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Analysis: Japan enjoys its first celebrity scandal of 2009. Enter the morality police.
Perhaps most ignominiously of all, Kusanagi was treated to a public dressing down by Kunio Hatoyama, Japan's communications minister, who was apoplectic that the man chosen to encourage households to switch from analogue to digital TV over the next two years had behaved so shamelessly. And this from a politician who was nicknamed the “grim reaper” during his time as justice minister for the enthusiasm with which he signed execution orders.
In a final blow, the new face of digital broadcasting in Japan now belongs to a cartoon deer with antlers shaped like an UHF antenna.
While the cultural establishment dished out opprobrium, Kusanagi’s legions of fans were incensed. The blogosphere in Japan and South Korea, where his fluency in Hangul has helped turn him into a household name, lit up with encouragement for the fallen star and condemnation for his detractors.
Some were angry that their hero’s home had been searched (investigators found nothing), that he had been hung out to dry by his onetime corporate cheerleaders, even that he was arrested at all. One threatened to firebomb the police station where he had been kept overnight.
If the sorry episode demonstrated the unreasonable demands Japan’s cultural conservatives place on the country’s stars, it also exposed the toothlessness of its media.
Johnny’s & Associates, the talent agency that manufactured Smap and a host of other hugely popular stage acts, has exerted a stranglehold on TV scheduling that no broadcasting executive dare question.
The agency, founded by the septuagenarian starmaker Johnny Kitagawa, exerts absolute control over its young charges — many of whom debut in their early teens — in every matter from their image rights to their personal lives.
In 2000, the weekly magazine Shukan Bunshun put its head above the parapet and reported widespread allegations in tell-all books by former entertainers of sexual abuse by Kitagawa.
Though the (unproven) allegations were the subject of a police investigation, a parliamentary hearing and a libel suit against the magazine that was only partly successful, Japan’s mainstream media simply pretended not to notice, fearful that coverage would prompt an exodus of Johnny’s “talents” from their schedules.
As for Kusanagi, he will probably rebuild his career.
It will involve yet more public apologies and promises to change his ways. Japan’s media, meanwhile, will quickly regain its appetite for Smap’s saccharine fare and resume its fawning treatment of Johnny’s & Associates. And that, more than Kusanagi’s Tokyo fandango, is where the real scandal lies.
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