Op/Ed From Ex-Prosecutor: Ghosn must respect Japanese Justice Statistics

Hiniku Taro, a former special prosecutor, implores Ghosn to respect Japan’s rule of law

Shame on you Mr. Ghosn, for not allowing us to prove you’re guilty in our very fair system of 99% conviction Japanese law!

It is most regrettable that Carlos Ghosn, the convicted criminal, former CEO of Nissan has cowardly chosen to escape from Japan rather than face a fair trial and inevitable conviction in Japan’s prestigious courts. This is very disruptive of our justice system and the prosecutor conviction statistics.

I think there is a cultural misunderstanding on the side of Ghosn-san that has led to this rash decision. As you may know, Japan is a country where justice works on the presumption of innocent until proven guilty. Which is the tatemae–like when your mama makes you a rice cake with zoni and you say it is good even if is not so tasty. Some have said, that in Nippon you are presumed guilty until proven innocent. This very true—up to certain point. That certain point, in my experience, being when we decide whether to indict or not. If it is not a slam dunk case, then we presume you are innocent because we don’t like to lose.

But once we indict you, we have 99% conviction rate. So post-indictment, you are presumed guilty until proven guilty. And Ghosn has unfairly denied us the right to prove his guilt. This is a great shame.

We only denied Ghosn 6000 files in preparing his defense and only kept him in jail for 129 days before his trial. We most benevolent but no no thank you from him. Just whine whine whine. He would have had a fair trial and been fairly convicted based on the incredibly slanted, selective testimony and evidence the prosecutors had arranged and altered, and a stark refusal to allow in any testimony that might exonerate him,.

Even then, he would still have a 1% chance of being found not guilty of some or all of the charges. Of course, since the prosecution can appeal cases in Japan, and we like to do, we’d probably have convicted him the second round. Yes, because you can get tried for the same crime here but we have no double jeopardy–in theory.

Ghosn is a bad fellow and deserving the full wrath of the mighty prosecutor’s office for the public good. If he was a bureaucrat who simply forged documents, shredded files to cover up Prime Minister Abe’s political machination– (Osaka prosecutors close Moritomo Gakuen case after reconfirming no bureaucrats will be indicted over scandal)–, that wouldn’t have been a problem. Or if he was close friend of the Prime Minster who allegedly raped a journalist, we would never have detained him and torn up the arrest warrant–as police were going to arrest him–and dropped all charges as soon as we knew he was going to publish a laudatory biography of Herr Abe.

But Ghosn is not a Japanese CEO, like the hardworking ones at TEPCO who were completely aware that a tidal wave might knock out the electricity to the generators causing a triple-nuclear meltdown. We never arrested them and refused to prosecute them. And look, the courts let them off, because they know, as we do, that justice is not our job–protecting the powerful JAPANESE elite is what we do. This is why we didn’t prosecute anyone at Toshiba for a billion dollar accounting fraud--because that was…a mistake. When a Japanese company like Takata makes defective airbags that result in deaths–overseas–that’s not our problem either. (But those American meddlers! So corrupt Us system be!) Why we don’t prosecute them? Because the executives are Liberal Democratic Party supporters and Japanese. Japan has tatemae justice system and this doesn’t apply to Jokyukokumin (上級国民) . And what are Jokyukokumin? If you have to ask, you aren’t one! It is like Zen koan.

How do we know what’s a serious crime? Well, when a foreigner does it, it’s a serious crime. It is in the unwritten Roppo. When Coincheck, loses over a billion dollars worth of virtual currency–was there a crime committed? We don’t care. When Mark Karpeles, a FRENCHMAN, running a virtual currency exchange is hacked out of a half billion worth of virtual currency, we arrest him on whatever charges possible. knowing he must be guilty. And we hold him for 11 months, questioning him with no lawyer present, because we know he’s guilty. And when the IRS, Homeland Security and US authorities arrest the real hacker, we try to block that evidence from being submitted into court. And when the court finds him not guilty on major charges, and the crazy judge rebukes us?

We don’t talk about that. Not good idea to talk about that. And what about Enzai (冤罪) –wrongful convictions? This only happens in case of Japanese, who are very old and probably going to die in prison, so we say okay, maybe not guilty. Oh and that Nepalese guy wrongfully convicted of murder. Oops. Prosecutors are humans, too. PS. Don’t read those back issues of that magazine devoted to cases of injustice in Japan. Very old now. Much changed!

We work very hard to find or make evidence that will our make case. Ghosn and his lawyers were very uzai. Why would we want evidence that could exonerate the accused when we already have enough to win the case? We get so tired of whiny liberal lawyers who want a ‘fair’ trial for their client. L-o-s-e-r-s. This is why we will find any reason to deny them crucial evidence or share it with them—and also because we can!

The judge is almost always going to give us what we want. That’s how the system works. And as a long time resident of Japan, Carlos Ghosn must respect that system. It is the honorable thing to do. It very simple.

A Guide To The Japanese Prosecutor’s Office

You do or not do a crime.

Someone reports the crime to the police, who may or may not make an arrest. THEN

A) If you are politically connected to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, his friends, or LDP and bonus points if you are wealthy business executive, the case is stopped early and investigation quashed.

If gung ho police insist, or foolish lower level prosecutors take papers from police, we wait until Japan wins Olympic bid or some big event and then announce that we won’t prosecute—so nobody notice.

B) If you are politically connected, you report crime to the police or even better, special prosecutor, and make back-door deal. Plea bargaining now welcome, welcome.

We arrest suspect (dirty foreigner or vocal critic) on lesser charges! Go to jail. If you don’t confess, we go to friendly judge and say, “He/she will destroy evidence or escape while we work little bit more. Can we keep them 10 more days?” Judge says, OK! We can hold you for up to 23 days, easy-peasy. Then like fish on a hook, we let you go–then rearrest! We hold them in jail until they confess and rigorously interrogate them every day.

If they don’t confess, it’s only because they’re guilty. And if they do confess, well we were right, they’re guilty.

Get With The Game, Ghosn!

This is Japan and everyone must play their part. We make occasional politically motivated public arrest of big person, but not anyone close to the Prime Minister. We leak like crazy to Japanese media bad things about suspect–even that they confessed. We prepare for the trial, hoodwink the lawyers, refuse to show them our evidence–because we can get away with it and the law doesn’t force us to do it, nor will the judge, and then we win. 99% of the time. And if we lose 1% of the time, well we win on the appeal. 😜

The role of the indicted is to either confess early or endure the proceedings and then get convicted anyway, but winning or escaping–that’s not an option.

Shame on you, Carlos Ghosn. You have made a mockery of the Japanese system of injustice justice. And what is even more unforgivable is that your selfish act may actually lower our conviction rates to less than 99%!

Hiniku Taro is a former prosecutor, now in private practice, after resigning from office when he was discovered to have forced a local politician to confess to being a serial underwear thief, ‘on a hunch’, in 2002. He says, ‘Even though I may no longer be a prosecutor, I never forget the valuable lessons I learned on the job such as yakuza and foreigners have no human rights’. For more information see the webpage for Hiniku and Tanuki Sougo General Law Horitsu Jimusho, located in Chiyoda-ku, Otemachi.

*Parody.

Inclement Weather: The 5 Best Japanese Films From The Bad Season of Cinema in 2019

by Kaori Shoji

Let’s not call this an illustrious year for Japanese movies – a big chunk of my retina hopes never to witness another syrupy love story starring Sota Fukushi ever again. Or Ryo Yoshizawa or Ryota Katayose or any one of a platoon of mid to late 20s Japanese actors who spend most of their working hours wearing high school uniforms, pouting or playing some dreary team sport for the benefit of starry-eyed, female co-stars. If for some reason you wind up in cinema hell in the afterlife, try to strike a deal with the devil and avoid seeing Gozen Reijini Kisu Shini Kite (Come Kiss Me At Midnight). It’s being touted as the blockbuster love story to close 2019, but works more like a corrosive sugar crash that bodes ill for 2020. 

