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Why Scandal-Hit Japanese Celebrity Pierre Taki Could Defy the Death Cycle

Celebrity scandals are hardly unusual in Japan – the weekly tabloids found in every convenience store dig up new ones for every issue. But the March 12 arrest of musician-actor Pierre Taki for cocaine possession sent larger than usual shock waves through the local entertainment industry. Two weeks later, they are still reverberating.

A front man of the synthpop group Denki Groove since its 1989 start, the burly Taki (birth name: Masanori Taki) built a prospering acting career over two decades playing everything from heavies to comic foils. His portrayal of a menacing death-row convict in Kazuya Shiraishi’s 2013 crime drama “The Devil’s Path” earned him a Japan Academy best supporting actor nomination. After that breakthrough he was in demand for both TV dramas and films.

But following his arrest, Taki has become essentially a non-person, as the industry rushes frantically to erase him from current and future content, while wiping his past work from airwaves and Internet sites.

The scandal’s fallout has been heaviest on television where Taki was a ubiquitous presence. A late-night variety program he hosted for a TV Asahi affiliate for nearly nine years has been cancelled. Public broadcaster NHK has cut his scenes from “Itaden,” its year-long maxi-drama about Japanese Olympic athletes. NHK also cancelled re-broadcasts of popular 2013 drama series “Amachan” and broadcasts of two films in the nostalgic “Always” series, all of which feature Taki in supporting roles.

Among Taki’s upcoming films, the cutting has not been as complete. He has been dropped from the voice role of Olaf in the Japanese version of “Frozen 2” and his scenes in the crime drama “Iwane: Sword of Serenity” are being reshot with another actor prior to the film’s scheduled release on May 17.

But director Kazuya Shiraishi, who cast Taki in three “Devil’s Path” follow-ups, has said that his time-traveling comedy “A Gambler’s Odyssey 2020,” will open on April 5 with no changes.

Professional defenestration has a long history Japanese in show business. Many actors, singers, directors and TV personalities have seen their careers suddenly evaporate following busts for drug possession or other crimes considered beyond the pale.

Some have staged comebacks: Director Toshiaki Toyoda was arrested for stimulant possession in August 2005, but after serving a three-year suspended sentence he returned to the screen in 2009 with “The Blood of Rebirth” and has kept making films ever since.

But others have suffered lasting or fatal damage. One was singer-actress Noriko Sakai, who rose to fame in the 1980s as teen pop star Nori-P. But following a 2009 conviction for stimulant possession – a drama that played out in the tabloid media for months – Sakai saw her singing and acting career reset to zero. Following a three-year probation she resurfaced as an anti-drug campaigner and later resumed performing, but her squeaky clean image was permanently tarnished.

This sort of self-immolation by content suppliers, which can cost networks, distributors, agencies and other industry players billions in lost revenues, is commonly called jishuku or “self-restraint.” It has been standard media practice for decades.

But jishuku’s latest victim, Taki, has found vocal supporters online who argue that the extremity of his punishment is unfair to his innocent colleagues, and to his body of work. More than 50,000 have signed an online petition calling for Sony Music, Taki’s record company, to reverse its decision to take Denki Groove’s CDs off the shelves and stop streaming the group’s music.

As entertainment journalist Hiroyuki Sasaki noted, publicly listed companies like Sony Music must comply with legal standards and rules under the watchful eyes of regulators – and keeping the music of an admitted drug user in its catalog might invite unwanted attention.

But it’s also likely that Taki, who has more online sympathizers and admirers than detractors, will find a way back into the business that has so unceremoniously dumped him.

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