Taro Yamamoto, a former Japanese actor turned left-wing political leader, caused chaos in the upper house of Japan’s legislature on June 8, 2023, when he hurled himself at fellow legislators attempting to pass a controversial immigration bill. The scene was captured on video and showed Yamamoto repeatedly leaping at the desk where party leaders were debating the measure before he was physically restrained by other lawmakers. Despite Yamamoto’s efforts to halt the bill, it is set to receive final approval on June 9, 2023.
The bill aims to overhaul Japan’s immigration rules and reduce the country’s long-term detention of asylum-seekers, which human rights organizations have long criticized for its harsh conditions, especially after a 33-year-old Sri Lankan refugee died while detained at a Nagoya immigration center in 2021. The bill is supported by the ruling coalition led by the Liberal Democratic Party, as well as two opposition parties. However, progressive lawmakers have opposed the bill, arguing that it fails to protect refugees’ rights adequately and improve the conditions of asylum-seekers already detained.
Yamamoto has gained notoriety for his unconventional protest methods since he was elected to Japan’s House of Councillors in 2013. Before entering politics, Yamamoto began his career as a TV actor in the 1990s and later worked in film, earning international recognition for his lead role in the ultra-violent cult thriller Battle Royale (2000), which is widely considered the precursor to Squid Game. Yamamoto’s political career began after he publicly protested against the Japanese government’s handling of the Great East Japan Earthquake and Fukushima nuclear meltdown in 2011, leading him to resign from his talent agency to dedicate himself full-time to activism.
Yamamoto is the leader and founder of Reiwa Shinsengumi, a left-liberal populist political party that challenges the government’s policies. Besides his recent brawl in parliament, Yamamoto has previously broken protocol to appeal to the Japanese Emperor about the country’s nuclear policies, launched a large protest of a controversial state secrecy law, and called for the cancellation of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics to support pandemic relief efforts for the needy.
As Japan continues to grapple with its immigration policies and human rights concerns, Yamamoto’s actions have drawn attention to the ongoing struggles many refugees and asylum-seekers face in the country. Although his tactics may be unconventional, his willingness to fight for social justice and speak out against the establishment has made him a popular figure among progressives and activists in Japan.