That said, there were some gems to be found among the pebbles, though none of them managed to command a fraction of the public’s attention during the Rugby World Cup games. Sadly for Japanese cinema, the tournament just torpedoed every other means of entertainment, leaving movie buffs blinking and coughing in the dust as we tried to remember the titles that made the year memorable. 
The ones that made it into the membranes of our brains however, were courageous, socially aware and unafraid to step on more than a few toes. Perhaps, as all the pundits are pointing out, Netflix’s original content blew a hole in the Japanese film industry and made things a lot more liberal. Or libertine, as the case may be. For more details, read on for the best films of 2019 – in no particular order. 

1) 全裸監督 (Zenra Kantoku) – The Naked Director

This edgy, bold and often hilarious biopic of AV (adult video) director Toru Muranishi was brought to us via the heroic efforts of Netflix Japan, a three-man writing team and the sheer gutsiness of actor Takayuki Yamada in the titular role. 

Muranishi was dubbed “the emperor of AV” during the 1980s when the adult video was all shiny and new and proffered the cheapest ticket to titillation in the privacy of your own six mat tatami room. Muranishi churned out titles by the dozens and to save on labor costs, he played his own leading man and had intercourse with the actresses as he filmed them. Which is you know, busy, considering that back in the day, cameras were non-digital and very heavy. He is also credited for ‘discovering’ the talents of rich-girl Kaori Kuroki (played here by Misato Morita) who initially consented to work with Muranishi as a way of rebelling against her parents. Unflaggingly energetic and completely unapologetic, Muranishi embodied the perverted but enduring Japanese male fantasy: that groping and raping a pretty woman is actually a nice way to start a relationship with her. Currently, Muranishi works as a TV commentator and still has a lot to say about sex and women, most of which are unfit for the ears of sane folk. 

2) 天気の子 (Tenkino Ko) – Weathering With You

Anime filmmaker extraordinaire Makoto Shinkai (of Your Name fame) came out with what was arguably the only really memorable film of 2019 with Tenki no Ko (International Title: Weathering With You. (Mild Spoiler Alert) A semi-utopian spin on the dismally dystopian subject of climate change, the ending of Weathering With You instigated a controversial firestorm on social media. The question, in a nutshell, is this: Should we forgive the protagonists for putting their personal happiness before the greater good? In the story, a teenage boy is intent on rescuing the girl of his dreams, but the cost of his choice is non-stop rain that submerges most of Tokyo in water. 

Up until Weathering With You, Japanese anime characters had consistently sacrificed their romantic inclinations for the benefit of family or society – most notably in the films by Hayako Miyazaki. Boy and girl would get to meet but they rarely ever got together, as there were much bigger things at stake. But in Weathering… the boy chooses to be with the girl, even though this meant they and everyone else will be drenched in rain for years to come. Weathering...features gorgeous artwork combined with the latest in anime technology and may alter your whole perspective on weather and how it affects the soul. 

3) 新聞記者 (Shinbun Kisha) – The Journalist 

It was a bad year for journalists. Or more to the point, it was the year that Noriyuki Yamaguchi, formerly of the TBS news department, gave journalists a bad name by raping fellow journalist Shiori Ito three years ago, and when he was deemed guilty in court, held a press conference in December to say that she was a big liar. No wonder Japan slid back to 121st place (out of 144 countries) in gender equality – this is lower even, than UAE and China. 

But I digress. The journalism profession and women journalists in particular, got a redemptive respite with the opening of The Journalist. Based on the bestselling autobiography by Tokyo Shinbun reporter Isoko Mochizuki, The Journalistis a suspense thriller about how the titular protagonist (played here by South Korean actress Shim Eun-kyung) dares to go after the government to unveil conspiracy cover-ups with zero support from her status-quo loving male colleagues. Alone and isolated, the journalist teams up with a young bureaucrat (Tori Matsuzaka) from ‘Naicho,’ – the Cabinet Intelligence and Research Office – to expose a government scandal that’s almost an exact reenactment of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s ‘Morikake’ incident. The whole package is gripping, revelatory and entertaining, but it’s a shame director Michihito Fujii couldn’t get a Japanese actress to play the lead. Apparently, no one was willing to risk being seen as anti-Abe. 

4) 七つの会議 (Nanatsuno Kaigi) – Seven Conferences 

They say Japanese corporate meetings are getting longer by the year, mainly because they’re run by fifty-somethings who feel intimidated by millennials and need to show the young whippersnappers who’s in charge. I know people who went into a morning meeting to reemerge 5 hours later, then having missed their lunch hour, go into another meeting that lasted all afternoon. It’s only after 5 that their real work day begins, and it’s midnight before they can go home. Seven Conferences shows just how this schedule works and paints a precise if unflattering, portrait of a large Japanese manufacturer. From scene one, it has you fidgeting with painful discomfort and/or traumatic workplace flashbacks. 
Based on the same titled novel by Jun Ikeido (master of drawing dysfunctions in the Japanese corporate world) Seven Conferences is thought provoking without getting preachy, in spite of the frequent allusions to power harassment and ‘karoshi/過労死 (death from overwork).’ The movie opened before the Work Style Reforms kicked in, and the experience may be a bit like watching a dinosaur (the big, cumbersome Japanese electronics company) kick and struggle before dying, giving into a new age where putting in insane hours isn’t a guarantee for anything. 

Editor note: The so-called Work Style Reforms set a cap at overtimes hours of 100 per month, 20 more than what the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare considered the danger line for death by overwork. Flaws in the law make it possible for people to be made to work even longer hours.

5) 人間失格 (Ningen Shikkaku) – No Longer Human 
Novelist Osamu Dazai really had his moment in 2019. No Longer Human – a fictional biopic of Dazai’s last days in which he consorted with two mistresses while keeping his wife and children firmly on the sidelines – pushed his name back into the Japanese consciousness. 
Dazai died in 1948 at age of 38, in a double suicide with one of his lovers. His last work Ningen Shikkaku, was published posthumously, and this movie suggests he was collecting material for his next book with excessive drug-taking and philandering, and wound up pushing his luck a little too far. 
Filmmaker Mika Ninagawa is behind this bittersweet eye-candy of a movie, painting in bold strokes the desperation and addiction that defined Dazai’s (played by an excellent Shun Oguri) personality. Dazai also understood women in a way that no Japanese author has ever quite grasped (looking at you, Haruki Murakami) and the movie comes off as a deeply respectful tribute to that insight. 

Look far, Look close: Abstract Art you should make definite plans to see

Johnna Slaby is an abstract painter, from Osaka, Japan who’s work is gaining attention nationwide. Her paintings are evocative of some of the best artists of the genre, with a Nippon twist. She is also the twin sister of photographer, Reylia Slaby,


Join her at Look Close Look Far, an exhibit of works on paper and canvas that incorporate text, gestural marks and imagery from a day in the life.

Johnna Slaby at work

Johnna works to mirror her own experiences and the elements she finds in her surroundings through the current series.
Through the work there is an emphasis on how stories can be unfolded by both stepping back and taking a closer look; whether that be observing how morning light that enters the room, glancing up at the commuters on the train, or examining serendipitous moments in an everyday setting.

Exhibition taking place at the Trunk Hotel until November 6th.

