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Entertainment mogul Johnny Kitagawa tapped instinct in scouting young talent: author

This photo shows the book "Ino no Otoko Johnny Kitagawa" (Johnny Kitagawa, man of unusual talent), authored by Hiroshi Kosuga and published by Tokuma Shoten.

TOKYO -- Johnny Kitagawa, president of major entertainment agency Johnny & Associates Inc., who passed away on July 9 at age 87, relied mostly on his instinct in recruiting young new talent that his agency nurtured to stardom, an author who followed the music mogul for decades said.

Hiroshi Kosuga, the author of "Ino no Otoko Johnny Kitagawa" (Johnny Kitagawa, man of unusual talent), has covered the talent agency for about 50 years since its establishment, following the company as it churned out a variety of boy bands that took the nation by storm, from Four Leaves and the Tanokin Trio to Shibugakitai, Hikaru Genji, SMAP and Arashi.

Hiroshi Kosuga (Mainichi/Hiroki Sasamoto)

"His goal in life was to embody a unique world through musicals," Kosuga said of Kitagawa during an interview with the Mainichi Shimbun. "His life was all about creating and nurturing idol groups, and this was part of his process of filling in the pieces of the musical picture. I observed him over some 50 years, and his stance remained absolutely unchanged, which is impressive."

Kitagawa established Johnny & Associates Inc. in 1962, initially renting a space at major talent agency Watanabe Productions Co., and launched a male band named Johnny's, comprising four boys who were members of his baseball team. He later entrusted the management of the agency to his elder sister, Mary Kitagawa, and dedicated himself to cultivating young entertainers.

One day, Kosuga was allowed to be present at an audition to discover new talent. He recalls Kitagawa busily working at the venue, arranging chairs and handing out cokes to boys who complained of thirst. The audition ended without having the boys dance or sing, but just by checking on their regular appearance and manners. When one boy complained about this, Kitagawa told him, "We don't screen your singing and dancing in advance. Only those who are contacted by me will go through those tests at a later date."

So what points did Kitagawa particularly focus on when he scouted new talent? Kosuga quoted Kitagawa as citing their "smiles," "consideration for others" and "politeness." However, Kitagawa also told the author that the question at the top of his mind as he singled out the boys was whether he could accept their personalities in their entirety. Although Kitagawa attached weight to their smiles, he revealed that he mostly relied on his own instinct in finding new stars.

Kitagawa also divulged to Kosuga, "Their courtesy and characters won't change even if I instruct them. Their parents' education at home is what counts in forming those qualities."

This comment supports Kitagawa's reputation of being strict about teaching manners to budding entertainers while they were being trained to debut as Johnny's Junior members. The mogul apparently also believed the character of each member was essential in prolonging the activities of their groups.

For Kitagawa, the boys he was fostering were his "comrades" and "children" to be invited into a musical world he was longing to achieve.

"Even if I found talent in the subjects (boys), I wouldn't be interested in them if I didn't like them," Kitagawa once told Kosuga.

In a statement released by Johnny & Associates Inc. reporting Kitagawa's death, the agency described its performers as "entertainers who are the children of Johnny (Kitagawa)."

Referring to the agency's name in Japanese, which reads "Johnny's Jimusho," Kosuga said, "It means the talents are Johnny's SMAP and Johnny's Arashi."

Kitagawa's strategy of welcoming the boys he selected as members of "Johnny's family," fostering them as Johnny's Junior members, and having only members he saw fit to form a group make their debut remained consistent from the very early days of Johnny & Associates.

Now that Kitagawa is not here, his niece, Julie Keiko Fujishima, the eldest daughter of Mary Kitagawa, will apparently take over the management of the agency while Hideaki Takizawa, formerly a member of the pop duo Tackey & Tsubasa, is believed to be engaged in cultivating young talent.

Kosuga, however, claims that there is no one who can succeed Kitagawa.

"Johnny Kitagawa is one of a kind. He was literally a man of unusual talent. Takizawa wouldn't be able to become like Johnny, nor could his niece Julie follow in his footsteps. They would have to create a totally new agency from scratch," he said.

(Japanese original by Hiroki Sasamoto, Cultural News Department)

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