/ |

Flashing the cash while the majority suffer

by Philip Brasor

There haven’t been many silver linings to the dark cloud of the recession that descended more than a year ago. One is the media’s general loss of interest in ostentatious displays of stuff that most of us could never afford anyway. Nowadays, it’s easier to boost TV ratings with features about places to buy ¥250 bento (boxed lunches) than features about three-star French restaurants.

So even the tabloids were slightly put off by 48-year-old actress Naomi Kawashima’s ¥100 million wedding reception on June 23, which was broadcast live on Nihon TV. One could expect withering derision from a semihip weekly like Aera (“this sort of gaudiness is so out-of-date”), but Nikkan Gendai’s observation that such an event is bound to “rub people the wrong way,” and that both Kawashima and NTV demonstrated a serious misreading of the public’s mood, was quite a turnaround for a paper that habitually sucks up to celebrities.

But Gendai still covered the reception, which had less to do with Kawashima’s nuptials than with a lineup of interests that started with her brand-image and ended with NTV’s bottom line. And there were plenty of others sharing the PR booty, including Kawashima’s new husband, patissiere Toshihiko Yoroizuka, and eight culinary masters of the “Iron Chef” caliber. In fact, at least one of them, Hiroyuki Sakai, appeared regularly on that legendary show, which epitomized the age of conspicuous consumption better than any other. Their respective businesses aren’t doing as well as they used to, apparently, so they need to remind people — or, at least, a certain class of people — that they’re still out there.

Though she made her name in the 1980s as a local TV and radio personality in Nagoya, Kawashima became nationally well-known in 1993 when she was the subject of a photo book called “Woman,” which is credited with setting off the “hair nude boom.” Previously, depictions of pubic hair were forbidden, and after “Woman” ingenues and washed-up stars alike were able to gain attention by posing for tastefully composed crotch shots.

Kawashima parlayed this notoriety into an acting career, and was invariably cast as women who actually enjoyed sex, even initiated it. She was the adulterous doctor’s wife in the 1997 TV version of Junji Watanabe’s best-seller “Shitsurakuen,” and a year later starred in another Watanabe TV adaptation “Kurenai,” in which she played a woman who loses her womb to cancer and with it her mojo — only to miraculously find it again after she is raped.

Since then, Kawashima has continued to act, mainly in supporting roles, but she’s worked even harder to cultivate a reputation as an expert on fine wines and paraded her pedigreed dachshunds on variety shows that trade in cute pets. She remained tantalizingly single, however, as if waiting for the perfect man to share her exquisite taste in exquisite things.

Yoroizuka, who is 43, fit the bill perfectly. He owns high-rent pastry shops in Tokyo Midtown and Ebisu Garden Place. One of the only times that Kawashima teared up during the prereception press conference was when she described how her new husband had stayed up all night working hard to complete their wedding cake, which was in the shape of one of her dogs.

The actual wedding ceremony took place months ago, in Tuscany, further reinforcing the wine-gourmet slant of the whole project. One reporter, obviously a plant, asked Kawashima to describe her feelings in terms of wine. “I finally met a vessel that will allow the wine I call myself to become perfectly aged,” she replied.

How Yoroizuka felt about being compared to a wine bottle (or, given his well-fed figure, a wine barrel) we’ll never know because he was only at the press conference long enough to make one forgettable comment. Nobody was interested in him as a person, anyway. NTV’s coverage concentrated on the food and those among the 350 celebrity guests who make a living out of showing up at these sorts of things.

“I want to have another wedding,” enthused media celebrity-cum-fashion entrepreneur Uno Kanda, whose own reception (¥600 million!) was also carried live on TV. “I can talk to you just for a minute until the next course is served,” said actor Katsunori Takahashi, who understood his priorities.

A different tabloid, Yukan Fuji, provided an interesting report on how the money flowed. According to staff at the Grand Hyatt in Roppongi, where the reception was held, the eight superstar chefs received an average of ¥500,000 each for their culinary services, though a few apparently provided vittles for free as “wedding gifts.” Also, Kawashima’s dress, by beturbaned, over-the-hill designer Yumi Katsura, cost ¥10 million. Guests helped offset these expenses with their own cash gifts of between ¥100,000 and ¥500,000, depending on their “class”; and NTV paid Kawashima and Yoroizuka ¥5 million each for exclusive rights to the reception, thus implying that the newlyweds have separate agents. Fuji estimates that the couple probably broke even.

And what did NTV get out of it? According to an advertising executive interviewed by Yukan Fuji, NTV’s costs for covering the reception were pretty low, and so even if ad revenues aren’t as high as they used to be, the company made money. The live broadcast pulled in an average 9.2 percent share in the Kanto region, and footage from the soiree was rebroadcast four more times during the day on various wide shows and news shows on NTV for spot ratings that ranged from 4.8 percent to 10.5 percent. That’s hardly impressive, but since everyone seems to have gotten what they wanted in the end — the broadcaster a small profit, everybody else more exposure than they would have gotten had the reception not been broadcast — it was seen as a success for all involved. If the public couldn’t care less, well, that’s fine. They weren’t invited, anyway.