Remebering TOHOKUSHINSHA FILM CORPORATION Founder, Banjiro Uemura
Last year, at the age of 90, my mentor TOHOKUSHINSHA FILM CORPORATION (TFC) founder, Banjiro Uemura, left this earth, and I received this photo of him at his memorial. Unfortunately, I could not attend his funeral due to being overseas.
After I graduated, I entered TFC into the CM production division where I was then moved to the satellite broadcasting division. I spent a long time doing work for Mr. Uemura. From 1988 to 1997, I was under his supervision for 9 years.
It’s strange to think that someone as great as Mr. Uemura doesn’t leave behind an autobiography. Actually, there was a time when we were in post-production for our subsidiary company, Television Technica (now OMNIBUS JAPAN INC.), with the president Mr. Yamashita when Mr. Uemura said, “I will be making a video about my life”. We immediately set up camera and lighting equipment in the president’s office when Mr. Uemura angrily said, ” This lighting will not do!”, and the shoot was canceled. Since then, he parted from this world without ever speaking about his life.
From the beginning to the end of the days I spent at TFC, I had the pleasure of spending almost everyday with Mr. Uemura, and I want to do my best to document about his life.
Long ago, before Mr. Uemura founded TFC, operated a bar in Shinbashi called “Como.” Many young actors from the Shiki Theatre Company gathered at his bar. Among those actors was the famous Japanese actress, Tetsuko Kuroyanagi. Mr. Uemura was born in 1929, so he would’ve been in his 20’s at this time.
In the late 1950s, the era of radio became the era of television, and one the customers who came to Mr. Uemura’s bar was Toei Television division’s Yoshinori Watanabe (then section manager, later vice president). He worked on the famous hit series “Kamen Rider”, as a new branch of the television section in Toei, which profited more than 80 billion Japanese yen. He received advice about this project from Mr. Uemura. In 1996, Mr. Watanabe was fired (spending 200 million yen on his own birthday party, which was written in the weekly Shincho magazine about his resignation) from Toei and started his own business. Mr. Uemura, stayed by his side and helped him until his passing.
In the 1960’s, the world of television had no in-house production capabilities. Mr. Uemura saw opportunity in this and imported foreign television to Japan with Japanese dubbing with his company “TOHOKUSHA” (the naming image of the company coming from his hometown, Akita, known for the famous director, Keita Asari. The logo mark is pointing towards Akita, which is where they began contract work. At the beginning, the television station dubbed for the company, but one episode took one day to compile. However, Mr. Uemura paid voice actors’ double, so they would work through the night. In one night, they could compile 3 episodes, which brought in orders from television stations. This way proved to be extremely successful (established in 1961).
The business was booming with Japanese dubs for “Bewitched”, “Mission Impossible”, “LARAMIE”, and other famous American hits. There was so little content to broadcast that an episode would play 3 times a week.
Later, “Thunderbirds” (that Ms. Kuroyanagi also appeared in) wasn’t just dubbed, it advanced from a foreign imported television program to a copyright business. This was due to the liberalization of trade that allowed companies other than major television stations to deregulate overseas remittances and to purchase copy-writes from overseas. There was a rival company, “Taiheiyo Television,” but because they tried to deceive Hollywood with their royalty reports, it drove them to bankruptcy. Mr. Uemura had an immense, trusting relationship with the Jewish executives of Hollywood.
Mr. Uemura was the chairman of the Jewish Association of Japan for a long time. When a friend of the Jewish community died, like Japan, you bring offerings to the funeral. In Israel, you show proof by planting a tree in Israel. Mr. Uemura saw Israel, the foundation of the wandering hearts of the Jewish people, as a place for Jewish people to rejoice. Mr. Uemura brought this culture to Japan which proves that Mr. Uemura was, indeed, an amazing person.
1970 was the year that TFC succeeded the 3 pillars of revenue in this copyright business and commercialization rights related to the works in addition to dubbing, and the company building in Akasaka called “Thunderbirds Building” was built.
When the bar “COMO” which was located in Shinbashi, was request to leave by Tokyu Group, Mr. Uemura met and negotiated on behalf of the town with Keita Goto, he spoke about stories in the area related to stolen jewelry smuggling transactions where a ship was wrecked, and about when the daughter of a famous actor, Melanie Griffith, came into trouble with money, how he offered her pocket money to get by. There were mountains worth of surprising stories in the area.
I always heard exciting stories from Mr. Uemura about friendships with famous mysterious people of the Showa period like Yoshio Kodama, Tsuneo Tachinokawa, Yasuyoshi Tokuma, etc.
I was assigned as preparation staff for the launch of satellite broadcasting at Skyport TV that launched in 1989. From then, there were problems in communication and satellite barriers, Softbank Television Asahi’s takeover, the establishment of J Sky B which was set up by Leopard Murdoch, chairman of 20th Century Fox, and the entry of U.S. Direct TV in Japan, which presented a mayhem of variety in experiencing this multi-channel era which, Asahi Newspaper political journalist, Ryuichi Yamashita, (now, Asahi Newstar, CS One Ten managing director) wrote about in detail in his book, “The Break of Sky TV: Men Betting on CS Media.” For some reason, I appear as the villain.
At this time, Mr. Uemura, talked about having a strong desire for satellite TV and “not wanting to end up as an old geezer in CM production.” Eventually, with very skillful tactics (Kakuei Tanaka connection to Takeshita Group and the relationship while working with the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications, which there are many things about this topic that cannot be written yet) he became the owner of these 6 channels: “Star Channel,” “Super Channel” (Now Super Drama TV), “Family Gekijo,” “Classic Japan”, “Go/Shogi Channel”, and “Playboy Channel.”
