The first big scandal of the year was Becky's alleged affair with Kawatani Enon, the vocalist of Gesu no Kiwami Otome. Much as she denied during her press conference that they were dating which was largely mocked by the media as a show just to placate the sponsors (apparently didn't work), the damning reports with lots of evidence such as the LINE messages between the two of them talking about pushing Kawatani's wife to sign the divorce application and using the nickname of "thesis" in jest to represent the divorce papers, photos of them taken in a hotel room, controversial actions such as meeting his parents despite the fact that he is still married just suggests that the two of them are lying through their teeth.
For a start, I am not a fan of either of them. Besides, their private lives have nothing to do with their careers as some may argue. However, what's causing this to linger on in the headlines are the subsequent revelations about how the two of them had schemed to get Kawatani's wife to agree to the divorce and how they had behaved in such a manner that totally disregards Kawatani's marital status as a married man. As each sordid detail is shared in the media, it's hard not to feel disgusted by how this scandal has evolved.
Finally, Kawatani's wife has spoken. Her exclusive interview was published on 13 January in Shukan Bunshun which broke the scandal first. In the interview, she revealed that she started dating Kawatani in the spring of 2012 and got married in July last year. The fact that he is a married man was never made known until the scandal broke. Just two days prior to Becky's press conference on 6 January, the two of them were confronted by the reporters of Shukan Bunshun and he was still denying that he is married and said that his wife is just a friend. When asked about the trip to Kawatani's hometown in Nagasaki during the New Year holidays, Kawatani's wife revealed that she was most shocked about them doing this behind her back. She couldn't fathom what Kawatani was thinking when he introduced Becky to his family and what kind of intention Becky had when she went to meet his parents. In addition, she revealed that since the following day after Becky's press conference, Kawatani had been pressing his wife via phone calls and emails to "submit the thesis" i.e. submit the divorce application. Since the scandal broke, his wife has been unwell and said to be lying in bed most of the time. According to an music industry insider, although Becky and Kawatani promised that they will not meet again, it was said to be a ruse to hide the fact that they are still in touch and they tried to encourage each other to bear with this for the time being until he gets divorced.
Looks like this won't die down anytime soon.
To sum up what is the problem, here are the key points as reported from various news sources:
- There are three main factions within Johnny's Jimusho headed by the president Kitagawa Johnny himself, Fujishima Julie Keiko who is one of the vice-presidents and the niece of Johnny-san and Iijima Michi who is at the centre of the SMAP controversy. In the Julie faction, she manages TOKIO, ARASHI, NEWS, Kanjani 8, KAT-TUN, Hey! Say! JUMP and Johnny's WEST. On Iijima's side, she has been taking care of SMAP since their debut and is also responsible for Yamashita Tomohisa, Kis-My-Ft2, Sexy Zone and ABC-Z. KinKi Kids, V6 and Takki & Tsubasa are managed directly under Johnny-san.
- The Julie and Iijima factions are said to be at loggerheads thus making it almost impossible for artistes from one side to appear in the same TV programme or event with people from the other side. Truth be told, the problem is said to be actually between the managers rather than the artistes themselves. As to why they are at odds, it is said to be due to the fight for the president's post in future.
The other vice-president in the company i.e. Kitagawa Mary is the sister of Johnny-san and is a strong supporter for her daughter Julie to take over the reins in future. Despite the fact that she used to be a mentor to Iijima and their relationship was said to be quite close in the past, her support for her own daughter seems to have caused a rift between her and Iijima. Can't fault Mary for doing that though. However, the simmering tensions finally exploded when Mary was interviewed by a magazine last year and asked about the factions' fighting, She denied strongly that there was no infighting but what happened next seemed to be what caused the fallout. She criticised SMAP for being poor at dancing and was said to have called Iijima to issue a thinly-veiled threat that if there is any fighting, she would not hesitate to issue marching orders to the latter and that Iijima can just leave anytime. This was said to be why Iijima had been planning at least for the last six months to leave.
- So why is SMAP being drawn into this? Apparently, Iijima was merely an ordinary staff member in the company a long time ago. She was made SMAP's manager in a somewhat forced fashion because the group had not performed that well since their debut. It was said then that SMAP suffered due to the reduction of music programmes on TV at that time and a not-so-conducive environment for idols so they failed to make an impact initially. With Iijima's hard work and being present all the time for the group which finally rose to stardom later, the members and her had built a strong relationship over the past 30 years or so especially when it was felt at a time that the agency had sort of given up on them.
