WHY JAPANESE FALL FOR TV DRAMA HERO HANZAWA NAOKI
My “Genron” Internet TV program, which I have often referred to in this column, was inaugurated out of a close collaboration with a team of professionals I got acquainted with while serving as a newscaster for Nippon TV 1980-1996. I have been fortunate to have my friend and prominent magazine editor Kazuyoshi Hanada join this circle of distinguished colleagues. “Genron” TV will mark the tenth anniversary of its founding in December.
“Genron” is committed to “reporting what must be reported by letting the facts speak for themselves.” With this credo firmly in mind, we offer a live prime-time news show every Friday, concentrating on news that is significantly different from other TV stations in an effort to help broaden our viewers’ perspectives.
Over the years I have come to realize that there are distinct trends in the viewers’ likes and dislikes. In other words, not every program we present can attract as large a number of viewers as we wish. For instance, our viewers’ interest in the news about China’s ongoing destruction of a free and democratic Hong Kong has not necessarily been high. Nor have our viewers taken a particularly high interest in matters relating to Taiwan or China.
I believe it is especially important for Japanese to be seriously concerned with the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP’s) oppression of Hong Kong because Japan could be the next target in the near future. It would not be too far-fetched to conclude that, compared with news about the situation on the Korean Peninsula—especially as regards the anti-Japanese South Korean administration of President Moon Jae-in—our viewers take much less interest in news about Hong Kong, Taiwan, and China.
To make sure my impression was correct, I recently spoke to several magazine editors I am friendly with. They are very sensitive to what attracts readers most amid a steady decline in circulation of both weekly and monthly magazines in Japan.
In my brief telephone conversations, I got the feeling that they basically have the same impression as I concerning the varied interest of our readers and viewers. “I can’t agree with you more,” said Ms Makiko Takita, editor-in-chief of the Seiron monthly magazine published by the conservative daily Sankei Shimbun. Asked to explain, she replied by observing that her readers view China and South Korea differently, explaining: “To put it simply, they regard China as ‘yakuza’ (organized crime) and South Korea as ‘hoodlums.’”
China’s Demonic Behavior
For Japan, China is an odious neighbor but a big power who must be reckoned with. It has a land area 26 times the size of Japan with a population more than ten times bigger. As the world’s second biggest economy, it boasts a mammoth market and has a military ranked second in the world. On top of that, the Chinese have values similar to those of yakuza that are incompatible with most Japanese. Asserting that they are above domestic and international law, Chinese never hesitate to take coercive action whenever they like. For these reasons, China is a tough adversary for Japan to grapple squarely with. On the other hand, the logic and methods South Koreans use in attacking Japan are easier for Japanese to anticipate.
That being the case, it is generally easier for Japanese to point out the rights and wrongs of actions taken by South Korea, making it an easier adversary to deal with. Japanese therefore have more of an interest in news about South Korea, as Takita sees it.
Akihiko Tatebayashi, editor-in-chief of the WiLL monthly published by WAC, Inc. of Tokyo, had this to say: “Our special reports on South Korea clearly are more popular than those on China or Hong Kong because South Korean words and deeds, I think, are so bizarre to most Japanese we feel that, in any encounter, we have the luxury of already coming ahead of them from the outset.” Meanwhile, China strikes Japanese as more shrewd, despite the fact that it has been doing inexcusable harm to world order through its “wolf warrior” foreign policy. China at least makes some efforts to gloss over its demonic acts, as it obviously cares about world opinion, up to a point.
One notable example of China’s malicious acts is its oppression, torture, and massacre of Uyghurs in the Uyghur Autonomous Region in Xinjiang. Millions of Uyghurs have been detained and incarcerated, compelled by the CCP to give up their identity and become Chinese by assimilating into the culture of the Middle Kingdom, losing their indigenous language, culture, and traditional way of life. A refusal to obey the CCP automatically leads to torture. With a rigid containment policy continually maintained by the Chinese government, it is quite difficult to present concrete examples of the brutal conditions Uyghurs have been subjected to. Do abstract facts about the Uyghurs’ ordeals lack the power to move the hearts of magazine readers and TV viewers in Japan or elsewhere in the world? Would that in any way lead to them taking less interest in news about Hong Kong and China?
