Tuesday, 11 June 2013

How popular is Rajinikanth in the Land of Rising Sun ?

One of the Biggest doubts, I always had since my childhood is how come the  Rajinikanth starrer Muthu was so successful in Japan. It was latent for a while and it came up when I saw the question Tamil Nadu, India: Why are the Japanese so attracted towards the Tamilnadu state of India?

Being a person from Tamil Nadu, we quote Japan for two things. First for their Work Ethic and second for Muthu to be the first Indian movie to break into Far East  . Every time a Rajini movie releases, news would seep in on how his Japanese fans are eager about his new movie and the effect he have on them.

Occasionally news snippets in regional TV Networks would show about Japanese fans coming to Chennai in view of meeting their Dancing Maharaja, who is none other than Rajinikanth himself. So I decided to analyze this issue bit deeply to know how big a hit was Muthu in 1998 when it was released in Tokyo and how he is perceived in Japanese popular culture. 

One of the prime reason why Japanese knew Tamil Nadu is because of the cultural export of Tamil Nadu to Japan in form of the Rajinikanth starrer 'Muthu (film)' in 1998. Though the first Tamil movie to enter Japanese Market was Chandralekha (1948 film) in year 1954, it didn't make inroads as Muthu did later. 

Muthu was released as 'Muthu Odoru Maharaja (ムトゥ 踊るマハラジャ)' and it was a raging success.

The success of this movie was unparalleled. The facts am quoting are from  Asia to Watch, Asia to Present: The Promotion of Asian/Indian Cinema in Japan by Tamaki Matsuoka of Reitaku University.

// The movie started its run on June 13 , 1998 at the Cinema Rise Theater in Shibuya, Tokyo and ended on November 20. It ran for 23 weeks, gaining an audience of 127,445 people and earning more than 208 million yen in total. This made it the top film in 1998 in the category of independent screened movies //. Here is a News Week article in 1999 about Japanese - Rajinikanth fan. Dancing Maharajas

This lead to formation of fan clubs across Japan and they started visiting Tamil Nadu to get the feel of film culture here. 

The success was so etched in the minds of Japanese people that they started consuming Indian entertainment movies from then .The watershed moment is when NHK, the public broadcaster, which is regarded as the most conservative television company in Japan, broadcasted Muthu at the end of 2001. Rajini movies since have entered public scene in Japan.

Rajinikanth- starrer Enthiran a.k.a Robot was the recent movie to taste success there. Here is the trailer which was circulated in Japan for the movie Robot.
Its significance in Indo-Japanese relationship was so much that 'Odoru Maharaja' a.k.a Muthu was quoted by Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh during his speech in National Diet of Japan on 14 December 2006 .
Article in The Hindu : Indo- Japanese Friendship Year
Needless to say, Muthu indeed acted as a primer or a seed for the interest in Tamil Nadu and its culture to grow among Japanese.  Hence it started a sub-culture among Japanese to start learning Tamil and following Tamil movies.
Don't forget to see how references to Muthu are part of popular Japanese Culture, here in their version of Indian Laughter Challenge.
And here is the song which actually made Rajinikanth to be called Dancing Maharaja and rated as one of the most favourite Tamil song among Japanese fans.
In fact he is so synonymous with raw energy and Indianness in Japan that a popular Japanese snack company Tohato, zeroed upon a still from Odaru Maharaja for adorning its spicy Indian variety of snack. 
Am sure going to be accused of Confirmation bias for having quoted these facts. Still facts are facts. Hope you had enjoyed the above factoids.
----------------   Added on June 13th 2013
Though the above had been my line of reasoning some days before , felt its logical to hear the veracity of the above ideas from a person who had known Japan all her life.

And Bingo. She had an altogether different perspective about the whole thing. I have added her answers below for I felt that it would actually give a balanced realistic view.

Here are her responses

Rajinikanth: How big of a superstar is Rajnikanth in Japan?

Who are the "superstar" foreign movie actors in Japan? by Makiko Itoh on Japan - it's so weird and wacky!

Here, I thank Makiko Itoh , for giving us this perspective. It's indeed hard for us (Rajinikanth fans) to digest the fact that all we heard over a decade and half was hyped up biased reporting.

Still it's always better to understand the truth and be grounded.


  1. hey nice article, I never knew of this aspect of Rajni sir .

  2. I am a Tamil living in japan and I have been working here for 2 years. I have meet many Japanese people(of-course) here and when I converse I will always ask the question whether they knew Rajinikanth or dancing maharajah.(I asked in Japanese also). But to our disappointment, Rajni is not that much popular as we are told. It is all hype. Very few percentage of Japanese know him. But when we went to see Enthiran in a theater in Japan(Yokohama) there was a quiet a crowd and people seemed to enjoy the movie ( I am comparing their responses to other hollywood movies and Enthiran).

    1. Feels great to hear this from a person who has seen the ground reality. I too had my own disappointment, when I received a comment from a person of Japanese Diaspora for the post which I had written on Quora about Rajinikanth's popularity in Japan.

      Only then I realized that , the whole Rajinikanth's popularity in Japan is a carefully constructed image. It is just that Japanese people are appreciative of foreign culture and nothing much.

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  4. Very interesting, never knew rajini was so popular in japan

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  11. Hai!!! Rajini Fans I'm from kerala and proud to say that I'm a huge fan of Rajini sir and saw the Rajinikanth Latest News . Yes Rajini sir should do his work now, Let him take time and decide. I support Rajinikanth's entry into politics but stictly in separate party not with anyone else. Rajini sir's decision will be known to all this day by next year I think. Let the actor Rajini do the work now!.