The current recovery in the Japanese economy has been a long time coming. For over a decade, Japan was watched from overseas, with foreign money waiting for the recovery, which had to come sometime. That time is now, and the takeover of Japanese companies by foreign firms and foreign funds form many of the daily headlines. As do the measures by the Japanese companies to resist the same. For example, the Sapporo Holdings’ current desperate measures to avert a takeover by US hedge fund Steel Partners, and Nippon Steel doing all it can to dispel continued advances by Mittal Steel. This type of assault on Japanese firms is captured in a gripping new NHK drama series called “Hagetaka”.
The recent increase in M&A and corporate takeovers of Japanese companies by foreign funds has once again stimulated the nationalistic sentiment in the Japanese people, as well as the idea of protecting Japan, its interests, and culture at any cost against potential foreign conquerors. Although Japan has been a capitalist country for over half a century, still, business is not always about just money, and many Japanese would go to great sacrifice rather than be taken over by a foreign entity. A much used analogy is that of Japanese soldiers in Okinawa in 1945 jumping one by one like lemmings off Suicide Cliff as that was preferable over being captured by the enemy. It would be naive to think that in merely 50 years that the fundamentals of capitalism could have replaced 2,000 years of cultural pride.
NHK has aired over the last 6 weeks a hugely popular TV drama called Hagetaka, a fictional drama about a US investment fund which comes to Japan to buy up companies and implements US style reforms. The setting is 1998, and the initial target is a traditional bank called Mitsuba. This was in fact the year in which the Long-Term Credit Bank of Japan was taken over by Ripplewood and became Shinsei Bank, and is loosely based on events from that period. The literal translation for Hagetaka is “vulture,” however the English name for the drama is “Road to Rebirth”(再生への道). This Japanese characters for Shinsei are 新生、which also literally mean “re-birth”.
The main character is a Japanese called Masahiko Washizu, a fund manager of a US firm called Horizon Investments. Washizu originally worked for the same Mitsuba Bank, but moved to the US due to the crash of the Japanese bubble economy, where he became a New York-trained fund manger, and typical of the US influenced new generation for which money is the ultimate goal. His mission is to buy out Japanese businesses, beginning with Mitsuba Bank, and “save this decrepit country”. Washizu is determined to make as much money out of Japan and Mitsuba in the shortest time possible, and get back to the US.
Washizu is pitted up against his old boss, one of the top managers of the Bank, Takeo Shibano. Shibano is a talented manager, yet a conventional and conservative Japanese banker, who values his relationships and his clients over money. (Apparently, Shibano’s character was in fact based on a real person, Junichiro Koshi, a top level manager for the Industrial Bank of Japan (now Mizuho), who was a prominent figure during this period of bank restructuring. Koshi is currently serving as a senior adviser with the Bank of Thailand.)
Despite Hagetaka being a serious business drama, it has been extremely popular with Japanese viewers, with the first episode attracting an impressive 3.5 million viewers in Tokyo alone. Interestingly, 50% of viewers of the drama who were interviewed did not see the US firm as the villain of the story, and they faulted the Japanese company for allowing themselves to be vulnerable. The director Kei Kurabe said “the show struck a chord among Japanese because M&A is suddenly something that is close to our lives. Japan is still trying to decide whether M&A is a good thing or a bad thing.” The number of M&A deals in Japan has quadrupled in the last decade to 2,775 deals last year from 621 in 1996.
The series was based on 2 novels by Jin Mayama (真山仁) called “Hagetaka”(ハゲタカ), and “Buyout”(バイアウト). Kurabe “tried to depict only the business world in a documentary-like way”, and that he came up with the idea of producing a corporate battle drama after the furor surrounding internet company Livedoor in 2005. Ironically, it was difficult for Kurabe to get permission from NHK to produce Hagetaka, as NHK themselves had just been recently embroiled in the takeover bid from Livedoor of Fuji TV.
On a similar note, read here for a Stippy review of “Barbarians at the Gate”, the legendary story of the hostile takeover of RJR Nabisco in the US in the late 1980s.
Already seen it? Let us know what you thought in the comments.