Music

Johnny Kitagawa, founder of agency that launched numerous boy bands, dead at 87

Kyodo

Music mogul Johnny Kitagawa, who shaped Japan’s boy band landscape for more than half a century, died of a stroke Tuesday at a hospital in Tokyo, his office said. He was 87.

Kitagawa, who founded the country’s top male talent agency and production company Johnny & Associates Inc. in 1962, had been hospitalized since June 18 due to a subarachnoid hemorrhage, a type of stroke.

He propelled one pop group after another to fame. His most successful acts — such as SMAP, Arashi, Kat-tun and Hey! Say! Jump — are household names.

Kitagawa spent his last days in hospital with some of the agency’s senior talent and trainees — who he likened to being his “children” — as they talked among themselves about their memories of him, with various tunes playing in the background, the office said in a document.

“It became a daily routine to enjoy Johnny’s delicacies while visiting him, and the scene and all the smells reminded us of a practice hall. … His final curtain came down with him wrapped in the love of his beloved children,” it said.

One of the most revered figures in the entertainment industry, Kitagawa’s hit-making strategy of not limiting his artists to releasing records, but placing them in a range of variety and TV shows, enabled him to maintain a virtual monopoly on boy bands for over 57 years.

But his career was not without incident.

He was the subject of numerous allegations of sexual misconduct. In 1999, weekly magazine Shukan Bunshun published a series detailing accusations of child abuse and sexual exploitation made by several boys under his wing.

However, he was never charged with any crimes on the basis of the allegations.

Kitagawa sued the Shukan Bunshun and was awarded damages, but the judgment was partially overturned on appeal, with the court ruling the magazine had sufficient reason to publish the allegations of sexual misconduct. A subsequent Supreme Court appeal by Kitagawa was rejected.

Born in Los Angeles in 1931, the Japanese American spent most of his childhood shuttling between Japan and the United States. He eventually settled in Japan in the 1950s after serving with the U.S. Army teaching English to orphans during the Korean War.

Kitagawa was first inspired by the 1961 American musical film “West Side Story,” a story where multiple characters from different backgrounds build their relationships around one another as they sing and dance to a range of tunes.

He joined the entertainment industry with the creation of a four-man group called Johnny’s. He was able to challenge the generational norm at a time when dancing was not acceptable for men.

Kitagawa was also able to deepen his ties with the entertainment industry by supporting Japanese artists, such as Hibari Misora, who performed in the United States after the end of World War II.

His efforts, spanning over 50 years, saw the creation of household names including early boy groups Hikaru Genji and Shonentai, as well as solo artist Hiromi Go.

The new lineup of male idols became popular among female fans.

Theatrics during concerts brought the celebrities closer to fans, with moving stages and over-the-top stagecraft.

Kitagawa was the holder of three Guinness World Records titles for the most No. 1 artists, the most No. 1 singles and the most concerts produced by an individual.

He recently worked as the executive producer for the movie “Shonentachi,” released in March this year.

Hideaki Takizawa, a former member of the J-pop idol duo Tackey & Tsubasa, was named president of Johnnys’ Island Inc., an affiliate company of Johnny & Associates, this January to focus on nurturing younger artists as Kitagawa had been doing.

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