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TV REVIEW : ILLUMINATING ‘THE JAPAN THEY DON’T TALK ABOUT’

Times Staff Writer

You don’t get pontificating from Lloyd Dobyns. The veteran NBC correspondent believes that his job is to deliver information, wryly but never dryly; viewers can make of it what they will.

So don’t look for any sweeping conclusions from Dobyns in the documentary he anchors on NBC tonight, “The Japan They Don’t Talk About” (10 p.m., Channels 4, 36 and 39). He simply wants to pass on a few facts he thinks you might find interesting.

And so they are. His subject: the so-called “economic miracle” of Japan that we’ve been hearing about for so many years now--how the Japanese system of efficient factories and hard-working employees has pushed the country to the forefront of world competition in the automotive, electronics and other industries.

That picture, according to Dobyns and executive producer Reuven Frank, is accurate but incomplete. (Unfortunately, they don’t bother to assess how it got that way--who, in other words, the they are in “The Japan They Don’t Talk About.” One would guess they mean the news media, which of course might include NBC. And perhaps even Dobyns’ and Frank’s 1980 documentary, “If Japan Can . . . Why Can’t We?”)

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In any case, Dobyns and producers Ray Lockhart and Peter Poor proceed to show a darker side to life in Japan, in particular an economy that relies predominantly on cheap labor, frequently supplied by women and the elderly in unhealthful, non-modernized working conditions.

At a time when many Americans may be developing an inferiority complex about their country’s ability to compete with Japan, NBC is performing a service by reminding us that the Japanese success comes at a cost that the United States might not be willing--or find worthwhile--to pay.


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