Japan Fair Trade Commission Investigates Unfair Entertainment Contracts: 4 Case Studies

Fumika Shimizu vs. LesPros

In February, 22-year-old rising actress Fumika Shimizu was reportedly retiring from the entertainment business to devote herself to Happy Science, the new-age religion widely regarded as a cult of which she has been a member of since she was a child.

On February 17, Happy Science wrote:

Based on her religious values, she had pursued the show business out of benevolence and compassion to “bring joy and encouragement to people who are watching.” However, recently, despite her strong wish to appear in humanitarian films, the number of work that did not adhere to her beliefs increased such as roles in which the character consumes human flesh, etc. Hence, she had been trapped in fear and conflict that her agency would substantially deprive her of work if she declined these roles. As a result of working in a sort of “servitude” environment (which is forbidden by the Constitution of Japan) where she had no freedom to choose her work, her physical and mental health deteriorated. This February, she received diagnosis from her doctor that she must stop working, and is currently suspending all her entertainment business.

Compiling information from various interviews Shimizu conducted talking about her experiences, JFTC found alarming issues regarding her unfair working conditions.

It has been revealed that after she was scouted in 2007 following her graduation from elementary school, she worked 7 days a week and only slept an average of 3 hours a night. Additionally, she was only being paid around 50,000 yen—$550 USD—monthly (though this is number presumably after lodging and food expenses). As a result, she could not afford train fee to visit her family and was forced to walk or hitch-hike home.

When her father questioned the company about her low wage, the agency refused to give her any new work.

The agency forced her to wear revealing clothing for photo shoots and handshake events, and as a result, it brought upon stress that gave her suicidal thoughts and homicidal ideas about killing the agency’s chairman.

Despite LesPro announcing her retirement from the entertainment industry, as of May 2017, she is currently working under Happy Science-affiliated Ari Production and has changed her stage name to Yoshiko Sengen.

SMAP vs. Johnny & Associates

In January 2016, the Japanese media reported that SMAP members Masahiro Nakai, Goro Inagaki, Tsuyoshi Kusanagi, and Shingo Katori and their manager were in talks to leave Johnny & Associates agency, which would inevitably lead to the disbandment of SMAP.

It is speculated that the deal between SMAP members and their new agency was intervened by Johnny & Associates, swiftly halting their plans.

The timeline:

In the Japanese music industry, it is speculated there is a custom of a 2-year ban: artists leaving their agency are banned from future activities for 2 years unless given consent by their original agency.

Makiko Esumi vs. Ken-on

In March 2014, former Japanese model and actress Makiko Esumi left her agency Ken-on.

Later that year, the actress became indirectly involved in a major scandal caused by her then-manager—still working with Ken-on—who was caught spraying “idiot” and “stupid son” graffiti on the newly built house of former baseball star and actor Kazushige Nagashima. Tabloids reported that Esumi had ordered the manager to commit the vandalism, but it was later revealed that she  was not involved.

It was later revealed the scandal was a lie and the ex-manager apologized, but her name had already been tarnished with that and claims of extramarital affairs that were also deemed untrue.

Esumi announced her retirement from the entertainment industry in January of this year to “reflect on herself” and her family, but it’s more likely it’s a result of no longer being able to legally proceed with her career.

Namie Amuro vs. Rising Production

In August 2014, rumors began to swirl of Namie leaving her agency Rising Production—the management agency formerly known as Vision Factory of which she began her career with in the mid 90s with.

In July 2014, Amuro was reportedly in a feud with Rising Production after they submitted trademark registration for her name “Namie Amuro” as a means to squash any attempts to continue her career outside of working with them. The request was ultimately rejected as she did not give consent.

In January 2015, Amuro officially left Rising Production. It was soon announced she signed a new contract with Avex label Dimension Point, who would be in charge of her management. It was then revealed that she had formed her own private management agency stella88—a very rare case of an artist being able to immediately resume activities following their departure from previous management.

Since then, there have been rumors of Amuro not being able to appear on TV, as she has only released music and done concert tours.

Bonus: Rena Nounen vs. LesPros

In addition to the four cases that the JFTC identified in this preliminary report, there has been recent gossip about model and actress Rena Nounen.

Nounen’s rise to fame was nothing less of extraordinary. She began her career as a fashion model in 2006, and made her big break in 2012 when she was chosen to play the heroine in the 2013 NHK Asadora “Amachan“, a ratings success that earned an average 20.6% rating over the span of the series. In 2013, Nounen served as the “PR Ambassador” for the 2013 “Kohaku Uta Gassen” and was a featured performer on the show, singing and leading the band.

It was speculated that Nounen had troubles with her agency, which is said to explain the lack of work in the past two years. Apparently she started her own private company against her agency’s rules, and the breach of contract may result in further legal actions and will probably involve a large settlement. During the period of inactivity, it was reported that she received compensation from her agency.

As reported earlier this year in the May 23 issue of Shukan Josei, Nounen’s contract with LesPros expired in June and was followed with rumors about retirement from the industry as a de-facto.

In July 2016, one month after her contract with LesPros expired, Nounen made contact with the media for the first time and it was announced that she changed her stage name to “Non”. This name change is said to be because LesPros will not allow her to use her own time. This is different from Namie’s contract dispute and name use as LesPros already made arrangements for the rights to her name prior.

In a lawsuit since April 2015, LesPros is asking Nounen to renew her contract for another 15 months to make amends for the time lost. LesPros maintains her presence as “Rena Nounen” on their official website despite inactivity.

(via JFTC, NHK, GirlsChannel, OneHallyu, PanTip, Tip: MrRider)

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This post is tagged with gossip, meaning it contains information that is purely speculation.

We post about gossip for the sake of discussing topics that are not often talked about on this site and how the Japanese entertainment industry interprets certain issues within the context of their culture. Plus, it's fun.