Thursday, January 16, 2014

Ikumi Yoshimatsu, talent agency "stalking" and women's rights

One of the big Japan stories in the English language media lately has been the case of Ikumi Yoshimatsu, the beauty queen who has taken the rare step of going public about a campaign of intimidation by Genichi Taniguchi, an executive of the talent agency K-Dash after she chose not to sign up with his company. Investigative journalist , but the specific complaints are :

"Today I filed criminal charges against Genichi Taniguchi, a Japanese talent agency executive, who in December of last year grabbed me, forced his way into my dressing room and tried to abduct me. Since then, he has intimidated my family, sent private detectives to my home, tried to extort money from me and my company, slandered me in the press and has made threatening calls to my family, sponsors and business associates."

Typically with these kinds of stories, the Japanese media has afforded it zero coverage. The main reason for that is that K-Dash is affiliated with the all-powerful talent agency octopus Burning Production, a company well known as a part of the Yamaguchi-gumi yakuza syndicate and detailed as such in leaked police documents. News media in Japan rarely ever deals with scandals involving powerful talent agencies like Burning or Johnny & Associates for fear of being blacklisted from access to the bankable stars those agencies control.

Nevertheless, it's been reported widely in English language media, and Yoshimatsu herself has urging the Japanese government to revise the law to provide better protection for women against such harassment.

It's interesting that so much of the coverage, including the way Yoshimatsu herself frames the issue, centres around the idea of stalking and crimes against women.

Now the image we usually associate with stalking is of the lone weirdo harassing a woman he has a romantic obsession with, which is obviously a very different sort of case to the Taniguchi/Yoshimatsu case. The most obvious issue here is of the gangsterish business practices of the thugs who run still heavily yakuza-influenced talent agency system and the way the rest of the entertainment industry kowtows to them, collaborating in the blacklisting of performers who step out of line. This informal blacklisting can be seen in the way the female singer Ami Suzuki and the male rock band Glay were effectively erased from the entertainment world in the early 2000s after breaking from their former management companies, so it's not a practice that exclusively targets women.

However, there are I think good reasons why this way of framing Yoshimatsu's case makes sense.

Firstly, the international media has know context by which it can relate to the ins and outs of the Japanese entertainment industry. Readers would get that it's unfair, but it doesn't touch them and their lives. The issue of crimes against women is far more effective as an emotional hook to reel people into the story and give them a way of relating it to their own lives and experiences. Given the supine Japanese media's willful blindness to the thuggish, bullying behaviour of talent agencies, using foreign language media to shame the establishment into enforcing changes is an alternative way of putting the case (albeit one that I think overestimates the capacity of the Japanese media and entertainment worlds to experience shame) and one which is most effectively done by framing it in a way that international readers will best be able to relate to.

Secondly, there is a problem in Japan of inadequate protection of women from stalking and harassment, and relating this potentially high profile story to that issue both gives it more immediacy and also could do a lot of good by way of provoking much needed action. The case of Rie Miyoshi, after the police refused to accept that a thousand threatening emails could constitute stalking is a particularly horrific example of the feeble levels of protection offered to women. Even if Yoshimatsu's case is clearly being driven by a different set of circumstances, relating it to the issue of protection of women could be a more effective way of getting action and might result in an outcome that would benefit not only Yoshimatsu herself but many other women throughout Japan.

Lastly, Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe, despite being an evil warmongering, proto-fascist piece of shit, has officially at least stated publicly that improving women's position in society is a priority to him. His wife, Akie Abe, has come out in Yoshimatsu's support, so it makes sense that if any action is going to occur, pushing the women's rights angle again seems like the most effective course of action.

The truth is that yakuza involvement in the entertainment industry is simply an issue too few people care about, and the talent agencies' hold over public discourse is too great for any headway on that angle to be possible. As an entertainment journalist, and as a human being who hates thugs and bullies, that is a source of much frustration to me, but on this at least, Ikumi Yoshimatsu appears to be a smart operator, so good luck to her and let's hope she makes progress where so many others have failed.
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