SMAP fans relieved but perplexed by apology over rumored breakup

by and

Staff Writers

The circumstances surrounding the near breakup of SMAP underlined the idol group’s sustained popularity, as evidenced by exceptional TV ratings, the apparent overloading of Twitter’s servers and the fact that it drew comment from the prime minister.

“The group will remain intact in response to many fans’ wishes, which is good,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said during Tuesday’s session of the Upper House Budget Committee. “As is the case in the world of politics, I presume there are many issues (that must be overcome) for a group to continue for many years.”

SMAP fans let out a collective sigh of relief Monday night when the veteran boy band announced plans to stick together amid speculation that they were on the verge of breaking up.

During a closely observed special live TV appearance on the weekly show “SMAP X SMAP,” the unit’s members, dressed in somber dark suits, bowed deeply and tersely apologized for causing their fans “great concern.”

As they bowed, the audience rating for the Fuji TV program shot up to 37.2 percent in the Kanto region, according to Video Research Ltd.

The ratings in the Kanto and Kansai regions averaged 31.2 percent and 29.7 percent, respectively.

The only TV program to have achieved a rating above 30 percent in Kanto in 2015 was NHK’s year-end “Kohaku Uta Gassen” singing battle show, the company said.

As the huge numbers of people watching the program turned their attention online to post comments, Twitter flashed an error message, which many interpreted as a sign of server access overload.

In the carefully scripted speech that lasted less than five minutes, the idols — most now in their 40s — made no direct reference to recent news reports rumoring disbandment. They emphasized their solidarity and asked fans for continued support.

It was their first public appearance since news of the rift surfaced last week.

“Starting today, we once again want to make you smile,” member Shingo Katori said — though there was a conspicuous absence of smiles during the announcement. “I’m relieved the five of us are here together,” Tsuyoshi Kusanagi said.

“We will keep moving forward, no matter what,” Takuya Kimura said.

The five were able to come together because, Kusanagi revealed, Kimura “made it possible for us to apologize” to Johnny Kitagawa, the octogenarian president of the powerful talent agency Johnny & Associates.

A scandal emerged last week in which Katori, Kusanagi, Masahiro Nakai and Goro Inagaki were reportedly considering leaving Johnny & Associates after their longtime female manager, rumored to exert a motherly influence over the members, was pressured to resign amid a feud with a company executive. Kimura alone intended to stay with the agency, according to reports.

Kimura, in diplomatic terms, acknowledged during the live announcement that the possibility of splitting had arisen, but he did not elaborate.

On social media, some people were quick to criticize the speech, saying it sounded forced and, some thought, was ambiguous regarding their future.

“Are they going to break up or what? They didn’t make that super clear,” said SMAP fan Nattsun. “Believe me, they were forced to say what they said. That was not their true feelings. That was not SMAP.”

“They are only here because they apologized to the president?” asked another Twitter user, from the account @girliennes. “It’s almost like they are being forced to pledge allegiance to their agency on a national television network.”

In a blog post Monday, economist Nobuo Ikeda described Johnny & Associates’ “victory” in retaining SMAP members, saying the group had been defeated by an entertainment industry cartel, as “no other talent agency uses artists who have gone independent” from an agency.

“This is Japanese society in miniature,” wrote Ikeda. “Salarymen, who are typically hired right out of school in a batch . . . will start by learning (elementary skills) on the job. These include company-specific skills learned by watching more experienced workers, like personal skills, meaning they aren’t useful in other companies.

“As companies rarely hire mid-career, this situation is like the entertainment industry where those who go independent will never have a second chance,” he said.

Monday’s TV appearance seemingly brought closure to the weeklong speculation that dominated headlines nationwide and left millions of SMAP fans across the globe on edge.

The four members’ departure from Johnny & Associates would almost certainly have resulted in the breakup of SMAP, whose songs frequently top the charts and whose popularity spans generations.

Despite their entrance into middle age, the members are still fixtures on TV, radio and commercials and are reportedly worth ¥20 billion.

