Saturday, June 18, 2011

Anti-Nuke Actor Foolishly Loses His Job

There's an actor named Taro Yamamoto who got the axe from his agency here in Japan for speaking out against government directives about the situation for school children in Fukushima and nearby areas. This is commentary about that situation.
First off, it's too bad most actors and actresses as well as sports stars (around the world) don't bother to get a decent education. This problem is especially bad in Japan where many actors and actresses never even finish high school. When they are in their early teens they quit school to pursue a career in show business. If these people did get a decent education, they might have heard the old show-business phrases such as "Actors and actresses and sports stars are to be seen and not heard" and been smarter about how they handled their business.

That's what this post is about; Being smart and handling your business correctly. By speaking out and losing his job Taro Yamamoto obviously screwed up big time. The proof is in the pudding, as they say.

In a thinly veiled attempt to get me to promote the travails of Taro Yamamoto, this one (of many) activist actors in Japan, one reader, while criticizing me for "obsessing" about Arnie Gundersen, wrote:

"...I think there are more interesting issues to discuss (than Gundersen). For example, this reactionary development on the part of Japanese society...(about Taro Yamamoto losing his job)."

Well, as the only foreigner in Japan history to be the general manager of a major Japanese broadcasting station as well as the president of a TV/radio production company and talent agency and in "show business" since 1978, I can tell you my thoughts on this event but I'll bet it won't be what anyone outside of show business is expecting (what I will say is obvious to anyone in show business). I am sure that if you showed my words to any Hollywood producer and asked him if he agreed with me, they'd all give me a big thumbs up.

There's nothing wrong with art or wanting to be an artist but you have to make money. Being stupid is not a good idea.

The reader then linked to a blog about Taro Yamamoto entitled Japanese Actor Pays the Price for Speaking Out

Before we look at that article and I comment on it, I want to mention that this readers point about, "this reactionary development on the part of Japanese society" is complete and pure nonsense. It shows a total lack of understanding of the situation and a defacto reactionary response from this reader. This is not a reactionary development on the part of Japanese society at all. Japanese society had nothing to do with it. I will prove it to you and give a glimpse as to how the mass media and show business work in Japan or anywhere else in the western world.

Let's analyze the article. The article is italicized and highlighted in yellow. My comments are in normal font:

TOKYO (majirox news) – Fighting to protect children against radiation exposure in the cities of Fukushima and Koriyama, Fukushima Prefecture, may have cost popular 36-year-old actor Taro Yamamoto his career.
Well, it's great to finally see a Japanese with a policy... Even if it is confused in implementation. Also "popular" is a subjective phrase. How well known Taro Yamamoto is depends on the person you ask. I would grade him as a middle level talent with moderate TV and movie experience. "Star" is a bit of a stretch. He has never had a role any higher than a supporting cast member. That means he was never in the lead role of any major TV or movies. He is mostly in TV commercials and that is where he crosses the line. 

Tommy & Dicky starred in the #1 rated TV 
show in America and they lost their 
program publicly criticizing the government

It seems that Yamamoto doesn't understand the rules of being in TV commercials: you don't slag off the government nor do you slag off sponsors. The Smothers Brothers learned that slagging off these entities were a good way to lose your job way back in 1969. It's too bad big media is this way, but, with big money they become big media. 
He withdrew from the Shisu Management Agency on May 27. “We have decided to accept Yamamoto’s sincere wish not to cause us any trouble because of his personal activities,” Shisu stated on its homepage.
This is the Japanese polite way of saying that management fired him and, to save face, they allowed him to say he resigned. This part about, "Yamamoto's sincere wish not to cause us any trouble" is an extremely important point and I will return to this later.
A drama that Yamamoto was to star in starting on July 8 was cancelled apparently due to his remarks. Commenting on nuclear issues can jeopardize a career.
This wording seems to be a bit tricky. The drama was not cancelled. Yamamoto's part in it was. He's been replaced. Yamamoto hasn’t had any major roles so far, if his role was minor, they would just edit him out. This paragraph should probably read, "Yamamoto's part in a drama was cancelled." Companies do not spend hundreds of thousands of dollars making a TV drama and lining up sponsors only to cancel them because of what an actor says.  
Yamamoto spoke out against the government’s adoption of a new directive stating that school-age children can now be exposed to more radiation outdoors than previously allowed. As reported, government officials said the permissible radiation level was raised to 20 millisievierts a year or else these multitudes of Fukushima school children would have to be evacuated to other parts of Japan, which would cause dire consequences for their education and home life.
I think it is excellent that Yamamoto has a policy. I think it is nice he believes what he does. It is how he handles these beliefs and policies and balances them with work, that is the problem. 

