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Sunday, Oct. 28, 2001

CHANNEL SURF

Oh, those meddling grandmothers

One of the most common themes in Japanese drama is the battle between yome and shutome -- brides and mothers-in-law. The new Nippon TV comedy series, "Honke no Yome (Bride of the Main House)" (Monday, 10 p.m.), stretches this concept by using a grandmother-in-law and updates the overall theme for an international era by making the bride a foreigner. In fact, the series is also being broadcast in Taiwan, the native land of singer Vivian Hsu, who plays Nozomi, the bride in question.

Nozomi, however, isn't completely a gaijin. Her father is Japanese. He met Nozomi's mother (Judy Ong) when he was stationed in New York on business, and that is where Nozomi was raised. Her parents, in fact, still live there, but Nozomi, who is trilingual, took a job in Taiwan working for a Chinese-language magazine. There she met and fell in love with Shinji Yamada (Shunsuke Nakamura), a transfer employee for a Japanese trading company.

Six months after they marry, however, Shinji's older brother and his wife flee the Yamada household back in Tokyo, and Shinji is summoned home to take up his familial responsibility as the de facto eldest grandson of the imposing Yamada clan.

Nozomi thus becomes the newest Yamada yome, and soon discovers why the previous yome and chonan (senior heir) decided to quit the place: Kin, the second wife of Shunsuke's late grandfather and the terror of the family, a matriarch with a dry, withering manner. Kin is played by veteran actress Shima Iwashita, who is famous as the leader of a group of yakuza wives in the "Gokudo no Onna" movie series. Kin does not like Nozomi at all, and tells her in no uncertain terms that she doesn't think she's deserving of her grandson. Nozomi, confused but defiant, braces for battle.

In tomorrow night's episode, Nozomi accompanies her mother-in-law, Haruko (Yoshiko Tanaka), to a tea ceremony. Haruko, who is married to Kin's eldest stepson, is another victim of the older woman's wrath but has long since buckled under her will. Ignorant of tea ceremony customs, Nozomi unknowingly embarrasses Haruko, who, angry and hurt, refuses to do her share of the household chores, leaving them all in Nozomi's less-than-competent hands.

Tonight, the biography-variety series "Shitteru Tsumori" (Nippon TV, 9 p.m.) takes a fresh look at one of the original architects of modern Japan, Sakamoto Ryoma, who led a group of young samurai in a revolt against the shogunate in western Japan. As one of the seminal figures in the events leading up to the Meiji Restoration of 1868, Ryoma is considered the most flexible thinker in Japanese history, despite the fact that he was of relatively low birth and was expelled from school while still a lad.

Ryoma commands a very romantic position in Japanese history books, owing not only to his underdog image, but also to his total disregard for personal glory. Though he helped pick the leaders for the first Meiji administration, he himself refused any role in the government.

The youngest of five children born to a samurai family of the lowest caste, Ryoma's uniquely practical sensibility was formed by his unusual upbringing in what is now Kochi Prefecture. He was a weak child and a poor student, but nevertheless became a skilled swordsman who refused to remain in his place. He was the first samurai to wear leather boots, the first Japanese entrepreneur to establish a trading company, the first Japanese person to have his portrait taken and the first Japanese man to take his bride on a honeymoon. The secret to his success, in his own words, was his insistence on living each day differently from the one he lived yesterday.

Sadly, Ryoma did not live to see Japan enter the modern world. A month after the shogunate gave up its power, Ryoma was killed by a gang of assassins in Kyoto. He was 33 years old.

Adifferent kind of rebel is the subject of a special program to mark Culture Day next Saturday. In "Renaissance Jiku no Tabibito (Traveler Through Renaissance Space and Time)" (Nippon TV, 3:30 p.m.), actress Shinobu Otake goes to Italy to look at the work of Giotto di Bondone, the shepherd's son who, influenced by the naturalist philosophy of St. Francis and his friendship with Dante, completely revolutionized painting.

The medieval graphic style that had been dominant for 900 years when Giotto was born was characterized by two-dimensional representation, which was meant to convey a religious ideal and not real life. Giotto's rounded, almost sculptural representations of his subjects were fundamental to the development of Renaissance art and thought.

Later the same day, Japan's own Renaissance man, Beat Takeshi, contributes to the waning Year of Italy in Japan with a two-hour-plus special, "A Tale of Three Italian Cities" (TBS, 9 p.m.). Takeshi is one of Japan's most famous autodidacts, but he arrives in Italy with no knowledge about the country or the Renaissance. His tutor is Nanami Shiono, a Japanese writer who is in the process of producing a monumental series of history books about Rome.

In addition to Takeshi's exploration of the culture of Rome, Venice and Florence, he and Shiono discuss the history of Italy, with Takeshi bringing his unique brand of inquisitiveness to the conversation. There will also be a short dramatic re-creation of the life of Machiavelli, with Takeshi playing the role of the infamous political philosopher.



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