Well, if you want to talk about giving up on a group, I thought TOKIO suffered a worse time than SMAP when their CD sales could never match up to V6 or KinKi Kids and constantly got ridiculed for the weakest link in J-Friends. It was only until they jumped ship to Universal Music that they finally showed a lot of improvement in sales. I surely don't remember SMAP's early days being worse than what TOKIO experienced. Anyway, if Iijima had truly be the only one who supported SMAP through those tough times, no wonder they are willing to risk their careers just to go with her.
Since Iijima is leaving the company, reports say that the four who seem to have decided to leave with her are doing it as a form of support for her. As for Kimura Takuya, the general feel you get from media reports is that they least expected him to stay on but he is proving them wrong. Back in 1997, it was already rumoured that Kimura had threatened to leave due to low pay and speculation over him leaving or going solo had been popping up from time to time. However, this time round, the circumstances are different because his popularity is no longer the same as before and he has a family with two children as compared to his members who are all single. As such, the common belief is that he probably chose to stay on for a more secure career path which might lead to an executive position like what Higashiyama Noriyuki and Kondo Masahiko are said to have now. Besides, leaving Johnny's Jimusho is bound to make his future more uncertain with the clout the agency has over the industry and based on past examples where most of those who left slipped into oblivion, there is too much risk to take. At present, nothing is concrete yet since the members themselves have not spoken at all so there is still a chance that the group can stay intact. Regardless of who is staying or leaving and the reasons behind the decision, I don't think anyone can be faulted especially if it's a choice after careful thought.
Rumours have it that TV station authorities are trying hard to persuade Nakai Masahiro to stay on because if he does leave, it will leave a void in many TV stations' variety programmes as they may not wish to antagonise Johnny's and will be forced to drop him as the host. It is also said that if Nakai does stay, the rest of the members can be persuaded to do the same. Not sure how true this is but I can see why the TV stations are so worried because Nakai is indeed very important to their variety shows.
- There were telltale signs of trouble before the news broke. For example, the fact that there were no plans announced for SMAP's 25th anniversary this year was rather suspicious. When ARASHI celebrated their 15th anniversary in 2014 and V6 celebrated 20 years last year, there were various activities and CD releases throughout the entire year. In addition, Kimura was said to be in a foul mood during the Kouhaku rehearsals on 30 Dec last year and when asked about SMAP's overseas activities in 2016, he simply said that instead of asking what they can do next year, he doesn't even know what will happen then. On hindsight, this is said to be a hint that the future of SMAP was uncertain at that point in time.
To be honest, this whole saga looks like something which we can easily see in a company outside of the entertainment world. A manager schemes to leave the company and wants to bring his/her subordinates along to the competitor. Of course, there are people who stay and people who go. Either way, they have their own reasons. The theme of infighting between managers is also not new in companies elsewhere. However, when put into the context of an entertainment company, it becomes fodder for gossip.
Movement of people in and out of a company is natural so I can't blame Iijima for wanting to leave if she sees no hope of moving upwards and is subjected to the taunts and insults (if they are indeed true). Whether or not she instigated the members to go with her is one thing. At present, it looks like she didn't and they are doing it out of their own free will. However, I just find that it's a pity that the group may split up because of this. Considering that they went through various problems in the past like the departure of Mori Katsuyuki, Inagaki Goro's brush with the law and Kusanagi Tsuyoshi's drunk scandal in the park, it is sad to see that they are breaking up over issues not related to themselves but due to their management.
I surely don't expect that idol groups and bands can stay together forever. Much as fans may want them to do so, people grow up and have different priorities in life which may lead them to go their separate ways one fine day. If that really happens and the decision is made collectively to end the group, I think most fans can accept that. Personally, I think that's easier to accept than if members leave the group one by one which is extremely difficult to those who remain. However, in this case, if SMAP indeed breaks up due to this management issue, it will be quite a pity since their 25-year legacy in this business cannot live on.
I think it's time the members speak to let the fans know what they are thinking. The longer this uncertainty drags, the more undesirable the impact on them.