Thursday, January 14, 2016

Day 2 of the SMAP saga continues...

As Day 2 of the SMAP saga continues, more pieces of the puzzle are gradually revealed to give a slightly clearer picture on what happened behind the scenes. However, the members have yet to break their silence which shows that the negotiations of whether to stay or go are still going on thus that's probably why they can't or won't speak unless there's an outcome. We'll just have to wait till the final resolution is out.

- Nikkansports which broke the news first yesterday, has a series of follow-up reports today. In this article and another, they talked about how Johnny's Jimusho does not try to retain people who have indicated that they want to leave the agency and jump ship elsewhere. Past examples include Go Hiromi, Tahara Toshihiko and members of Hikaru GENJI. Note that there have been exceptions like Sakamoto Masayuki from V6 who quit once before the group's debut and came back but his situation was different in that he did not move to another agency and had actually quit to work in an office job as he was unsure about his future as an artiste then. However, there has never been a past instance where someone wants to leave the agency and go elsewhere and yet can return afterwards.

In view of the fact that the four members had indicated that they wanted to leave, the agency is seen as unlikely to make an exception in trying to stop them. When you consider the fact that in the past, the agency had done a lot to help them restore their images when some of them got into trouble i.e. Inagaki and Kusanagi, their actions now were seen as a betrayal thus further reducing the agency's willingness to go all out to keep them.

- Although the news reports had been very specific in naming the four members who wants to leave, it seems like the final verdict is not out because they have somewhat changed their minds about the decision.

In the beginning, Kimura was very clear about his intention to stay while the others decided to go. It was said that Kimura had sought advice from his fellow celebrity friends before he decided and a key factor was his wife Kudo Shizuka persuading him to stay. In this Sankei Sports article, it was mentioned that Kudo felt that they shouldn't betray Mary who had helped them when they got married in 2000. There was a lot of media attention on the couple then and Mary had helped to suppress excessive coverage on them during that period. In addition, they also have their two daughters aged 14 and 12 to think of. In the end, Kimura decided to stay on.

On the other hand, in this Sports Hochi article, it was said that Nakai reacted especially strongly to the criticism by Mary in the interview last January that SMAP cannot dance. No doubt Nakai may not be so good at singing, his dancing is viewed one of the best within Johnny's, if not the best in SMAP. As such, that remark by Mary was a huge blow to his ego thus making him very insistent about leaving.

However, with rumours now swirling around that Iijima Michi may not jump ship to another agency and that she may be leaving showbiz altogether, this is certainly not good news for the four who made their intentions known early. Without the backing of Johnny's Jimusho nor their longtime mentor, the four members will face a difficult path ahead. It is believed that even if they are to go back on their word and say that they wish to stay on, the agency might not be willing to take them back.

Before the coup actually took place from August, it was said that Iijima had tried to convince the members that they could still work as usual even after leaving the agency. It was believed that SMAP's appearances on NHK's long-running music show "Nodo Jiman" which celebrated its 70th anniversary last year was part of the plan to ensure that SMAP could work freely on NHK shows. As compared to the private networks which may be intimidated by Mary's influence, NHK as a national broadcaster was less vulnerable to such pressure. In addition, Iijima's secret plan to let SMAP be the hosts of last year's Kouhaku without getting the approval of Johnny-san, Mary and Julie was seen as the final blow which soured their relationship. As seen from the fact that Iijima allowed SMAP to take on the supporter role for the 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Games despite the uncertain future facing them due to the coup, she was seemingly very confident about her plans even though the Games which is an international event are a good four years away.

Another version of why Iijima Michi cannot bring the four members to another agency or set up an agency on her own was mentioned in this Sponichi Annex article. It was said that the relationship between both sides was so bad that they needed to get lawyers to be present during the negotiation last September. Iijima had the intention to bring the artistes to a new agency but this was a big taboo in showbiz. Although it was rumoured that she had struck a deal with another big-name agency K-DASH which manages artistes such as Watanabe Ken, Takahashi Katsunori and Sakaguchi Kenji, this was said to have fallen through in the end. As such, nobody wanted to support her in this move thus resulting in her failed coup.

Although it was mentioned previously that Iijima had quit from J Dream earlier on her own accord, the background story was that there should have been a J Dream shareholders meeting held on 12 January which SMAP also had to attend as shareholders. It was then that they would have announced the firing of Iijima from her director's post. However, due to her failed coup, she had to submit her resignation thus there was no need to proceed with the meeting in the end. In an attempt to end the saga, Iijima was said to have promised to leave showbiz after her resignation but even so, it might not help the four members who supported her in staying in the agency.

- As to why the members may not have spoken yesterday when the news broke, it looks like they were mostly off work on that day. Normally, the five of them will be filming for SMAPxSMAP on Wednesdays but this week's Wednesday happened to be their off-day.
Kimura was said to be in the outskirts of Kyoto filming his movie "Mugen no Junin". Katori is expected to be back on set for the filming of his new drama "Kazoku no Katachi" from 16 January while Inagaki is the midst of rehearsals for his stage play. Nakai is expected to be back in the studio for the filming of his variety show on 15 January. Kusanagi was the first to appear in public among his members this morning when he appeared in TV Asahi's morning programmes "Good! Morning" and "Hattori Shinichi Morning Show" to promote his new drama "Specialist 4". However, he didn't talk anything about the SMAP saga and simply bowed twice towards the camera at the end of his appearance on "Good! Morning".


Anonymous said...

This article is full of nonsense.

