The Pocky Poisoner

pockyIt can’t have been the best of days for the 73-year-old Katsuhisa Ezaki, president of Ezaki Glico Foods, when he opened his mail to discover an apparent blast from the past. A correspondent signing himself Monster #28 was demanding 50 million yen, lest he make good on a threat to poison the company’s food products on supermarket shelves.

This was not the first time this had happened. Back when Ezaki was in his 40s, he was kidnapped by masked men and held hostage in a warehouse while the criminals tried to extort money for his release. The following month, a man calling himself “The Fiend with 21 Faces” threatened to poison Glico’s food products, which include Japanese staples like Pocky and Pretz. Nobody was ever brought to justice, although there was a flurry of media activity around a suspicious “Fox-Eyed Man”.

For something that is supposed to be a light-hearted news source on Japanese media, this column seems to spend an inordinate amount of time reporting on murders, scandals, thefts and other criminal activities. But they often seem to dovetail with the anime world, not least in this case – the original 1980s scandal was the inspiration for the Laughing Man storyline in Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex

…and it seems, the Laughing Man storyline itself was the inspiration for this 2014 reboot. This time, the police were smarter, staked out the money-drop, and arrested a man on 1st December 2014 who turned out to be a film producer fallen on hard times. His name was initially made public, but has since been scrubbed from the Internet, seemingly in tardy recognition of a presumption of innocence until proven guilty – although, you know, being caught red-handed with the money is going to be a tough break.

So let me phrase this as a lawyer will no doubt have to: if you’d been associated closely with the Japanese cartoon world, if your company was on the skids and your forays into other media had failed, would you consider rifling through your anime collection in search of ideas for money-making schemes? And if so, what anime would you rip off? Budding criminals, write in to NEO and let us (and the police) know your plans…

Jonathan Clements is the author of Anime: A History, and the co-author of The Anime Encyclopedia: A Century of Japanese Animation. This article first appeared in NEO 133, 2014.

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