“A barefaced lie,” snaps Shukan Gendai (Sept 10) regarding disgraced comedian Shinsuke Shimada’s claim that his admitted ties to yakuza figures were, though indiscreet, essentially innocent.
“Either a lie,” the weekly continues, “or else the man’s perceptions are somewhat crazy.”
The intensity of the attention focused on the unraveling of Shimada’s show business career is a measure of his enormous popularity. He had been hosting six regular TV variety shows, all of which were abruptly cancelled when the scandal surfaced late last month. Coverage of the debacle has been exhaustive to the point of saturation. Perhaps a stricken nation terrorized by spreading radioactivity was simply ripe for distraction.
Much ado about nothing is certainly the way it strikes some insiders, including fellow TV host Tomoaki Ogura, who said, “This was nothing for him to quit over.” Shukan Gendai begs to differ. It quotes an Osaka police source as saying, “He [Ogura] said that because he didn’t know about [Shimada’s] emails.”
The emails in question, some 50 of them, are excerpted by the magazine. They were purportedly written by Shimada beginning in 2005, primarily to former pro boxer Jiro Watanabe, a friend since the 1970s and apparently the link between Shimada and one Hirofumi Hashimoto, a prominent member of the Yamaguchi-gumi organized crime group who about 10 years ago allegedly helped the comedian “clear up a problem” he had with ultra-nationalists offended by a quip he’d made on one of his shows.
The emails as quoted are nothing if not effusive. They express admiration for Hashimoto, gratitude toward Watanabe, and – what is probably the main point – the writer’s sense of his own weakness and bad character.
One, undated by the magazine, reads, “Lately I met the chairman [Hashimoto] face to face. It was a great relief. I am so happy that he deigns to take notice of me.”
This one is dated June 10 2005: “Thank you so much! I’m grateful. Knowing that I’m protected by you [Watanabe] and the chairman gives me courage!”
Four days later, he wrote, “I’m so dispirited! It’s not good for me to have risen so high. Whatever anyone says to me becomes an excuse to pick a fight.”
And this, undated by the magazine: “I’m weak-spirited, disgusted with myself.”
No doubt he had his troubles, which stardom and wealth partly hid from view. Reportedly something of a juvenile delinquent as an adolescent, he rode a loutish image to the top, and his emails show how uncomfortable and vulnerable he felt there. This surfaced in 2004, when he assaulted a female staff member of his talent agency, Osaka-based Yoshimoto Kogyo. Last year a civil court judge ordered the star and the agency to pay the woman some YY10 million in damages.
Whatever the legal implications of Shimada’s questionable relationships – no charges have been laid – Shimada’s acute sense of his own weakness and of Watanabe’s and Hashimoto’s strength seems a plausible psychological explanation. Yoshimoto Kogyo, while calling Shimada’s associations “unforgivable,” did not dismiss him – he quit, to all appearances, on his own initiative. What the future holds for him is unpredictable, but Shukan Gendai has this to say in closing: “There’s no need to make a sentimental story out of the retirement of an entertainer who harbored longstanding shadowy relationships with the mob.”© Japan Today