This week the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department’s (TMPD) organized crime control division set up a special task force of 50 police officers to obliterate the yakuza from the entertainment industry. They’ll have their work cut out for them.
The crackdown began in August when Japan’s most ubiquitous television host and comedian, Shinsuke Shimada, “the Jay Leno of Japan,” was fired by his talent agency, Yoshimoto Kogyo. Undeniable evidence of the star’s personal and business dealings with the Yamaguchi-gumi, Japan’s largest crime group, had come to light. Shimada was so popular in Japan that he hosted six different television programs before his fall from grace. On Aug. 31, the TMPD began questioning Shimada’s former employers about his ties to the yakuza and the company’s own corporate compliance with anti-organized crime national laws and its readiness for the new Tokyo organized crime exclusionary ordinances which go into effect in October.
But Shimada is only one of many celebrities with yakuza ties. In the last few weeks, extensive evidence has emerged that Japanese show business is saturated with the yakuza’s influence. Police records and sources, along with testimony from current and former yakuza members, have revealed that many powerful Japanese talent agencies and production companies are not simply fronts for the yakuza—they are the yakuza. For the rest of the story, check out this article on The Daily Beast.
The history of the yakuza and showbiz in Japan extends over four decades. We traced the historical growth of the yakuza into the entertainment industry and it parallels the evolution of the yakuza in Japanese society, and society’s changing viewpoints on their existence. In many way, the only real difference between the blatant yakuza front company that was Kobe Performing Arts Company (神戸芸能社) and the modern talent agencies today are that the yakuza bosses keep their names off the board of directors. They are still running the show behind the curtains but probably not for much longer.
Timeline: The Yakuza And The Entertainment World
1957: The 3rd Generation Yamaguchi Leader, Kazuo Taoka, sets up and registers Kobe Geinosha (Kobe Performing Arts Promotion) under his own name. (The Yamaguchi-gumi is currently Japan’s larges organized crime group, w/ 40,000 members). They quickly become the most powerful showbiz brokers in Japan.
1961: The 3rd Yamaguchi-gumi Yanagawa-gumi after successfully managing a pro-wrestling event for former Sumo wrestler Riki Dozan, creates it’s own promotion company, Yanagawa Geinosha (Yamanagawa Performing Arts Promotion).
1963: Jinsei Gekijo (Theater of Life: Hishakaku) is released by Toei films starting the yakuza film boom, which lasts several years.
1964: Kodama Yoshio (nationalist, former war criminal, and founder of Japan’s former ruling party the LDP), Taoka Kazuoka (3rd generation leader of the Yamaguchi-gumi), and Machii Hisayuki, (head of the Korean mafia, Toseikai) elected board members of the Japan Pro-Wrestling Association. Pro-wrestling becomes tremendously popular in Japan.
1964-1965: The Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department launches the first major offensive on organized crime. Kobe Geinosha is forced out of business. Taoka buys 4000 shares of Yoshimoto Kogyo(吉本興業） under his wife’s name and the Yamaguchi-gumi begans to use the firm as a front company.
1971: Burning Productions, Japan’s most powerful talent/promotion agency is founded in Tokyo with the backing of the Inagawa-kai crime group. Founding members included a former driver for Koichi Hamada, an Inagawa-kai member in his youth, who later became a Japanese Diet member for the LDP.
1974: The 3rd Generation Leader of the Yamaguchi-gumi (山口組三代目) begins filming. Yamaguchi-gumi boss visits famous yakuza film actor Ken Takakura on the set of the filming.
1975: The Yakuza, written by Paul Schrader, directed by Sydney Pollack and starring Robert Mitchum and Ken Takakura is released for US audiences. It shows a highly romanticized version of the yakuza.
1989: Ridley Scott’s Black Rain about two New York who cops become involved in a gang war between members of the Yakuza is released. Ken Takakura, in a major role change plays a detective who reluctantly teams up with the US law enforcement to bring down a yakuza boss. Rikiya Yasuoka, a yakuza associate plays a yakuza enforcer in the movie.