When the quintet’s disbanding appeared imminent, a movement emerged among fans on social media to demonstrate their loyalty by buying CDs of SMAP’s best-known single, “Sekai ni Hitotsu Dake no Hana.”

As a result, on Friday, the 2003 song reportedly jumped to No. 9 on the Oricon music ranking charts.

  • GIJ

    I think the beginning of the post-SMAP era in Japan, when it inevitably arrives, will be a relief to everybody, including Messrs. Kimura, Inagaki, Katori, and Kusanagi.

    Britain did all right after the Beatles broke up in 1970, and…well obviously they were in a different league altogether compared to Sports Music Assemble People. But SMAPxSMAP has always been an entertaining Monday night diversion.

    • Clickonthewhatnow

      Are you serious? I’m unable to stomach any Japanese TV (outside of idols jumping because… bouncing). I wish I could, as it might help improve my Japanese, but I hate it.

      • GIJ

        Yes, I’m serious. Perhaps I have a tolerance for bad television and not much to do on Monday nights, but I always found SMAPxSMAP watchable when I was watching Japanese TV.

      • Clickonthewhatnow

        I envy you that. The vocab on whatever shows idols jump around on I already know. Most Japanese TV for me seems to just be a repeat with different people spouting the same things over and over forever.

      • GIJ

        Yes, I’m serious. Perhaps I have a tolerance for bad television and not much to do on Monday nights, but I always found SMAPxSMAP watchable when I was watching Japanese TV.

      • Pink Floyd

        Agreed , i cant stand JP TV , complete dung designed to lobotomize people.

      • Blair

        Or the opposite, inspire you to read

      • Pink Floyd

        Agreed , i cant stand JP TV , complete dung designed to lobotomize people.

  • GIJ

    I think the beginning of the post-SMAP era in Japan, when it inevitably arrives, will be a relief to everybody, including Messrs. Kimura, Inagaki, Katori, and Kusanagi.

    Britain did all right after the Beatles broke up in 1970, and…well obviously they were in a different league altogether compared to Sports Music Assemble People. But SMAPxSMAP has always been an entertaining Monday night diversion.

  • ChrisB

    It’s a sad fact of life that the young boys ensnared by Johnny become slaves to him even when they’re in their 40’s.
    I guess they’re realizing that freedom might have been nicer than a Ferrari.

  • Kessek

    Live on-air group seppuku is the only solution.

  • mem mcg

    What bullsh*t! I wish JapanTimes had real reporters who would research something before they print it. Fans are not happy or relieved they are pissed that J&A are allowed to be so evil and get away with it!

  • Blair

    You’d think these guys would be more loyal to the production company that provided them with such lucrative careers with absolutely no talent whatsoever

    • GIJ

      That’a rather harsh assessment. I’m no expert evaluator of talent, but at least a couple of these guys (Kusanagi and Katori) have displayed a pretty good knack for comedy and/or playing assorted roles in Japan’s TV dramas. There are plenty of people on Japanese TV who appear to possess absolutely no talent whatsoever (maybe they inspired the Kardashians in America), but I wouldn’t put all SMAP members in that category.

      • Blair

        Can’t sing at all, can’t dance very well and all are prone to OVER-acting. They seem quite personable, however…except for the lizzard looking one who doffed his clothes and ranted screaming mad in a public park

      • GIJ

        That one is Kusanagi…who is arguably the best dramatic actor of the bunch. That weird incident a few years ago doesn’t change my view of his acting skills. Like I said, your assessment is harsh. Watch the gritty “Ninkyo Helper” (there were both studio film and TV drama versions starring Kusanagi–I watched the film and found it quite good) and maybe you’ll think differently.

      • Blair

        I’ve seen enough of his work to put him in the “Zoolander” category. Pensive determination is his go to look

      • GIJ

        OK, fair enough. It sounds like you speak from hours and hours of unwanted television viewing thanks to others in your household. It is interesting and refreshing to see that somebody who appears to like Japan quite a lot (as you do) is simply not willing to speak positively about SMAP.

