Accustomed to an antiseptic and relatively crime-free society, the Japanese are choking on their breakfasts this summer. Banner newspaper headlines are screaming at them about new details in a gruesome case of serial murder.
Three little girls, aged 4 through 5, were the victims. The accused perpetrator is a young man, characterized by the mass media as a depraved loner and camera buff with a predilection for cartoons, kiddy pornography and “splatter” videos (in which the victims appear to die).
And the latest revelation is that Tsutomu Miyazaki, 27, the murder suspect, confided to police after four weeks of interrogation that he killed the girls to “fulfill his necrophiliac fantasies,” the ordinarily circumspect Japan Times informed its readers last month.
Although bizarre or sensational murders are not completely unprecedented in Japan, the public finds the murders of these little girls especially repugnant and haunting because they come so close to home. Not only is pre-pubescent, feminine cuteness and innocence enshrined in popular Japanese culture, those qualities are routinely peeped at and degraded in the flood of symbols that make up the vulgar side of the contemporary landscape here.
Voyeurism is at the heart of this murder story, in that the public’s fascination with the prurient aspects of the case mirrors the purportedly twisted mind of the alleged culprit.
“Tsutomu Miyazaki Dwells Within Us,” declared the headline of an article on the slayings in the Shukan Post, one of Japan’s scrappy weekly pulp magazines.
The article, in keeping with the cacophony of sociological analysis of the case aired on television talk shows and spouted in newspaper columns, delves into the supposed motivations of the killer. It focuses in particular on the phenomenon of rori-kon , shorthand Japanese-English for “Lolita complex.”
The Shukan Post estimates that 300,000 Japanese are “latent rori-kon fans” and that about 50,000 regularly read publications catering to pedophiles. It even offers advice for parents on how to protect their toddlers from “rori-kon madness” that is regrettably so rampant in Japanese society.
Elsewhere in the same issue, however, the magazine displays a picture of cameramen crouching to aim their lenses up the skirts of a band of high school cheerleaders, part of an established photographic genre in Japan often celebrated in the mainstream media.
The Shukan Post reader also is treated to a graphic account of “Flowers of Blood and Flesh,” a controversial horror movie that police allegedly found among the 5,792 videotapes they confiscated from Miyazaki’s cramped room.
Most of the videos are animated cartoons, but some also reportedly depict scenes of bondage and mutilation or appeal to the tastes of pedophiles. The magazine also reviews several other tapes purported to be in Miyazaki’s library.
‘Flowers of Blood and Flesh’
Police surmise that Miyazaki may have drawn inspiration from “Flowers of Blood and Flesh,” a low-budget Japanese production in which the main character kidnaps a woman in her 20s, drugs her and then cuts off her head and wrists with a knife and a saw.
A similar fate befell Ayako Nomoto, 5, whose torso was found in June near a suburban cemetery several days after she was reported missing from her Tokyo home.
Miyazaki, arrested in late July on unrelated child molestation charges, confessed to Ayako’s murder Aug. 11 and helped police find the girl’s skull.
The evening edition of the distinguished Asahi newspaper that day reported the confession in a banner headline with white characters written boldly on a black background. It is the kind of headline normally reserved for major national or international catastrophes.
In the orgy of journalistic sensationalism that followed, news helicopters laid siege to Miyazaki’s neighborhood, hovering over the family printing shop where the suspect was employed.
Once police raised suspicions about his possible involvement in the deaths of the two other girls, gangs of reporters descended on the homes of their parents, in one instance interviewing the bereaved father through an intercom at the gate. The newspaper Yomiuri declared that Miyazaki’s “mountain hide-out” had been found--then had to issue a retraction.
Little attention has been paid to Miyazaki’s civil rights as a criminal suspect, never a popular cause in Japan.
“My personal feeling is that this was such a cruel incident that the death penalty won’t be enough,” Masao Goto, the justice minister, is quoted as saying by the Asahi Journal. The magazine goes on to question whether a remark that assumes guilt is appropriate for the official in charge of administering Japan’s legal system.
But Goto’s righteous indignation fits the tone of the “Ayako- chan case,” as it is known. The suffix “ chan ,” a term of endearment used for children or extremely intimate friends, has been attached to the names of the victims, while Miyazaki’s name quickly lost the honorific title that newspapers generally extend to everyone but convicted criminals.
“You have to ask whether Miyazaki can have ‘human rights’ after causing a major incident like this,” commented Kyosaburo Domeki, a social critic, in the magazine Shukan Gendai.
At first, police reportedly worried about whether they could build a case against Miyazaki in the slayings of the second and third victims, Mari Konno and Erika Namba, both 4 and both abducted last year near their homes in suburban Saitama prefecture, or state. Although investigators allegedly obtained Miyazaki’s confession, they had no corroborating physical evidence, ostensibly required under Japanese law for a murder conviction.
Trail of Clues
In the case of the Konno girl, the lack of evidence would have raised some serious questions about the investigation because whoever strangled and cremated the girl left a trail of clues. The killer delivered to her home in February a cardboard box containing her remains as well as snapshots of her. Later, the killer sent letters, signed with the female name Yuko Imada, confessing the crime to the parents and to the Asahi newspaper.
Last month, however, officers at Fukugawa Police Station, combing through Miyazaki’s library of videotapes with a bank of 29 video monitors, found one that they believe contains incriminating footage of the Konno girl’s body, spliced in among recorded television news broadcasts about the slayings.
Still, the focus of controversy has been on the role of celluloid in the case, rather than the evidence. A muted debate has been born over the pervasiveness of violent pornography in Japan’s massive comic book and video industries. Police in Kanagawa prefecture are reportedly speculating that an 18-year-old suspect arrested last month in connection with a spree of domestic rabbit and hen killings also was inspired by horror films.
Tokyo police have called for a municipal law restricting access by minors to such material, as well as for “voluntary restraint” among producers to skirt the sticky issue of freedom of expression.
“Obscene videotapes and magazines which deal in horror and violence are flooding our society,” said the newspaper Yomiuri in an editorial. “Most of these are too obscene to look at. However, it would be hasty to conclude that these videotapes and magazines are the cause of crimes.”
The Yomiuri added, though, that the recent boom in “splatter” videos here “is not a sound nor healthy social trend” and warned of the danger that fiction and reality might be confused “when a person’s mental state is perverted.”
Responding to the chill in the air, NHK, the quasi-official television network, recently canceled a series of horror movies, including such titles as the “Texas Chain Saw Massacre Part II,” that were scheduled to be broadcast on its satellite channel.
But Japan’s love affair with little girls continues unabashed and uncensored. Soft-porn magazines on the racks of neighborhood bookstores still zoom in on that all-time favorite fantasy of the Japanese male: seductive schoolgirls in sailor suit uniforms.
Comic books are chock-full of promiscuous characters who look like children. Teen idols in pre-teen party dresses squeal pop songs nightly on television variety shows, the very essence of cute.
An advertisement found in the mailbox of a Tokyo apartment leaves little to the imagination about the psychological links between pedophilia and Japan’s burgeoning sex industry. It depicts two little-girl cartoon characters, with wide sparkly eyes and chubby arms clasped in anticipation, and lists a phone number for an escort service called the “Idol Republic.”
A man answering the service’s phone said that, for $175, a girl between the ages of 20 and 23 would visit a client’s home to offer what he called “the ultimate adult entertainment.”