The following interview originally appeared in the June 2009 issue of Japanese magazine Cyzo (previously available online, but currently unavailable; Google cached part one and two). We have published this translation without the publisher’s express permission. We do not confirm, condone, or endorse the content, but merely provide the translation as a way to view into the discourse of the Japanese printed media on the Japanese entertainment world.
In the interview, veteran entertainment reporter Honda Kei discusses Suhō Ikuo — CEO of management company Burning Production and widely understood to be the most powerful single person in the Japanese entertainment world. (He is often called the “Don of the geinoukai.”) Despite such power, Suhō almost never appears in the media, is rarely photographed, and few people outside of the industry would know his name. Many publications (and previous incarnations of his Wikipedia entry) have subtly hinted at Suhō’s alleged relationships with the so-called “underworld,” but Cyzo‘s Honda interview is one of the few times where someone has made claims of this matter on the record.
Cyzo – June 2009 Issue
Burning CEO Suhō’s True Face and Means of Power, as Seen from a Man Who Continues to Fight with the “Don”
Entertainment journalist Kei Honda is a man who continues to offer outspoken criticism of the (management company) Burning Production and its CEO Suhō Ikuo — normally said to be a “taboo of the entertainment industry.” In an entertainment mass media that is uniformly “Burning-friendly,” Honda has, up to this point, been sued five times by Burning. He also says he has been intimidated by mob members… so why does this man keep fighting with his pen?
—Mr. Honda, how many times have you been sued for slander by Burning Production’s Suhō Ikuo for writing critical articles about him?
Honda (H): I have been sued five times, for writing about Suhō’s dark associations with crime syndicates, the nature of his media control, and his true face. He demanded compensation for damages for the slander and I was sued. Out of the five, he withdrew the charge or we settled out-of-court four times. None of the suits reached final court judgment. The remaining one is currently pending in appeals court. Suhō apparently is telling people, “Even though we settled, it’s a crime of conscience that he keeps writing very similar things.” But no matter how many times I write, Suhō doesn’t ever change his ways.
—When did you first encounter President Suhō?
H: It was when I just started out as a novice writer for Shukan Post (Shogakukan), so it must have been 35-36 years ago. At the time, I found out about a sex scandal involving singer Minami Saori (currently married to Shinoyama Kishin), who was in Burning. I got a tip that a writer from Shukan Shincho got into a fight with Suhō about the incident and had his glasses broken. In order to confirm the story, I went to the Burning office and asked “Is Mr. Suhō here?” Suddenly the man who was cleaning the office wielded his mop like a sword. I remember that the mop guy was Suhō.
—Was that grievance what made you point your spear of criticism towards President Suhō?
H: No, it wasn’t anything personal. The big thing was, at that time, the owner of a big management company had told me in real grief, “The Japan Association of Music Enterprises has finally allied with the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department to try to sever the ties between the yakuza and the entertainment world. And even though they are cleaning everything up, Suhō is doing the exact opposite.” Suhō, through wielding power, was able to further cultivate associations with the mob.
—Why does Suhō associate with the crime syndicates?
H: Maybe he likes them? When Suhō came into the entertainment world, the mob was involved in running management companies and promoting singers. So there would have been points of contact all over. And I think that world of “duty and obligations” maybe agrees with his skin. It’s just that kids look up to the entertainment world and so it must conform to social norms. We can’t allow those kinds of associations. There was a consensus in the industry to move towards getting rid of the mob, but if the leader of the industry, Burning, wasn’t following those rules, what can you do?
—Why do you think President Suhō came to be called the “Don of the Entertainment World”?
H: This is my theory, but Suhō focused on the music publishing business, and at the time, he partnered with Watanabe Masafumi (now deceased), who dominated TBS’ music shows. Suhō turned the “race” for the Japan Record Award into a business. He took the sports paper writers and music critics involved with the awards out to high-end clubs and threw them big parties on their birthdays. He gave them presents. For weddings and funerals, etc. he would send unprecedented amounts of money, and with that, he was able to create cozy relations with the entertainment media.
So all the management companies and record labels that wanted to win a Japan Record Award would rely on Suhō, and in return, he would get that singer’s master recording rights or publishing rights. And if the singer won the award, those rights would create even more money. Using the conduit to the entertainment media he cultivated at that point, he could then suppress scandals. And Suhō, who had amassed huge financial power, was able to bring in great people working for him. He would also assist aforced the music publishers in his keiretsu to give him copyrights and the entertainment companies to give him business rights, and he created a money tree. He had money, controlled the mass media, and created a real business model. If you can do that, you are absolutely “the Don.”
—As an entertainment reporter, what do you think of the mass media people who are subservient to Burning?
