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My “National Route 16” (Author: Hiroichi Yanase) ~ The story of Tohokushinsha’s Banjiro Uemura

Twenty-seven years ago, in May of 1993, I was in Cannes, France.

At that time, I was 29 years old. I was accompanying our company president in attending MIPTV, the world’s largest television video convention.

My boss and company president was Banjiro Uemura (65 years old at the time). He was the founder of the Tohokushinsha Film Corporation, which had the largest market share for the production of commercials in Japan.

While I was accompanying Mr. Uemura between conventions for some shopping along the main street in Cannes, he suddenly stopped in front of an Omega store.

“Fukuda,” he said. “I’ve only been used by someone else once in my life. That was when I was a bartender on a US base after the war. At that time, I wanted an Omega watch that the US soldiers were wearing, so I started running a bar called ‘COMO’ by myself in Shinbashi.”

Some young members of the Shiki Theatrical Company were hanging out at that bar, including the actress Tetsuko Kuroyanagi. It was working with these young people, who could barely feed themselves, to start Japan’s first dubbing business (the early days of TV featured American TV dramas that were imported and dubbed), that eventually led to the huge hit series “Thunderbird.”

By the way, the prior name of Tohokushinsha was “Tohokusha.” The name was provided by Keita Asari, founder of Japan’s best-known theater group. Mr. Uemura was from Akita Prefecture in Japan’s Tohoku region, which inspired the name.

This is the dramatic story behind the founding of the Tohokushinsha Film Corporation.

◆Reference  : Remebering TOHOKUSHINSHA FILM CORPORATION Founder, Banjiro Uemura

In the third chapter of his new book “National Route 16,” Hiroichi Yanase writes of how many of Japan’s first-generation postwar musicians cut their teeth performing jazz and country music for US troops in clubs that had popped up along National Route 16.

“Shin and Misa Watanabe who founded Watanabe Productions. Takeo Hori who founded HoriPro. Shochi Tanabe who founded Tanabe Agency. Hideyoshi Aizawa of Sun Music. All of them formed bands immediately after the war, played at clubs for the occupying forces, learned the tricks of the trade for booking and dispatching musicians, and, in response to the coming of the television era, established a new form of business that was the entertainment agency.”

Banjiro Uemura was also a member of this generation.

Mr. Yanase’s book “National Route 16” does more than depict regional characteristics and history. The book also presents the postwar identity of the Japanese.

In addition to the origins of the postwar entertainment industry, the book is rich in discoveries and connections for the Japanese reader. I think each reader will find his or her own “Route 16.”

It also deeply moves me to think that I am now involved in an entertainment world that was created by such predecessors.

“National Route 16 – The Road that Created Japan” (Author: Hiroichi Yanase)

Note: The TV industry that followed

The Japanese television industry began by showing foreign titles, but such titles would make their last prime time appearance in 1983.

From the 1990s, although the foreign titles of past years such as “Charlie’s Angels” and “Columbo” would reappear on many cable channels and SkyPort, the predecessor to SkyPerfecTV, the spotlight would turn to Japanese TV dramas. With the huge hit works by “Double Asano,” two popular actresses with the same last name, the rise of the entertainment agency would begin.

Today, however, with new internet forces such as Netflix and YouTube, the entertainment industry is again on the decline. In addition to the blow from COVID-19, Japan’s TV drama and entertainment industries are under pressure from Korea and other forces of globalization.