LOOK CLOSE LOOK FAR Johnna Slaby Solo Exhibition
OPENING PARTY
Date: 2019.11.2 (Sat)
Time: 18:00 – 23:00
DJ: Ellen
EXHIBITION DATES: 2019.11.2 (Sat) – 11.6 (Wed)


スレイビージャナ 日本出身のアーティスト。元来ミュージシャンを志すも、18歳の時、アバンスケッチングに出会い水彩の色に感動し刺激を受ける。スレイビージャナ 日本出身のアーティスト。
2014年にアクリルを使い始め、抽象画には色、筆使い、触れた時の感触、様々の感情、感じたことのない好奇心など普段感じない感情や会話の源があると発見する。現在、国内のコーヒーショップから使用済みの粉をもらい、人生や繋がりなどのテーマを絵画で表現している。
Website: www.johnnaslaby.com
Instagram: www.instagram.com/johnnaslaby

Insult Comedy Goes International as Tokyo Roast Battle Takes on Shanghai

Tokyo Vs Shanghai in a stand-up competition guaranteed to make the authorities rise up in anger and amusement.

Competitive insult comedy takes a huge step forward as Tokyo Roast Battle squares off against the Shanghai League in Asia’s first ever international Roast Battle competition, the winning city taking home the inaugural Chalice of Malice trophy.

Shanghai will be represented by three comedians flying in for  the show. The card is headlined by Fukuoka TV personality and Japanese Champion Bobby Judo (USA), who faces stand-up comic and Shanghai tournament winner Eric Alexander (Canada) to determine who will become the first East Asia Champion.

Note: To really get into the spirit of Chinese comedy, facial recognition technology will be employed at the venue to see who laughs at the Red China jokes, so they can be rehabilitated at at a later date. Visitors from Hong Kong can get masks at the front desks but are not allowed to vote. Any jokes pertaining to Japan’s Conspiracy Laws should be reported to the Abe Cabinet Intelligence office after the show.

Roast battle is a 7 year old comedy format that originated at the World Famous Comedy Store and is now being performed all over the world. Comedians go head to head in hilarious insult battles reminiscent of rap battles, only much funnier & meaner. Roast Battle has had 3 successful seasons on Comedy Central and has spawned spinoffs in the UK & Canada. 

Tokyo Roast Battle (TRB) was founded by Canadian comedian JJ Wakrat in 2017. Although there had been a handful of one night tournaments and events in Asia. TRB was the first league of its kind. It has been very well received in straight-laced Japan, selling out every single show to date.

According to JJ, what makes this show so special is how it embraces diversity without pulling any punches. “This show is super intense. It’s just about the least polite thing you can witness in Japan. But what makes it work is the love and affection the comedians have for their opponents”.

Regular shows and tournaments have since been promoted in cities like Shanghai, Bangkok, Saigon, & Singapore. With the growing popularity of Roast Battle, it was inevitable that some form of International competition would develop. Tokyo Roast Battle: Shanghai vs Tokyo is the first Intercity friendly match, but certainly not the last.  An All-Asia Invitational tournament is planned for the spring with Roast Battle on Comedy Central Season 2 Champion Frank Castillo set to judge.

Tokyo Roast Battle: Shanghai vs Tokyo takes place October 18th at Good Heavens in Shimokitazawa. Reserving tickets ahead of time is strongly recommended: www.tokyoroastbattle8.peatix.com

Full Fight Card

Main Event: (3 rounds)

TV Host Bobby Judovs Eric Alexanderfor the East Asian Roast Battle Championship.

Co Main Event: #1 Contender bout (3 rounds)

2 Time Tokyo ChampionBill Millervs Shanghai Roast Battle finalist Gene George.

Tokyo comedy legend Vinay Murthymarks his Roast Battle return against Shanghai show-runner Dan R. in a tit-for tat shootout. 

Tokyo Closet Ball founder Tatiana faces off against Vietnam’s Stefani St. Sl*t in Asia’s first ever Drag Queen battle.

Venue

Good Heavens British Bar Tokyo (SHIMOKITAZAWA)

Address:5丁目-32-5 Daizawa, Setagaya, Tokyo 155-0032

Time & Date 

Friday, Oct 18 @ 8:30. 

Promoter

Stand Up Tokyo

Contact

jjwakrat@gmail.com 

Tickets:

www.tokyoroastbattle8.peatix.com

No More Dashi: Four Delicious Vegan Restaurants In & Around Tokyo

by Anna Wildman

Eating vegan (a diet containing no animal products whatsoever) in Japan can be frustrating, given that most Japanese don’t seem to have even have the word “vegetarian,” let alone “vegan,” in their vocabulary. Even in Tokyo, one of the world’s most cosmopolitan cities, dashi (bonito fish flake stock/seasoning) seems to be in almost everything– from miso soup to potato chips. The “Impossible Burger” hasn’t quite made it to Japan.

Oftentimes, even the menus at veggie-forward restaurants (often with names that include the words “farmer” or “yasai,” meaning vegetable) are mostly meat-centric dishes with some organic veggies on the side. 
While culturally, eating vegan hasn’t hit the mainstream in Japan quite yet due to various reasons,  the vegan restaurants that do exist here are high quality and often very cozy and inviting. 

Below are four 100% vegan restaurants in or near Tokyo that I encourage you to try, or would encourage anyone to try. They are all quite different in terms of location and type of food, but the one thing that they all have in common is value — and the safety of knowing you are eating in a place that knows what it means to be vegan.

Saido

Located in Jiyugaoka, one of my favorite neighborhoods, is known for its trendy vibes and romantic streets, Saido (meaning vegetable street) is truly a hidden gem. After walking through a lush garden, expect to be greeted by a very cheerful and friendly Japanese woman. She will explain the menu to you in detail, giving suggestions (osusume) along the way. At lunch time, for about 2,000 yen you will receive a three-course meal that comes with soup, a gastronomic wonder of a salad that emits smoke when opened, and then the main course. Choose from one of the many noodle dishes (e.g. yakisoba, abura soba, ramen, tsukemen), unagi-don, katsu-don, or curry. 


https://saido.tokyo/

2 Chome-15-10 Jiyugaoka, Meguro City, Tokyo 152-0035

Closest Station: Jiyugaoka 

Olu Olu Cafe
A somewhat cluttered, homey Hawaii-inspired 100% vegan restaurant in the Sangenjaya neighborhood near Shibuya. Their menu is quite varied, with choices from hot fried (soy-based) chicken to ramen. 

The jambalaya there is one to write home about– or write an article about. Flavorful, subtly spicy, quality mock meat, and not too oily.  All main course meals are from 900-1,200 yen, and portions are fairly large. 

Once you’re done eating, head outside and walk around the area. There are plenty of parks, coffee shops, and clothing stores to be explored. 

https://oluolucafe.amebaownd.com/

1 Chome-11-1 Ikejiri, Setagaya City, Tokyo 154-0001

Closest Station: Sangenjaya

Kousaiken Gu
Since this restaurant is actually in Kamakura, it’s technically outside of Tokyo. Get on a train and go to the beach when you’re done. Even if you don’t go to the beach, it’s worth the trip thanks to its charm and quality. 

It is almost hidden, located just up the street from the crowded beaches of Kamakura in a very quiet and residential neighborhood. 

The restaurant has a mix of Japanese and Indian food with very limited seating– one inside and two outside seating area (with covering). The family who owns it originally operated the restaurant out of Nerima-ku in Tokyo, but moved it to Kamakura in 2017 where they have been running it ever since. They are very friendly and love to chat in English, so it’s a great place for tourists looking to take a break from kanji-riddled menus and staff with limited English abilities.
For 2,000 JPY, one can get soup, a large vegetable plate, curry, rice + puri, dessert, and tea. I was blown away by the value. My favorite was the vegetable plate, which came with about 10 different types of vegetables, all cooked in different ways. 

https://tabelog.com/kanagawa/A1404/A140402/14063693/

3 Chome-1-7 Zaimokuza, Kamakura, Kanagawa 248-0013

Closest Station: Wadazuka

Nagi Shokudo 

Conveniently located in Shibuya, it’s a tiny place with only two staff members including the chef. 