Chiaki said...

Hi Anonymous, given that there are too many articles reported on this issue, there are bound to be conflicting accounts of what happened. I've tried to provide as many sources as possible for the points raised by the media and stress that the actual situation may or may not be what has been reported thus far. This post merely collates what is circulating around so please don't get upset or angry over what's been written.

Rana said...

thank you, I hope you can translate more, I want to know what's Japan say about this big big big thing

Anonymous said...

thanks for translating smap articles. not their fan but I find it an interesting story. ganbaremasu!

André said...

I honestly don't believe that SMAP would have any difficulty going to another agency or that there is any chance of them being blacklisted. They are, by themselves, an institution and are probably bigger than 90% of the other Johny's put together. The financial blow of losing Nakai alone would be HUGE. I know how shady the J-ent world is and how Johnny's specifically is but it still makes absolutely no sense. They will be completely fine if they decide to leave.

Chiaki said...

Well, about the SMAP members leaving Johnny's and surviving as solo artistes, the issue is not so much about their ability, talent or profitability as an idol/artiste. It's the manner how they are supposedly leaving which has gone against the unwritten taboo in the Japanese entertainment scene. Generally, leaving an agency is not encouraged, what's more in this case, in a very unpleasant manner. Even when leaving under amicable circumstances, some artistes have to take a break off work for a period of time as part of the condition to allow the move. I vaguely remember that when Kanno Miho left her past agency to join Ken-On, she was sort of "missing" from dramas for one year which the media said was due to this block-out period. I suppose it works the same way in the corporate world where there are restrictions to join a competitor company.

Perhaps if all the members are to leave together to join another company, the situation might be slightly different. Perhaps if this move had been done 10 years ago, they might have more bargaining power than now. The way I see it, this coup came too late and probably was not as organised as comprehensively as possible to plug all gaps especially when considering that other than Nakai who has a flourishing career in the variety scene, you can't deny that the others used to be more successful than now. Being the tightly managed company it has always been, you can't expect Johnny's to show mercy to those who they view as having "betrayed" them. I wouldn't be surprised if they exert a lot of pressure on their working partners to block the leaving members from taking on work assignments. In addition, the agency would want to set an example to the other groups so that they won't attempt something similar in future. That's why the pressure facing them will be really something to reckon with and not to be easily dismissed.

In the long run, I think Nakai can probably make it on his own if rumours of him joining Yoshimoto Kogyo turn out to be true. Compared to singing, I think he suits the variety world more. Of course, he's quite good in acting but apparently he doesn't seem so comfortable with that at times. As such, he can probably focus on his niche area and make something out of it with Yoshimoto giving him the needed backing. Maybe for a year or so, his exposure might be affected for the time being. The other three may face slightly more uncertain futures with them being more involved in acting rather than variety. Dramas in particular aren't doing so well in recent years so that might add on to their woes. Unless you have a hit under your belt or move on to other genres such as indie movies or stage plays or musicals, it's going to be difficult for anyone to try to help them.

Much as I hope that they can stay together as SMAP, I also think that if the time has come to end things and that everyone is able to reach a mutually acceptable consensus, then by all means choose what you want and have to do. However, it would be a great pity to see whoever chooses to leave to slip into oblivion when the circumstances prove to be too harsh for any of them. It's going to be a long fight to stay afloat and age is not on their side. That's why I say that the coup might have been achievable if it was done at least a good 10 years ago.

Anonymous said...

I think it's the opposite. They have much more bargaining power now than they did a decade ago, even if they were more popular back then. That scenario you described above was really common in the 90s, even among hugely popular acts (i.e.: GLAY). However, nowadays, there's been cases of acts switching agency with almost no repercussion.

Furthermore, no matter how powerful Johnny's is, SMAP are still an institution by themselves and they have a long career, meaning they probably have formed meaningful bonds with A LOT of industries' bigwigs which certainly would protect them from any kind of backlash. Not to mention they are worth literally hundreds of millions of dollar so any agency would snatch them in seconds. Even with their shaken popularity, they are still top earners in CM deals and are among the most recognizable stars in the country. Any type of blackballing would immediately gain traction in the internet and among social media and it'd 100% reflect pretty badly on Johnny's so, yes, no matter how revengeful they are, I am pretty certain they wouldn't risk it.

Plus, for them to be blackballed, publishers and broadcasters would have to co-operate with the agency. And that's doubtful. First of all, canceling all SMAP-led shows would mean a loss in millions of dollars (especially Nakai's shows). And it's not only Nakai: Kusanagi has been garnering impressive ratings with his last dramas. SMAP members sells magazines (i.e.: them, individually or in group, being on An-An magazine cover every other week), they sell books. They sell basically anything. It's doubtful the whole Japanese cultural industry would risk billions of yen just so they could be loyal to Johnny's. Especially because a HUGE chunk of Johnny's media relevancy and loyalty was due to SMAP, above any other successful act they have in their roaster (except, of course, for Arashi).

At the end of the day, I am sure they'll be fine. There is no logistical way to eliminate them from Japanese media, it is simply impossible given how huge they are across the country. In the 90s, you could do this somewhat easily but now that social media has finally caught on in Japan that's unimaginable.

Besides, when you look at other cases of acts who were huge institutions leaving their agency, most of them were not harmed at all, even in the 90s: Mr. Children did it, Seiko Matsuda did it and, recently, Namie Amuro.

Obviously, the SMAP case is particular because they are a group and, solo, their strength might not be the same but still... I doubt Johnny's can do much.