        I say this because SMAP’s members are together one of the quintessential faces of Heisei Era Japan. I know it is nauseating for you and many others to read this, but it is true. Here we have five middle-aged, highly effeminate Japanese men who have had the privilege of spending their entire adult lives engaged in frivolous, highly lucrative, often idiotic activities on TV as native-born citizens of one of the world’s wealthiest, safest, most stable, most conflict-averse countries. They never had to seriously consider emigrating to another country, because why leave such a nice place? They never had to watch their friends and classmates get deployed to active war zones overseas, thanks to Article 9.

        They are prosperity’s children, talent or no talent.

      • Blair

        Agreed, they seem like personable guys. Their production company provided them all with a charmed life. Good for them

  • Ed

    I’ve admired SMAP since the 90s and although the prior news of their breakup was shocking, I was also respecting their decision. I was looking forward to them reinventing their careers and instead seeing them now backtrack and give in to the pressure of the management company is disappointing.

  • Ed

    I’ve admired SMAP since the 90s and although the prior news of their breakup was shocking, I was also respecting their decision. I was looking forward to them reinventing their careers and instead seeing them now backtrack and give in to the pressure of the management company is disappointing.

    • KetsuroOu

      A career reinvention would have been very liberating for SMAP, and very refreshing for fans, but an almost-impossibility given the boycotting and blacklisting power their old agency can wield. It is a shame, really.

  • Pink Floyd

    SMAP = talentless crud served up to a brain dead audience.. Cant sing , cant act , have a naff name and way too long in the tooth for it all… But hey ! this is Japan where change is an anathema…. a far far cry from Bowie , or my namesake the Floyd !

    • Blair

      Thank goodness for Youtube…Live at Pompei!

    • Blair

      Thank goodness for Youtube…Live at Pompei!

  • Pink Floyd

    SMAP = talentless crud served up to a brain dead audience.. Cant sing , cant act , have a naff name and way too long in the tooth for it all… But hey ! this is Japan where change is an anathema…. a far far cry from Bowie , or my namesake the Floyd !

  • zer0_0zor0

    “Sports Music Assemble People” acronym that didn’t age well, to say the least, betrays the stadium mass-marketing strategy…

  • maguro

    Not sure I’ve ever seen something as awkward and forced as their little joint statement. Bizarre.

    • Blair

      I suspect a new release is in the works…the team of 20 who manufacture their cookie cutter tripe has likely finished their latest dishwater dollop ready for press…just need a little something to stir up interest before they dish out the slop

      • maguro

        Well, it’s a little inside baseball, but top management at Johnny and Associates has never been very supportive of SMAP relative to their other acts like Arashi and Tokio. Their manager kind of made them into stars by accident back in the 90s. So when their manager recently got forced out of the company, it kind of made sense for SMAP to follow her out the door. In no way do I believe all this craziness was staged, though. LOL.

      • Blair

        accidentally made them into stars by selecting them out of the 500 who turned out to the audition, giving them dance and singing lessons and a steady stream of cookie cutter humdrum to dish out ad nauseam, as per the recipe prescribed by the production company which provided the writers, choreographers, drama coaches etc, to make them passable. Which they barely are in spite of the success they’ve had simply because of how often they’ve been spoon fed to a public that has no idea how crap they really are because broadcasting regulations have prevented real talent to be available to Japanese living rooms for so long, so it’s Puffy or Arashi or Tokio or Kyairy Pyamu Pyamu tripe that most people here base their assesment of SMAP on not realizing they’re a manufactured
        commodity thought up by Johnnys who simply copied the American
        recipe of such bands that were popular at the time. SMAP could easily have been 5 other guys from that original 500. Ditto for Arashi et al

  • Max Erimo

    The Prime Minister commented on SMAP answering their fans expectations, while he continues to ignore the expectations and voices of the Japanese people as he chases personal family goals.
    I dislike SMAP but the stand taller than the Prime Minister.

  • Tim Johnston

    They’re back

  • A R C H E R

    Knowing the Japanese Idol and Johnny industry, it’s as if they were forced to apologize. SMAP breaking up could have sky-rocketed their individual careers, especially KimuTaku.