This is meant to be a traditional Japanese restaurant vegan-ized. They serve up karaage, seasonal veggie dishes, curry, miso soup, and more. If going for dinner, I recommend the couple deli plate for two. It includes a sampling of all of their different dishes for just 4,200 yen. 

https://tabelog.com/en/tokyo/A1303/A130301/13048497/

15-10 Uguisudanicho, Shibuya City, Tokyo 150-0032
Closest Station: Shibuya  

Some online resources to find vegan food: 

https://www.happycow.net/asia/japan/

https://vegewel.com/en/

A Requiem For Kyoto Animation (KyoAni)

The popular multi-lingual singer, Elizaveta, has released a tribute song “Meet Again” to those who lost their lives in the terrible arson attack on beloved anime studio, Kyoto Animation (KyoAni).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Xvd0FGCi7M

She will donate all the net proceeds from sales of this song to KyoAni’s official support fund.

BandCamp: https://elizaveta.bandcamp.com/track/…

iTunes: https://music.apple.com/us/album/meet…

Alternatively, you can donate to KyoAni directly to help them rebuild (official account info after the link): https://www.kyotoanimation.co.jp/info…

Japan Subculture Research Center asked Elizaveta to explain why she wrote the song and for the lyrics to the song. Here is what she had to say.

I wrote “Meet Again” not long after finding out about the tragic fire at Kyoto Animation. I had met some people from KyoAni, although just very casually, through a network of animators and visual artists I am occasionally part of, when in Tokyo.

I was hoping to be able to tour the studio and visit their shop, when visiting Kyoto next. I was also aware of their positive reputation, as they were known for being an employee-friendly company in an industry, which often overworks and underpays animators. They had a lot of women working for them, too, which was unusual, and a breath of fresh air.

In the hours and days following the tragedy, I couldn’t stop thinking about what had happened, and following the news, which just got more and more grim.

The contrast between the beautiful, hopeful art produced by KyoAni and what happened to them, was very hard to reconcile with. I am not a starry-eyed optimist,  

but I do prefer to believe that good things happen to those who put out good things into the world. While I know it’s a naive worldview, it’s better than the alternative. This event, though, was not an accident, but an act of deliberate evil. All circumstances aligned for it to be as awful as could be. It was incredibly hard for me to accept it as reality. There had been no magic hero to save the day, and nothing to soften the blow. Kyoto is a peaceful, mystical city of a few thousand temples. But no deity stepped in to offer protection.

Once you accept that something terrible like this happened and there’s no way to explain it, you must allow for healing to start, or at least attempt to get on the path towards it. I can’t even start to imagine the pain and trauma of those who had gone through this experience and survived are now having to deal, and probably for years to come. My heart also goes out to those who got the call that day to find out their loved ones were no longer with them. Furthermore, the trauma to KyoAni fans around the world may not have been as direct, but it’s real nonetheless. When you make art, those who love and consume it, become believers of the things your art brings into the world. For KyoAni fans, it would have been beauty, hope and harmony. A tragedy such as this one kills faith that the world is in any way fair and a worthwhile place to be part of.

I wrote “Meet Again” the day I went to the recording studio, and the song practically wrote itself. I heard it in my head, and the lyrics came to be just minutes before I walked out to catch the train. This recording is the first take, which we recorded and filmed. It wasn’t quite perfect in a couple of places, and so I did another take, but I had a hard time singing then, because I was too close to tears. And so I made the decision to keep the first take, as it was, and record no more. 

I wrote this song as a way to heal myself, even though I was just a bystander of this tragedy. I hope it may serve as a source of healing to others affected by it. I still have hope and faith. There are so many things we do not know, and so much happens every day, which makes it hard to take heart and carry on. But carry on we must, and help those around us do so, too.

I don’t remember when
I got the call that day
They said you were no more
And then the ground gave way

I sat and cried all night
Still hoping they’d been wrong
A part of me had died
How could I carry on

As sunrise painted red
Inside my sleepless eyes
Still lying on my bed
I thought I heard a voice

It sounded like my love
A distant precious sound
But there was not a soul
That I could see around

I know you’re still with me
In other shape or form
Our union has survived
A deadly firestorm

And when I look above
I can transcend the pain
Soar high with me, my love
I know we’ll meet again.

<日本語歌詞>

何時のことか 覚えてない
もういないと 立ち尽くした

泣き明かした まちがいだと
身を裂かれて 歩みようも

夜明けの赤 腫れ目を染め
伏せたままで 聞こえたのは

君のような 遠くの音
影ひとつも 見えないのに

今も そばに 形を変え
つながりだけ 焼け残った

仰ぎ見ては 痛みを超え
君を連れて また会うまで
あの高みへ また会うまで

Born in USA, Russian-raised Elizaveta made her debut on Universal Records (US) in 2012. Since then she became the voice of the Tavern Bard in Dragon Age, has toured USA, Russia and Europe, was a repeat guest performer at the main TED stage, and released a number of multi-lingual recordings, heard in multiple films and TV series. She produced and released an all-Japanese language duet album Mezameru Riyuu earlier this year, followed by a 16-city tour of Japan.

British widow fights to know the truth on 34th Anniversary of the Japan Airlines Flight 123 crash.

by Susanne Bayly-Yukawa

I am the British widow of Akihisa Yukawa who was one of the 520 victims who died in the Japan Airlines Boeing 747 flight 123 from Tokyo to Osaka crashed into Mount Osutaka – the world’s largest single aviation disaster.

I came to Japan to fight for justice – 34 years after his death. For the first time I have joined the Japanese bereaved to request a reinvestigation of the crash based on new evidence.

On 16th July I participated in a symposium at Waseda University which outlined the need for information disclosure of the Japan Airline flight 123 crash. The details of the symposium are here and why we feel that the real cause of this terrible disaster is still not known–please read here or read the Professor’s comments at the bottom of this post.

I am aware the Japanese government announced in 2000 that the documents about the crash were copied onto microfilms and would never be destroyed. I am joining the bereaved in asking for these documents to be released now. We all know that part of the plane is still in Sugami Bay, I am campaigning to have it salvaged and re-investigated. There is considerable evidence that was not included in the original crash report – these significant new facts simply cannot be ignored. In accordance with international guidelines there is a necessity to re-open the crash investigation based on these facts. This is the worst single Boeing crash in history, the bereaved – and the world deserve to know what really happened. It is a human right to know the truth. Powerful corporations over the world over continue to escape accountability and victims have no route to remedy. I am calling for a new international law to protect everyone from the harm caused by the lack of truth and accountability. I am speaking with a number of Japanese journalists/documentary makers and have agreed to be interviewed on the 12th August on the anniversary of the crash in Gunma. 

I am campaigning for the bereaved and my own personal case – both issues are about corporate accountability and transparency. 
Akihisa Yukawa and I lived together for seven years as de-facto man and wife and bore him two daughters, we could not have been happier, we had every intention to marry. Akihisa was working as a senior Sumitomo executive at the time of his death, he was building the aviation leasing business for his company. He was working very closely with Japan Airlines before the crash as the lead of the syndicate which led to the largest order of Boeing aircraft on record from Japan in 1985.
This order was announced just nine days before the crash, the aircraft were delivered after his death:
https://www.flightglobal.com/pdfarchive/view/1985/1985%20-%202341.html?search=JAL

On Monday 12th August 1985, Akihisa was requested by his company to attend a business meeting in Osaka.
He was feeling unwell that day and had a very strong sense that he should not go – he tried his very best to cancel but his head office insisted it was necessary for him to go which led to his death in the JAL 123 crash.

