Decision comes one month after admission of sexual abuse by founder.

Following admissions that its late founder Johnny Kitagawa sexually abused performers represented by the company, the public image of Japanese talent agency Johnny & Associates is at an all-time low. Though Kitagawa passed away four years ago, it’s going to be very difficult for the current management to distance itself from his actions when the company itself is named after the posthumously disgraced show biz producer and its performers are collectively referred to as “Johnny’s” members.

Over the last month, major company over major company has announced it will be severing its advertising/endorsement deals with Johnny & Associates. It’s perhaps the largest reversal of brand goodwill ever in Japan, and the agency itself has apparently reached the conclusion that it’s something it’ll never be able to recover from, as Johnny & Associates has announced that it’s changing its name, and also that the company will be dismantled.

Speaking at a press conference in Tokyo on October 2, Noriyuki Higashiyama, Johnny & Associates’ president as of last month, said that the company will be changing its name to Smile Up, effective October 17. However, Smile Up will not be engaging in any talent development or promotion. Instead, Smile Up’s operations will be limited to making amends for victims of Kitagawa’s abuse. “[Johnny & Associates/Smile Up] will be entirely withdrawing from talent management and development,” said Higashiyama. “We will be dismantling [Johnny & Associates] ourselves, carrying out compensation to victims until the end, and opening up a [new] future with a new company. This is our vision. Our current company will only be involved in providing compensation.”

It’s sort of buried in the middle of Higashiyama’s statement, but the name change doesn’t mean that everyone on the Johnny & Associates management and performer teams is getting out of show business. Instead, the plan is to create a new talent agency with a new name. Ostensibly the aim would be to shift as many Johnny’s performers to this new agency, which would then hopefully distance the new agency enough from the Johnny’s name to earn it sufficient faith from sponsors for endorsement deals to start coming in again.

Suggestions for the name of the new talent agency will be solicited from the current Johnny’s fan clubs. A timetable for the agency’s opening has not been set, but given that the process of compensating victims is likely to be a long and legally complex one, with Higashiyama saying 325 people having seeking compensation so far, odds are the new agency will be operating before Smile Up closes.

It’s unknown which Johnny’s executives will transition to the new company, though Higashiyama’s choice of words makes it sound like he’ll be part of the new agency’s management, and Yoshihiko Inohara, president of Johnny & Associates subsidiary Johnny’s Island, was present at the press conference as well. Notably absent from the event, though, was Julie Keiko Fujishima, Kitagawa’s niece who took over as Johnny & Associates president following her uncle’s death. Fujishima stepped down as president last month and says she plans to resign from her position as one of the company’s representative directors once she has been able to properly facilitate victim compensation. Her not being present for the announcement of such a large turning point for the organization seems to suggest that she won’t be part of the new talent agency.

Considering that the company’s focus will be strictly on making amends to victims, “Smile Up” feels unnecessarily cheery, and a dry, more business-like name might have been the wiser choice. Still, a name change of some sort is likely for the best, as any contrition for Kitagawa’s actions would feel watered down while the company is still named in his honor.

Source: News via Yahoo! Japan News, NHK News Web
Top image: Pakutaso
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