National / Media | MEDIA MIX

There's no business like a star's personal business

by Philip Brasor

Special To The Japan Times

If you’ve got a Twitter account in Japan, you’ve probably seen the promoted tweets for Netflix featuring comedian Sanma Akashiya. In these video spots, Sanma compares working for a streaming service to working for a commercial broadcaster, but doesn’t mention the context for his remarks.

Last July, he was supposed to launch a drama series on Netflix about his apprentice Jimmy Onishi, but it was canceled because Keisuke Koide, the actor who plays the young Sanma in the series, admitted to having had sex with a 17-year-old girl. Subsequently, all of Koide’s projects, past and present, were either pulled from public access or re-edited to remove his participation. The Sanma series is now being reshot with a different actor.

This sort of damage control is common in Japanese show business, and usually comes down to economics. Sponsors supposedly get anxious if someone involved in something they’re paying for does something scandalous, but Netflix doesn’t have sponsors. The service derives its income from subscribers. Is it afraid customers will unsubscribe if it shows something with Koide in it? Or is it the fear of appearing to support a person who may have committed a crime?

The matter is more complicated than it seems. According to a Sept. 8 article in the Asahi Shimbun, coverage of extramarital affairs (furin) among celebrities, for instance, has recently become “more heated.” The article was written in the wake of lawmaker Shiori Yamao’s resignation from the Democratic Party due to an alleged affair with a lawyer — which she denies. This year there have been high-profile furin scandals involving Hollywood actor Ken Watanabe, veteran actress Yuki Saito, comedian Hiroyuki Miyasako, writer-pundit Hirotada Ototake and others.

According to the Asahi, the daytime TV “wide shows” almost exclusively cover sex scandals these days, and while such news has always provoked more than normal levels of interest, media consultant Osamu Sakai told the paper, “It is abnormal how rabidly they cover (affairs) now.” TV tracking services report that wide shows spent a less than 30 hours on furin stories in 2015. Last year, they devoted 170 hours to the subject, and as of Aug. 27 they’ve clocked 120 hours so far this year.

The reason seems to be the greater penetration of internet news and social media services. Tabloid press now breaks a story on the internet before it publishes it in print, thus giving wide shows a chance to cover it even sooner than they normally would. All the morning and afternoon information programs are now trying to out-scoop one another. The frenzy creates more negative press for the stars involved and, by extension, the people they work for.

Professor Akira Iwanami of Showa University told the Asahi that he thinks the public has become more “compliant to social mores.” As a result, it is now easier to catch celebrities in compromising situations because the media is less skittish about accusations of stalking. And due to social media, people who complain about over-zealous media, or think that celebrities’ private lives are nobody’s business but their own, often face backlash for their views.

“Tolerance is eroding,” says Iwanami.

One reflection of this development is that isharyō (compensation) in divorce cases brought about by infidelity has decreased 20 to 30 percent, according to a lawyer quoted by the Asahi, who speculates that judges in such cases may now think that “the value of maintaining a happy family is going down.”

However, when it comes to show business scandals, compensations have become enormous. The Nikkan Taishu website reports that Koide owes his management company ¥1 billion to cover loss of business. In addition, one source said that Koide will likely have to do “free work” for Nippon TV in the future, which may be a bigger blow to his management than paying a fine.

It’s not just perceived antisocial behavior that’s punished. Five years after they married against the wishes of their respective management companies, actress Meisa Kuroki and former idol Jin Akanishi are still paying off combined iyakukin (damages) worth more than ¥1 billion. Their situation is mirrored more recently in the case of actress Emi Takei. On Sept. 1, Takei announced her marriage to singer Takahiro of the R&B collective Exile, and that they are expecting a baby next spring. This “happy news” was colored by tabloid reports that said Takei’s management, Oscar Promotion, was making her pay ¥1 billion in iyakukin. Though the marriage falls under the dekichatta-kon (unexpected pregnancy) category, it is still a marriage and thus not inappropriate by media standards.

The Huffington Post asked a lawyer who works for the Japan Entertainers’ Rights Association why Takei has to pay so much. She currently appears in number of commercials, but none it seems need to be pulled because of her marriage and pregnancy. The lawyer says celebrity contracts usually contain “image clauses,” but each client decides what constitutes an undesirable change in image. That’s why so many management companies forbid young idols from dating or getting married.

Takei is 23 and successful enough to call her own shots in terms of fees, but clients will use any excuse to take advantage of a situation and reduce their expenses. More to the point, Oscar Promotion may be looking to the future — Takei will be out of commission at least until her baby is born — and is essentially charging her for potential lost sales. Obviously, the more you’re worth, the greater the loss in such a situation. And Takei knows if she objects to the fine and quits her Oscar Promotion she’ll be effectively out of show business, because no other management company will take her on.

A vice president at Oscar Promotion told News Post Seven that there are no strict rules regarding ages for female celebrities, but “if they want to be stars” they have to work until about age 25 with no distractions such as boyfriends.

“You can’t have everything,” he said. “Show business isn’t that easy.”