How Juzo Itami and the yakuza inspired ‘The Brothers Sun’
(Credit: Netflix)

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How Juzo Itami and the yakuza inspired ‘The Brothers Sun’

Netflix’s latest crime family comedy sensation, The Brothers Sun, has taken the streaming world by storm. While the show is not directly based on a true story, co-creator Byron Wu recently revealed how a curious incident involving the yakuza and Juzo Itami, the director of the ‘ramen Western’ Tampopo, sparked the inspiration for the series’ tone and premise.

As of now, the Brad Falchuk and Wu creation, The Brothers Sun, has garnered over 100million hours viewed on Netflix. Moreover, the show, starring Oscar-winner Michelle Yeoh, has earned critical acclaim for it’s homage to old-school Chinese martial films that also inspired the likes of Quentin Tarantino.

The story follows the Sun family, who are leaders of the notorious Taiwanese Triad, the Jade Dragons. Bruce Sun, a college student in Los Angeles, has his life take an unexpected turn when his estranged brother, Charles (Justin Chien), reveals the truth about their family. 

Charles, a lethal assassin and heir to the crime family, travels to America to protect his mother, Eileen (Yeoh), and brother, Bruce (Sam Song Li), from an imminent threat. The show explores Charles and Bruce’s reluctant adaptation to their newfound reality as they navigate the dangerous world of organised crime and grow through familial pains.

In a recent interview with Salon, co-creator Wu shed light on the unusual source of inspiration for the series. Wu explained that his idea to delve into the Asian gang culture was sparked by an incident involving Japanese director Juzo Itami. 

Wu noted, “Itami was a very tongue-in-cheek filmmaker and he did a movie about the yakuza.” This was the 1992 satirical film Minbo. Just six days after the movie’s release, on May 22nd, three members of the Goto-gumi gang assaulted Itami near his home, beating him and slashing his face with knives.

Wu found a darkly humorous undercurrent in the story, “I thought that was so funny that these guys were so insecure about their jobs that they felt the need to beat up a comedy director. And so that is where that comes from, in terms of how we’re looking at these gangsters. So much of it is about Asian American masculinity and insecurity, and that just permeates how we want to present gangs.”

The crazy story behind Juzo Itami’s death

While Wu is bang on the buck about the deep insecurity that permeates hypermasculinity, the incident involving Itami is rather alarming. Itami died on December 20th, 1997, after falling from his office building’s roof. A suicide note found on his desk, composed on a word processor, claimed he was ending his life to clear his name from a false affair accusation, which his family found strange and disputed the note.

In 2008, a former Goto-gumi yakuza member admitted to allegedly orchestrating Itami’s staged murder. The yakuza member revealed to crime journalist Jake Adelstein, “We set it up to stage his murder as a suicide. We dragged him up to the rooftop and put a gun in his face. We gave him a choice: jump and you might live, or stay, and we’ll blow your face off. He jumped. He didn’t live.” 

The attack was allegedly linked to Itami’s upcoming film exploring connections between Goto-gumi and the Soka Gakkai religious group, which has often been accused of operating like a cult.

With that lens, you can watch The Brothers Sun on Netflix with a little more unease than usual.