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Sunday, Oct. 14, 2001


Time for a quickie and some canoodling

The theme of TV Asahi's new variety show, "Jungle Book" (Tuesday, 7 p.m.) is "making friends with animals all over the world." The producers send "young rangers," who are invariably teenagers, on various "assignments" in foreign countries where they interact on a long-term basis with both domestic and wild animals. In many cases, the locations are remote, which means the animals aren't normally used to human contact.

The main reason young people are chosen to be rangers is in order to show how "pure hearts" can merge: innocent young humans and guileless wildlife. As a result, the show aims to "discover ways in which we, as humans, can coexist with nature," by attempting to understand a particular animal as completely as possible.

The premiere installment follows 14-year-old Minami to an animal orphanage in Nairobi, where she is introduced to Muweya, a baby elephant whose mother was killed by poachers when he was only 3 months old. Minami learns that baby elephants will only take food from persons (or, presumably, other elephants) they trust completely. Minami is placed in charge of Muweya, so it is her main job to get the baby elephant to eat, a task that becomes physically and mentally trying for the young girl. All the while, celebrity panelists back in the studio joke and comment on Minami's difficulties and triumphs. The host is beanpole actor Takenori Jinnai.

This week's "Project X" documentary (NHK-G, Tuesday, 9:15 p.m.) will explore the development of kappu-men, or what is commonly referred to as Cup Noodle, though that term, in fact, is a registered brand name. The company that owns the name, Nissin Foods, first released the product in 1971. Japan and the rest of Asia haven't been the same since.

Before 1971, "instant ramen" was popular. Despite the name, it still required cooking. First you boiled water and then you dumped in the dried noodles and the soup stock. Cup Noodle worked in reverse. The noodles and soup stock remained in the package, a specially made Styrofoam cup. Boiling water was poured into this cup. What was revolutionary was that it was the first hot-food product in Japan that didn't require a kitchen. It could be eaten anywhere. In other words, it was made for teenagers and for salarymen who were too busy helping Japan pursue its economic miracle to stop for a meal. Thirty years later, 8.2 billion Cup Noodles and its many imitators are sold annually worldwide.

The documentary looks at the development of the product, which was more difficult than one might expect. Prior to Cup Noodle's debut, various food companies were engaged in a "ramen war," which Nissin was losing. The company's president came up with the idea for Cup Noodle, though even he didn't think it could be developed. Nissin's young engineering staff, however, worked night and day.

One of the main technical obstacles was the form of the dried noodles. If they fit the shape of the container, the hot water couldn't be distributed evenly, and the noodle mass wouldn't soften properly. Once the technical problems were solved, there were marketing difficulties. It took months before Nissin's sales staff could convince wholesalers to distribute the product. They thought it was a joke. It isn't a joke any more. Cup Noodle rules the world.

"Bad girls" of TBS's "Koi o Nannen Yasundemasu Ka?"

Though the Japanese word furin(immorality) has been around for a long time, it's only been in the last 15 years or so that it's taken on the meaning of an extramarital love affair. Uwaki, the word that has traditionally been translated as "extramarital sex," was mainly used for husbands who strayed, because it was considered beyond the pale for wives to do so.

Some attribute the ubiquity of the word furin to TBS's "Kin'yo Dramas," which ran intermittently from the late 1970s to the late 1980s. Nicknamed "Kintsuma," because they were broadcast on Friday nights and were always about housewives, these series helped make Japanese television safe for plots in which lonely married women go out and have sexual flings under the noses of their workaholic salarymen husbands, often with other women's workaholic salarymen husbands.

This Friday, the first "Kin'yo Drama" series in almost 10 years premieres, and while Japan has changed much in that time (an unfaithful married woman is now about as shocking as eating Cup Noodle in front of Suntory Hall), the basic structure of the drama remains intact. The romantic lives of several women, related by blood or friendship, are explored in soap-opera style, with lots of product placements to pull in advertisers.

"Koi o Nannen Yasundemasu Ka? (How Many Years Have You Been Out of Love?)" (TBS, Friday, 10 p.m.) stars once-and-forever idol Kyoko Koizumi as Yuko, a 35-year-old housewife with two kids. Her husband, Ryohei (Toru Nakamura), works for a prestigious trading company, where she once worked as well. In the first episode, Yuko runs into a former colleague, Reiko (Yumi Morio), at the wedding reception of a mutual acquaintance. Reiko is still working, and Yuko begins to wonder if she isn't missing something in her life.

Meanwhile, Sakiko (Hitomi Kuroki), an older friend whose own marriage was arranged, makes an appointment with Risa, her grown daughter, to meet a suitor, but Risa doesn't show up. The third story has to do with Mayumi (Naoko Iijima), a self-employed hairdresser slogging through a sexless mar-riage.

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