Friday, May 18, 2018

"Hyoe Yamamoto dives into Japan’s culture of corporate corruption in ‘Samurai and Idiots: The Olympus Affair’"

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Excerpt from The Japan Times, 5/16/18.

“Samurai and Idiots” revisits a 2011 scandal that rocked camera manufacturer Olympus Corp., when then-newly appointed CEO Michael Woodford blew the whistle on the company’s shady accounting and dalliances with organized crime. Woodford was ousted from his post just two weeks afterward, terminating a 30-year career with the company. Before he left, however, the British businessman had torn the lid off what would become an enormous financial scandal involving one of the country’s most respected and successful names. In the aftermath, the entire board of Olympus resigned and the previous CEO, along with others, were arrested.

“It’s not really my story, it’s a story about modern day corporate Japan,” Woodford says in the film, which is meticulous in showing how a powerful manufacturer could be taken down from the inside.

“The title comes from Michael Woodford’s own words,” Yamamoto tells The Japan Times. “Woodford felt, and I do too, that the two concepts are not all that different. We Japanese hold the samurai as the ultimate ideal but it has become a convenient label more than anything else. It has been slapped onto whatever the Japanese — especially Japanese corporations — want to hide or avoid having to explain.”

The Olympus scandal may feel like history now, but the analysis of Japanese society in “Samurai and Idiots” is still quite relevant, according to Yamamoto.

“Though social networking and the internet have changed some aspects of how Japanese corporations and society think, many things have remained exactly the same,” he says. “Again and again, we’ve seen how people at the top sabotage their organizations and then cover the whole thing up. The Moritomo scandal, for instance, is a classic case in that we can’t really see who’s ultimately responsible. Everything is evaded with a single word: sontaku (loosely translated as ‘following unspoken orders’).

“I find the whole thing bizarre, but at the same time, it’s so Japanese. One of the motives for making ‘Samurai and Idiots’ is to show the Japanese that what is acceptable and even considered a virtue here can seem strange, offensive or illegal to the outside world.”

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"Samurai and Idiots" webpage:

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