Looks at stolen lives, loot and . . . bases

As Japan’s Major League Baseball broadcaster by default, NHK will certainly have its hands full next year when Hideki Matsui makes his MLB debut. It may be a logistic nightmare airing all Ichiro Suzuki and Matsui games, but it pays off in the end with lots of viewers.

This week, NHK’s BS1 channel will broadcast exclusive interviews with five of the Japanese athletes who played in the major leagues this past year. On Monday, Dec. 23, it will be Ichiro of the Seattle Mariners. Pitcher Kazuhisa Ishii will talk about his superlative rookie year with the Los Angeles Dodgers on Tuesday night, a year that was sadly cut short by a shot that almost took his head off. Wednesday belongs to Ichiro’s teammate, pitcher Shigetoshi Hasegawa. On Thursday, So Taguchi, a position player who didn’t see much action with the St. Louis Cardinals, will talk about his bench-warming skills. And, on Friday, the man who started it all, Hideo Nomo, will shed a little light on his return to the Dodgers which, while not exactly triumphant (Ishii stole some of his thunder), wasn’t chopped liver either. All interviews start at 9 p.m.

Chushingura, or the tale of the 47 ronin, is the most popular story in Japanese history and literature. Every Japanese citizen must know this tale of revenge backward and forward or risk deportation. It has been adapted to every narrative form: kabuki, bunraku, movies, TV, manga, novels, musicals and even ballet. However, in the 300 years since the real incident occurred, the story has evolved in various ways, reflecting the country and its culture as they changed over time.

On Dec. 26 at 7:30 p.m., NHK-G will present a special program titled, “Dear Oishi Kuranosuke.” Oishi was the former chief retainer who led the other 46 samurai in their bid to avenge the death of their master on Dec. 14, 1702 (actually, Jan. 14, by the old calendar, but the time-shift is another example of how the narrative has changed). Actor Toru Emori, who has played Oishi, will host the program, which will include scenes taken from all of the above-mentioned media. He and his guests will discuss the way the story has been presented, and what it has meant to the Japanese at different times in their history. He will even talk about the so-called anti-Chushingura faction; a group of people who take the opposite tack when it comes to reading the story. These people believe that the “bad guy,” Kira Yoshinaka, should actually be the hero of the story. They tend to believe that the 47 ronin were rough men and that Kira was refined and sophisticated.

Nippon TV will get down and dirty with crime this week in three two-hour specials broadcast on consecutive nights.

On Tuesday at 9 p.m., the topic is the women of the Japanese Red Army, including Yoko Nagata and Fusaku Shigenobu, both of whom are currently serving prison sentences. Nagata was convicted of murdering comrades in the bloody internecine purges during the Red Army’s ’60s heyday, and Shigenobu, a fugitive from Japanese justice who spent her exile in Palestinian refugee camps, was allegedly involved in terrorist activities in the Middle East.

The program will also profile the wives of Red Army members who hijacked an airplane in 1970 to North Korea — the infamous Yodo-go Incident — and their daughters, three of whom are now in Japan.

The Wednesday night special, “Time Travel Police Investigations” (9 p.m.), features actor Tetsuro Tanba as a fantasy police detective whose specialty is unsolved mysteries of the past. He and his colleagues travel through time to investigate old crimes using new methodologies and ideas.

First, Tanba goes back to 1968 to look into the famous robbery of an armored car in the suburbs of Tokyo. The criminal, who was disguised as a motorcycle cop, got away with 300 million yen, thus making him, after former Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka, the biggest thief in the annals of Japan. Moreover, the robber was never caught and the money never recovered.

Then, Tanba zips off to Los Angeles in the early ’60s to find out whether Marilyn Monroe really killed herself. The official police version said that the screen sex symbol downed a whole bottle of sleeping pills, but forensic records show no water glass in the room where the suicide took place. In addition, Monroe’s diary and her phone records went missing later.

Lastly, the detectives return to the Edo Period to find out why Tokugawa Ieyasu has two graves. The shogun supposedly died of food poisoning and was buried in the grounds of a temple in Nikko, but there is another grave in Osaka that supposedly contains his remains.

The Thursday night special, “The Real Story Behind Historical Crimes” (9 p.m.), will present a more realistic, documentary look at some of the biggest crimes of the last 20 years, including the sarin gas attack in the Tokyo subway system and the subsequent arrest of Shoko Asahara; the Kyushu bus hijacking, which was carried out by a disturbed teenager with a knife; and the bombing of a Korean Airlines jet in 1987 by two North Korean agents. One of the agents, who was sentenced to death and then subsequently pardoned, has since married and is now living quietly as a housewife. The special will include an exclusive interview with her.