a doctor could get the idea that he might want to get married."

Isn't that what feng shui is for?

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