A scorched-earth fix to a celebrity scandal

15 Jun


Scandals can send a celebrity’s career careening off a cliff. This is especially true in Japan, where minor violations of the social code can lead to major personal repercussions.

But even by Japanese standards the fallout from the June 2 arrest of actor Ryo Hashizume, 30, for stimulants possession was extreme. On June 5, the production committee for “Tatara Samurai,” a period drama in which Hashizume has a supporting role, decided to withdraw the film from 280 theaters, effective June 9. (The decision has since been altered — more on that in a bit.)

On June 7, Ryo’s far more famous father, 75-year-old Isao Hashizume, issued a statement to the media apologizing for “causing a lot of trouble and worry for everyone due to the incident involving my son Ryo.” He added that “(My son) is an adult, so I want him to properly deal with this on his own.”

The elder Hashizume’s response generally followed the script for celebrity parents of erring offspring. An apology is considered de rigueur in such cases, though Isao escaped without making the sort of abject public mea culpa performed by actress Yoshiko Mita in 1998 when her 18-year-old son Yuya was arrested on a similar stimulants charge. Also Isao’s own career has not yet been touched by the scandal, whereas Yoshiko took a 10-month jishuku (self-imposed) break from work, while losing several lucrative TV commercial gigs.

The difference? Yoshiko’s son was still a minor at the time of his arrest and she was slow to express contrition. Furthermore, as the mother she was judged more harshly. By contrast, “Beat” Takeshi Kitano, a director and comedian who is no stranger to scandal himself, leaped to Isao’s defense on a TBS news show, saying “(Ryo) is 30 — he’s an adult so his father is not responsible.”

So why is the movie being punished, since its cast and crew are also not to blame for Hashizume’s drug habit? Again, this is not a Japanese film industry first. Following the August 1993 arrest of director Haruki Kadokawa on a cocaine smuggling charge, distributor Shochiku pulled Kadokawa’s “Rex: A Dinosaur’s Story,” from cinemas. Also, when director Toshiaki Toyoda was busted for possession of stimulants in August 2005, distributor Asmik Ace debated whether to delay or stop the release of Toyoda’s drama “Hanging Garden,” but finally decided to go ahead with the opening.

Still, Kadokawa and Toyoda were directors; Hashizume is only a bit player. Since the execs behind “Tatara Samurai” offered no explanation for their action, everyone from industry insiders to ordinary fans had been speculating and commenting on what seemed to be excessive group punishment. Speaking on Tokyo MX on June 7, pop singer Piko opined that “(A film) is not the same as a TV drama that appears in people’s homes. Also (Hashizume) does not play a lead role and the movie does not belong to him alone, it’s too strict.”

“Tatara Samurai” struggled at the box office: Opening May 20, it ranked at No. 10 for the weekend then dropped out of the top 10 altogether. Since the film reportedly cost ¥1 billion to make, its backers stand to lose a bundle. No wonder they’ve changed course and will re-open the film in 23 cinemas nationwide on June 17 — minus Hashizume’s scenes. Opponents of censorship, including those of the “self” variety practiced in this case, may just stay away anyway.

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