Japan movie director slams treatment of showbiz stars

Takeshi Kitano, one of Japan’s most popular TV comedians and film directors, hit out Wednesday at the country’s entertainment sector after two reported deaths blamed on abuse and overwork.

Japanese media reported on Tuesday that one of late pop supremo Johnny Kitagawa’s many alleged victims of sexual abuse had killed himself.

The same day the chairman of the 110-year-old all-female musical theatre group Takarazuka Revue said he was stepping down over the recent death of one of its actresses.

“I wouldn’t go as far as to say that is slavery as such, but in the entertainment world, particularly as it is in Japan, there has been this culture of treating people as commodities, as objects to be shown off in order to make money,” said Kitano, an internationally acclaimed movie director better known in Japan as a comedian and TV host.

However, speaking at a packed news conference ahead of the release of his new movie, “Kubi”, the 76-year-old director of “Hana-bi” (1997) and star of “Battle Royale” (2000) said things were slowly improving.

“There are many organisations or institutions within the entertainment world, they’re still very much functioning with these kinds of structures or these kinds of ways. I think within Japan now this is starting to disappear,” he said.

In September, Japan’s boyband empire Johnny & Associates admitted that its founder Kitagawa sexually assaulted young would-be stars over decades until his death aged 87 in 2019.

Allegations about Kitagawa swirled for decades but it was not until this year that they ignited full-on soul-searching following a BBC documentary and denunciations by victims.

The 25-year-old Takarazuka Revue actress’s lawyer said last week that she had killed herself in September after being bullied and overworked by senior members of the group founded in 1913.

Chair Kenshi Koba apologised to the bereaved family at a news conference “for not being able to protect the life of your precious loved one”, but said an external probe team found no evidence of bullying, Kyodo News reported.

But the team acknowledged the possibility that the actress was under a “strong psychological burden” and that the group’s tight performance schedule had led to a situation where the mental and physical well-being of the actresses was being compromised amid a lack of oversight.

The storied Takarazuka Revue has long provided a popular alternative to traditionally male-only Japanese theatre.

But competition to get in is tough and, once selected, young recruits have to endure a rigid training regimen and negotiate a strict hierarchy. (AFP)

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