For one, did he use his public persona or public platform to do so? If so, in show business, that’s a “No-No” for a minor “star” like him. Everyone knows this and it hasn’t anything to do with “Japanese society,” this is common knowledge in show business the world over. 

You have to be a top ranking level star, like a Charlie Sheen, to be able to get away with this sort of thing. In Japan, you'd have to be a Beat Takeshi or Watanabe Ken to even hope to pull this off (even then quite risky). It's the same overseas. Look at what happened to Glenn Beck. Or how about the famous Hollywood Blacklist where hundreds of actors, actresses, screen writers, directors, and US entertainment professionals were denied employment in the field because of their political beliefs or associations, real or suspected. And don't come back with, "But, that was a long time ago!" Was Charlie Sheen a long time ago?

On my Libertarian/anarchist side I wonder if Yamamoto is so dense that he thinks that complaining to the government is going to make any difference? Yeah, I guess he is just like most Japanese who think that the government is here to “help us.” Yeah, they really have helped Japan over the years. Like they did when they got 3 million Japanese soldiers and civilians killed in World War II or Japan’s cities carpet bombed to ruin or, more recently, our national debt to 225% of GDP

Does anyone with half-a-brain actually expect that these people can help anyone? (The best thing the Japanese government could do is to copy Belgium and disappear. Belgium hasn't had a government for 1 year and no one has noticed!)
After so many years of Japanese government incompetence and mishandling of the situation from the economy to this most recent disaster, is Yamamoto that slow of a learner? Doesn’t he realize that to change the world starts right here on our own side of the street? Protests are great, but not if they cause you to lose your job. Why doesn’t he use his brains and quietly start up a charity to help these kids rather than expecting these government idiots to fix things?

On May 23, Yamamoto participated in a demonstration outside the Ministry of Education building in central Tokyo. He called on the government to reverse its ruling.
See my comments above. On that note, to prove that what I say is true and that not only do I talk the talk, I walk the walk. Before the bombing of Afghanistan and the beginning of the war on Iraq, I hosted a very popular FM radio program in Tokyo. There I quietly started, promoted and helped organize many protests. Some drew crowds of over 8,000 people. Still, I wasn’t stupid enough to allow my face be photographed at any demonstrations and I did not allow my name to be “officially” used to condone such activities... Even at that, when the station sales staff and sponsors found out, I lost my program.

Us "B-grade" talent, like Yamamoto,
should be smart enough to be discreet. 
It was a risk I knew I was taking, but I didn’t care. I already owned a meager company so I could finance myself.

So I speak from experience here when I address this subject.
He also supported Operation Kodomotachi (Operation Children), which urged the evacuation of children who lived beyond the 30-kilometer evacuation zone near the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, which has been leaking radiation since the earthquake and tsunami on March 11. Operation Kodomotachi has found about 4,000 host families in Hokkaido for these children.
Good for him but I’m sure no one cares what private charities Yamamoto promotes. I wonder how helpful he will be to Operation Children now that he lost his job?

Yamamoto was severely criticized for saying that residents near the 1986 Chernobyl accident were evacuated when their exposure was only 5 millisierverts a year and that the Japanese government’s standard as set by the Ministry of Education was an “an act of murder.” He added that the government did not want to pay for moving the residents and that the government had let the people down.
Yamamoto is totally out of line here. This is completely unacceptable and irresponsible behavior. Yamamoto is not an expert in this area. His saying things like this helps no one and can only cause fear and consternation among the families living there. Don't those people have enough trouble and worries without having some B-Grade talent making them worry some more? And who is he and what qualifications does he have to make these sorts of announcements? This is completely against all common sense.

If I were his boss, I'd probably have fired him on the spot. Trust that there are thousands of young, handsome, cooperative talent hanging around who would just love to take his spot.  

And, on that note, the last comment I will make on this incident with Yamamoto will be from the perspective of the president of a talent managment agency. 

I will say that it is a matter of course and obvious that they would fire him for saying and doing what he is doing. His actions are selfish and irresponsible. He is hurting the coworkers, their families, and his company image with his actions. Besides to himself, his family and his god, Yamamoto also has a responsibility to his coworkers. 

A talent management agency is like any other business. They make money off of selling products. In the case of a talent agency, their product is people like Yamamoto. That means that the agency makes money and can pay people when they sell their product (talent) to mass media who must then sell that talent and their program idea to big advertising agencies. The big advertising agencies then cooperate to sell the package to sponsors. 

