Although it is a pity to see SMAP's legacy end in this somewhat unpleasant manner rather than parting on amicable terms, it will still be a good thing after all if the members are happy at the end. Fans alike would not have to sit through the agony of seeing them pretend that things are well when it's obviously not and being put through that emotional rollercoaster of not knowing when they will split up. It's time to let them go if they desire so.
So what happened leading to the decision to disband?
Following the "temporary resolution" to the January saga, there were two meetings which all the members attended, two one-to-one meetings with each of the members and numerous discussions over the phone. During the meetings, it was said that Katori was especially despondent about the group's future and stated that he was done with group activities and didn't think that the group could do more in their current situation. He had also admitted that the situation they faced was partly due to the break-up saga and that their relationships had been affected as a result.
2 months ago, Johnny-san had talked to the members about appearing in the summer music programmes and hold the 25th anniversary concerts which they were not too keen about. Even after asking them to consider this favourably for his sake and to meet the expectations of fans, only Kimura agreed to the proposal. It was then where there were murmurs coming from some of the staff members who may have understood why the members were behaving like this but thought that it was too much for them to be so uncooperative even when the president had asked them personally.
From this point onwards, the only two paths left for the group were to disband or suspend their activities. At first, Kusanagi and Katori were said to be nonchalant about either options which suggested that they had no interest in the group's future. As such, it was decided initially that SMAP would head for an indefinite suspension on their group activities. However, on 10 August, Nakai, Inagaki, Kusanagi and Katori suddenly went to meet Johnny-san without Kimura where Katori, Kusanagi and Inagaki expressed their wish to disband rather than to suspend group activities since they couldn't visualise getting back together as before even after the indefinite break. It was even said that Katori said that SMAP is what they are today due to their former manager and without her, it won't be the same group anymore. Nakai however adopted a more neutral stand and wanted to avoid the extreme outcome of disbanding. Kimura who was not present at this meeting, was against the break-up till the end but could not do anything due to the wishes of the other members. On the following day, the decision to disband was then made final during a management meeting.
According to the agency, they didn't want to lead the fans on anymore with an indefinite suspension of group activities and keep their hopes high for nothing so it was deemed that it would be better to split once and for all. However, the members has renewed their individual contracts for another year so they will be continuing their solo activities from next year.
Meanwhile, according to this article from Daily News Online, Kimura was actually away in Hawaii for a family vacation from 9 August thus it was not certain if he was back in Japan when the announcement for SMAP's disbandment was made. Although he was said to be a favourite of Mary Kitagawa and was initially perceived to be the one credited for "bringing back his fellow members" to the agency, Kimura did not actually enjoy a corresponding spike in workload after the January saga and was regarded as having a lot of time on his hands as he suffered a strong bashing for the "open shaming of his fellow members" during the apology on SMAPxSMAP. As he was sighted in Hawaii once in April, it was rumoured that news of his second vacation in August was viewed extremely negatively and with distrust that he still had the mood to go on holiday when the group's future was hanging in the balance. It was even suggested that he may have known that things were not going to be changed even with his presence so he went ahead with his vacation.
Sponichi has a pretty interesting graphic which summarises the state of relationships among the SMAP members now and their stance towards the disband issue. Katori and Kusanagi are said to be those who strongly wanted to disband while Nakai and Inagaki agreed with their proposal although Nakai was said to have hoped for a less extreme outcome.
We know since January that it's been more-or-less a 4 vs. 1 situation where Kimura was seen to be the defector/traitor/villain for "coordinating the resolution" of the initial saga where the other four members were said to have wanted to leave with their manager and he changed sides at the last minute. Subsequent reports did suggest though that Katori and Nakai were especially unforgiving of Kimura and their relationships with him had soured the most. Kusanagi was perceived differently depending on which source you look at, some said that he stood by Katori while some said that he was somewhere in the middle. Likewise for Inagaki although the general feeling was that he still was on speaking terms with Kimura as this graphic also suggested. Given how isolated Kimura must have felt during the past six months, it's surprising that he still wanted to keep the group from disbanding. Going their separate ways might be a better thing for him in the long run though since he wouldn't have to deal with the peer pressure anymore.
