Author and Japanese Crime Expert, Jake Adelstein, Reveals Yakuza Reality as part of Japan Society's "Hardest Men" Film Series

Yakuza in Popular Media & Real Life: Cracks & Chasms  

Thursday, March 10, 2011, 6:30 pm, at Japan Society


New York, NY – From popular films to comic books to video games, the depiction of the yakuza (Japanese mafia) has entertained adventure buffs for generations. But the reality of Japan’s underworld underpinnings is much more complex, elusive and ultimately more fascinating than is widely known.

Jake Adelstein, author of Tokyo Vice—one of the rare books revealing true-to-life yakuza culture in Japan—headlines the discussion Yakuza in Popular Media & Real Life: Cracks & Chasms, on Thursday, March 10 at 6:30 pm, at Japan Society.

Adelstein, who was a crime reporter for one of Japan’s largest newspapers for over a decade, and who headed up a 2005 U.S. State Department investigation on human trafficking, discusses the differences between the image the yakuza want to project and how the major groups really function, as well as Japan’s taboos on depicting yakuza.

The yakuza are notorious and feared in Japan, much like the mafia in the western world. Activities range between the legal and illegal--from organizing festivals and presenting concerts, to drug trafficking, gambling and prostitution to protecting rackets of shops and entertainment facilities in their territories. A big difference between the yakuza and Western organized crime is that the yakuza operation is well known to public--offices are dressed in the company crest and members even have business cards. Many yakuza members (though it’s not widely reported, due to social taboos) come from social outcast, such as burakumin or the Korean community.

As an American living in Japan, Adelstein comments on his knack for infiltrating Japanese organized crime: “The yakuza are outsiders in Japanese society, and perhaps being a fellow outsider gave us a weird kind of bond. The cops investigating the yakuza also tend to be oddballs. I was mentored into an early understanding and appreciation of the code of both the yakuza and the cops. Reciprocity and honor are essential components for both.”

The discussion takes place during Japan Society’s film series Hardest Men in Town: Yakuza Chronicles of Sin, Sex & Violence (March 9-19), presenting 15 seminal yakuza themed films from the past 50 years. Following this discussion is the screening of Onibi: The Fire Within, director Rokuro Mochizuki's 1996 masterpiece that injects both sexual passion and subdued sentiment into the macho world of yakuza cinema. Presented in Japanese with English subtitles, Adelstein introduces the film. Tickets are available for the lecture and screening separately or combined.

Jake Adelstein was a reporter for the Yomiuri Shinbun, Japan's largest newspaper, from 1993 to 2005. From 2006 to 2007 he was the chief investigator for a U.S. State Department-sponsored study of human trafficking in Japan. Considered one of the foremost experts on organized crime in Japan, he works as a writer and consultant in Japan and the United States. He is also a board member of the Washington DC based Polaris Project Japan (PPJ), an NP0 which combats human trafficking and the exploitation of women and children in the sex trade.  He is the author of Tokyo Vice: An American Reporter on The Police Beat in Japan (2009 U.S., 2010 worldwide), and he is writing his second  book, The Last Yakuza: A life in the Japanese underworld, which is a narrative biography of one former gang boss and covers the history of the mob in Japan after the second world war to the present. 

Steeped in cryptic ritual and customs, from full-body tattoos to missing digits, the violent, romantic world of yakuza has inspired Japanese cinema since the 60s. From March 9-19, the Globus Film Series Hardest Men in Town: Yakuza Chronicles of Sin, Sex & Violence presents 15 seminal films encompassing 50 years of snarling, swaggering, tattooed and inexplicably sexy movie icons from Japan. Projecting grand visions of manly amity and betrayal, early productions featured chivalrous kimono-clad, sword-wielding gangsters and gamblers, who set the stage for today's ruthless gun-toting villains dealing in debt, hustling hardcore porn and scheming in dark trades and even darker deeds. With 8 premieres--4 films never-before seen outside of Japan--the Hardest Men in Town series includes celebrated classics, overlooked gems and outrageous contemporary hits. In addition to Jake Adelstein, special guests include director/writer Paul Schrader (Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, The Yakuza) and director Takashi Miike (Dead or Alive, Audition, Ichi the Killer, 13 Assassins).

Founded in 1907, Japan Society has evolved into a world-class, multidisciplinary hub for global leaders, artists, scholars, educators, and English and Japanese speaking audiences. At the Society, more than 100 events each year feature sophisticated, topically relevant presentations of Japanese art and culture and open, critical dialogue on issues of vital importance to the U.S., Japan and East Asia. An American nonprofit, nonpolitical organization, the Society cultivates a constructive, resonant and dynamic relationship between the people of the U.S. and Japan.

Yakuza in Popular Media & Real Life: Cracks & Chasms takes place Thursday, March 10 at 6:30 pm. Japan Society is located at 333 East 47th Street between First and Second avenues (accessible by the 4/5/6 at 42nd Street-Grand Central Station or the E and V at Lexington Avenue and 53rd St.) Tickets for the lecture only are $12/$8 Japan Society members, seniors & students. Tickets for the 8:30 screening of Onibi are $12/$9, and tickets for the lecture & screening are $16/$12, available only at the box office or by telephone. For reservations visit or call the box office at 212-715-1258.

Japan Airlines is the exclusive Japanese Airline sponsor of Lecture Programs at Japan Society. Continental Airlines is the exclusive U.S. Airline sponsor of Lecture Programs at Japan Society. Additional support is provided by Chris A. Wachenheim and the Sandy Heck Lecture Fund. Hardest Men in Town is made possible through the generous support of The Globus Family. Japan Society's 2010-11 Film Programs are generously supported by the Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Endowment Fund. Additional support is provided by The Globus Family, David S. Howe, Dr. Tatsuji Namba, Elaine Sheng and Samuel Jamier, Randall I. Stempler, and with public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, celebrating 50 years of building strong, creative communities in New York State's 62 counties.

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Shannon Jowett
Japan Society
T: 212-715-1205
F: 212-715-1262

Kuniko Shiobara
Japan Society
T: 212-715-1249
F: 212-715-1262

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