H: I though it was inexcusable! After all this, I quit my job at Shukan Post and became a freelancer, doing a lot of work for Tokyo Sports. The bureau chief at Tokyo Sports at that point approached me and said, “Our Culture Department is way too cozy with the management companies. So you should do as you like.” I thought, “what, am I a bullet?” No one in the Culture Dep’t liked me, but I started to cover the entertainment world. Even though the mass media knew about Suhō’s dark associations and scandals about Burning talent, they stayed quiet. I thought, if that’s the case, I will just cover it all myself and bring scandals about Burning talent to light in not just Tokyo Sports but in media like Asahi Geino (Tokuma Shoten) or Tsukuru (Tsukuru Publishing), or Hanashi no Channeru (Nihon Bungeisha).
—President Suhō never tried to win you over?
H: He did. I don’t know if it was him acknowledging defeat from my attacks, but about twenty years ago, through a friend, he had a couple of plans for conciliation. As a result, I had the chance to dine with Suhō, and for a while, we had friendly relations. I was taken to a performance by Hosokawa Takashi at the Shinjuku Koma Theatre and got to go backstage. There, I heard Suhō ask Hosokawa, “Did you greet oyabun Noda?” “Oyabun Noda” was the godfather of a huge crime syndicate. Discovering these clear associations with the mob made me realize that I just shouldn’t be hanging out with Suhō. So I separated from Suhō about a half-year later, and because of that, I was told suddenly by him, “Tomorrow I am going to wire ¥2 million to you, so could you tell me your bank account?” I refused, saying, “I have no business receiving that,” and that was it with Suhō.
—After that, how were your relations with Suhō?
H: I personally strengthened my criticism of him. When I did that, I received anonymous calls to my home. My wife picked up and the guy said, “I am a classmate’s of Suhō. Because the Anti-Organized Crime Law has made things complicated, I can’t say the name of my syndicate, but tell your husband to make nice with Suhō.” The substance of the call made it clear that it was a threat. I could not allow this intimidation of my wife, who is not involved in the industry. I eventually figured out who called, and it wasn’t his classmate, but a guy who was in one of the mob groups that he runs with. But even after that, I kept writing about scandals related to Burning. When I did that, I was finally sued for slander.
—Do you think President Suhō hates most when you write about his relations to crime syndicates?
H: Maybe he hates that, but in my memory, he has never really said that my concrete statements about his connections to the mob have no basis in fact. Basically, he insists that the entire article is slander. He sued me for my book The Crumbling of the Johnny’s Empire (『ジャニーズ帝国崩壊』) published by Rokusaisha, and in there, there is an eyewitness account that when Fifth-Generation Yamaguchi-gumi’s Lieutenant Takumi Masaru (now deceased) came to Tokyo, Suhō went to meet him frequently at the ANA Hotel in Roppongi. But that particular part was not challenged.
—From what you saw, has Suhō’s power only risen over the years?
H: They say that Suhō got scared and stopped coming to the office after the shooting incident at Burning in 2001 [where someone shot a bullet through the office window] . Around then, he purchased a golf course in Okinawa and started working as the owner. He got hooked on golf, and they said that he started to slowly lose the unifying force worthy of a Don.
But from my point of view, I just couldn’t see where he had lost power. At that time, Suhō had expanded his conduit with the financial world. He was beloved especially by a now-deceased former chairman of a giant paper company. He also created connections with powerful politicians and had a honeymoon relation with former NHK Chairman Ebizawa Katsuji. And he built up connections even with people in the judiciary. They say that Suhō’s son is even involved with the company Japan Risk Control, which employed Norisada Mamoru (who lost his job at the Tokyo High Court Counsel because of a sex scandal) as a top advisor.
When K-Dash chariman Kawamura Tatsuo came to prominence, the entertainment industry was a flutter with things like “Suhō’s power has fallen” or “the Suhō era is over,” but that’s ridiculous.
In the fuss over the marriage between Fujiwara Norika and Jinnai Tomonori last year, Suhō wielded power behind the scenes to the degree that Yoshimoto Kogyo (Jinnai’s agency) couldn’t move hand or foot. From the leaked information about their engagement to the exclusive live broadcast rights given to Nihon Television, that was all Suhō’s own work. I wrote about this in the magazine Kami no Bakudan (“Paper Bomb”, Rokusaisha), which brings us to the fifth suit against me I mentioned earlier, currently pending. Just as always, Suhō sues with legal means those who cannot be controlled by the carrot and the stick. But the fact that Suhō has come to do it like this, I think is a reason why the mass media succumbs to him.
I love the entertainment world and all the people who work hard so hard in it. But I don’t plan on dropping my pen as long as the industry is being controlled by dirty people.