Cops To Close Curtains on Yakuza Hollywood: The Timeline

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.

神戸芸能社 (Kobe Geinosha/Kobe Performing Arts Company) was established by the 3rd Generation Leader of the Yamaguchi-gumi in 1957. It marked the beginning of yakuza rule of showbiz.

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.

山口組三代目 was based on the autobiography of the 3rd Generation Yamaguchi-gumi Leader, Kazuo Taoka. Ken Takakura met him during the filming of the movie.

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.

Popular actor, Kenji Haga, and former world champion profession boxer and yakuza member, Jiro Watanabe, are arrested for blackmail.

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.

September:

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.*

9 thoughts on “Cops To Close Curtains on Yakuza Hollywood: The Timeline”

  1. If the Japanese government is sincere about eliminating the Yakuza, why not just outlaw them? This seems to be just warning shots by the Japanese government to force the Yakuza to behave themselves. One the thing that you didn’t mention was that early on, television stations used to suspend any talent from appearing in any of their shows if there was a hint of Yakuza ties between performers or even their family members. One of the most popular singers in Japanese history, Misora Hibari was caught up in such a scandal when the Yakuza showed up at her house to collect a debt her brother incurred while gambling with them. She was excluded from the year end NHK show, Kohaku, in the mid seventies.as a result of the scandal and I believe she didn’t appear on any NHK show for about eighteen years after the scandal..

  2. According to Peter Biskind’s book Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, Paul Schrader co-wrote The Yakuza with his brother Leonard,based on Leonard’s idea for a novel. Leonard had spent four years teaching English at a university in Japan to dodge the draft. When the university was shut down by student protests, he had hung out in bars and “got a taste of” the yakuza. Paul took control of the script’s struvcture and made Leonard do the donkey work of filling in the gaps between the key plot points Paul had laid out. When the script was auctioned, Paul took 40 per cent, Paul’s agent took 40 per cent and Leonard got 20 per cent. Paul grabbed sole screenwriting credit and awarded himself shared story credit as well.

    In 1984 Paul Schrader directed Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters, about Yukio Mishima. Once again, the idea was Leonard’s, and Paul and Leonard wrote the script together, with Paul reliant on his brother’s knowledge of Japanese culture. During filming, however, Biskind says that Paul cut Leonard out of the loop completely by employing a Japanese-speaking friend as his “first lieutenant” and Leonard’s wife, Chieko, as interpreter for the actors. Leonard refused to go to the Cannes Film Festival to promote the film, but Paul persuaded Chieko to go on her own on to provide a “Japanese presence”. The brothers never spoke again.

  3. Thanks, “Gag Halfrunt,” for putting in a word or two for my late friend Len Schrader. (We were best friends in high school, and my last stop on the way to Japan in 1978 was to visit him and Chieko.) I also know Paul and have heard his version of the story directly, but I’m sure it was the way Peter Biskind tells it.

  4. I read the Daily Beast article, it was really very interesting and should have been on your blog instead of just referenced. I do have a couple of questions. If Yoshimoto Kogyo is a part of the Yamaguchi gumi , why didn’t they know about shimada’s dealings with their group? Why would they have to confront him with the emails or even have any meetings with him about these allegations? If the police knew about Shimada’s dealing with the Yakuza because of all the court documents that were leaked to Goto, why wait until it became public to pursue him and Yoshimoto Kogyo ?
    I Always thought that Beat Takeshi was an associate of the Yakuza, probably because of his demeanor..You never got that vibe from him? And its funny that you used Kobayashi Akira as an example of one of the guests of Goto Tadamas because that was Misora Hibari’s ex husband.
    On a less serious note, why do so many Jewish men marry Japanese women?.

    1. Yoshimoto Kogyo is split into several factions just like the Yamaguchi-gumi itself. At one time, within the company, loyalties were split between the 5th generation leader factions and the 6th generation leader factions.
      Also, like many things in Japan you have people operating in a grey zone where they SUSPECT organized crime ties but deliberately make sure not to know.

  5. You said that in jest but according to a group of Jewish men who made that observation, that answer is on the mark. I was told by said group that most Jewish women now are JAPS(Jewish American Princesses). and that Japanese women are more like Jewish women of the early twentieth century. I laughed it off but your answer now makes me believe they weren’t pulling my leg.

  6. What is your take on how the annual New Years show Kohaku will be affected by the new anti-yakuza laws(? My understanding is that people think the show is going to suck this year as a result of getting the Yakuza out of the entertainment.business and that any entertainer that has any association with the Yakuza,will be banned, even if they are just friends. Is this really a fair because if a fan asks for a picture with a star and that person happens to be a Yakuza member or family of a Yakuza member and it goes viral it could cause problems. There is a picture of Nakai from SMAP with what seems like two Yakuza members at the beach. Will they be coming out with an official list of star with ties to the Yakuza, I know that there is a unofficial list.? This also presents another problem, if you get a tattoo or lose your pinky finger, does that give anyone the right to discriminate against you? I ponder this because like your kids, I have nieces and nephews who are half Japanese and they and their non-Japanese parents seem to like their tattooes and don’t understand the Japanese stigma against tattooes.

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