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Sunday, Oct. 21, 2001


Tune in, there are big things on the horizon

The cult of dieting takes on new meaning in Nippon TV's fall comedy serial "Kangei! Danjiki Goikko-sama," literally, "Welcome, Honorable Party of Fasters" (Saturday, 9 p.m.). The series is set at Rakuraku-jin, a Buddhist temple that accepts civilians who want to do the ascetic thing.

The temple is, in fact, well-known for its danjiki discipline and plays up its reputation in order to attract rich people who want to lose weight. The head priest (Tetsuro Tanba) takes his guests' money and then puts them through such suffering paces that they often end up fleeing without asking for it back.

Anna (Yasuko Tajima) and priest Shoraku (Satoshi Nakamura) in "Kangei! Danjiki Goikko-sama"

Most of the dirty work, however, is done by the temple's assistant priest, Shoraku (Satoshi Nakamura). It is he who must placate his boss's daughter, Kiriko (Marina Watanabe), a medical student who understands the racket her father is running and means to secure the temple facilities for her university.

In this week's episode, the original party of rich, overweight people who started the series has been reduced to seven. The wealthy parents of one of the guests, Anna (Yasuko Tajima), has promised the temple 30 million yen if the staff can somehow reduce Anna's weight by 15 kg.

One day, however, Shoraku notices that Anna's weight has actually increased. It turns out that she has been stealing the offerings of food that people leave at family graves in the temple's cemetery.

"Danjiki" features quite a few stars in comic supporting roles. Tajima, who won a swimming medal at the Sydney Olympics, was ridiculed in the press when she announced she was quitting swimming to pursue acting, since she was considered too "big" for showbiz. This is her first role. Incidentally, Suzuki, a popular choreographer, makes up one half of a music duo called FAT.

This seems to be the season for teachers. Tsuyoshi Domoto, himself one half of a very popular music duo, namely Kinki Kids, stars as a young substitute teacher at a Tokyo elementary school in "Gakko no Sensei (School Teacher)" (TBS, Sunday, 9 p.m.). Sentaro (Domoto), an Osakan with a matching salty dialect, has replaced a full-time fifth-grade teacher who is on indefinite maternity leave. Unlike most temps, he takes the job seriously and is determined to be not just a kyoshi (instructor) to his students but an onshi (the kind of teacher that changes your life).

Sentaro rents a room from a local ramen-shop owner whose daughter, Motoko (Yuko Takeuchi), teaches at the same school. In tonight's episode, Motoko finds an anonymous love letter and suspects that the secret admirer is another teacher, Onodera (Naoki Tanaka), who is extremely shy.

Meanwhile, the students are having their annual physical checkups, and one of the students, Tatsuno, is anxious because he is obviously overweight. Motoko has suggested that he go on a diet, and he does, but his measures are so drastic that he faints. Sentaro convinces him to start a jogging regimen instead.

If you're not up on your J-pop, over the next few nights NHK's BS2 channel will give you an opportunity to learn more with specials about four of the biggest names in the business. All the programs begin at 7:30 p.m.

Tomorrow night belongs to the song-and-dance quartet Da Pump, which, at the time of its 1996 debut, started out as a kind of challenge to SMAP and all the other boy bands churned out by Johnny's Jimusho. Since then, Da Pump has matured in step with the times, moving slightly away from bubble-gum pop to a denser R&B sound and the kind of slick, acrobatic choreography that SMAP could never handle. NHK captured the boys doing their thing in front of 40,000 fans at the Chiba Marine Stadium last July.

Soul singer Yuki Koyanagi is spotlighted on Tuesday night, singing for 30,000 people in a Sept. 5 concert at the Saitama Super Arena. Koyanagi made a spectacular debut in 1999 at the tender age of 17 with a voice that wasn't so tender. Obviously influenced by American gospel-tinged belters like Whitney and Mariah, Koyanagi is uncharacteristically (for a Japanese singer) brassy and loud.

On Wednesday night, veteran pop singer Miki Imai is profiled. Having started out as an actress and model, Imai came to singing relatively late but has managed to sustain a strong career despite limited gifts. One explanation may be that she plays hard to get. Imai rarely appears on TV or does interviews. Most of this program, however, shows her in the studio, in production meetings and in interview mode.

Chage and Aska, who spearheaded the "new wave" of Japanese folk-rock in 1979, are still going strong, boosted recently by their triumphant appearance in Seoul last year as the first Japanese musicians to ever play a large concert in Korea. On Thursday, they will present an evening of their greatest hits in a studio setting.

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