Normalizing Sex

Famed directors denounce sexual abuse in Japanese filmmaking

A #MeToo crisis is raging in the Japanese film industry. A petition signed by top names, including Cannes’ Palme d’Or-winning Hirokazu Kore-eda, Cannes Jury Prize winner Koji Fukada and Under The Sky director Miwa Nishikawa, expresses outrage over sexual abuse.

“These acts are unforgivable,” the statement said, calling for such acts to stop.

The outburst comes after the premiere of two films directed by Hideo Sakaki, Mitsugetsu and Hazard Lamp, was suddenly cancelled after a Japanese magazine, Shukan Bunshun, reported allegations of sexual violence from several women.

His production company denounced sexual abuse and announced Sakaki had departed. Sakaki has apologised in a statement to fans and co-workers for the cancellations, while noting inaccuracies in the report, which he didn't specify.

Actor Houka Kinoshita has paused his career after two women accused him of demanding sex against their will a decade ago. A TV drama series aired earlier this week with all his scenes cut.

“I cannot appear before you and continue with my entertainment work after what I have done, and I will be taking a leave for an indefinite period,” Kinoshita said in a statement.

Allegations have been made, too, against Shion Sono, a director who's been honoured at the Berlin International Film Festival.

Sono, who directed Himizu and Cold Fish, apologised but stopped short of acknowledging guilt, and instead vowed to take “some kind of action” against Shukan Josei, the magazine that reported allegations he had sexually abused several women.

“I would like to reexamine my ways, taking to heart the lack of awareness I have shown as a director, and for those working around me,” Sono said in a statement this week through his office.

“But there are many assertions in the report that go contrary to the facts.”

It may not be shocking that #MeToo is rampant in a nation ranking at No 120 in gender equality, far behind other Group of Seven industrialised nations, according to a study by the World Economic Forum.

Still, the timing, coming when Drive My Car, directed by Ryusuke Hamaguchi, just won its first Oscar for Japan in 13 years, couldn’t be more tragic.

The directors signing the petition and others say the problem is a longtime, open secret in the filmmaking world. What’s changing is that victims are speaking up, rather than suffering in silence.

When movie jobs are so competitive to start with, including assistant directing, editing, costuming, translating, producing, not just acting, the problem runs deep.

The statement by Kore-eda and other directors decrying sexual assaults stressed films cannot be made alone and required a team.

That means empowered people must respect everyone as partners, the directors said.

“We directors, regardless of individual abilities or personalities, especially, must unfailingly realize that our position of directing other people inherently carries with it a deep violence, and there lies that potential making it too easy for us to victimize others because of our overwhelming power,” they said.

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