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The Japanese entertainment industry may finally be having its #MeToo moment as a director and actor face sexual assault allegations from seven actresses, including claims they worked together in targeting young women.
The film Honeymoon (Mitsugetsu) had been due to hit screens today. But the sight of the director Hideo Sakaki, 51, promoting a film that deals with sexual abuse was apparently too much to take for women in the industry who allege they have been coerced into sex by him.
Four women came forward and spoke of their ordeals to Shukan Bunshun, a weekly magazine known for breaking a steady stream of celebrity and political stories. The magazine ran an article March 9 detailing the allegations dating back as far as 2011, and the release of Honeymoon was put on hold.
The women have yet to be named and it is unclear whether any legal action will be taken. Sakaki admitted to having sex with three of the women, claiming it was consensual, and denied having any kind of relationship with the fourth.
Since then, three more have made similar allegations against actor Houka Kinoshita, 58, a close friend of Sakaki’s who has appeared in seven of his films and acted with him in others. Some of the women allege the two collaborated in sexual coercion, introducing young women looking for a break in the industry to each other. Some said they were abused by both of the men.
One of the women says Kinoshita assaulted her at an acting workshop and then forced her into sex afterward.
A male director later said to her, “You’re part of the ‘Houka ranch’ aren’t you? Kinoshita says he had you,” according to the woman.
Some of the women say they were told that they wouldn’t succeed in the industry if they couldn’t put up with such behavior and that they would be introduced to directors if they complied.
Sakaki is known as an actor and director, particularly for independent films. His wife, singer Izumi Sakaki, issued a statement March 18 saying, “I apologize to the women whose hearts and bodies were hurt by Hideo Sakaki in my house. I’m so sorry. I am trying to end our marriage.”
On the same day, Japanese directors including Oscar-winner Hirokazu Koreeda and Miwa Nishikawa put out a statement condemning directors who abuse their power in the industry and praising the courage of the women who have come forward.
Kinoshita is known for his many supporting roles on the big and small screens over the last four decades. He has yet to respond to the allegations, which Shukan Bunshun ran Thursday.
Kinoshita was also well known as a celebrity ambassador for the Japan Marrow Donor Program, appearing in television campaigns for the organization, which has now removed videos and messages featuring the actor from its website.
Japan has a poor record on sexual equality, ranking 120th out of 156 nations last year in the Gender Gap Report from the World Economic Forum. Female bosses, film directors and senior politicians remain a rarity, while women assaulted or stalked by men often have a hard time getting police to act on complaints.
The #MeToo movement largely passed Japan by when it gained traction in many countries in 2017 and 2018.
It is highly unlikely that the seven women who have come forward this month are the only ones to have been subjected to abuse in the entertainment industry. For the floodgates to open, it may take a high-profile industry figure to speak publicly about their experiences.
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