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Editorial: Japan's entertainment industry needs to give abused workers a voice

There has been a spate of cases in which women have come forward to accuse film directors and famous actors in Japan of sexually abusing them, and the effects of such moves are spreading, with the release of films by one director being canceled.

    It is a state of affairs that the industry in Japan as a whole should reflect seriously on. These problems must not be dismissed as matters pertaining to individuals.

    Calls to rectify the situation have also emerged from within the industry. Directors including Cannes' Palme d'Or winner Hirokazu Kore-eda and Nobuhiro Suwa released statements saying that they "oppose all forms of violence taking advantage of a director's position."

    "Unfortunately, this is something that has been repeated from long ago," the directors pointed out. Forming a background to this are structural problems in the entertainment industry.

    Many actors and staff members who support films are freelancers. The producers and directors who give them work are therefore in an overwhelmingly dominant position. The same structure can be seen in television and the theater. Violence and intimidating behavior abusing one's position in the industry are unforgivable.

    In the United States in 2017, a major Hollywood producer was accused of summoning actors on the pretext of holding meetings regarding their casting, and then forcing them to perform sexual acts. This sparked a social movement calling for the elimination of sexual violence.

    In South Korea, too, a prominent poet, film director and theater director were accused of sexual abuse. But such movements have not spread in the industry in Japan.

    It is difficult for a minority group to raise its voice. Even if a person musters up the courage to make an accusation, there is a risk that they could be slandered or hung out to dry by the industry.

    Another issue is that the nerve center of Japan's film industry is dominated by men. According to a survey by the nonprofit Japanese Film Project organization, just 3% of live-action Japanese films that were released between 2000 and 2020 with box-office revenues of at least 1 billion yen (about $7.96 million) were directed by women.

    To prevent people from falling victim, it is necessary to create a system where the people involved can raise their voices without hesitation. And to make it easier for people to make claims, the industry urgently needs to set up a consultation service and establish measures to prevent harassment.

    There have been some cases in film and TV drama productions and in theatrical groups where training has been conducted to prevent such abuse.

    The Agency for Cultural Affairs and the economy ministry are urging the establishment of working environments that allow freelancers to do their jobs with peace of mind, for example by providing written contracts that state their working conditions rather than mere verbal agreements.

    If the outdated industry structure is left unattended, it will not be possible to attract outstanding talent, meaning there will be no path to future development of Japan's show business world. The industry as a whole needs to reform its mindset.

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