A JAPANESE PUPPET SHOW ON TV
Bunraku is an ancient form of puppetry performed in the
classical Japanese theater. Almost-life-size doll
figures are manipulated by skilled operators dressed in
black, while the voices are provided by actors just off
stage. Though the puppet operators can be plainly seen
by the audience, they are ignored so that the narrative
can be told and the theatrical effect can be maximized.
It is an accepted convention.
It now appears that the Tokyo Broadcasting System (TBS)
has created a modern version of Bunraku adapted to the
television format. In this play, the puppet operators
are the producers and directors, and the doll figures
are the audience at home.
Tonight, TBS broadcast its diligently edited program
titled "Friday TV Star." While the audience at home
ignored the manipulation they were being subjected to,
a fictitious story was told by the puppeteers about my
encounter with a "psychic" girl from Taiwan named Mai
Takahashi. As Kubota Hiroshi, a Japanese skeptic who
writes for the Ashai Shinbun, a Tokyo newspaper with a
circulation of more than eight million, e-mailed me, "I
cannot believe it. I was astonished! TBS changed and
cut and did not broadcast the all-important scenes."
The Asahi is one of the biggest newspapers in the
world. Mr. Kubota called the "Weekly Asahi" magazine,
published by the Asahi newspaper, and told them that
TBS had been cheating in presenting this program the
way they did.
The narrater, said Mr. Kubota, told the TV audience
that an overhead camera "failed to catch any trick of
Miss Mai Takahashi." As Kubota commented, it is true
that the hidden camera from above did not catch her
cheating, but TBS said nothing about the camera behind
her. That camera clearly showed Takahashi opening and
peeking at the targets, and the audience saw and
commented on that fact as she performed the trick.
Also, reports Mr. Kubota, TBS edited out all the
comments of Mr. Aikawa, an older and very respected TV
host who presided at the demonstration. He was very
aware of the moves of Takahashi, and we discussed the
matter. Mr. Aikawa was unwittingly made into a man-in-
black by TBS.
My involvement in this program was misrepresented. The
impression was given that the TBS crew happened upon me
in Las Vegas, and that I asked them to find me a
genuine psychic so that I could test that person when I
visited Japan. No so. By the time we taped in Las
Vegas, I had already met and tested Takahashi (in
November, 1995) and I signed a second contract to do so
again in Tokyo, in March.
Miss. Kido (one of the hosts of the show) writes Mr.
Kubota, said, "Starting last November, we began to look
for a true psychic and at last we found the girl, Miss
Mai." Mr. Kubota comments, "I believe that they
changed the cause and effect!"
I will say this to the Tokyo Broadcasting System: The
Japanese people cannot be treated like little children
who believe everything told to them. Mai Takahashi was
caught cheating, doing a simple conjuring trick that
was revealed by the cameras. When I tightened up the
conditions so that she could not do her trick, it
failed. I challenge TBS to produce the videotape that
was recorded from the hand-held mobile camera, the
videotape that was not used by TBS and which clearly
revealed the trick.
Until TBS does this, the Japanese public remains
deceived, and I personally have lost any trust I had of
the producers and directors. I think that the Newton
magazine, the Asahi newspaper, and the scientists and
other skeptics in Japan who are also enraged at this
affront, will agree with me. This was an example of
disrespect for the TV audience, who are not informed of
what actually took place, but are given what the TV
producers want to give them -- a children's story that
is easily digested, but is not true.
The James Randi Educational Foundation.
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