Sunday, July 05, 2015

"neither did his brethren" - Murder Case of a Japanese Film Director


Murder Case of a Japanese Film Director

Kenzaburo Oe (1935-) was awarded the Nobel prize for literature in 1994 as the second Japanese winner in this field.  It was one year before the Aum Shinrikyo cult group launched a sarin gas attack in Tokyo subway lines in 1995.

Oe had an old friend who was then a film director.  Oe and his old friend Juzo Itami (1993-1997) once studied in the same high-school in western Japan.  Oe respected Itami who showed great talent in literature.  Oe even wrote some novels as he wished to be praised by Itami when Oe was a student of the University of Tokyo and Itami was working as a commercial artist in Tokyo.  Then, Oe won the Akutagawa Award to be publicly recognized as a professional author, and Itami subsequently became an actor (first calling himself Ichizo Itami and then Juzo Itami).

Itami's father was a film director, too.  And, Oe later married a younger sister of Itami. Oe and Itami are brothers in law.

Juzo Itami became a popular actor, though not a big star, as well as a writer and a reporter for some TV works.  He even acted in some American movies such as 55 Days at Peking.  But in 1984 he directed a unique Japanese movie titled O-Soshiki (The Funeral).  Then he became a very popular film director in Japan.

Itami made some films on unique issues such as tax evasion and civilians' fight against gangsters.  His films were not merely for entertainment but also related to serious social issues if not social justice.  And some gangsters got angry to see his film depicting foolish and dangerous gangsters.

Specifically in 1992 when his sixth movie titled Minbo-no On-na (The Woman Fighting Civil Violence), Itami was actually assaulted by members of a big criminal organization, since the film depicted workers of a hotel fighting against yakuza gangsters.  Itami suffered severe cuts on the face and arms; it took three months for him to recover.  The police arrested five members of the Goto-gumi group subject to the nationwide syndicate Yamaguchi-gumi group.

Juzo Itami publicly announced that he would never be intimated.  And he continued to produce and direct his unique films.  Then, the terror by the Aum Shinrikyo cult occurred in 1995.  The Japanese society was alarmed at cults in general, since Aum Shinrikyo's sarin gas terror killed 13 passengers and injured 6,000 commuters near the government district in Tokyo.

In 1997, movie director Itami produced a new film featuring an act of terror by a cult.  It was titled Marutai-no On-na (The Woman under Police Protection), presenting a story that an actress happened to watch a killing of a lawyer and his wife by a cult member, so that she was put under police protection.  It was based on Itami's experience that he had been put under police protection after the gangsters' attack in 1992.  And as was usual, his wife, an actress, played the leading part.

This film apparently was based on behaviors of the Aum Shinrikyo cult.  There had been some murder cases conducted by the cult, or so suspected, before and after the 1995 sarin terror.

Actually a lawyer fighting the cult was murdered with his wife and young son in 1989.  In early 1995, an old man who was a brother of a rich woman whose assets were targeted by the cult was abducted and killed as he was hiding his sister from the cult.  Even Aum Shinrikyo was trying to use anthrax germs to kill its enemies.

But what was more weird occurred after the large-scale police investigation of the cult in the wake of the Tokyo subway sarin-gas attack by the cult in March 1995: one of top executives of the cult was killed by a gangster-group associated man before the cult's headquarters in Tokyo.  This victim, named Murai, made many TV appearances after the terror in subway lines, so that the general public was very much surprised and alarmed.  As Murai was close to the guru of the cult, Asahara (ne Matsumoto), it looked like a warning to Asahara given by some gangster group that had secret linkage with the cult.  Indeed, there was a rumor that the the Aum Shinrikyo cult was making money by producing and selling drugs through gangsters.

So, Itami's 1997 film might irritate some gangsters that had been some secret business with the Aum Shinrikyo cult that had had tens of hundreds of followers and $100 million assets in its prime.  And Juzo Itami died in December 1997 in a mysterious manner.

The police judged that Itami committed a suicide by jumping from the roof of a condominium building in which he had an office.  There was no trace of struggles.  Even a will written with a word processor was found in his office.  Furthermore, at the time, a magazine reported his adultery with a young woman, which must have made him suffer.

However, it is said that an autopsy found a large amount of alcohol in his stomach.  Itami was not a stupid man who would commit a suicide only because his adultery was publicly reported, and usually a man never drank so much when he was committing a suicide.  Itami was most probably killed by gangsters.

Moreover, it is said that at the time Itami planned to make a film related to the Soka-Gakkai Buddhist Association closely linked to a political party, Komeito.  There was a rumor that Soka-Gakkai sometimes used gangsters to harass their enemies.  In addition, Itami was reportedly interested in the dark side of industrial waste disposal business around which some gangsters were allegedly acting secretly for big money.  Furthermore, some gangsters who had attacked Itami in 1992 had been released from jails around 1997.  It cannot be simply denied that they tried an assault again.

Nonetheless, today, there are no big voices in society that cast doubt on Itami's apparent suicide of 1997.  Even, Itami's brother-in-law Kenzaburo Oe, a Nobel prize laureate and strong peace advocate, doesn't express his doubt about Itami's death.

This is one of difficult case deeply related to the dark side of the Japanese society to which even a Nobel prize seems useless to address them.

Juzo Itami.jpg
Juzo Itami

**** **** ****

Joh 7:5 For neither did his brethren believe in him.