Japan's gangsters revel in their image of hard-working, hard-fighting protectors of the common man. They also enjoy their portrayal in dozens of movies and television dramas, where well-known actors show them as fearless, fiercely protective of their clan, loyal and ready to sacrifice all for their gang.
But those filmmakers have got it all wrong, according to police in the southern city of Kitakyushu. To demonstrate just how far off-base these stereotypical images have strayed, a superintendent in the Fukuoka Prefectural Police Department has directed a video depicting the gangsters' brutality.
'Guys oozing masculinity, loaded with human compassion, who vow never to hurt respectable people? Give me a break,' said Superintendent Masataka Yabu, head of the department's organised-crime unit in Kitakyushu. 'There is no such thing as a good yakuza.' Superintendent Yabu set about writing the script and directing his colleagues as actors.
The film, entitled Yurusarezaru Mono (The Unforgivables), is a work of fiction about a low-ranking gang member who, as a youth, was enticed by the specious allure of the criminal life. He becomes disillusioned with his fellow thugs, pimps and loansharks when a young member is falsely accused of breaking the rules and is beaten up by other gangsters. Filming began last month, and when it's completed, video copies will be distributed to schools in the prefecture in a campaign to steer youngsters away from crime.
But when the local Kudokai crime syndicate learned that it was to be shown to schoolchildren, it protested. Gang representatives presented a letter to the Kitakyushu Board of Education, signed by its 'secretary-general'. 'If the video is shown at schools, children of crime-syndicate members will be bullied,' the petition said. 'It would constitute discrimination.' Their yakuza connection is normally a point of pride for gangsters' children.
Their reaction apparently caught the authorities by surprise. A bewildered board official said that no decision had been taken on whether the film would be circulated in schools. 'We will consult with the police and other relevant organisations before deciding how to respond to the request,' he said.
Superintendent Yabu responded to the Kudokai letter by calling the gang 'particularly heinous', because it did not shrink from using violence against ordinary citizens. Anyone who watches the video, he said, will see the foolishness of any claim that it might cause discrimination. Not that the director of the film cares about trampling on gangsters' sensitivities, anyway. And he hopes that some of their own children might come to feel the same way.