Music

Japanese artists mourn death of Johnny Kitagawa

Kyodo, Staff Report

The entertainment industry on Wednesday mourned the death of Johnny Kitagawa, the founder of one of Japan’s most powerful talent agencies, which shot a long line of boy bands to fame over a period of more than half a century.

“He’s like a father to us,” said Noriyuki Higashiyama, actor and a member of Shonentai, a boy band born from Kitagawa’s talent agency and production company Johnny & Associates Inc.

“He was the No. 1 person in the entertainment world. We will inherit his spirit and act brightly and happily,” he said on a TV program the day after the 87-year-old mogul died of a stroke.

A number of other celebrities affiliated with Kitagawa expressed gratitude for the role he played in propelling them to fame.

Taichi Kokubun, a member of another boy band Tokio, thanked Kitagawa in tears on a different TV program, saying: “He taught me the beauty of entertainment and the fun and the challenges of this business among many things. I only feel grateful.”

Kitagawa died at a hospital in Tokyo after being hospitalized since June 18 due to a subarachnoid hemorrhage.

He was known as the man behind the successes of numerous pop groups, including SMAP, Arashi, Kat-tun and Hey! Say! Jump, which became household names in Japan and grew worldwide fan bases.

“Johnny-san, you have always guided us until now. I hope you can rest well,” Takuya Kimura, a former member of SMAP, which disbanded in 2016, said in a post on his official account on Chinese social media platform Weibo.

Actor Ken Watanabe regretted that he hadn’t been able to work with Kitagawa when he was alive.

“Kitagawa was one of the first people who imported the cutting-edge atmosphere from overseas to the Japanese entertainment industry,” Watanabe said in an interview. “He took revolutionary and forward-looking approaches to producing musicals, stages and entertainment.”

The news was reported overseas in countries such as South Korea and Indonesia.

Chinese media was quick to report Kitagawa’s death, reflecting the level of interest in the country where SMAP held its first overseas concert in 2011. Weibo was also flooded with comments on his death.

“I can’t hold back my tears,” read one comment on the social media platform, while another user wrote Kitagawa “provided many girls with an idol.”

Billboard reported on the news, touching on Kitagawa’s Guinness World Records and allegations of sexual misconduct, as well as his anti-internet attitude, which was eased from 2018 as some Johnny & Associates’ artists started to appear on social media including Weibo, YouTube and Instagram.

Billboard also shared the experience of interviewing Kitagawa in 2013. When asked how he maintained his vice-like grip on the Japanese music industry for 50 years, he answered, “Just hard work, really.”

TV personality Hirohide Yakumaru, who rose to stardom as a member of male idol group Shibugakitai in the 1980s, wrote on his blog that he “spent the entire night crying” and Kitagawa was “always gentle and caring.”

In Tokyo’s Harajuku district, a 42-year-old woman visiting a store selling memorabilia related to Johnny & Associates’ acts with her 14-year-old daughter said, “I think he was able to raise many idols as he had a big heart and personal magnetism.”

Members of Johnny & Associates, simply known as Johnny’s in Japan, have worked in promotions for government programs.

Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Kotaro Nogami expressed sadness about Kitagawa’s death at a news conference, saying, “He has made great accomplishments in Japan’s entertainment world.”