How were the individual members' comments perceived?
Sponichi commented that the differences among the members were clearly evident in their individual comments. Katori and Kusanagi who were said to have strongly asked for the disband, only mentioned the decision and expressed thanks to the fans and related personnel. On the other end of the spectrum, Kimura's statement was the only one which mentioned regret and a sorry outcome. Meanwhile, Nakai had asked for forgiveness for the decision while Inagaki's words of "painful decision" suggested that it was not an easy decision after all and asked for the fans' understanding.
What will happen to SMAPxSMAP?
According to Nikkansports, the group's signature variety show on FujiTV should be ending within the year and preparations are already underway to do so. At the beginning of summer when there were talks between Johnny's Jimusho and the production crew at FujiTV about the likelihood of suspending group activities for the time being, both sides acknowledged that it was not likely for the programme to continue since they needed to do recordings together a few times each month. Fukui Sumio, the president of Kansai TV which is producing the programme, had said back in January that as long as the group continues to exist, SMAPxSMAP will continue. However, with the group heading towards a breakup, there seems to be no other way out but to end the programme in its 20th year of broadcast. Kansai TV said that they will only be in a position to comment after an official decision has been made on the future of SMAPxSMAP.
According to insiders within the TV station, things between the members were already not that rosy before the January saga. All along, the five of them have separate resting rooms and are hardly seen together making small talk. Despite so, they had been able to work well together on a professional level. However, when the January sage broke, this was no longer possible. Kimura was said to be ignored and slighted by the other members even when he brought up topics and the atmosphere was really chilly at times. This made the production crew worry about how to carry on with the show as the programme needed the members to interact with one another. In order to prevent fans from worrying if they saw what was happening, there had only been one open recording of Bistro SMAP since January to present.
Following the disbandment announcment, SMAPxSMAP will run a telop in the 15th August broadcast to address the issue. However, the formal announcement about the show's future will be revealed once decided. The 15th August episode was prerecorded and there are no plans for a live segment. Kataoka Ainosuke will be appearing in the Bistro SMAP segment while Ayaka will be singing her song "Mikatsuki" with the members in the S.LIVE segment.
What will happen to the other variety shows whose names contain the word "SMAP"?
According to Sports Hochi, there are two foreseeable outcomes i.e. the programme gets axed or goes through a name change. For programmes such as TV Asahi's "SmaSTATION!" and "PuSsuma" and FujiTV's "OjaMAP!", it is expected that these shows will be cancelled so the TV stations are expected to enter into negotiations with sponsors from next week.
TV Asahi has spoken that for the time being, it will be as per normal for the four SMAP-related shows it produces i.e. "SmaSTATION!!", "UraSma!!", "Nakai Masahiro no Mininaru Toshokan" and "PuSsuma".
What about the CM deals?
All CM deals involving the group including Universal Japan have since expired so there is no issue here. As for the solo CM deals, reviewing is currently underway via the advertising agencies. Despite the fact that the five of them are not involved in any scandals, the loss of the SMAP brand name may cause some issues to sponsors.
How about the recording company's contract?
SMAP's last single was "Otherside / Ai ga tomaru made wa" in September 2015. Their exclusive recording contract is with Victor Entertainment. Although it looks unlikely that the group will release a new CD, there may be a 25th anniversary best hits release after all.
What will happen to SMAP's designation as the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics Supporter?
With the group heading into history, there is no way that the five of them can continue to fulfill their commitments as the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics Supporter. According to Nikkansports, Johnny's Jimusho had updated the Nippon Zaidan Paralympic Support Centre about SMAP's current situation and plans ahead since the saga first broke in January so there were no immediate plans to replace them as supporters. However, when the decision to disband was formally made on 11 August, the agency informed the support centre who had accepted the request to relieve the group of the supporter's designation.
The support centre made an official announcement on 14 August through its official website to confirm the news and that there are no immediate plans on who to choose as SMAP's replacement. The centre expressed its intention to respect the wishes for the members and said that they respected the group for their 25-year-long career. Although it had been a short time since they started working together, the centre expressed their thanks to the members for their help to date.
