NEWS ANALYSIS : Reagan's Rosy View of Japanese Films : Japan: The former President overlooked the prurient side of Japan when he said he hoped Japanese might restore "decency" to the U.S. film industry.


Ronald Reagan would be in for a surprise if he were to flip through a copy of the Evening Fuji, a newspaper published by Fujisankei Communications Group, the media conglomerate that paid him a controversial $2 million for a nine-day tour of Japan that ended Saturday.

Photographs of naked women, cartoon drawings of sexual violence and columns of not-so-soft pornography are standard fare on the inside pages of the Fuji, a typical Japanese tabloid heavy with sports news.

Yet for some reason, Reagan overlooked the prurient side of Japan's aesthetic traditions last week when he said he hoped "outsiders" like the Japanese might help restore "decency and good taste" to America's film industry.

Reagan made the remarks while defending Sony's $3.4-billion takeover of Columbia Pictures in an interview on Fuji Television--a channel that, it should be noted, has frequently featured pornographic video clips on its all-night variety show.

It might also be noted that Reagan's office was then reportedly in the midst of negotiations with Sony for a six-figure donation to the Reagan Library.

Yet the former President appeared sincere when he said he didn't see anything wrong with the Sony-Columbia deal--especially since America itself invests so heavily abroad. It terms of artistic integrity, things could only get better, he said.

"I think that probably we might see some improvements, " he said. "I'm not too proud of Hollywood these days, with the immorality that is shown in pictures, and the vulgarity."

In fact, a lot of Japanese aren't too proud when they see what's playing in Tokyo's movie theaters these days. "Climax, Rape, Strip!" is but one locally produced example of a strong impulse for the purple cinema.

It doesn't end with a little soft porn. Japan has a peculiar law on the books that strictly forbids the graphic display of pubic hair, but that has not stopped a flood of violence and sado-masochism from bubbling out of the Japanese film and publishing industries.

Always devising ways to beat the censors, Japanese have pioneered cartoon pornography, both in adult comic books and in erotic animated videos. Breasts are routinely bared on television, not just on the Fuji channel. A pornographic sub-industry has grown up around the male fetish for the schoolgirl's sailor suit. The latest genre of smut? It's called "Ladies' Comics," aimed at frustrated women.

Few film industries in the world rival Japan's when it comes to producing trash, the experts say.

"If Reagan knew anything about Japanese film, its current violence and vulgarity, he would not have hoped for better movies" under the influence of Sony's capital, said Donald Richie, a Tokyo arts writer and authority on Japan's cinema.

Reagan's rosy view of Japan was matched by that of his wife, Nancy, who inaugurated the local chapter of her "Just Say No" anti-drug program, saying she hopes the Japanese will be vigilant against drug abuse so it doesn't catch on here.

"People often tell me that drugs aren't a problem here because of the strength of the Japanese family and the stability of Japanese traditions and culture," she said in a speech. "I'm also told that heroin and cocaine are not problems here because the yakuza, your organized crime, has not become involved in such drugs so far."

Apparently no one bothered to tell Mrs. Reagan that Japan already has a serious drug problem. Although heroin and crack cocaine have yet to catch on here, the country is suffering from an epidemic of crystal methamphetamine addiction, thanks to the yakuza. Estimates of the number of Japanese who are injecting the deadly stimulant range from 100,000 to half a million. Police arrest some 20,000 abusers each year.

"Mrs. Reagan is absolutely right, we need to be on guard against cocaine and heroin," said Fumio Oki, a counselor working with recovering methamphetamine addicts at a Tokyo halfway house. "But we also have a serious problem right now with methamphetamine, and we'd like people to pay a little more attention to what's going on in the street."

If the Reagans preferred to embrace the myth of a pristine Japan, so too did their hosts see in the Reagan presidency the fantasy of a happier and simpler era, when America stood staunchly behind the cause of free trade and played down economic friction in bilateral relations.

For his defense of free trade--and Japan's economic lifeline--Reagan was awarded a Grand Cordon of the Supreme Order of the Chrysanthemum by Emperor Akihito. During a week of pomp, ceremony and no small amount of hokum, the retired President was lionized in speeches as a cornerstone in U.S.-Japan friendship and as the "architect" of global economic prosperity.

Yet cross-Pacific ties are somewhat more complex these days, with Japan's bilateral trade surplus hovering stubbornly above the $50-billion mark--more than four times what it was when Reagan became President in 1981.

Indeed, Reagan warned, in his farewell speech in Osaka Saturday, about increasing impatience in the United States over Japanese trade practices. But he also rejected the notion that America is a "declining superpower" that is "lazy, soft, and simply living off past glory."

"America's blood, bones and muscle are healthy and strong," Reagan said. "We get new energy every year from the waves of immigrants who seek to make their lives and fortunes in our country. . . . Try convincing them that America's best days are behind her."

The strong-America message jibes harmoniously with the views of Reagan's commercial hosts at Fujisankei, which is known for its conservative and nationalistic editorial slant. Fujisankei officials have said they hoped Reagan's visit would help defuse some of the acrimony developing in U.S.-Japan relations.

"Looking back, we Japanese have never met an American with this much warmth, kindness, depth of heart and insight," said an editorial Sunday in the Sankei newspaper, the conglomerate's flagship publication. "There aren't many people who embody the essence of America they way Mr. Reagan does."

The editorial went on to praise the "American archetype" of innocence that Reagan represents.

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