I think it is time we all knew the truth about everything that happened.

“””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””

Tohko Aoyama, JAL 123 researcher–

“On July 16, the Waseda University Faculty of Law and the Waseda University Comparative Law Research Institute co-hosted an academic symposium asking for information disclosure of the Nikko flight 123 (JAL123). For the first time, UK bereaved Susan Bailey Yukawa (Susanne Bayly-Yukawa) came to Japan and issued a statement asking for a reinvestigation with Japanese bereaved. Professor Christopher P. Hood at Cardiff University in the UK also sent a video message. The keynote speech was held by Mr. Hiroshi Miyake, a member of the Cabinet Office Public Document Management Act, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications information disclosure system member, vice chairman of the bar association and chairman of the board. I also mentioned the necessity of the reinvestigation. The legal path to reinvestigation has finally come to light.

Now I would like to share with you overseas people about the Nikko123 Flight crash and the story that is not written in the official accident investigation report.

On August 12, 1985, Japan Airlines flight123 crashed in Ueno village, Gunma Prefecture, and 520 people were killed. This is the world’s largest single airplane crash still now. Twenty-two of the victims were foreign nationals, including the United Kingdom, India, the United States, Korea, China, and Italy. At the time I worked for JAL as a stewardess belonged to the same group of the flight attendants who encountered the accident, but I was relieved because of the duties for an international flight. 34 years have passed since then. I got married and retired, put myself in the education world, then got a doctoral degree from the University of Tokyo. In the meanwhile, I have always questioned the cause of the crash of the Nikko123 and continued my research. As a result, I wrote four books.

One of them “New facts of the Nikko123 crash -close to the truth at the eyewitness accounts” breaks through 100,000 copies, thereby making the general public aware of the cause of the accident different from the accident investigation report. After a 34 years survey, I was convinced that the crash of the Nikko123 was not an accident but an incident.

According to the accident investigation report of the official announcement at that time, the aft pressure bulkhead that had been damaged by a hard tail-hit against runway in the landing at Osaka airport in 1978, was repaired in the incomplete manner by Boeing. Its bulkhead broke again in the operation of the Nikko 123 due to a repair error and its mount of pressurized air in the cabin darted out and accumulated inside of the vertical fin, finally blew up the top corner of the fin with pressure. However, despite all this the Japanese judiciary did not prosecute anyone for this reason. In other words, no one had any responsibility for the death of 520 people. It was written that the reason for the crash is that Boeing made a repair mistake and Japan Airlines missed it. But even after the accident, Japan Airlines purchased Boeing’s airplanes in following year one after another. Not only JAL but all rivals of JAL and Japanese Self-Defense Force also purchased aircrafts under the intention of the government (Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone). As a result, Boeing’s sales in Japan were the highest which resulted in 520 victims.

In 2015, News reported that most of the vertical fin and tails constructions blew off were still in the sea. Despite the direct cause of oneself, it is still sunk to the seabed 160m of Sagami Bay, below the flight route. This is the origin of the accident, nevertheless the Japan Transport Safety Commission which is in the Ministry of (Land, Infrastructure,) Transport (and Tourism,) refused the wishes of the bereaved and rejected to pull them up from the seabed for the reinvestigation. It was natural to do so because of a lot of doubts and an unconvincing non-prosecution.

I will briefly explain why they refuse so much, based on the facts.

The accident investigation report disregarded all the testimonies of many witnesses.
According to them, immediately after the emergency happened on JAL 123, the two phantoms that were launched urgently tracked the JAL aircraft, and near the crash point, local children said “A large airplane and two small airplanes are chasing” they were sure to look the situation.

In the ultra-low altitude flight of JAL 123, it was observed that an elliptical thing like a red airplane was stuck near the fuselage. In the vicinity of the crash site, adults also witnessed a bright red small plane flying. A non-duty SDF member witnessed that two SDF Phantom aircrafts were flying in an unusual situation, and this was described in the police report too.

I interviewed the chief of Ueno village of a crash site (Takeo Kurosawa). He said that he called the central government many times for crashing in his village. Nevertheless, coverage of the unknown continued throughout the night.

In the village at the crash site, many people gathered, including many SDF vehicles, police and riot police and so on, all night long. There was a big fire at the crash site on the mountain and there were many helicopters on it. It had been witnessed that they were going back and forth and raising and lowering things.

According to Mr. Antonucci’s testimony of the US military, the crash site was identified in 15 minutes after the accident, “so I went for relief, but the Japanese rescue team came and ordered a return”. However, he knew a report next morning that it was unknown all night, and he was hampered to say nothing.

If the two Phantoms were flying with JAL 123 at a bright time before the crash, the location was identified and reports that “the crash site was unknown all night” would not be held. In response to this comment, the SDF’s official announcement said that one minute after the crash, we sent out two phantoms, but we did do nothing before that, we had not had even one fly.

So what did the Japanese government and the Self-Defense Forces do all night without saving the passengers? I also briefly report scientific findings.

(1) I examined the remains (a few rocky blocks) collected at the crash point with a university research institute. As a result, it was found that the material was made of duralumin and was the remnant of JAL 123. Further, when black deposits were analyzed, a large amount of benzene ring, sulfur, chloroform were detected. Jet fuel used by JAL was kerosene JTA-1, which was a good product of high purity refined from kerosene, so why is a large amount of gasoline component benzene ring and sulfur detected in the crash site? This is a biggest question. Naturally, there was no gasoline on the product also no sulfur component in this mountain. Furthermore, why was the non-load chloroform attached?

(2) According to the detailed data for the condition of the body that was obtained and analyzed by the autopsy doctor, one third of the bodies were abnormal carbonized, one third of them were complete bodies, and another two thousand fragmental parts of bodies. The plane crashed on the summit of the ridge called “Osutaka no One” was broken into four parts, and one of them, the E compartment just in front of the rear pressure partition where the four survivors were sitting, slipped off from the summit and fell to a point completely invisible from the summit. It was deep bushes of trees.

Their tympanic membranes were normal despite the survivor experiencing a sudden decompression as the vertical tail blew off. The four survivors were listening to a large number of voices and encouraging each other. However, the helicopters flying above did not rescue them. According to the doctor, “100 people must be alive if they were discovered immediately after the crash”. In the crash site near the summit, the flames were rising until morning, and according to a local fire brigade who accidentally found a survivors, it was full of gasoline and tar odors. Why was the smell of non-load dangerous goods gasoline full? Tar was not a cargo. What did the existence of the SDF helicopters witness around the scene all night tell you? By the way, the components of the weapon fuel (flamethrower) possessed by the SDF members were gasoline and tar.

⑶ According to the autopsy doctor, there were many charred remains those completely carbonized on both the back and front near the summit. In addition, there were neither an engine nor a wing part (as storage located for kerosene fuel tank) in the vicinity. Carbonized to an extent that was clearly different from other aircraft accidents and traces of double burns.

⑷ The remaining fuel for about 1 hour flight rage burned for 11hours. The body must be burned twice. There was evidence that firearms were used, and material of the fuel promoter was discovered. Because of a component different from kerosene.

⑸ There is a shower toward evening every day at the crash site, the humidity is 75%, and summer mountain is not particularly likely to be a forest fire. In addition, it is obvious that summer clothes are not suitable for burning for a long time. The thick human body does not carbonize to bone, even if the surface is burnt and black. Why did you carbonize the bones?

All of the above are interviews with police doctor, local people, former SDF personnel, and transport minister at the time (Tokuo Yamashita), Secretary of Defense Agency at the time (Koichi Kato). Research were conducted at the professional research institute. The answer is that the SDF had some involvement in the crash. In fact, daily newspaper reports for a week before the crash were articles on domestic missile development and missile test success. On the day of the accident, the self-defense ship Matsuyuki was in public testing and was under missile testing.

