LONDON – The late Prime Minister Takeo Fukuda was infuriated by an “anti-Japanese” TV documentary that cast his nation’s companies in a bad light as they considered setting up bases in Britain, according to official documents from 1977 released Friday.
The controversial program, “Eastern Promise,” which used a war scene and portrayed Japanese businessmen as samurai warriors, led to an “outburst” from Fukuda, who demanded British Charge D’Affaires Sydney Giffard be summoned for an official dressing down.
Fukuda and his Cabinet saw the TV program reflecting a more generalized attack by the British government, which was suffering a large balance of payments deficit with Japan. Fukuda was the father of current Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda.
He expressed “irritation” at what he perceived to be several negative statements by British ministers who were urging Japan to buy more British exports, according to London government files released for the first time at the National Archives.
The prime-time documentary was prompted by Hitachi Ltd.’s bid to make TV sets in northeast England.
The program interviewed those for and against the proposed factory, as well as people who had opposed a Japanese company setting up in the United States.
However, Tokyo was particularly upset by some of the scenes in the program, which included footage from a wartime movie showing a prisoner with his Japanese guards.
Tokyo also took objection to the way in which the program ended, when a Japanese business executive on a golf course takes a swing and transforms into a picture of a samurai warrior brandishing his sword.
The opening of the program was equally controversial, showing an animated graphic of a Trojan horse that was sliced open with a samurai sword to reveal the names of Japanese corporations competing with European firms.
“I was told by a member of the (European) bureau concerned, in strictest confidence, that the ‘most unpleasant’ communication which Mr. Miyazawa (director of European affairs at the Foreign Ministry in Tokyo) had to make was the result of an outburst by Mr. Fukuda personally,” Giffard wrote to London on his summons to the Foreign Ministry.
Giffard feared the row could make Japan less likely to ease the balance of the trade problem.
Other controversial scenes in the documentary included a scene in the U.S. with people wearing anti-Japanese T-shirts who were protesting at a proposed factory, which later turned out to have been re-created for the documentary.
The program also said people joining a Japanese company may be worried about reports of “punishment rooms.” It said the rooms were designed to shame bad workers and it showed an image of one such room complete with distorting mirrors and dummy models of the boss.
British Foreign Secretary David Owen was also dragged into the row and, while he believed the documentary was balanced, he thought the opposition voices to Hitachi appeared more forceful.
He was keen to distance the government from the documentary and advised the embassy to assure Fukuda “that there is no orchestrated hostility toward Japan in the United Kingdom.”
Officials at the British Embassy were particularly keen to dispel a growing perception in Japan that Britain was leading a campaign among European Economic Community states to urge Japan to reduce its balance of payments surplus.
Granada TV, which made the documentary as part of its “World in Action” series, admitted there were “errors of judgment,” including the “punishment room” scene and re-creating the demonstration in the U.S.