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Precarity's Pirate: The Fictive Afterlives of Idemitsu Sazō

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  07 June 2022

David Leheny*
Graduate School of Asia-Pacific Studies, Waseda University, Tokyo, Japan


When the famously nationalistic Japanese author Hyakuta Naoki published his best-selling novel A Man Called Pirate (Kaizoku to yobareta otoko) in 2012, which subsequently became both a manga and a major film, he renewed interest in the midcentury oil baron Idemitsu Sazō, using him as the model for the novel's lead character. Hyakuta claims to have aimed to inspire the country, reeling from decades of slow growth as well as the 2011 tsunami and nuclear disaster, by featuring a visionary Japanese leader motivated primarily by love for his employees and his country. This article traces the efforts across these media to render Idemitsu as a credible character, particularly in dealing with his real-life family as well as his “family” of employees. It argues that the partial disappearance of the “real” Idemitsu in these versions of Hyakuta's novel allowed the production of a more believable one—made believable in part because of the essential Japanese values that he ostensibly represents, even as the constraints on these representations hint at fissures and tensions in contemporary political use of biographical fiction and film.

Research Article
Copyright © The Association for Asian Studies, Inc. 2022

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