This year, we are requesting disclosure of information, including a 34-year-old live voice recorder and the genuine flight recorder to clarify these in accordance with the law.
There should be no problem even if the materials and information are disclosed to the bereaved, since Japan Airlines and Boeing as the parties to the official cause of the accident have officially apologized and acknowledged. The government is obliged to answer the bereaved questions seriously. The reinvestigation is natural because it has not been prosecuted in the past. However, the accident investigation committee has refused to release materials for 34 years long with citing various reasons. This is the actual condition of Japan.

Japanese side bereaved family members are seeking to disclose information with their bereaved overseas, and formally request a reinvestigation regarding this unclear incident. There should be no reason for anyone to refuse this. There are many military involvement in what is considered to be an aircraft accident whose cause is unclear. This may be happening around the world. For that, Legal maintenance is indispensable in the international framework in the future, and British bereaved and Japanese bereaved are aiming for it.

August 1st, 2019″

Editor’s note: This article was submitted by Ms. Yukawa who has tried to hold a press conference in Tokyo. There are many theories about what happened to Flight 123, and many are dismissed as conspiracy theories. However, it seems reasonable that the information collected so far should be released to the public and to settle any doubts that the missing piece of the plane be recovered and examined. The blog below makes some interesting claims–the English is a little rough but read and reflect.

「日航123便墜落の波紋ー天空の星たちへ」公式ブログ

Youth Theatre Japan: Drama Changes Real Life For Kids and Adults


Japanese theatres offer a wide variety of performances, but Youth Theatre Japan (YTJ) offers the younger generations a chance to perform on the same stages as the pros that they admire. And, don’t think for a minute that they are simply just kids on stage, these young musically inclined talents spend countless hours honing their skills at YTJ auditioning for a role. Then only best out of hundreds of hopefuls are chosen, and from there they go into intensive dance, acting, and vocal training to be ready for the stage.

YTJ believes that through performing arts youth are able to grow and develop into stronger individuals who are able to clearly communicate their thoughts and emotions in a healthy way. Thus, Members at YTJ are constantly learning new skills, practicing their English during lessons, and getting ready for showcases. By use of Partnership, Project, and Performance YTJ-staff remind members to focus on the whys behind each new skill and task that they are required to learn.

YTJ staff help members understand the importance of setting goals, learning a new skill, trying their best, and moving forward with passion. All while helping members learn to communicate and express themselves through song, dance, and interpersonal skills. As Youth Theatre Japan`s mission to provide innovative, creative and positive youth development through a fusion of “Entertainment” and “Education”. YTJ staff treat each child as an equal partner to help them develop a deeper sense of pride in their roles at YTJ and build up their self-esteem.

Over the past 10 years YTJ has successfully blended “Education” and “Entertainment” into their company and now has 35 studios and over 8,000 members in the Kanto, Kansai and Chubu areas. In addition to producing musicals they also host the Japan Youth Dance Festival.

Their next production will be the YTJ Alice in Wonderland Jukebox Musical! Please check the dates below for a show near you!

YTJ’s talented performers will be performing each song in English. This event is family friendly and please be sure to come dressed in your best Wonderland attire. There will be a special prize for a lucky guest who reads the Queen’s Decrees on the Alice Official Site or English Facebook Page and comes wearing the special item she requested! Tickets are 6,000 per person, be sure to reserve your seat at the tea party of the year.

Then later on this summer come follow Kaito and his friends! Jump and sing along as they embark on an adventure that helps bridge cultural gaps through music. During the journey they will learn more about themselves and the world around them they build up new interest in other cultures and diversity. This musical features popular songs from around the world performed in English. Tickets are on sale now and only cost 6,000 per person. Please follow the link for more information and to see showtimes and location https://show.ytj.gr.jp/info/worldmusic.

Kanto Area

August 17th (Friday)

Doors open 12:45 / Start 13:00

Tickets (JP only) https://ytj.tstar.jp/cart/performances/112922/agreement

August 18th (Sun)

Doors Open 17:45 / Start 18:00

Tickets (JP only) https://ytj.tstar.jp/cart/performances/112926/agreement

Location:

※ Yokohama YTJ Hall tel. 045-507-7365

1-30-1, Nakagawa Chuo Tsuzuki Ward, Yokohama City 〒 224-0003

https://ytj-hall.jp/

Kansai Area

August 24 (Saturday)

1st Show

Doors Open 15:15 / Start 15:30

https://ytj.tstar.jp/cart/performances/113155/agreement

2nd Show

Doors Open 18:15 / Start 18:30

Tickets (JP only) https://ytj.tstar.jp/cart/performances/112343/agreement

August 25th (Sun)

1st Show 

Doors Open 12:15 / Starts 12:30

Tickets (JP only) https://ytj.tstar.jp/cart/performances/112920/agreement

2nd Show

Doors Open 15:00 / Start 15:15

Tickets (JP only) https://ytj.tstar.jp/cart/performances/112921/agreement

3rd Show

Doors Open 17:45 / Start 18:00

Tickets (JP only) https://ytj.tstar.jp/cart/performances/113194/agreement

Location:

※ Osaka Business Park Round Halltel. 0798-61-7778

2 Chome-1-61 Shiromi, Chuo Ward, Osaka, 〒540-6120

—————————-

YTJ Official Website: htt://www.ytj.gr.jp

Alice Official Website: https://ytj-show.jp/info/alice/

Alice Official English Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/YTJAlice/

World Music Official Site: https://show.ytj.gr.jp/info/worldmusic

Johnny Be Bad: A rare interview with Japan’s boy Idol-maker and pederast

(special contribution from Steve McClure)

This out of print book allegedly details the sexual abuse committed by Idol-Maker Johnny Kitagawa towards the young men in his stable and beyond.

Editor’s note: Japan’s most beloved pederast (a male who sexually assaults young men) , Johnny Kitagawa, died last week. He was an idol maker, the brains behind such super male idol bands as SMAP, Kinki Kids, and an entertainment legend. He was also so powerful that the seedy and dark side of his life was swept under the table even after his death.

There were some in the media that dared challenge the sleazy smooth Svengali. Weekly magazine, Shukan Bunshun ran a series of well-researched articles in 1999 describing how Kitagawa systematically abused young boys. Kitagawa then sued the publisher for libel but despite the testimony of alleged rape victims interviewed for the piece, the Tokyo District Court ruled in his favor. They ordered the publisher to pay 8.8 million yen in damages to Kitagawa and his company in 2002.

However, The Tokyo High Court overturned this decision in July 2003. They concluded that the allegations were true. “The agency failed to discredit the allegations in the detailed testimony of his young victims,” ruled the presiding Judge Hidekazu Yazaki. The case stood. The story was barely a blip in the Japanese media horizon. In an entertainment world where Johny’s stable of young boys was a prerequisite to ratings success, his ‘indulgences’ weren’t deemed worthy of reporting.

Johny granted few interviews–here is the story of one of them:

My interview with Johnny

By Steve McClure

It was only after I’d interviewed Johnny Kitagawa that I realized I’d scored a bit of a scoop.

“You interviewed Johnny? That’s amazing – he never does interviews,” my Japanese media and music-biz colleagues said. “How on earth did you manage to do that?”

It was 1996 and I was Billboard magazine’s Japan bureau chief. I was hanging out with an American producer/songwriter who had written several hit tunes for acts managed by Kitagawa’s agency, Johnny’s Jimusho. 

“Want to hear a funny story about Johnny?” Bob (not his real name) asked me. 

“Sure,” I said. 

“Well, the other day, Johnny told me he’d discovered a promising male vocal duo. I asked him what they were called.

“‘I’m going to call them the Kinki Kids,’ Johnny told me.