Tatebayashi said the flaws in the policies pursued by the Moon administration are very easy to understand, if not acceptable. These policies range from the appointment of a diehard leftwing activist named Cho Kuk as Justice Minister, to the never-ending flattery to the North, to endorsing the South Korean Supreme Court ruling that Japan must compensate wartime Korean workers in Japan. It is the very fact that these issues are so easy for anyone to understand that leads to high print circulation and superior TV ratings, Tatebayashi stressed.
Hanada, who edits the Monthly Hanada magazine, views the situation somewhat differently, explaining:
“It’s all about timing. The degree of interest on the part of our readers depends on when we carry certain kinds of stories.”
I quite agree with him. He continued:
“I’m happy to report that our magazine is selling very well every month whatever we may be covering—the Korean Peninsula, Hong Kong, Taiwan or China. I’m most grateful to our readers.”
Good for him.
Impressed by Hanada’s remarks, I was reminded of a popular drama series featuring a banker on TBS TV entitled Hanzawa Naoki. There are actually two television programs my tidy and hard-working housemaid never misses each week, another being Potsun to Ikken-ya, a Nippon TV documentary series featuring people who live in detached homes off the beaten track across Japan. I sometimes keep her company as she watches these programs on weekends.
“Not Double but 100 Times Payback!”
Potsun to Ikken-ya (literally, alone in a detached house) warms your heart, spotlighting occupants of detached homes in the hinterlands who come across as traditional Japanese—genuinely kind, loving, sincere, and hard-working. This series reminds me of my hometown of Nagaoka in Niigata as well as my late mother’s hometown, the idyllic village of Mannen in the little town of Matto-cho in Ojiya City, also in Niigata. I miss my friends in my hometown and am envious of their lifestyle. But every time I mention to my friends that I wish to live in the hinterland alone like the people featured in the series, they smilingly respond: “Wishful thinking, Yoshiko-san. You know you couldn’t possibly do that.”
Meanwhile, the hero in Hanzawa Naoki is an idealistic young banker who takes on corruption and wrongdoing at his gigantic corporate bank, heroically trying to drive out evil and establish justice, as it were. When he is hurt, Hanzawa pledges to “take double the payback.” And he actually takes more than double back, in fact often nearly 100 times, to the immense pleasure of viewers. Refraining from taking action first but taking double the payback when attacked is in line with the values that have upheld the foundation of Japanese society over the centuries. What supports Hanzawa in his fight against the establishment is the Japanese values comprising a sense of justice, responsibility, fairness, and empathy for the weak, which have made Japanese what we are today. Depicting clashes of interest in contemporary Japanese society, the series is studded with the traditional spirit of bushi-do (the way of the warriors), which the late President Lee Teng-hui of Taiwan endeavored to revive in the Japanese mind. I cannot but applaud the exhilarating presentation of the series.
What I wish to know is why viewers in Japan are so fond of Hanzawa Naoki. The hero’s archenemy at work looks every bit like a ringleader of insidious wiles. Appearing always helplessly overwhelmed by intrigues his rival faction concoct against him, Hanzawa still always manages to come through with flying colors in the end. The evil are punished and Hanzawa snaps victoriously at his adversaries: “Now I’m taking double the payback!” The TV series has been simplified from the original novel, making it easy to watch.
Entitled Silver-Winged Acarus, the original novel series is packed with details of how Hanzawa tackles each of his difficult challenges. A considerable portion of these details has been deleted in the process of condensing the original into a TV series, with the highlights of each incident presented symbolically for maximum effect. Each climax is exquisitely dramatized, enabling the drama to be deeply etched in the viewer’s heart and continue to stir the soul after viewing it.
As a journalist committed to expressing my thoughts in my own words, I feel very strongly that we Japanese should more earnestly brace ourselves for the threats from China by taking a long-range view of the situation in East Asia. As Hanzawa Naoki would, I will do my very best to have my words leave a deeper and lasting impression on the minds of my readers and viewers. In line with that resolution, I feel it absolutely necessary now to emphasize the importance of Hong Kong. All of us must understand that the fate of Hong Kong will invariably overlap with that of Taiwan, Okinawa, and Japan.
(Translated from “Renaissance Japan” column no. 915 in the September 3, 2020 issue of The Weekly Shincho)