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Sunday, Sept. 23, 2001


Writ large on the small screen

'Platonic Sex," the memoir by popular talent and former AV queen Ai Iijima, has sold more than 1.2 million copies in Japan and, translated into Chinese and Korean, has become the "bible" of young women throughout Asia. It tells the story of a teenage runaway who, free from the obligations of family and school, does just what she wants to until she discovers what it is that's really important to her.

This fall the book will be realized visually both as a TV drama and as a feature film. The drama, broadcast in two two-hour parts this week on Fuji TV (part 1 Monday night and part 2 on Friday, both at 9 p.m.) stars Mari Hoshino as Kana, the character that represents Ai Iijima.

Sixteen-year-old Kana is picked up by the police for juvenile vagrancy and taken home, where, not for the first time, she is beaten by her father. She runs away again and starts trading sex and companionship for money, falls into a live-in relationship and eventually drifts into the burgeoning adult-video world. After she becomes pregnant, however, her priorities are thrown for a loop.

The movie, which opens in October, promises to be even more lurid than the TV show.

Another successful publication gets the small-screen treatment Wednesday at 9 p.m. on TBS. "Black Jack" is one of manga master Osamu Tezuka's later creations, having first appeared in print in the early 1970s. "Black Jack" holds a special place in the Tezuka canon since it is about a rogue doctor, and Tezuka himself studied medicine before turning to cartooning.

This live-action version of the comic is the third installment in an ongoing, occasional series starring Masahiro Motoki as the title character, an unlicensed physician who treats the poor for free and the rich for incredible sums of money under unbelievable circumstances. Right now, the comic is attracting a great deal of attention, since an animated version is also being broadcast on the Internet with pop superstar Hikaru Utada voicing the role of Pinoko, Black Jack's little girl sidekick.

Episode 3 finds the wild-haired, facially scarred Black Jack eating at a famous French restaurant in Tokyo. Finding nothing famous about the food -- it's rather bland -- the doctor suspects that the celebrated chef-owner is suffering from some kind of brain ailment that has impaired his sense of taste. When the chef hears this, he is incensed; after all, he will be entertaining the prime minister of France, soon to visit Japan.

But sure enough, the chef is stricken, and Black Jack diagnoses a deadly brain tumor. He decides to operate, even though the chances of the patient dying on the table are very high. This possibility attracts the attention of Black Jack's arch enemy, Dr. Kiriko, whose modus operandi is euthanasia. He stands by, taunting Black Jack during the operation, ready to jump in and put the chef out of his misery.

The Japanese art of celebrity impersonation, called monomane, has become a celebrity industry in and of itself, with impersonators often becoming more popular than the famous people they mimic. So many washed-up singers have seen their flagging careers revived by monomanists that it is rumored impersonators are paid by has-beens to make fun of them on national TV.

You can see it happen yourself on Tuesday night at 7 p.m., as Fuji TV presents its regular seasonal "Monomane Kohaku Utagassen," which is a takeoff of the hallowed NHK New Year's Eve singing contest.

A total of 38 individual and group impersonators will participate, but don't expect to see Croquette, the best and most popular monomanist. A number of years ago, Croquette fired his manager, a big no-no in Japanese showbiz, and while he has since been seen on other networks' monomane specials, Fuji (which initiated the genre) has yet to forgive him.

Nevertheless, Akira Shimizu, probably the second-funniest impersonator, will be on hand, as well as a number of amateur monomanists who passed an audition to appear on the show. In addition to the usual bunch of enka and pop singers, mimicked personalities will include our current prime minister and his foreign minister.

Another fixture of the between-season TV landscape is "chin-play/ko-play" specials, which are collections of action clips from sporting events showing athletes performing either skillfully (ko) or hilariously badly (chin). On Thursday starting at 9 p.m., Nihon TV will present a two-hour special, "Hero's Stadium: Pro Baseball Ko/Chin Plays."

Over the years, these kinds of specials have become more sophisticated. In addition to the usual parade of stunners and bummers, there will be a section on the linguistic skills of Japanese athletes who now play on overseas teams. A reporter will also visit a Seattle home that has been turned into a shrine to Mariner Ichiro Suzuki.

Special prizes will be given to the top players in various fields, as well as to those athletes who are particularly skilled at cheating.

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