Will they appear on the NHK Kouhaku Utagassen for their last group performance?
Conflicting accounts in this regard:
Nikkansports says that it is likely because the group had already appeared 23 times to date so should end things on this programme.
Sponichi says that it is unlikely for SMAP to appear on Kouhaku since they are already so averse to the idea of working together that they skipped all the summer music programmes which they used to appear on. Besides, the group could not even come to an agreement on holding the 25th anniversary concerts for fans so it was impossible for them to come together for Kouhaku. It was suggested that KinKi Kids could be roped in this year to make their debut appearance on Kouhaku so as to fill the void left behind by SMAP. However, there are still four months till the end of the year so there may be hope that SMAP might end their career on Kouhaku after all.
What did Johnny-san do to prevent the break-up?
According to Nikkansports, he had tried to meet the members repeatedly since May to salvage the situation. Insiders in the agency said that even though Johnny-san is one with initiative, they had never seen him so enthusiastic about meeting his artistes. Besides talking in the presence of other management members, Johnny-san was also said to have met up with SMAP members for one-to-one discussions. Even when it was not possible to meet up, he tried to talk to them over the phone. However, because he was not used to operating a smartphone and already 84 years old this year, there were times when he made calls to the wrong people such as calling up KinKi Kids' Domoto Tsuyoshi instead of Kusanagi Tsuyoshi since they both have the same Kanji character in their first names. Upon hearing on 11 August that the decision to disband was final, Johnny-san expressed his disappointment. Nonetheless, he is said to have accepted the situation and has voiced his support for the members even though the group ceases to exist.
What is SMAP's former manager doing now and will the members leave to join her?
According to Sponichi, SMAP's former manager is currently preparing to start a business unrelated to showbiz in China. It is said that she is no longer in contact with the members and will not make changes to her business plans even if the group is going to disband.
Any comments from the members after the announcement?
Katori appeared in the live broadcast of TV Asahi variety show "SmaSTATION!!" shown on 13 August but did not mention anything about the disband.
Likewise, Nakai who appeared in his Nippon Housou radio show "Nakai Masahiro no Some girl, SMAP", did not say anything about the topic too but talked about him turning 44 years old on 18 August and that this was the last broadcast as a 43-year-old. When he talked about what plans he might have as a 44-year-old, he simply commented that he doesn't know what the year ahead would turn out for him and that it probably won't be smoothsailing or full of good things only.
As for Kusanagi and Katori's radio show "SMAP POWER SPLASH" on bayfm broadcast on 14 August, an announcement was played at the start which indicated that this particular episode was pre-recorded on 3 August.
When Nakai appeared as the MC for TBS's coverage of the female marathon race and men's golf competition at 7pm on 14 August, he did not mention anything about SMAP's disband and simply asked the viewers to stay with them for the 9-hour programme until 4am.
So what happens to the SMAP fanclub?
According to Yomiuri Hochi, an email was sent to the members of the SMAP fanclub at 7am on 14 August to announce the disbanding. The messages from SMAP members were also published on the fanclub's website.
In the email which began by apologising for the sudden announcement and thanking the fans for their support of SMAP so far, it was mentioned that the agency would stop receiving new applications for SMAP's fanclub membership with effect from 14 August. All annual subscriptions (JPY 4,000 each) will be refunded to members progressively once the details are finalised. In addition, since the members will be going solo from next year, it is said that the agency is deciding how to allow fans to continue supporting their favourite artistes which suggests that individual fanclubs may be set up for the SMAP members. Previously, after Yamashita Tomohisa left his group NEWS, he had a personal fanclub set up.
Meanwhile, the latest issue of the SMAP fanclub newsletter i.e. Vol.118 will be sent to the fanclub members as planned even though it was produced before the disbandment decision was made. Despite the fact that the content in the newsletter does not match the current circumstances anymore, as it takes more than a month for the newsletter to be produced, printed and sent, the agency decided to send out these newsletters to fans instead of withdrawing them.
In addition, the 25th anniversary gift scheduled to be sent to fanclub members in the middle of September will still be dispatched as planned.