It must have been 1993, when we brought our bags with us to the Cannes Film Festival, I sat on a bench in front of the OMEGA with Mr. Uemura taking a break, when he said, ” Fukuda, the only job where I was used by people, was when I was a bartender on the military base. At the time, the watches shining from soldiers arms were OMEGA watches, which I so admired. ” Mr. Uemura was a Junior High graduate, and students were mobilized at the factory of Gunma Nakajima Aircraft (now Fuji Heavy Industries, Ltd.) to build fighter aircrafts. He entered society that way. From then, he developed his independence and eye for business which made him into the genius he was. Even now, if i have some sort of trouble with my own business matters, I think of Mr. Uemura’s words.
It would take a lifetime to tell you about all the memories I have of Mr. Uemura. There are still so many stories to tell.
・The time I received a call from Mr. Uemura in the middle of the night during a typhoon, to go see if the sign at the supermarket (National Azabu Market, Super Den’en) had fallen and to take a picture with a disposable camera.
・Tried to make a spinning sign like the kind you see as you’re speeding racing your car through Kanpachi.
・I was ordered to search for the thick cardboard boxes used to attach the VHS (which were expensive at the time) as a bonus gift to the convenience store magazines. Every morning, Mr. Uemura said he would write down memos at his bedside of these ideas he got from his dreams.
・Hired to experiment with the placement of the mens urinal from a low to a higher position to try and get rid of the bounce.
・It was unreasonable to purchase toilet paper everyday consumed by group companies, so he established a company called National Trading.
・He gave an expensive parasol to the wife of a client for a weekend golf tournament, but actually it was a originally made to be a waterproof curtain purchased in Milano delivered to the Empire Hotel.
・He made a staff member take import restricted high-quality ham from London, back home.
・Requested for royalties to use the image of Halley’s Comet taken in Cannes for the title back of “Star Channel.” At the time, I worked with Star Channel as the sales manager and worked concurrently with TFC, so it was a two person interaction. In other words, TFC’s president requested Star Channel manager’s appearance. (in reference to NHK’s morning drama and orchestra business models).
・He used his drinking water for his luxury pool in Oyamadai and was furious when the writer, Junichi Watanabe said,” so you can distribute water to neighbors in the event of a disaster.
・For a BBQ party, in order to teach how to fry onions, we went to Supermarket Den’en and I was lectured on how to pick out the perfect onion. At the time, I was shocked by the resemblance of the sales staff who turned out to be his little brother, Shichirou. LOL.
・He liked things to be neat, so if a jacket lacked a chair or a radio-cassette player wasn’t playing music, there were times that he would just throw it away.
・He witnessed a businessman wearing an Aloha shirt for a business trip abroad, and since then enforced wearing a tie on board. My seniors would often get in trouble for having the second button on their shirts unbuttoned.
・When we were all walking in a town in Cannes, all of a sudden Mr. Uemura asked, “What road is this?” and when I replied with, “This is the road of Napoleon’s triumphant return,” I was treated like a hero that day.
・In the early summer, we had a dinner at a castle in the village of Mougins in Cannes, which we had a long course from 9pm to midnight. For courtesy reasons we were wearing jackets even though it was sweaty, but then an American came in wearing jeans and a T-shirt which was rather awkward.
・An employee that he usually doesn’t have interaction with, putting aside rank, invited him to eat eel. As soon as someone spoke ill of one of the executives, he immediately ended the dinner party.
・The first advertiser on Super Channel who presented with Mr. Uemura was Yoshinoya (at that time, President Sugimoto). By going around with several companies, such as Bandai, I gained tips of sales and was able to advertise a used car store in Tamagawa for the first time on my own. I was given many compliments.
・On time I looked over at Mr. Uemura’s notes during a meeting and it said, “this guy won’t become anything more than a rear admiral, and after that he was demoted from his executive position.
・Calculators were required and meetings and your calculations had to be precise down to the last decimal, or else you would get in trouble. If you didn’t memorize important clients numbers, Mr. Uemura would get mad, so I still remember TV channel switchboard numbers to this day.
・At the first meeting of a partnership with Direct TV Japan, Tsutaya’s president Mr. Masuda kept calling Mr. Uemura, “Banjiro,” by first name over and over. This is considered rude in Japan and the conversation ended in an instant.
・He delivered a thick, white paper bag to Shintaro Abe, the father of the current Prime Minister of Japan( at the time, the LDP political chairman), Shinzo Abe. I still don’t know what was inside that bag.
・When I was 28, I was given the task of acquiring land in Oyamadai, Setagaya Ward, to build an uplink base for satellite broadcasting. I don’t remember why, but I severely offended the landowner. I fixed the problem with a box of tangerines. I was impressed with the theory, that if an elite person showed he carried a heavy box of oranges as an apology, he would be forgiven.
・I can’t write about the story with Akita Sake Brewery, or the incident with the dish of the Emperor’s purveyor on Hitotsuki-dori among other stories, unfortunately.
As I write this, I remember of how charming of a character Mr. Uemura was, and it makes me feel lonely. I hope he’s resting peacefully in heaven.
Showa 37 1962 newspaper coverage.
“Thunderbirds” which triggered a breakthrough in television with puppetry.