There are many people down the line in an exhaustive process of making a TV show or movie. Hundreds of people are involved. If one of the important people (say actor or actress or director, writer) gets in trouble with the law or causes great controversy, people lose their jobs. 

For example, in the case of even an individual FM radio program at a small station, there are several people involved. Those people have families and mouths to feed. If one member gets, say, arrested for drugs or some other reason, everyone stands to lose their job. If everyone loses their job, no one eats or can feed their family. 

So this issue is not just a question of what Yamamoto did or does, it is a question of responsibility to the team, the company, and other players. He is a selfish fool if he thinks as an actor and public figure that he can do as he pleases. 

It is difficult enough to make a living in this business as it is without having to try to sell a mediocre product that has a lot of luggage that comes with it. The management of the agency, like any other business, only has so much time that sales staff and talent managers can spend on individual talent. This then becomes a cost analysis issue per product.

For everyone down the line, whether this is Japan or not, a guy like Yamamoto is not cost effective or profitable anymore. He is soiled or damaged product.

More detail can be gathered when you realize that the management of any mass media related company in Japan knows that "Japan Incorporated" has an incestuous stock relationship between companies. To complain too loudly about dicey issues (like the handling of Fukushima) and attack the government is to attack Tepco. To attack Tepco is to also attack major Japanese corporations who are a part of Japan Inc. and who also own Tepco stock and vice versa. It is these major corporations who are paying the money for TV and movies.

It is these companies who own stock in TV and mass media companies. It is also these companies who pay the salaries of actors, actresses, talent managers, agents, ad agency staff, media staff, etc., and those people's children. 

How does the old English proverb go? Don't bite the hand that feeds you.

Of course, Taro Yamamoto lost his job. Of course he was fired. His agency - with all their staff and the staff children - need to eat too. They cannot afford to get their company in hot water. 

It is wonderful that Taro Yamamoto wants to help those children in Fukushima. That is not the issue here. The issue is how he did it. If he were quietly working to help those kids and that situation, then he would still have a job and he might still be effective at helping them. But, as it stands, he hasn't a job. He has no income and he's lost his position.

I'm sure I'll get criticised from people about this article. Once again, to reiterate, it's not what Yamamoto did that was so bad, it's how he did it. His losing his job is proof enough of that. When he has no job, he can't help anyone. Now, after handling his business in this poor manner, he has his hands full just trying to help himself. Should he be praised for that? I don't think so. A small dog barking in the next yard is just that: noisy and useless.

Finally, I hear that Taro Yamamoto is giving up on TV and dramas and going into politics. Here's my thoughts on that and predictions on how things will turn out.

1) In Japan's show business, a screw-up like this will take at least 3 years to come back from. It could be sooner if there is a huge nuclear accident or the anti-nuke movement becomes popular in Japan. If that happens, then Taro Yamamoto will be seen as a hero of sorts. This probably won't happen.

2) Taro Yamamoto foolishly thinks he can become a politician? We do have these actor, actresses sports stars turned politician.... Funny thing about that; you need big money to win elections. Where is Taro Yamamoto going to get the money to win any election when jobs and economy are the big issues and he can't get funding because he slagged off big business and can't get government crony backing? (Real change in government will only come from actions that are going on in places like Greece or Spain - becoming a politician like Yamamoto claims he wants to do is nonsense).

3) Taro Yamamoto fades out of the public conscience and into oblivion and works for charities. This is probably what's going to happen. If you want to change the world, you don't go on the mass media and expect to do so... The mass media helped make the world the way it is. They are as guilty as the government. Never forget that. They aren't going to change soon.

Good luck to Taro Yamamoto, I hope he can help those kids next time.

He already blew a golden opportunity once.

NOTE: It's a little late, but praise is deserved for a Japanese guy who did quietly help out the people Tohoku. Tadashi Yanai the president and founder of Uni-Qlo donated $12.2 million dollars from his own pocket to help people up north. Mr. Yanai made no loud fuss and only sent out a statement. That's the way things are best done, especially in Japan; quietly and nobly. Thanks Mr. Yanai.


Steve 'Poots' Candidus said...


This is a good article and an interesting take on the situation.

I also have some experience in walking that thin line between following my conscience and acting foolishly.

As a salesman calling on big industrial plants I simply cannot afford to offend my customers with my Libertarian and anti-war views.

