How Gambling is Represented in Japanese TV and Cinema
Japanese media loves its tropes. While some of the worst tropes in Japanese anime shows are parents who’ve disappeared, predictable villain redemption arcs, and characters who become powerful by following secret training methods, there are others that viewers love to see.
One of these is gambling. The gambling trope provides lots of potential storylines for characters, from big wins at the casino that translate into whirlwind adventures to gambling losses that mean the protagonist has to scramble to pay back debts, viewers are hugely entertained by gambling themes.
What Are the Best Gambling Anime?
Gambling is featured in many Japanese animes but some stand out more than others. One of these is TOHAI DENSETSU AKAGI: YAM NI MAIORITA TENSEI, also known as MAHJONG LEGEND AKAGI: THE GENIUS WHO DESCENDED INTO DARKNESS. The title of this anime is a bit of misnomer as Akagi isn’t a mahjong legend at all, at least, not in the beginning. The teen stumbles into the world of yakuza gambling and ends up winning just by using his intuition. He doesn’t have any knowledge of mahjong but somehow manages to get lucky and succeed.
Another top pick is the art of gambling by GYAKKYOU BURAI KAIJI, or KAIJI: THE ULTIMATE SURVIVOR. Kaiji doesn’t have a lot of money but finds himself in a massive amount of debt after a coworker gets him to cosign for a loan. The debt collector suggests that Kaiji gambles for the money, taking part in a high-stakes game. The protagonist is determined and sneaky and that makes him a brilliant gambler. The anime is loved for its gritty and dark art style and it had tons of viewers tuning in across its two seasons and 26 episodes.
What Are the Best Japanese Gambling Movies?
It’s not just anime that uses the setting of gambling. There are lots of Japanese movies about gambling and casinos too. There’s the movie adaptation of KAIJI: THE ULTIMATE GAMBLER and plenty of others.
A popular pick is RED PEONY GAMBLER: FLOWER-CARDS MATCH. Unlike KAIJI, which is largely about the gambling itself, RED PEONY GAMBLER seems to mostly use casinos and gambling dens as the setting for the action. It stars a female yakuza who goes to lots of gambling dens in 1890s Japan aiming to do right. FLOWER-CARDS MATCH is the third film in the series (there are eight movies in total), to help the Nishi Clan fight the Kimbara Clan. It offers some card game suspense matched with action-packed drama, so it’s unsurprising that it stayed popular over eight movies.
Another gambling movie that features yakuza is PALE FLOWER. Released in 1964, the Japanese noir movie stars protagonist Muraki, a yakuza, after he leaves prison. He goes back to the old gambling dens he used to visit and meets Saeko, a woman who is looking for thrills. Muraki is the woman’s mentor, teaching her the skills of the game as he learns how the power dynamics between the gangs at the dens have shifted since he went into prison.
Why Are Japanese Gambling Anime and Movies So Popular?
Japan didn’t legalize casino gambling until 2018 and the first resorts are not expected to be built until after 2020. However, the country does have a strong gambling culture.
This is mostly seen in the phenomenal revenue of Japan’s pachinko industry. The game of pachinko is like a slot game and a pinball game all in one. The game is hugely popular in the country and it makes Japan more money than Las Vegas and Macau — two world-famous hubs for land-based casino gambling. Millions of people visit pachinko arcades and sit in the neon-lit areas every year. Pachinko reportedly contributes 4% to Japan’s GDP, which is a massive figure.
With Japanese people so interested in gambling for entertainment, it’s not surprising that many would also like to watch anime and movies that also feature gambling themes. The characters who gamble in these shows and movies are relatable. Viewers know what it’s like to experience the highs of a huge gambling win and the lows of a massive loss and they empathize with the characters. If they have any gambling fantasies of their own, such as being a renowned mahjong legend like Akagi, or a skilled gambling mentor like Muraki, then the anime and movies let them see those play out.
There are tens of thousands of anime shows and Japan has one of the oldest and most valuable film industries in the world. This means that there is a huge amount of effort to come up with new takes on settings and tropes like gambling. For those who love the gambling setting, this should mean that there is lots more Japanese media for them to watch in future.