INTERVIEW: Actor-turned-activist Yamamoto wants to be catalyst in Diet

July 30, 2013

By SHIGEKI TOSA/ Staff Writer

Taro Yamamoto, an actor best known for his starring role in the 2000 blockbuster “Battle Royale,” has been waging another battle since the 2011 nuclear disaster: to rid Japan of nuclear power plants.

After his failed attempt to win a Lower House seat in December, Yamamoto, 38, rebounded to capture a seat as an independent in Tokyo in the Upper House election earlier this month.

In an interview with The Asahi Shimbun, Yamamoto said he is determined during his six-year term to wean the nation from its reliance on nuclear energy, but also intends to tackle other issues facing the socially weak such as poverty and labor problems.

Yamamoto knows first hand what it feels like to be marginalized. He found himself ostracized in the entertainment industry after he made public his anti-nuclear stance in the weeks following the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

Excerpts of the interview follow:

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Question: What is your take on capturing 660,000 votes in Tokyo in the Upper House election amid the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s landslide victory?

Yamamoto: We are entering the dark ages. It is not that the LDP was strong. But there were an overwhelming number of voters who abandoned their efforts to express themselves through their votes. If they had gone to polling stations, power would have been less badly concentrated as it is now. The fact that I won a seat in Tokyo despite being an independent is symbolic of a future possibility that things can be changed.

Q: Did you have any inner conflict over voicing your opposition to nuclear power generation?

A: There were two sides of me: one which wants to voice my opposition, and the other, which does not want to. It was a struggle between my two selves. As a result, I could not sleep well and even shouted “meltdown!” in my sleep.

I began voicing opposition to nuclear energy in my tweets three weeks after the nuclear accident occurred. I did that because I came to realize that we did not have the right to freedom of expression or the right to live as the disaster developed.

I wondered why we cannot say no to things which we believe should not be tolerated. The moment I tweeted my opposition, I could not stop crying. I felt like I had returned to being a human being.

Q: The consequence is that the entertainment industry has deprived you of roles.

A: I was aware that I would have fewer offers for parts if I continued to speak out and act for the cause. But then the science ministry announced standards for children’s radiation dosage. It, in my view, is a message that government officials don’t care about children’s future since (the standards indicated) radiation exposure will not pose an immediate threat to their health.

That made me decide this is not the time I should be only concerned about my livelihood. The public should have been informed about both the safe and hazardous aspects of radiation, but the media and the government failed in this.

It certainly caused me problems (by openly opposing nuclear energy). Nothing can be done without money on TV shows and the stage. A person who was sympathetic to my plight planned to give me a part, but the sales side shunned the idea. I became a pariah.

Q: Why did you decide to run for the Diet?

A: Because I felt like I was being ostracized by society. But after I begin to see beyond the nuclear power issue, I became aware that problems also exist in the business world. The discarding of people has been going on for a long time. Some politicians have created a system that benefits them.

Q: Where do you begin as a politician?

A: What a single member of the Diet can do is really limited. I am going to travel all across the country to see for myself what is going on, making the best use of a Diet member’s badge and pass to use Japan Railways services for free. I hope to help create a nationwide movement with people who see problems in not only nuclear power generation, but also poverty and labor issues.

I have just one seat. But I will strive to gain more power and influence. I may sound foolish, but you cannot change the nation without taking the reins of government.

Q: Are you going to ally yourself with a particular party?

A: That is a tough question. Some politicians are really committed to their agenda. I want to work with them to expand my knowledge. What is important is not which party, but which lawmakers.

By SHIGEKI TOSA/ Staff Writer
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Taro Yamamoto during an interview with The Asahi Shimbun (Yasuhiro Sugimoto)

Taro Yamamoto during an interview with The Asahi Shimbun (Yasuhiro Sugimoto)

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  • Taro Yamamoto during an interview with The Asahi Shimbun (Yasuhiro Sugimoto)

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