Although my essays, posts and blogs appear from time to time on sites such as yours and even occasionally on Lew Rockwell’s, I try to keep a low profile most of the time. I insist on putting my name on anything that I write because I think it’s important to take the responsibility for what I post.

I do the opposite on any and all charitable donations. I always make them anonymously or insist that they be kept anonymous. I figure that if I put my name on those then I might still be doing the right thing, but for the wrong reason…

Business is tough enough to get and keep without asking for trouble or getting banned from major customer sites by acting foolishly though. To this end I have all of my political bumper stickers (like my Ron Paul – ‘The Taxpayer’s Best Friend’, and my ‘Don’t Blame Me, I supported Ron Paul’) etc stickers all mounted on flexible magnets. I buy sheets of it at a store here called Hobby Lobby.

Most of the time I can drive around town to my hearts delight with my bumper stickers proudly displayed. However, when I am going to visit a customer I simply remove the magnetically-mounted politics and place them under the seat out of view.

It is always a fine line we walk and we must all decide what level of risk that we are willing to take. To take that risk and then whine and complain that it’s so unfair when the price comes due is both pitiful and irresponsible.

The other side of the ledger reminds us that a person that doesn’t stand up for something probably stands for nothing. I fear that is even more of a disgrace. What an empty existence that would be.

Your Taro Yamamoto seems to have forgotten the first part. He should have headed the wisdom of his namesake:

"I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve." --- Isoroku Yamamoto

Taro Yamamoto did indeed awaken a sleeping giant and it fired him.

If I could tell him just one thing it would be: That’s the price you pay for the life you choose…

I wish him well in the future and I thank him for his good deeds and intentions – even if some of them are a bit misdirected and even ill advised. It’s obvious to me that his heart is in the right place. He sounds like a good man…


See Otter said...

Very nice analysis, Mike. I would just have one small quibble with your statement:

Once again, to reiterate, it's not what Yamamoto did that was so bad, it's how he did it.

I think this is just a tad presumptive or disingenuous. First of all, what if what he actually wanted to do was not 'help the children' as you assume, but to 'criticize the governement'. In that case he achieved what he set out to do (he criticized the government), regardless of whether you or anybody would credit that as having achieved anything else.

Second, the logic in your statement quoted above is slightly queasy to me. In this particular case, speaking out against authority (wrong as you have eloquently made that out to be), in fact you cannot separate 'what he did' from 'how he did it'. The 'how' IS the 'what' in a case like this.

Not defending his apparently egregious blunder here, just parsing the assumptions and logic. Great article as ever though, thought-provoking and educational. thank you.

mikeintokyorogers said...

Thanks Sea Otter. I see your point. I hope my assumption that he was trying to help the kids was correct... Perhaps I have (still) too much faith in my fellow man? I know that, when it comes to charity, there is no such thing as Altruism yet, I do wish some people would at least be able to admit it.

If his purpose was to criticizes the government and not help the children, I have zero respect for Yamamoto (not that I have all that much now!)... But, at least, If he wants to criticize the government there's enough material there to last a lifetime!

Murasaki Shikibu said...

I am not sure criticizing the government because it is the DPJ and you are an LDP supporter has too much merit. This would just be politics!
This is not to say that there isn't a lot of stuff to criticize (because there is a lot), but sadly most of the criticism I see out there is political and not from purely an objective perspective of the average citizen or even in lines with the best interests for the country in mind.

Anonymous said...

What a terrifying world this author wants to inhabit. It is one in which people stand up to nothing, and therefore get trampled on. Quite honestly, this has to be the greatest piece of drivel I've seen in a long time. It is not great analysis at all - just mindless obedience. Shocking stuff.

Anonymous said...

PS: As someone who lives and works in Japan and someone who has been in "show business" for 10 years, I want to say that this analysis is spot on. Only a stupid person would think that they could be an actor and protest like this and not lose their job.
This analysis is correct. Mike in Tokyo correctly identifies the problem. Do what you want, but don't cause other people to lose their jobs and not feed their kids because of what you want to do. That's the point of this article, I think.

Anonymous said...

Try telling that to the Jews in Germany during WW2. If everybody quietly kept their head down and mouths closed for fear of retribution the world we live in would be quite a different place. We owe a lot to the few brave people that stand up against injustice and be counted. Not to the cowards that hide behind conformity paralyzed by fear.

Your argument is disappointingly typical Japanese conformitism in support of a system past its sell-by date. A system that has proven itself to be dysfunctional and that is losing its grip globally. Even in Japan.

Mike, get a grip, move with the times and evolve. Alternatively or emigrate to North Korea