Film | Wide Angle

Mitsuki Kimura and her film award without the film

by Patrick St. Michel

Contributing Writer

Year-end awards season is in full swing, which means a lot of looking back on the past 12 months. Part of the fun of best-of lists and 2018-in-a-minute thinkpieces is arguing about placement and positioning: Did X really deserve to get so much love? Was Y not actually bloated and overrated?

Fashion magazine Elle Japan sparked one of the season’s better debates when it announced the winners of its Elle Cinema Awards. Among the recipients was Mitsuki Kimura, better known as Koki, the youngest daughter of former SMAP member Takuya Kimura and singer-turned-actress Shizuka Kudo. She debuted this year as a model, appearing in ads for energy drinks and becoming a brand ambassador for Bulgari. Capping it all off, she took home the Rising Star Award at the Elle event.

One problem, though: She hasn’t appeared in an actual film.

Placing too much importance on any kind of award is a losing approach, and we’d all be better off if we treated pop-culture-centric honors as out-of-touch industry affairs (like how the Grammy Awards are generally perceived). But Japanese netizens were shocked by this particular case, mostly because of how brazen it was. Had Koki popped up briefly in a single release in 2018, people would be more chill, — but no, Elle thinks Koki’s star is rising, despite not yet having taken off.

Like many awards provided by magazines, the Rising Star Award comes off less as a serious effort to honor a person and more a tool to promote someone they are invested in. While nothing official has been disclosed, it appears Koki and Elle have a tight connection. She has starred in a handful of videos for the magazine this year, including one trumpeting her own debut. This isn’t new in the world of entertainment and publishing — in Japan or anywhere else — as the two fields have always had a symbiotic PR relationship.

These days, though, any displeasure with such arrangements is voiced on social media — which certainly happened here. However, there was still a decent amount of sympathy expressed for Koki herself over the award. She probably didn’t ask for the honor, but she has to deal with a minor controversy not of her doing. That’s something no young talent should have to wrangle with, even if their parents are two of the country’s most famous celebrities.

The whole affair is a reminder that the old-school methods deployed by the entertainment industry — still embraced in Japan — aren’t as effective and bulletproof as they once were. The job of promoting Koki to a new audience should probably be left to Koki, because she’s good at it — her Instagram boasts more than a million followers. To them, her star has been on the rise for a while.