Romantics, reporter go far away, so close

In Japan, there’s a commonly held romantic notion that people who really want to pursue certain kinds of ambitions have to go abroad to do so. Only by immersing oneself in an environment that offers no distractions from the goal can one truly master a discipline.

This concept is the basis for the new TBS variety series “John Manjiro” (Monday, 12:50 a.m.). The program’s title is the name of the famous fisherman who brought new technologies back from the West at the start of the Meiji Era. However, as an eponymous hero, John Manjiro is something of a misnomer in terms of the aims of the show.

Manjiro did not go to America of his own free will. In the late Edo Period, his fishing boat was damaged and he drifted aimlessly on the Pacific Ocean until he was rescued by an American whaling ship. The crew took the 14-year-old boy to America, where he learned English and studied geographical surveying. Later, he returned to Japan with Commodore Matthew Perry’s expedition of 1853.

The TV show is much simpler. Each week, a small crew (essentially a director and an assistant) armed with only a digital camera visits a young Japanese person who is living and working abroad. The producers avoid famous people and large cities, concentrating mainly on places and situations that are out of the ordinary. So far, the show has traveled to Turkey and Tunisia. Last week, it went to New Zealand, where a young woman is trying to become a jockey.

This week’s show focuses on a woman named Yoshimi who is working in Fiji as a professional scuba diver. Yoshimi originally went to the South Seas to meet and work with legendary diver Api, who has since died. Yoshimi has mastered a local shark-taming technique, but the program also shows the Japanese emigre’s daily living situation.

It was only recently that the Japanese government enacted an antistalking law, which was drawn up in response to a single, high-profile incident. In October 1999, a female student was stabbed to death by a man at Okegawa Station in Saitama Prefecture. It was soon revealed that the man had been stalking the woman for months, and that the victim and her father had reported the man’s behavior to the police, who subsequently did nothing.

Even after the murder, the police spread information that the woman had somehow brought the problem on herself. The mainstream media , whose only source of information about the murder was the police reports, accepted this version of events and painted the victim as a woman of loose morals. Journalists outside the normal channels, however, soon realized that the police were simply trying to cover up their incompetence.

Nippon TV’s docudrama of the affair, “Yuigon (Last Testament)” (Monday, 9 p.m.), focuses on one of these journalists, Kiyoshi Shimizu, who works for the muckraking weekly Focus. Since weekly magazines are not allowed in prefectural police press clubs, Shimizu had to get his info elsewhere. He learned that the victim once dated the suspect and after she broke up with him, he and his brother began circulating flyers in her neighborhood that attempted to damage her reputation. The two brothers’ campaign became so vicious that, after the police refused to do anything, the victim told friends that she feared for her life.

Once the media bought the police version, the victim’s father refused to talk to any reporters. Shimizu (whose name was changed to Shimura in the docudrama) seeks out other people who knew the victim and learns of facts pertaining to the case that the police do not discuss. His work eventually attracts the attention of a major, independent TV reporter, who helps him expose the inept handling of the case by local police.

J apan and South Korea’s joint hosting of this year’s World Cup continues to bear fruit. On Friday at 9 p.m., Fuji TV will present a two-hour suspense drama, “Sonagi: Malice After the Rain,” produced in collaboration with South Korea’s MBC-TV.

Super-hot idol Ryoko Yonekura plays Chizuru, a hotel employee who goes to Korea to visit her brother, Seiichiro (Toru Nakamura), a company employee on temporary assignment. But when she gets there, Seiichiro is dead in his apartment, having ingested poison. The local police rule it a suicide, but Ryoko doesn’t believe it, since Seiichiro has a wife and son back in Japan.

Later, at Seiichiro’s funeral in Japan, Ryoko spies a stranger staring at her brother’s widow. She follows him and eventually confronts him. He turns out to be a detective from the Seoul police department that handled Seiichiro’s death. However, he is in Japan on his own initiative, without the approval or even the knowledge of his superiors.