Suicides by Japanese actor raise tough questions about COVID-19 stressors

A series of suicides in the Japanese entertainment world, including reality TV star Kimura Hana in May, actor Miura Haruma in July, and actresses Ashina Sei and Takeuchi Yuko in September, have raised questions not only about their tragedies. specific, but also on the conditions of Japanese society. overall that may have contributed to an upsurge in suicide deaths during the pandemic.

Matsubayashi Urara, who starred in Ogata Takaomi’s 2017 drama “The Hungry Lion,” understands the victim’s state of mind almost too well. Matsubayashi also produced and starred this year in “Kamata Prelude,” a four-part omnibus that examines sexual harassment in the Japanese film industry. “Just imagining the act of killing myself makes my legs tremble,” she said. Variety. “But I was seriously agonizing over the suicide and really thought about doing it.”

Matsubayashi says that when she imagines jumping from a high place, “I don’t think of the faces of family, friends and those who have helped me; I just want to escape from my current situation and find peace. I want people to take notice of me, congratulate me, care about me… This kind of desire has continued to grow in society isolated from the coronavirus crisis. “

The Japanese have long had an image in the West as accepting and even embracing suicide, with examples often cited being the samurai warriors and kamikaze pilots of World War II. The reality, however, is more complex, with their self-inflicted deaths often being forced rather than chosen.

In today’s Japan, the factors contributing to high suicide rates, by developed world standards, are varied, and in the case of celebrity suicides, the motivating factors can vary widely.

In the first category is the death of Kimura, who has become the target of violent attacks on social media following his on-air altercation in March with a male participant on the popular reality show “Terrace House” , which found worldwide audiences on Netflix. She posted the ‘I’m sorry’ message with her photo on Instagram and on May 23 tweeted that ‘I get almost 100 honest opinions every day and admit I hurt myself. Later that day, she died at the age of 22. Shortly after his death, the Fuji TV network canceled the show.

The suicides of Miura, Ashina and Takeuchi are more difficult to analyze. None left a note and all were in good physical health and professionally wanted at the time of their death.

But Takeuchi, who played a female Sherlock Holmes in the 2018 HBO series “Miss Sherlock”, had given birth to a baby boy in January, her first child with her second husband Taiki Takabayashi, whom she married in 2019. She had had a baby boy in January. also 14 years old. one year old son from a previous marriage. “She may have battled postpartum depression, which isn’t talked about enough in Japan, and new mothers aren’t getting enough support,” says Vickie Skorji, director of TELL Lifeline, a child-care helpline. Tokyo-based mental health.

There has been no media report of Takeuchi, Ashina, Miura or Kimura contacting any of the dozens of hotlines in Japan, or otherwise obtaining professional help, although privacy conditions may be a factor. .

“The stigma and shame of having a mental health problem is much higher in Japan than in many other developed countries, creating delays and barriers to getting treatment,” Skorji explains. “Everyone’s sanity is taking a hit right now, and the people in the entertainment industry are no different. Given that this is an industry already filled with high stressors and a lot of media attention, it’s no surprise that people have mental health issues. Add to that the COVID stressors, and the shame associated with getting support makes this group very vulnerable. “

Some in the industry felt that Miura, Ashina and Takeuchi lacked emotional support from their respective agencies to cope with the fame burden, which intensified during the pandemic. “They should be giving seminars on emotional care for talent managers,” an anonymous agency manager told entertainment news site Shukan Josei Prime (Women’s Weekly).

Flowers placed at a film location for “Terrace House” in Tokyo on May 25, in remembrance of Kimura Hana (Photo: AP)

“I think talents are very stressed, especially if they represent a corporate image, with sponsor fees being a big part of their income,” says Miyuki Takamatsu, Founder and CEO of Free Stone Productions, a relationship leader public and sales. business. “They are not able to express themselves freely in their personal lives or in their opinions, political and otherwise. And the basic structure of the talent management business is not for talent. “

But Imaizumi Rikiya, a director who worked with Miura on the 2019 romantic drama “Little Nights, Little Love,” says talent managers and other staff he knows from Amuse, Stardust and others agencies “prioritize emotional care – they’re all the right people.

“They pay special attention to their relationship with talent,” he adds, while not advancing any theory about Miura’s death.

Meanwhile, the Japanese government has played an active role in reducing the number of suicides in recent years. A nine-step plan, announced in 2007, aimed to reduce the suicide rate by 20% by 2017, still high by international standards.

This progress has been threatened by the pandemic, as Japan’s unemployment rate rose from 2.4% in February to a 21-year high of 3% in June. Nevertheless, from February to June, the number of suicides fell by 10% compared to the same period last year, according to statistics compiled by the Institute for Research on Economy, Trade and Industry (RIETI ). In August, however, suicides increased by 246 month-on-month to 1,849, with women accounting for 75% of the increase.

Analyzing these figures, Fujii Kazuhiko, researcher at RIETI, notes that women have borne the brunt of job losses due to a pandemic in the huge personal services sector. In addition, by being forced to spend more time at home, they suffered more domestic violence. “Women continue to find themselves in situations where stress easily builds up,” Fujii wrote in a column for the Business Journal website.

Meanwhile, TELL and dozens of other mental health helplines, which are staffed by volunteers while chronically underfunded, have been overwhelmed by increasing demand for their services.

According to an April survey of 55 organizations engaged in suicide prevention activities by the government-backed Japan Suicide Countermeasures Promotion Center, 40% said they had suspended their activities, while 43.6% said they had to reduce their hours and staff due to the coronavirus.

Given the lack of industry and social support for mental health issues, the way to survive in the present age, says actor-producer Matsubayashi, is to “stay hungry and not lose sight of yourself.” .

“[Suicide] is not a problem that can be solved tomorrow or the day after, ”she continues,“ but I hope for a society without prejudices, where people can respect each other and come closer to each other. A company that will be on my side.


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