That Johnny Kitagawa has long faced extremely credible allegations of being a sexual predator and pedophile isn’t anything new to those who weren’t burying their heads in the sand, and yet even upon his death and afterward, it’s also true that it continued to be more of an unspoken truth than something acknowledged and confronted widely. Well, for whatever reason, the BBC recently did a documentary on that history, called Predator: The Secret Scandal Of J-Pop.
Johnny Kitagawa’s legendary male-only talent agency trained young boys to become superstars. But for over 50 years, Japan has kept Kitagawa’s dark secret – a long history of allegations of sexual abuse, made by boys in his agency. Even after the music mogul’s death in 2019, the Japanese media remained largely silent. Why?
Journalist Mobeen Azhar explores the suffocating reality of being a J-pop idol and the influence that Kitagawa had on the media, and exposes the brutal consequences of turning a blind eye.
I haven’t found a way to (legally) watch the documentary if you don’t live in the UK, however, they also have an accompanying article, which is arguably the better option anyway.
Overall, it’s far from a perfect documentary, as it’s full of cringe-worthy establishing shots and commentary, and the reactions to his victims and their mentalities is almost offensive and insensitive. Additionally, it spends a lot of time covering things that have been public for decades now, and that you’d probably know if you read even a little bit. However, there is also some new ground broken here, specifically two victims that I don’t think have spoken out before.
Hayashi (not his real name) was 15 years old when he sent his CV to Johnny & Associates. His first impression of Kitagawa, who he met at his audition, was that he was “kind and considerate”. But things quickly turned.
Hayashi has never spoken publicly about his experiences before and is understandably nervous about recounting his ordeal.
Just a week after the first meeting, Hayashi was invited to stay at one of Kitagawa’s homes, known as “the dormitory” because so many boys would sleep over. “After a while Johnny told me, ‘Go and have a bath.’ He washed my whole body, like I was a doll,” he says.
Visibly shaken, he recalls Kitagawa then performing oral sex on him.
Hayashi told us the abuse happened on a separate occasion too. He says it was clear the other boys knew what was going on.
“They all told me, ‘You have to put up with it or you won’t succeed.’ No-one around me had quit. Johnny was the only adult. So it wasn’t a situation where we could talk to anyone.”
As an adult, Hayashi believes this quiet acceptance was partly tied up with the boys’ dreams of success.
“The boys that succeeded, thanks to Johnny, their lives changed the moment they entered the agency. I think they are very grateful. That’s a different thing from those sex crimes. I have only lived in Japan and have thought it was a great country. But maybe I’m wrong.”
Ryu joined Johnny & Associates in 2002 and was a backing dancer for 10 years. Like Hayashi, he has never spoken about his experiences publicly before.
“When I went to the bedroom Johnny came in and said something like, ‘You’ve been so busy. I’ll give you a massage.’ He started from my shoulders and gradually went downwards. At a certain point it went too far and I said, ‘Don’t do any more.’ He said, ‘Sorry, sorry’ and went to a different room.” Ryu was 16 at the time. Kitagawa was in his seventies.
Today, as an adult, Ryu does not condemn Kitagawa. “I don’t dislike Johnny. I love him. Johnny was really a wonderful person and I owe a lot to him. I still think that we were treated with great love. It wasn’t such a big problem for me, which is probably why I can smile and talk about it now.”
Two other Juniors were spoken to as well, one who has written about Kitagawa predatory behavior and one who denies anything. One brushed off the allegations by reasoning that if he had done something wrong he wouldn’t be so successful/supported, while the other said that if he was given the chance he would’ve accepted Johnny’s advances.
Yeah, the effects of grooming are disgusting.
The documentary also goes deep into the Shukan Bunshun article that ended up establishing the credibility to all the rumors (via court admissions) and how it was swept under the rug for the most part. Though as others have pointed out, the allegations go back to the very start of the company. If you weren’t familiar with that part of the saga, it’s as good a time as any to read up on that as well.
Anyway, it’s true that many fans of J-pop were already aware of Johnny’s predatory and abusive history, and I get this documentary in itself is unlikely to change much. However, given that this part of his legacy was largely unacted upon and unpublicized while he was still alive, it’s hard to argue with any attempt that forces a wider audience to confront the reality of the horrific shit that he did and that he built his empire on.