National / Media | Japan Pulse

Denki Groove campaign reveals what Japan truly thinks of celebrities embroiled in drug scandals

by Patrick St. Michel

Contributing Writer

It doesn’t take much for a celebrity drug scandal to be picked up by domestic news outlets in Japan, so when TV personality Pierre Taki was arrested on suspicion of cocaine use on March 12, it’s perhaps not surprising that TV and print media jumped on the story. Segments featured on morning shows in the wake of the news included an analyst using a bank note to demonstrate how to consume the drug and an awkward attempt at explaining what “acid house” was.

The story also dominated social media conversations in Japan, partially because all celebrity scandals generate chat online. However, whereas television grappled with the notion of trying to explain a decades-old music genre, netizens used Taki’s case as a jumping off point to talk about the sillier aspects of such cases, as well as Japan’s place in the world.

Once the initial surprise of Taki’s arrest wore off and people dug out CDs from their collections, attention turned to a familiar ritual in the nation’s entertainment industry in such cases. As has been the case with other artists and celebrities arrested for various crimes, the body of work that Taki is associated with has been pulled from stores and upcoming shows by Denki Groove were canceled. Disney even stopped producing new copies of “Frozen,” in which Taki had been the voice of the fictional snowman Olaf.

However, Taki’s situation introduced a few new twists. All of Denki Groove’s music also vanished from streaming services such as Spotify and Apple Music, a decision that reinforced the notion that digital media (especially those controlled by private companies) can disappear with the click of a button, unlike CDs.

However, this was also a rare example of an artist getting in trouble for drugs in the Twitter and YouTuber age, which has allowed a wide range of users to weigh in on Taki’s situation.

The online landscape has changed significantly since pop star Aska was booked for a similar case in 2014, as have attitudes on social media. Many users haven’t been shy in expressing how they feel about the move to yank works featuring Taki. Some weren’t happy to hear that his art would vanish, while others argued it seemed unfair to those with chemical dependency issues.

Online voices have always criticized the strict approach taken in such celebrity scandals, but social media these days has allowed people to be more vocal than ever before. While such things rarely result in actual change, more than 50,000 signed a Change.org petition asking for Taki’s works to be reinstated. Many on Twitter reveled in the irony of NHK airing “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” in place of a drama featuring Taki shortly after his arrest, even though the replacement featured River Phoenix, an actor who himself died of a drug overdose. Composer Ryuichi Sakamoto slammed the decision to pull Taki’s releases.

Online outlets were just as feisty in a way previously unseen. Weekly magazine Gendai Business used this as a way to lambast Japan for being 10 years behind the rest of the world, while Litera argued that the reaction to it showed a shift in tune with the globe at large.

Electronic-leaning station Block.fm shared a blistering editorial that argued the decision to remove his music wasn’t in line with popular opinion. Buzzfeed Japan poked some fun at the issue, before proving a point by making a quiz that asked respondents whether it was appropriate to remove the works of Western musicians dabbling in drugs (the Beatles, The Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan, among others).

Netizens almost certainly rallied against the decision to pull Denki Groove and Taki-related works, with social media being used as a tool in a way it hasn’t really been utilized in Japan before. Maybe attitudes are changing (stars formerly busted for drugs, including former baseball player Kazuhiro Kiyohara, now admit they are battling addiction) or platforms allow long-present views to be published. Who knows how other celebrity drug scandals would have unfolded had they occurred in 2019 — there are plenty to consider from other years.

As much righteous flak Taki’s arrest received, there were a few other lessons to learn. Plans to release one of Taki’s movies in the near future are still in the works, which certainly wasn’t the case for upcoming features from Hirofumi Arai, an actor arrested on suspicion of rape earlier this year. One online outlet referenced this and noted that entertainment figures in Japan accused of a crime involving abuse or domestic violence are typically blacklisted from the industry.

This state of affairs might actually put Japan ahead of the U.S., where artists such as Xxxtentaction, R. Kelly and, most recently, Michael Jackson can still make money from their music despite the serious allegations that have been levied against them.

Whatever happens, it’s not all bad news as far as Taki is concerned. At the same time Taki was getting booked, J-pop performer Noriko Sakai (better known as “Nori-P”) made her first appearance on broadcast TV in 11 years after being arrested for drug possession. Time does indeed appear to heal all wounds … even if it takes a little longer in Japan.