Historian Daniel J. Boorstin once defined a celebrity as someone who is “known for his well-knownness” — a person famous for being famous. Though many celebrities have talent and other attributes that draw attention, it is easier to gain notoriety passively by being related to someone who already has some. Children of celebrities are automatically celebrities, meaning they don’t have to do any work to earn that status, though they may have to work to maintain it.
She is called an actress whenever she is introduced, but Mika Mifune is mainly famous for being a daughter and a wife — the child of the late movie actor Toshiro Mifune, and the spouse of rock singer George Takahashi. With regard to the former, Mifune’s celebrity was made more compelling by the fact that she was born out-of-wedlock to her father’s mistress. It wasn’t until he wrote his will that he acknowledged her legally as his offspring. She took his name and became the object of media scrutiny, so much so that she had an agent by the time she was in junior high school.
Takahashi met her when she was 13. He says it was love at first sight. Twenty-four years her senior, he waited until she was 16 before popping the question and they married almost immediately. So now Mifune had two celebrity referents: a deceased father who starred in some of the greatest Japanese movies of all time, and a musician husband who was old enough to be her father. The second referent quickly became more important than the first as the couple turned into a media item, appearing on variety and talk shows together as the epitome of the “sweet couple,” partners whose marriage was based on love rather than convenience. They were twice named Best Couple of the Year by whatever commercial enterprise happened to be giving out such awards at the time.
This new synergistic celebrity status transcended what it was that initially made either famous — Mifune’s parentage and Takahashi’s role as the leader of the rock band The Tra-Bryu. Consequently, their value to people who profited from their celebrity was in their unity. Neither ever appeared on TV without the other, and while they made a good living with their appearances, it was seen to be a bigger benefit for Mifune, who, despite the occasional small acting job, only had her celebrity to offer. Thanks to writing one hit, “Road,” which had become a karaoke standard, Takahashi seemed set for life. At the peak of the song’s popularity he was making hundreds of millions of yen a year in royalties.
Consequently, Mifune would have more to lose if the partnership failed, so the news that she had left Takahashi after 16 years of marriage was doubly surprising. According to the tabloid Sports Nippon, which broke the story, she moved out of the couple’s Tokyo home with her daughter and mother in December 2013. All three now live in Osaka, where Mifune has cultivated regular solo work on local TV shows.
Though it has been more than a year since his wife’s flight, Takahashi is reportedly still in a state of shock. Apparently, he had no idea that his wife had grown tired of his possessiveness. Though he often went out drinking with his pals, she was forbidden to leave the house without him unless it was work-related, and even then there was a curfew.
In an interview with Sports Nippon — held at the management company that represents both of them — Takahashi says he doesn’t want a divorce and believes that once Mifune has time to think carefully about matters she will come back to him, but she wrote in a statement faxed to the press that “reconciliation won’t happen,” and hired a lawyer to sue Takahashi for divorce and to secure full custody of their daughter.
Takahashi’s troubles, it seems, are not limited to matters of the heart. Various show business reporters are saying that the amount of money he earns from “Road” has dropped a great deal in recent years, and that without the income he earned with Mifune as a team on variety shows he’s had to go out and find his own work. Apparently, what celebrity he still possesses can command good money for personal appearances, but he’s had to do a lot of openings for new pachinko parlors.
Meanwhile, Mifune is showing up more often on TV by herself as a travel reporter and in-studio commentator, and as columnist Debako Kuribayashi points out on the website of the sex paraphernalia shop Love Piece Club, that’s because Mifune has one advantage Takahashi can never again enjoy: youth. She is only 32 and has plenty of time to reinvent her public image. Takahashi is entering his late 50s and is already considered washed-up as a rock singer.
By proactively leaving her husband, Mifune has gained control of a life that previously didn’t have much meaning outside her marriage, at least as far as the media were concerned. Though Mifune’s stated reasons for ending the union are personal, that she resented the limits he placed on her freedom, Kuribayashi also thinks Mifune realized that the longer she stayed with Takahashi, the more indivisible their shared life — and shared celebrity — would become from a professional perspective. That’s why finalizing the divorce is so important to her.
When she and Takahashi were still an item, they made their living talking about their marriage. Now that they aren’t, Mifune can presumably make an equally good living talking about the divorce. There is a whole subset of female TV personalities, currently lead by Ritsuko Tanaka, whose main appeal to producers is their willingness to speak frankly — and wryly — about their failed marriages. For some reason, divorced male TV personalities aren’t half as interesting when they talk about the same thing, probably because they tend to sound maudlin.
Women are liberated by the change in circumstances, whereas men self-pityingly see themselves as being diminished by it. Whose side of the story would you rather hear?