When the right-wing Japanese author Hyakuta Naoki published his bestselling novel Kaizoku to yobareta otoko (A Man Called Pirate) in 2012, subsequently becoming a manga and a major film, he renewed interest in mid-century 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 paper traces the efforts across these media to render Idemitsu as a credible character, as well as the subsequent uses of Idemitsu in Japanese political and social debate. It argues that the partial disappearance of the “real” Idemitsu in biographical fiction allowed the production of a more believable one for contemporary Japanese politics — believable because of the timeless Japanese values he ostensibly embodies.
David Leheny is Professor in the Graduate School of Asia-Pacific Studies at Waseda University, having previously been associate professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and the Henry Wendt III ’55 Professor of East Asian Studies at Princeton University. He is the author of numerous articles and book chapters, as well as several books, most recently Empire of Hope: The Sentimental Politics of Japanese Decline (Cornell University Press, 2018).