I’m really getting in to a particular mini-series (ドラマ, dorama) on air at the moment in Japan. It’s 監査法人 (Kansahojin, “Auditor”) on NHK at 9PM each Saturday night. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a mini-series that is solely focused on that very sexy profession of auditing! Judged by all of my friends who are accountants I wasn’t really expecting much spice from this one. Much to my surprise, after having just watched the first three episodes (Episode 4 of 6 in total is screening tonight, Sat 5th July at 9pm), I’m finding myself pulled right into the story. Clearly NHK has timed the airing to clash with the AGM season of Japanese companies as there is an unprecedented number of Japanese companies’ being questioned about their real motivations by foreign investors. It seems to be winning in the ratings war with Japanese viewers. Can I tempt you, too?
The protagonist is a CPA at a major auditing firm called Wakasugi Kenji 若杉 健司 (played by Takashi Tsukamoto, 塚本 高史). I’m still not sure why they bothered portraying him as a single father, but let’s not lose the forest for the trees. Walking in the footprints of his dedicated sempai (先輩, superior) Onodera Naoto, 小野寺 直人 (played by Toyohara Kohsuke, 豊原 功補), Wakasugi is deemed to be a rare breed in the firm due to his unwillingness to show a blind eye to his customers when it comes to the letter of the law. Onodera was the first of a new generation of CPAs who was motivated to take a more responsible approach to accounting after his best friend committed suicide when he was caught cooking the books of his own company. It sounds a little extreme, but this is Japan… it probably is somewhat realistic. The scene is set in true Japanese business style. Corruption all over the place. While I have a funny feeling that we will see many, many more important players become entangled, so far we’ve been introduced to the corrupt management of the auditing firm that Wakasugi and Onodera work for. One of it’s directors of Shinohara Yuzo (篠原 勇蔵, played by Hashizume Isao, 橋爪 功) has regular off the record “meetings” with senior people at the mega banks and in particular the CEO of one large food company.
In the first episode we meet Wakasugi’s unrealistically sexy co-worker, Yamanaka Akane (山中 茜, played by Matushita Nao, 松下 奈緒) who is helping him with the audit of a small-scale construction company (hokuriku kensetsu, 北陸建設). The President of the company leads a multifaceted attack of wining and dining in order to convince the CPAs to be lenient with them. As you’d expect in most Japanese auditing companies, this works like a charm on the senior members of the team but the young two CPAs ignore the instructions of their superior, Tashiro Jungo (田代 淳吾, played by Ken Mitsuishi 光石 研) and prepare themselves for a meticulous audit if the company’s books. Low and behold, it turns out that the company had illegally booked revenue from transactions that didn’t exist (架空売り上げ, Kaku Uriage) in order to secure financing from their bank. If you think that sounds familiar, it’s because several Japanese companies got busted for doing the same thing in the last few years, not the least of them, Livedoor.
Personally, I’m quite enjoying the lessons in creative accounting. In the second episode the two young CPAs discover how to shift damaged inventory from your books (at a food company called Asukaya, 飛鳥屋) by manipulating the balance sheet of a related company. That’s what Kanebo did with a bunch of it’s outdated inventory that it couldn’t sell. In the third episode we learn about how a SI company uses round-tripping (架空循環取引, kaku junkan torihiki) with friendly companies to boost their sales. That is what my favorite ebi-fry company, Katokichi 加ト吉, was found guilty of (… oh and Enron, too). The story is also being set up to deal with a bank that probably should be bankrupt if you marked the NPLs on it’s balance sheet fairly. Wow. Talk about topical for the entire Japanese banking sector. As a bit of a creative accounting otaku, I’m hoping that they can go into enough depth to make it educational but I’m sure I’ll keep watching even if it just makes a good saga.
The battle for justice between the two young upstarts and a pretty impressive array of respectable ojisan actors has been unfolding nicely. It’s not an easy job to cast actors that can play with such a mixture of age groups without it looking tacky and the last thing you would want is for it to turn into a shallow “young versus old” expose. So far it appears as though they’ve done a good job of adding a reasonable amount of meat to the plot and turning a potentially dry topic into one with real social implications. It’s one of the few times that I’ve felt guilty about not paying my “voluntary” annual fees to watch NHK. In fact, now I think about it, what better example of the value of a national not for profit broadcaster than this one. None of the other free to air television channels could have ever put together a drama like this. Think how touchy the issues are that it addresses are for Japan Inc. Then think about who it is who signs the cheques to pay for for the commercials on the other free-to-air TV stations.
You’ve gotta love it how the writers have called the corrupt auditing firm “Japan Kansahojin.” (ジャパン監査法人) Surely it seems innocent? Nah, it’s a clear and direct jab at 新日本監査法人 Shinnihon Kansahojin (or “New Japan” Kansahojin), who are well known in the industry to be the most lax auditor – out of those remaining that is! A more “tame” writer would have opted out for a company name sounding more like 中央青山 (Chuo Aoyama) which has already been disbanded and was the auditor for pretty much every famous case of creative accounting in Japan this decade (Kanebo (カネボウ), Nikko Cordial (日興コーディアル), Ashikaga Bank (足利銀行) etc) not to mention the other big name bankruptcies of the 90s like Yamaichi Securities (山一證券) and Yaohan (ヤオハン). NHK’s dramas have been consistently outperforming my expectations lately. Hagetaka was probably the first NHK drama to ever attract my attention (and most of my generation) but more recently I also found Top Sales (an intriguing story based on the success story of Fumiko Hayashi, 林文子). So much so that I’m tempted to see if I can find a decent biography of Hayashi on Amazon.co.jp. (Can anyone recommend a good one?) While Hagetaka is probably my favorite out of the three (so far), I am looking forward to see how the remaining episodes of “Kansahojin” portray our beloved politicians and bureaucrats. The other great thing about NHK mini-series’ is that they are all over in 6 episodes and so you don’t feel as though you are whittling your life away by starting to watch one… like you do with US dramas.
If I’ve written enough to tempt you to watch it, you can watch the first episode right here on stippy.com (If you would like other episodes, and can’t get them yourself, we can point you in the right direction, just let us know in the comments!). If you’ve already seen it or have been cooking books in a Japanese company before, then share your reflections with us below in the comments section.
Click the video here to watch episode one in its entirety (You will need the latest and greatest Free Flash Player Plugin to play it):
(The content above was produced by and aired on NHK. If you liked this first episode, go and rent the others at your local video shop)
(If you haven’t seen Hagetaka yet, you can read our previous critical piece on the excellent series HERE. Thanks also to soteiguy for your comment on that article which encouraged me to write this one.)