But Masakazu Takei, who assumes the sartorial swagger of a Japanese gangster, is not someone to be feared. He is founder and president of Little More, a company that not only publishes hit novels, magazines and art and photography books but also produces films and plays, releases CDs, runs a gallery and curates exhibitions around the world.
"I am yaakoo [an amiable way of saying yakuza]," the 42-year-old publisher laughs. We are sitting at Little More's headquarters in Tokyo's trendy and chic Minami Aoyama neighborhood, not far from the cozy gallery he opened four years ago to exhibit the paintings of cutting-edge actor Tadanobu Asano. "I like this outfit, and I don't want to change for anyone. I realize it's unusual, but I like to break the rules," Takei says in his thick Osaka dialect.
He is known in the industry as "the heat detector," the man who launches hot writers and discovers new artists. He has turned the staid Japanese publishing business on its head by selling to the demographic previously written off by traditional publishers as the manga market. He published the poetry book Ejiki by singer-actor-writer Kou Machida seven years before the writer received the Akutagawa Award, one of Japan's highest literary honors, in 2000. In 1998 Takei released the art book Slash With a Knife by Yoshitomo Nara, long before Nara became one of Japan's top painters. The film Hush!, which Takei helped market, has received numerous awards, including the Yokohama Film Festival 2001 grand prize. His freshest discovery is Rinko Kawauchi. Takei simultaneously published three books by this then-unknown female photographer in 2001; later that year Kawauchi received the prestigious Kimura Ihei Memorial Photo Award and the Photographic Society of Japan's Newcomer's Award.
Then, after reading Ima Ningen Toshite by Takeji Hayashi, he was inspired to write a letter to its publisher, Komichi Shobo Co., saying the book awakened him to reading. That connection led to a job at the small company. At 28, Takei went independent, publishing in 1989 the best-selling compilation Listen to My Story: The Blue Hearts, My Love, the authors of which included Banana Yoshimoto. Takei had yet to even rent office space.
Takei has since published a diverse range of books from authors and artists, including Noam Chomsky, Terry Richardson and Nobuhiko Kitamura, founder of fashion brand Hysteric Glamour. It was as a publisher of photography books, however, that Little More established its edgy reputation. Takei believed that visually rich books priced at music-CD levels could be marketed to young people who don't usually read. "Little More doesn't spend any money on the look or the binding of the book at all. They spend money only on the contents, and for the contents they spend as much as they can," says Mayumi Sato, a buyer for Shibuya's Parco Book Center. "They don't publish based on marketing data; they go by what they personally like," says Shingo Wakagi, a photographer whose book Young Tree was published by Little More in 2001.
Last January, Takei launched Foil, a trend magazine heavy on visuals but eschewing text and advertising. Publishers, editors and distributors told him that a magazine without text would be a dud and that one without advertising would be a terrible business proposition. But Takei believed he could take a purely visual magazine and make it profitable solely from newsstand sales. So far, the magazine has been a huge success. The debut issue initially sold out and then was reprinted. The fourth issue came out at the end of October. "I wanted to break rules, so I did it, and I made it," laughs Takei. The delinquent has finally made good.