channel hop

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 30 September, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 30 September, 2007, 12:00am

Your television fortune this week says: be unconventional, even visionary. In other words, don't wait until Christmas to shell out for that 60-inch widescreen High Definition (HD) television you've been ogling all year. The time is now.

HD visual technology was first developed by Nippon Hoso Kyokai (NHK) and was unveiled in 1969. It wasn't until the early 1990s that it gained a foothold in the mainstream. Now 30 per cent of American homes have at least one HDTV.

What about Hong Kong? Judging by the increase in HD programming on terrestrial TV, perhaps we can expect a substantial TV-hardware overhaul in the near future.

NHK also produces smart, edgy programmes to match its technological innovations. And Coolest Hideouts in Tokyo (TVB Pearl, Friday at 8.30pm) is a great introduction. Positing as both an English-language learning tool for Japanese and edgy city guide for gaijin, the show sends a motley trio around town 'against terrifying odds ... to bring us the best in intercultural communication and entertainment'.

Divided into skit-like segments, the programme is narrated game-show style by a 'director from another country', who enlists the help of Patrick Harlan, 'a Harvard graduate and, for some reason, a comedian in Japan', Kazuya 'I'm-never-going-to-master-this-language' Matsumoto, and actress Yumiko Shaku, the queen of the cosmopolitan dream, to get a better understanding of the city.

As Matsumoto, Harlan and Shaku (pictured; from right) search for keywords that capture the essence of Tokyo, we follow them to the offices of Metropolis, a free English-language newspaper with a readership of more than 30,000. We also join them at a 'maid cafe' in Akiba district to meet an American aficionado of otaku (pictured, on the left) - the culture of cute. News flashes from 'ninja' reporters dot the programme and a cameo from internationally renowned director Wim Wenders rounds out the colourful cast.

Self-referential, bilingual and bi-cultural, the show's as crazy and fascinating as the city it promotes. Getting lost in translation has never been this fun. If you find yourself wanting more, the NHK library has other shows in a similar vein, with such titles as Struggling Sumos, Bracing for the Big One (about earthquakes in the island nation) and Akihabara Geeks, which investigates Tokyo's tech frenzy. Unfortunately, Pearl has no plans at present to air these programmes, but stay tuned for updates.

If Coolest doesn't hit your HD spot, you can try a different locale: Planet Earth (TVB Pearl, Tuesdays at 8.30pm). Four years in the making and with a budget of more than GBP16 million (HK$252 million), Planet Earth is the most expensive and ambitious factual series commissioned by the BBC. Eleven 50-minute HD presentations leave no stone under the sun unturned, no creature 20,000 leagues beneath the sea undocumented. The images are so vivid, even seeing is not believing.

Finally, in anticipation of Halloween, Star World is launching Hallow Scream - a month-long round-up of some of the creepiest Halloween movies of the past decade. The darkness descends on Wednesday with the premiere of The Hills Have Eyes (9pm), a remake of the classic 1977 chiller about a family who are attacked by a group of deformed killers while on holiday in the New Mexico desert. The fear finally abates on October 31, with the celebrity-heavy Scream Awards 2007. Keep your eyes peeled for more details.