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Ad money makes the news world go round

by

Contributing Writer

In a Nov. 8 press release, the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center announced that Katsuya Takasu, the most famous plastic surgeon in Japan, was no longer a member of the American Academy of Cosmetic Surgery (AACS). Previously, the center had been urging the AACS to expel Takasu because of his public praise for Nazism and statements that “deny the Holocaust and the Nanjing Massacre.”

Given Takasu’s celebrity in Japan, the AACS announcement should have been news here, but it was only covered by the Japanese outlet of online news site Huffington Post and the Asahi Shimbun, both with brief articles. The only mainstream media outlet that covered the story in any detail was Tokyo Shimbun on Nov. 11.

The newspaper talked to Takasu, who insisted the statements in question, delivered via Twitter in 2015, “only admired the medical techniques” of Nazi Germany. He said he never praised Nazi “ideology.”

“I didn’t mean to support Hitler’s policies,” he added, asserting that his critics took his words out of context. In any case, he said he quit the AACS on Nov. 9.

Tokyo Shimbun also talked to journalist Koichi Yasuda, who runs an anti-hate speech website.

“Many Jews and disabled people were killed and used in experiments (by the Nazis) in order to advance their medical knowledge,” he said. “So if you say that’s a positive thing, you shouldn’t be a physician who is responsible for people’s lives.”

Though plastic surgeons are medical doctors, their mission is generally to enhance lifestyles. As such, they take advantage of the gray area surrounding advertising for medical professionals. In principle, doctors, hospitals and clinics cannot promote their services beyond indicating location and a simple description of what they offer. But browse the back pages of any weekly women’s magazine and you’ll find ads for “aesthetic services” that promise certain results without making it sound as if it has anything to do with medicine. Often these ads are presented as editorial content, making it possible to bypass any legal proscriptions.

Takasu opened his first clinic in Nagoya in 1976, and now operates five nationwide. Starting in the ’80s, he has been a frequent guest on talk and variety shows. His name became known and was directly connected to his business. Meanwhile, he bought TV ads for Takasu Clinic that never mention plastic surgery. Instead they publicized his glamorous, jet-setting lifestyle, and while the slogan — “Yes, Takasu Clinic” — is sometimes derided for its simplicity, it has stuck in the public imagination. Now, all he has to do in his commercials is say the name. In the latest, he and overnight internet star Pikotaro appear together in a musical number that trades on the childishness of the comedian’s act. The only word they keep repeating is “Takasu” and variations of it.

This exposure, and the money he spends to achieve it, has made Takasu a powerful man in the media. He writes columns for various publications and still appears on variety shows, often with his girlfriend, the manga artist Rieko Saibara, thus making him doubly appealing to TV producers. His notoriety, high-profile philanthropy — the Takasu Fund has donated money and services to victims of the Great East Japan Earthquake and other causes —and brand value of his business feed off one another in a never-ending spiral of instant name recognition.

This power was demonstrated last summer. As reported in July by the independent online news magazine Litera, on May 17, during debate in a Lower House committee, Democratic Party lawmaker Kensuke Onishi talked about cosmetic surgery businesses and their way of advertising, which he found misleading. Though Onishi didn’t mention Takasu Clinic by name, he described the ads in such a way that anyone could understand who he was talking about. Takasu took to Twitter and said he would sue Onishi, the now-defunct Democratic Party and its president at the time, Renho, and even the government for slander, despite the fact that the Constitution protects speech uttered by lawmakers in the execution of Diet business.

In July, former Miyagi Prefecture Gov. Shiro Asano, acting in his regular role as commentator on the Yomiuri TV information program, “Joho Live Miyaneya,” said that Onishi’s statements didn’t qualify as slander. Takasu took to Twitter again and threatened Asano, saying that if he didn’t apologize he would take legal action. Next day, the show’s female announcer apologized on behalf of the station, and while Asano didn’t appear, she read a statement supposedly written by him that included an apology.

Litera expressed shock that a media outlet would “prostrate itself” at the feet of an advertiser just because of a remark by one contracted pundit.

Then, in August, Takasu threatened to sue a Japanese blogger living in Estonia who complained about the doctor’s Nazi-related tweets. In defiant response, the man translated the tweets into English, making them known to the larger world and, by extension, the Simon Wiesenthal Center. When politician and former journalist Yoshifu Arita criticized Takasu for persecuting the Japanese blogger, Takasu threatened to sue Arita, as well.

Such sentiments are taken seriously by the media since Takasu has shown he will act on them. Several years ago he stopped buying ads on TV Asahi’s news show, “Hodo Station,” because, according to Sankei Shimbun, he objected to what he thought was the show’s negative coverage of the government’s security bills.

Conversely, he recently professed interest in assuming sponsorship of the animated series, “Sazae-san,” when Toshiba announced it was leaving the program after 48 years. “Sazae-san” is one of the longest-running shows in television history and the definitive pop-culture example of what people refer to as the traditional Japanese family, a subject close to Takasu’s heart. Other TV shows, dependent on or hoping for his patronage, are certainly paying close attention.