1992: Internationally acclaimed director Juzo Itami’s anti-yakuza dark comedy, The Gentle Art of Japanese Extortion is released to critical acclaim. Gangsters from the Yamaguchi-gumi Goto-gumi slash up the director in the parking lot in front of his home to express their dislike for the film.
In the same year, the first anti-organize crime laws go into effect, regulating the yakuza but not outlawing them.
1997: Juzo Itami allegedly commits suicide by jumping off a roof where his office is located. Police suspect it was a murder staged as a suicide but the investigation is squelched. Itami’s widow still remains under police protection
2001: Shots are fired into the offices of Burning Productions, twice on two different occasions.
2002: Internationally acclaimed film director and actor, Takeshi Kitano conducts a long interview with crime boss, Inagawa Seijo-Sosai, for the monthly magazine Shincho 45 (新潮45).
2005: Chihiro aka Yuko Inagawa, the 3rd generation leader of the Inagawa-kai passes away. Japanese celebrities attend his funeral and wake and major promotional companies send flowers in his honor. The western Japan (Kansai) based Yamaguchi-gumi begins to take over the entertainment business in eastern Japan (Kanto).
2006: The National Police Agency sends a letter to the Japan Association of Civilian Broadcasters asking them to cut ties with the yakuza.
2007: Police files from the Organized Crime Control Division leak onto the Internet. They name Burning Productions as a yakuza front company and list a famous actress as the mistress of gang boss, Goto Tadamasa.
The widow of former Yoshimoto Kogyo CEO in a magazine interview reveals that well-known comedian and de facto manager of the company, Kausu Nakata, is deeply connected to the Yamaguchi-gumi.
2008: Several famous Japanese celebrities attend the birthday party of Tadamasa Goto. The weekly magazine Shukan Shincho (週刊新潮) reports it, causing a great scandal. They name the celebrities but not Goto in their article. The scandal and Goto’s deal with the FBI to get into the US for liver transplant result in him being expelled from the Yamaguchi-gumi on October 14th.
2009 August: Takaharu Ando, head of the National Police Agency expresses dismay after several Japanese rock stars and celebrities are arrested for drug usage. NPA officials tell the press, “It’s important for celebrities to stop buying drugs and providing revenue to the yakuza.”
September: The NPA declares war on the Yamaguchi-gumi, implying that they will remove them from all aspects of Japanese society including showbiz.
2010: Habaringara (Takarajima Publishing), the autobiography of Tadamasa Goto is published. He boasts of his celebrity ties by name and derides Shinsuke Shimada, one of Japan’s most popular TV hosts and comedians.
2011: March Heisei Nihon Taboo Daizen is released by the publishers of Goto’s autobiography, which details the relationship between Shinsuke Shimada and the Yamaguchi-gumi Kyokushinrengo.
August: Yoshimoto Kogyo fires Shinsuke Shimada after conclusive emails detailing his business dealings and associations with Kyokushinrengokai are delivered to the firm by Tadamasa Goto. He frames his firing as a resignation in a hastily held press conference.
1st. Takaharu Ando, the head of the National Police Agency states to the press that, ““While all of Japanese society moves forward to eliminate the yakuza, it is very saddening that television celebrities, who have tremendous influence on the public, continue to have deep relations with organized crime. In order for Japanese show business to cut their ties with organized crime, the police would like to do everything to help.”
6th. The boyfriend of Japanese pop idol, Ai Kago, is arrested for attempted extortion, while invoking the name of his backers, the Yamaguchi-gumi Kodo-kai faction. Allegations of other celebrities’ ties to the yakuza flood the media.
Mid-September. The Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department sets up a special task force of 50 officers in central Tokyo Police Department to investigate and prosecute talent agencies and celebrities involved with the yakuza, on any charges possible.*