“I told him that ‘kinky’ means sexually abnormal in English slang.

“‘Oh, that’s great!,’ Johnny said. 

Bob and I laughed. 

“Say, Steve, would you like me to set up an interview with Johnny for you?” Bob asked. 

I told him that would be swell. 

Some days later I was informed that Kitagawa would grant me an audience at his private residence. I was enjoined not to reveal where the great man lived (it was Ark Hills in Akasaka, for the record).

I showed up at the appointed day and hour, and rang the doorbell of the condo high up in one of the Ark Hills towers. A browbeaten middle-aged woman answered the door. Evidently a domestic of some kind, she said I was expected and asked me to come in. She led me into a garishly decorated living room full of Greek statuary, Louis XV-style furniture and sundry examples of rococo frippery. There were no Ganymedean cup-bearers offering libations or any other signs of sybaritic excess.

I was ushered into the presence of the pop panjandrum. Johnny was sitting in an armchair beside a window with a stunning view of Tokyo. He was small, bespectacled and unprepossessing. If you saw him in the street, you’d never imagine he was the notorious and feared Svengali who had a stranglehold on the geinokai (芸能界/Japan’s entertainment world). 

After we exchanged pleasantries, I got down to business. I asked Johnny about his early life in Los Angeles. “My dad ran the local church,” he told me without elaboration in a quiet, rather high-pitched voice. I later found out that Kitagawa père had been the head of a Japanese American Buddhist congregation in L.A. 

Johnny was equally vague about when he first came to Japan. He reportedly arrived while serving as an interpreter for the U.S. military during the Korean War. 

This set the tone for the rest of the interview – it was hard to get a straight answer out of Johnny, at least when it came to his personal history. He was more interested in talking about all the boy bands he’d groomed and propelled to stardom during his long and extraordinarily successful career.

Johnny told me how he got his start in showbiz when he saw some boys playing baseball in a Tokyo park, and later molded them into a pop group called The Johnnies. That set the template for the rest of his career – scouting for boys and using them as raw material as his pop production line churned out an endless succession of unthreatening quasi-androgynous male idol groups. 

A classic showman, Johnny said he was more interested in live performances than records. He made his mark with coups de theatre like having ’80s male idol act Hikaru Genji do choreographed routines on roller skates. 

“Once you release a record, you have to sell that record,” Johnny said. “You have to push one song only. You can’t think of anything else. It’s not good for the artist.” The Johnny’s stable of acts has nonetheless racked up dozens of No.1 hits over the years. 

Johnny’s English, like that of many longterm expats, was quaintly fossilized. I could hear echoes of ’40s and ’50s America when he said things like “gee,” or “gosh” when answering my questions. 

Soon after the interview began, the browbeaten obasan put a steaming dish of katsu-curry in front of me. I begged off, explaining that I’d just eaten lunch. This didn’t prevent the arrival of another dish soon after: spaghetti and “hamburg” steak, as I recall. Hearty fare for starving young idol wannabes was my take on the menu chez Johnny. 

Having decided that “Are you or have you ever been a pederast?” might be somewhat too direct a question to put to the dear old chap, I lobbed a series of softball queries with the aim of establishing a friendly rapport. But even the most gently tossed questions elicited amiable but frustratingly vague answers from Johnny.

In the silences between his frequent hems and haws, the wind whined like a sotto voce banshee through the slightly opened window.

Johnny did tell me that he received 300 letters a day from guys wanting to sign up with his agency. I wasn’t sure if he was boasting or bored. 

The time came to leave, and Johnny accompanied me to the door. “Come back anytime,” he said with a friendly smile as he waved me goodbye. 

As I made my way down the hall to the elevators, I saw the finely chiseled profile of a young man peeking from around a corner, looking in my direction. He caught a glimpse of me and retreated. I resisted the temptation to tell him the katsu-curry was getting cold. 

Sadly, I didn’t take up Johnny on his kind offer to come up and see him sometime. 

Bloodshed, Firecrackers and Tears–The Best Japanese Movies Of The Heisei

By Kaori Shoji

Want to talk about movies?
From the vantage point of a film writer, the Heisei Era (January 8, 1989 to April 30, 2019) felt like a relationship that neither party had the courage to end. You know – the one where the occasional moments of joy are almost enough to blot out the periodic outbursts of blah. On the plus side, the collapse of the studio system and the rise of the PIA Film Festival’s indies support system enabled young directors to go from “mom, I think I’ll make movies for a living” to getting listed on imdb.com in an unprecedented short span of time.
On the minus side, budgets dried up as the economy sank into the mires of a 20-year recession. Japanese movies lost the clout points earned by the cinematic giants of old, like Akira Kurosawa and Kenji Mizoguchi. The films that came out were drastically reduced in scale. In the meantime, rival filmmakers in China and South Korea emigrated to Hollywood and stunned the world with grandiose, mythical stories funded by mega-budgets.

Still, we kept slingin’ that hammer because deep down in the recesses of our souls, we suspected that this is as good as it gets. Here’s a guide to take you through the most memorable movies (including the bad, the good and the ugly) that adorned the Heisei era – in random order.

1) Spirited Away『千と千尋の神隠し』2001
Directed by Hayao Miyazaki

顔無し (NoFace)

In many ways, Heisei belongs to Hayao Miyazaki, who at 78, remains Japanese anime’s biggest influencer. As co-founder of anime production company Studio Ghibli, Miyazaki’s works have always been gorgeous to look at but not always easy to understand; he has always avoided there feel-good formulaic plots favored by of Disney, designed to make everyone feel special and loved. Instead, the grand master of Nippon Anime has loftier plans. Part of it comes from his love of flying – Before WWII, Miyazaki’s family owned and operated a small aircrafts manufacturer and apparently, he was drawing airplanes before he could walk. What Japanese film critics describe as the “soar factor” is prevalent in almost every one of Miyazaki’s films, a sensation of flight, freedom and autonomy as the characters aim for the sky and struggle to gain control over their destinies. In Spirited Away,the soar factor is embodied by a flying dragon, and an impossibly high staircase that 10-year old protagonist Sen must navigate several times each day, if she is to survive and rescue her parents who have been changed into pigs. Spirited Away is a great piece of entertainment but it’s also classic Miyazaki – philosophical and stoic to the very last frame.

2) Minbo『ミンボーの女』1992
Directed by Juzo Itami

The Japanese Gentle Art of Extortion

In the west, Juzo Itami is best known for  Tampopo, a hilarious and sensual celebration of food. Minbo is far less light-hearted.

As the son of eminent prewar filmmaker Mansaku Itami, Juzo had always banked on his rich-kid image and a man-about-town snobbishness, both of which he deployed to full advantage in his films. But Minbo was a different breed. The story of a lawyer specializing in organized crime (played by Itami’s wife and leading lady Nobuko Miyamoto) hired to deal with yakuza (Japanese gangster) thugs, Minbo is dark and accusatory. The yakuza are depicted for what they are: childish, insecure bullies protected by clans interested only in profit (not honor, as most Japanese movies would have us believe). To prove his point, Itami swaps out Miyamoto’s trademark buoyancy for a rigid and sometimes leaden performance and the some of the action sequences seem over-the-top silly. Still, Minbo is probably Juzo Itami’s most important work, not least because it marks a crossroad in both his career and his life. After the release of Minbo, Itami was attacked by yakuza henchmen sent from the notorious Goto clan and got his face slashed up. Five years later, he jumped to his death from his office window. Whether Itami’s death was voluntary or enforced (by Goto’s men) remains an open mystery. 

