In Japan’s often-shady entertainment world, speaking out against bullying, harassment and stalking of women by talent agency management and producers has long been taboo.
Any woman who stands her ground and goes public risks being shunned from the industry.
But one woman has decided not to back down.
The current Miss International, Ikumi Yoshimatsu, filed criminal and civil charges Wednesday against one of Japan’s most powerful talent agencies’ executives for stalking her and attempting to ruin her career. The harassment began shortly after Yoshimatsu became the first Japanese to win the title in the pageant’s 52-year history and then refused to sign up with a problematic talent agency.
“Today I filed criminal charges against Genichi Taniguchi, a Japanese talent agency executive, who in December of last year grabbed me, forced his way into my dressing room and tried to abduct me,” Yoshimatsu said.
“Since then, he has intimidated my family, sent private detectives to my home, tried to extort money from me and my company, slandered me in the press and has made threatening calls to my family, sponsors and business associates.”
Taniguchi is president of Pearl Dash and an executive at K-Dash, the talent agency that handles such luminaries as Ken Watanabe, who co-starred in the blockbusters “The Last Samurai” and “Batman Begins.”
Yoshimatsu has attached to the criminal complaint tape recordings, videos and photographs detailing the stalking. She has been documenting the attacks toward her on the advice of her lawyer and others.
According to the criminal complaint and other sources, the trouble started last December, when Yoshimatsu amicably decided to leave her agency at the time and establish her own company. In the middle of that month, at what was supposed to be a meeting with her management at the time, former K-1 fight promoter Kazuyoshi Ishii, who has been convicted of tax evasion and destruction of evidence, abruptly entered the room and made his own proposal.
He had several times suggested in the past that she work with Taniguchi, who is a close personal friend of Ikuo Suo, chairman of Burning Productions, Japan’s most powerful talent agency.
At that meeting, Ishii allegedly urged Yoshimatsu to sign with an entertainment agency affiliated with Burning Productions. She adamantly refused, noting the Burning group was long rumored to be affiliated with the yakuza. Indeed, police files that were leaked on the Internet in 2007 list the firm as a client of the Yamaguchi-gumi.
She left the meeting and founded her own company, IY Global. She chose Matt Taylor as her international agent to secure overseas work.
On Dec. 30, after filming finished on NTV’s yearend special “Bankisha!” she was shocked to find that Taniguchi, whom she had never met, had entered the set using a pass for a different show. He immediately began shouting accusations and creating a scene. He claimed that Taylor did not represent Yoshimatsu and that the two owed him money. At one point, he allegedly grabbed Yoshimatsu’s arm and forcibly tried to pull her out of the studio. A tape recording and pictures of the incident corroborate her account.
The staff rushed Yoshimatsu into a waiting room, but Taniguchi reportedly kept chasing her. In the months that followed, Taniguchi warned her family and friends that he might bring a locksmith and break into her house to take possession of money that he insisted Taylor owed him. He also allegedly hired private detectives to watch her house.
Taylor has acknowledged that he has had problems with Taniguchi but points out, “Do his issues with me justify him attacking my client and harassing her? Is that acceptable in Japan to victimize a woman out of a personal grudge? He has also demanded I turn over her contract to him. It’s bizarre.”
Taniguchi repeatedly called sponsors of the Miss International Contest and alleged that he would release materials shaming Yoshimatsu and the contest. The International Culture Association, which operates the Miss International competition in Japan, allegedly responded by telling Yoshimatsu last month that they wanted her to keep a low profile, feign illness and not attend the succession ceremony where she was supposed to turn over her crown. The executive briefing her reportedly told her they were afraid of Taniguchi and wanted to avoid scandal. While acknowledging that Yoshimatsu was a victim of a harassment campaign, he reportedly made it clear they would prefer she did not stand up on her own behalf.
After deciding she could keep silent no longer, Yoshimatsu consulted a lawyer and filed for charges of criminal obstruction of business with the police and a claim for damages in civil court.
“I filed charges not just for my personal benefit, but to voice my concern and outrage on behalf of all the women who could not call for help, out of fear of retaliation and being ignored in a society where a ‘culture of silence’ toward crimes against women has been the standard for centuries,” Yoshimatsu said.
“Stalking is a serious issue in Japan and several women have been killed by stalkers even after consulting with the police.”
Japan’s largest weekly magazine, the Shukan Bunshun, is set to publish a four-page article Thursday on the lawsuit documenting the details of how Yoshimatsu was harassed by Taniguchi. It is questionable if the mainstream media will follow up on the story due to the tremendous power of the talent agencies.
Most Japanese publications and media avoid offending the agencies for fear of losing access to “tarento” and other celebrities.
Calls made to K-Dash and Pearl Dash were not returned. In the Shukan Bunshun article, Taniguchi admits to entering the “Bankisha!” set but denies any other wrongdoing.
Tape recordings of various incidents and of phone calls he made to people associated with Yoshimatsu contradict his account substantially.
Taniguchi told The Japan Times: “Yes, I just happened to be visiting the set of ‘Bankisha!’ but I did not harass Ms. Yoshimatsu. I’m no stalker. I called her father at least twice to try and reach her manager to solve my financial dispute with him. I have no grudge against her and Bunshun’s article is very wrong.”