For the second year in a row, NHK commemorates the end of the Pacific War with a drama special based on a novel by Hisashi Inoue. Last year, it was Inoue’s epic about a Tokyo family, “Aozora no Tango.” Sunday at 9 p.m. on NHK-G, it will be a more lighthearted tale set shortly after the war.
“Yake-ato no Home Run Ball (A Home Run Ball in the Ruins)” takes place in 1946 and is about a baseball team of sixth-graders in Yamagata Prefecture. This is a team from the poorer side of town; a team that has never won a game. The members rightfully believe that at least part of their problem is their equipment, which is almost nonexistent. They don’t even possess a real baseball (or, more exactly, “soft baseball,” since kids then weren’t allowed to play hardball until they reached junior high school). They use a ball made out of scraps of plants bound together.
The boys become obsessed with the idea of owning a real baseball and even try to steal one from a local museum exhibit. When they fail, five of them embark on a journey to Tokyo where they plan to obtain the genuine article from a factory that makes sporting goods.
Along the way, their little group is augmented by the son of a stationmaster, who proves to be helpful with tips on how to sneak in and out of train stations. The story takes place almost 20 years before there was a shinkansen, and the journey is a long one, filled with adventures and lots of colorful characters, including a group of touring jazz musicians. The boys have no money, but they do have something better: black market rice, which in Tokyo was practically worth its weight in gold during the lean postwar years.
Among its other commemorative programs, NHK will broadcast a documentary special called “Maboroshi Daisenka (Illusionary Battle Results)” (NHK-G, Tuesday, 9 p.m.) about a seldom-discussed incident that took place during the Pacific War.
In October of 1944, when many people in Japan had come to suspect that the war was not going well at all, the military government reported a great victory off the coast of Taiwan. An entire U.S. task force made up of 11 aircraft carriers had been sunk by Japanese fighter planes. The citizens celebrated, the prime minister exulted, and the emperor made an official congratulatory comment.
However, the Imperial Headquarters soon learned that the report was utterly false. No task force had been destroyed; no aircraft carriers sunk. It was later discovered that individuals within the Imperial Navy knew that the report was incorrect but kept this knowledge to themselves. The rest of the military, believing the report, embarked on a desperate and suicidal course of action.
The NHK documentary aims to look at the source of the false intelligence and why the truth was kept a secret. Veterans are interviewed, and organizational problems within the Imperial Headquarters are explained.
August is also the month for ghost stories, and on Tuesday, Fuji TV launches an ambitious new horror omnibus, “Kaidan Hyaku Monogatari (One Hundred Ghost Stories)” (7:59 p.m.). Each episode will dramatize one traditional Japanese ghost story, and while they are all quite familiar, Fuji has employed a staff of young professionals to give these old stories a new look. However, all were filmed at a famous jidaigeki (historical drama) studio in Kyoto to give them the proper period look.
Naoto Takenaka will be the only element that ties all 100 stories together. Takenaka plays Ashiya Dosan, a kind of itinerant sorcerer/storyteller who narrates each tale and becomes an active participant in them. The first installment is arguably the most famous Japanese ghost story, “Yotsuya Kaidan,” about a young woman who haunts the samurai husband who murdered her.
Bicycles are very valuable tools for living, especially in crowded Asia. But while the streets of Beijing can often be seas of two-wheeled vehicles, only Japan has the mama-chari, the simple, inexpensive, one-speed bicycle favored for its utility by everyone from salaryman commuters to housewives.
This week’s “TV Champion” (TV Tokyo, Thursday, 7:30 p.m.) will attempt to find Japan’s No. 1 mama-chari rider. Beginning with 45 contestants who cover the entire range of bicycle riding, from off-road competitors to newspaper delivery people, from commuters to mothers, the competition poses a number of challenges, all of which are designed specifically for mama-chari bicycles. Among them . . .
* A simple speed contest, in which riders are timed to see how fast they can cover a 100-meter stretch. (Preview: The winner is not the professional racer, but a 30ish housewife who reaches 40 kph.)
* A mama-chari demolition derby fought out in a rink. Anyone whose feet leave the pedals and touch the ground is eliminated.
* A “burden competition,” in which contestants must transport heavy shopping bags full of groceries on their mama-chari along a narrow raised platform.
* Semifinal: Contestants must perform acrobatic feats on their mama-chari, including jumping rope.
* Final: A dirt course and an obstacle course.