3) The Shoplifters『万引き家族』2018
Directed by Hirokazu Koreeda

1) One Big Happy Family – clockwise from right, Mayu Matsuoka, Kirin Kiki, Lily Franky, Jyo Kairi, Miyu Sasaki and Sakura Ando. Title: The Shoplifters ©️2018 Fuji Television GAGA AOI Pro. Distributed by GAGA

One out of 7 children in Japan are living below the poverty line, with school lunches as their main source of nourishment. In Hirokazu Koreeda’s The Shoplifters, that number feels like more. Starring the always watchable Lily Franky and Sakura Ando as a down and out couple raising a 10 year old son in the ramshackle house of an elderly ‘obaachan (grandma),’  The Shoplifters won Koreeda the Palme D’Or at Cannes – the first ever for a Japanese director. The Abe Administration took offense at how Koreeda took the nation’s dirty linen and washed it in public so to speak. But The Shoplifters did wonderfully well at the box office, soaring to number 4 in the list of Japan’s highest grossing films of all time. One of the takeaways of this film is that in spite of their shoplifting, hand-to-mouth existence, the family is united by a fierce loyalty and is somehow, amazingly content – a rarity among Japan’s urban families mired in stress and societal pressure. A poignant and ultimately tragic film, The Shoplifters makes you want to see it again and again.

4) Ichi『殺し屋イチ』2001
Directed by Takashi Miike

Does Takashi Miike have nightmares and if so, what can they possibly look like? As the master portrayer of Japanese stab-and-slash violence, Miike is notorious for his unflinching dedication to drenching the screen in blood and gore. Ichi remains his most memorable work, not least because it stars the internationally respected Tadanobu Asano and the deadpan Nao Omori as rival yakuza henchmen ostensibly bent on revenging the death of their boss. The duo’s real objective however, turns out to be the high savored from killing as many human beings as possible, in the most gruesome of ways. The backdrop is Kabukicho, Shinjuku at the turn of the century, and Ichi’s glamorized violence makes the whole place look dangerously alluring. Present day Kabukicho has turned into a staid tourist trap with surveillance cameras placed in every nook and cranny, to nip violent incidents in the bud, apparently. No worries – even the yakuza go around with eyes glued to their phones.

5) Kamome Shokudo『かもめ食堂』2006
Directed by Naoko Ogigami

Heisei was an era in which many Japanese women categorically refused to get hitched and even more to give birth. The birth rate plummeted to an all-time low of 1.43. In 10 years, one out of five women (and one out of four men) are expected to live out their lives without ever having a partner which may strike the casual observer as a spectacularly tragic statistic. For director Naoko Ogigami however, the numbers are fodder for her particular genre of filmmaking. Kamome Shokudo is her breakthrough work that deal with a trio of single women who come together in Helsinki. One of them, Sachie (Satomi Kobayashi) runs a local diner and the other two (played by Hairi Katagiri and Masako Motai) decide to work there as well. The utter absence of emotional drama (but an abundance of great food) is incredibly healing as you realize that Japanese women may have more freedom and control over their lives than we thought. Best line: “Onigiri is the soul food of Japan.” 

6) Zan『斬』2018
Directed by Shinya Tsukamoto 

(C)SHINYA TSUKAMOTO/KAIJYU THEATER

Shinya Tsukamoto is a weird and wonderful film buff. For the entirety of the Heisei Era, he has acted, produced and directed his own films – always on a minuscule budget and a minimal number of staff. He even nabbed a part in Martin Scorsese’s Silence (for which he auditioned along with everyone else), prompting the great Scorsese to seek Tsukamoto out on set and shake his hand.  

Last year, Tsukamoto came out with Zan which he shot in less than a month and starred as a wandering samurai in the last days of the Edo Period. The film is brilliant for two reasons: 1) it highlights the samurai class as reluctant murderers who must cut people up to prove themselves, and 2) it shows up the brutally labor-intensive, muck raking poverty of late 19th century Japan. In the midst of the shit-logged ditch water however, you can almost glimpse that gem of hope. An unforgettable cinema experience. 

7) Tokyo Sonata『トウキョウソナタ』2008
Directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa

Years have passed since Kiyoshi Kurosawa replaced Akira as the pre-eminent Japanese filmmaker with that surname. Though Kurosawa’s main turf is horror, (Cure, anyone?) Tokyo Sonata is arguably his best and most accessible work, drawing an unexpectedly stunning performance from former pop idol Kyoko Koizumi.

Koizumi plays housewife Megumi, who is ambivalent about her stay-at-home existence in the burbs while having no idea how to break out of her shell. Her husband (Teruyuki Kagawa) is a sarariman (salaryman) who has recently been fired from his job, but pretends to go to work every morning in his suit and tie. The couples’ two reticent teenage sons have plans and desires of their own, of which their parents know nothing. Each of the family members seem to be dancing to a different tune, audible only to themselves until one day, their hidden urges come tumbling out. A haunting beautiful story that amply illustrates the dreariness of Japan’s two-decade long recession.

8) 北野武監督
HANA-BI 1997年

Say what you like about comedian and filmmaker Takeshi Kitano, but there’s no denying that for about 20 years in the Heisei period, the man was the closest thing Japan had to a living deity. The man has a violent streak, as demonstrated in the 1986 attack on the offices of papparazi rag “Friday” for which he was arrested and found guilty (but got off with a suspended sentence). In 1994, a motor bike accident that would have killed another man landed him in the hospital for 6 months but before he got out, he went on the air and cracked jokes about his horribly disfigured face. 

In the Heisei era, Kitano made some unforgettable movies but HANA-BI, (meaning ‘fireworks’) is a masterpiece. He directed, co-wrote and starred as Nishi, a cop who has just lost a young son. The tragedy causes Nishi’s life to spin out of control, as his wife (Kayoko Kishimoto) is hospitalized and his buddy Horibe (Ren Osugi) is shot by a perpetrator. Later, Nishi quits the police force to takes his wife on a trip, intending to kill her before putting a bullet in his own head.

Though Kitano has always worked in comedy, he is rarely verbose and HANA-BI is amazingly reticent. The absence of explanatory dialogue matches the extraordinarily lovely visuals, drenched in dark blue and gray tones as the story traces the graceful arc of Nishi’s downfall.

9) “Helter Skelter” 『ヘルタースケルター』2012
Directed by Mika Ninagawa

Mike Ninagawa may have been born with a silver spoon but her talent (and personal struggle) is achingly real. As the daughter of Japan’s foremost theater director Yukio Ninagawa, Mika’s life was both charmed and cursed. Dad’s glorious reputation preceded her everywhere she went so perhaps it was natural for her to choose photography and film instead of the stage. Helter Skelter is her second feature and stars the enfant terrible of the Japanese film industry Erika Sawajiri, as a nymphomaniac actress who lives in fear of losing her beauty. To prevent this from happening, the actress periodically goes under the knife, endangering not just her health but her sanity as well. Helter Skelter is audacious, brilliant and gorgeously shot – and an astute observation of fame and celebrity-dom in Japan’s youth-obsessed media industry.

10) Still the Water 『2つ目の窓』2014
Directed by Naomi Kawase

Naomi Kawase had a chaotic upbringing –her parents more or less abandoned her when she was a baby and the filmmaker was subsequently brought up by a relative. In interviews, Kawase has said she has tried to understand her life by making films about families and indeed, her works show a special fascination (or obsession) with the family dynamic. Still the Water feels especially intimate – a coming of age tale set in gorgeous Amami Oshima island off the coast of Kagoshima prefecture. Two teenagers (Junko Abe and Nijiro MurakamiI) struggle with their roots as their parents fumble about, trying to come to terms with their own identities and personal desires. Miyuki Kumagai plays the island ‘yuta’ (shaman) who must face her own imminent death by cancer, as her family resents her apparent powerlessness over her fate. A film that feels like an solitary, introverted vacation by the beach.