By Jonah Morgan
3 years ago at a rather large American anime convention, I sat with some industry colleagues after a busy day of networking with company representatives, attending panels, interviewing fans and the usual con fare. We were sharing some drinks and shooting the breeze on the growth of the industry, behind the scenes developments etc… The conversation was all over the place. Then, with a laugh, someone at our table said: “You know…. the Yakuza funds the anime and manga industries in Japan.” At the time, I sort of laughed, and brushed it off…. “Yeah right!” I thought.
The topic did not expand beyond that point but the profound, albeit, off handed and unsupported statement continued to stick in my head. A few days after returning from the convention, I tried to research this specific information via search engines on the internet to zero success. It seemed Yakuza influence could be traced to backing enough high profit industries in Japan and abroad through the media reports and links I was able generate but nothing official on anime and manga industry connections. For the uninitiated, the Yakuza is of course, Japanese mafia or organized crime. The topic is quite popular and glamorized In fictional Japanese comic books and animation such as Ryoichi Ikegami’s Sanctuary and the films of director Takashi Miike and Takeshi “Beat” Kitano. Japanese gangsters have been a plot fixture which has been visited on occasion in Hollywood in larger release films such as 1989’s Black Rain starring Michael Douglas and directed by Ridley Scott and the humerus Showdown In Little Tokyo starring Brandon Lee and Dolph Lundgren.
In the real world, however, information on the Yakuza is scarce and rather Taboo in the American media. To see the mention on commercial television news in the USA is almost unheard of. Indeed, most of the mass consciousness surrounding the subject in this country seems to be shaped more by fiction than factual data. Along these lines, I drew an interesting parallel after just viewing the film “Black Rain” about a year ago when I sat down to examine the news of the day. A new report had just been released in Japan stating the country had made 4.36 billion dollars worth of animation product exports to the United States in 2002. This represented 3.2 times more than Japanese steel exports to that country. In the film Black Rain, one of the key scenes has the Michael Douglas detective character, Nick, following the Yakuza counterfeiters in Japan back to a steel foundry which was being used as a back-office operation and totally conspicuous meeting place for the gangsters. Now there is a real world precedent for Japanese organized crime being associated with steel holdings…….. and, if Japanese steel exports to the USA has been exceeded by animation related exports……. could the possibility of Yakuza investment in these industries truly be ruled out?
Further research that anyone with access to the internet can do will uncover mentions to Yakuza links in the Entertainment Industry in Japan dating back 60 years. The Patrick Macias book TokyoScope mentions Yakuza influences had ingrained themselves behind the scenes at various film companies after the second world war. Daiei’s top producer and president, Masaichi Nagata, boasted of a past as a former street punk. Toei’s many artisans and contract workers with traditional master-apprentice style relationships were said to be inseparable from the Yakuza of the period.
To what degree organized crime elements may influence the current animation and manga industries in Japan is information that will most likely not be forthcoming in any total or definitive capacity in the mainstream press. The actual involvement of those elements in such a profitable industry though is almost certainly assured it would seem.