Photo/IllutrationYoshiro Harada, aka Shinjuku Tiger, gives an interview in Tokyo’s Shinjuku Ward. (Yuichiro Oka)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

Little was known about the newspaper deliveryman who wears a tiger mask, pink wig and flower-patterned costume and has roamed the streets of Tokyo’s downtown Shinjuku district for more than 40 years.

But a documentary film, “Shinjuku Tiger,” has now shed light on the man behind the mask.

Shinjuku Tiger, as he is called, is actually Yoshiro Harada, 71, a Nagano Prefecture native who works for The Asahi Shimbun’s delivery station covering the eastern Shinjuku area.

He has been making the rounds on a bicycle in the district that never sleeps since 1975 and has become an iconic part of the cityscape.

He earned the nickname Shinjuku Tiger after he started wearing a tiger mask that he said he bought at a shrine festival.

Harada wears the signature mask while riding his bike to deliver the newspapers as well as alone in his private time.

Scenes in the film showing the costumed deliveryman riding through crowds, boarding packed trains and entering movie theaters and coffee shops without the slightest hesitation emphasize his misfit presence.

But Shinjuku Tiger is more than just an attention seeker. He is also a film buff who sometimes watches as many as six films a day.

The jovial Harada has made friends with many actors and drinks with them in the Shinjuku Golden Gai drinking quarter night after night.

Harada even gives advice to actresses.

“The beauty of beauty. You have been chosen. You don’t need to worry about anything,” he tells one of them in the film.

His words may sound a bit over the top, but he exudes charm as he compliments the actress.

“He is a symbol of Shinjuku, the center of subculture,” Norito Yashima, 48, an actor and longtime friend of Shinjuku Tiger, says in the documentary.

The film also shows interviews with a Tower Records Japan Inc. employee who used Shinjuku Tiger for an advertising campaign, a freelance writer whose feature on the masked deliveryman was published in a South Korean women’s magazine, and other close acquaintances.

They sing his praises, saying things like, “He is the last dreamy person alive.”

The film was produced by director Yoshinori Sato, 44, who followed Shinjuku Tiger with a camera for about a year from early 2017.

“At first glance, I became intensely curious,” the filmmaker said. But at the same time, Sato said he was worried about how he could make an interesting movie without focusing too much on Shinjuku Tiger’s eccentric nature.

Sato decided to try to have the film explain Harada’s obsession with his alter ego and the “meaning” of Shinjuku Tiger for the busy Shinjuku area.

In one scene, Harada is asked, “Why did you become the Tiger Mask in Shinjuku?” Put another way, could he continue walking around the town dressed in the tiger costume no matter how times change?

His response to that question is one of the highlights of the film.

The documentary also introduces the history and other details of the Shinjuku area that served as the locale for anti-Vietnam War “folk guerrilla” protests in 1969.

Shinjuku Tiger appears well-liked and a source of pride among those who have gotten to know him.

“There are all kinds of people,” said the owner of Harada’s favorite bar. “If Golden Gai bans Tiger from entering, it’s boring, isn’t it?”

Harada told The Asahi Shimbun that his purposes in life are “cinema, beautiful women, dreams and heroism.”

When asked how he, as a movie buff, felt about being featured in a film, he gave a big smile and gushed: “It’s a great reward for Tiger. No rules are necessary in life. Because I am a tiger.”

“Shinjuku Tiger” is showing at Theatre Shinjuku until April 18. The film will also be released in Yokohama and Osaka.

For more information, visit the official website at (http://shinjuku-tiger.com/).