Marathon-length Yoshimoto Press Conference Tires and Frustrates Everyone
In response to the dramatic press conference held by comedians Miyasako Hiroyuki and Tamura Ryo on Saturday, Yoshimoto held a press conference on Monday which instead of clearing things up, left Yoshimoto fans, employees and comedians frustrated, confused and deeply disappointed. In the spotlight for most of the five and a half long (!!) press conference, President Okamoto seemed unable or unwilling to answer questions from the media in a clear, direct way, instead pausing for long periods and giving vague, confusing answers that to some sounded like excuses. Although it is hard to summarize such a long press conference here are some of the most important parts that made the news:
We Take That Back: Contracts Back on the Table?
President Okamoto stated that the company had decided to rescind it’s decision to end the contract of Miyasako (and had not yet ended Ryo’s), hoping that he could come back to the table and talk with them. It’s unknown whether Miyasako will take them up on that offer after such difficult treatment by Yoshimoto and Okamoto. Akashiya Sanma, a major comedian who used to be with Yoshimoto but started his own agency, has offered to take Miyasako in.
Response to Power Harassment Accusations: “It was a joke.”?!
When asked by the press on whether his comments to Miyasako and Ryo crossed the line, specifically when he said, “Are you taping this?” President Okamoto said that this was meant as a joke. “To me, the meeting wasn’t progressing as well so I said it as a way to lighten the mood but the four of them didn’t laugh at all.” Furthermore, regarding the comment in which he stated that he had the power to fire all of them, he refuted using the expression “have the power to” and stated that he told them that he could fire them because he didn’t feel that they were really thinking about how their actions hurt the victims of the criminal group that they performed for. “It was like how a father would scold a son.” After hearing this, several Yoshimoto comedians disputed this noting that professional comedians know very well when something is said as a joke.
Regarding the Company Position of “Wait and See”
President Okamoto wasn’t clear if the words “wait and see” (in Japanese: seikan suru 静観する) were used when Miyamoto and Ryo pleaded to be allowed to hold a press conference to apologize. Vice-President Fujiwara (who Downtown fans may know from his part as on Downtown’s popular end of the year special, 24 Jikan Waratte wa Ikenai) also wasn’t sure if the term was used.
Okamoto, Osaki Impose Self-Penalty
In response to the mishandled scandal, President Okamoto revealed that both he and Chairman Osaki would take a 50% pay cut for one year as punishment. Response from the media and Yoshimoto comedians was tepid. One Yoshimoto insider commented that the pay cut wouldn’t hurt Okamoto that much as he is rumored to be quite wealthy. To me, it seemed to be missing the point and an attempt to show contrition without actually taking responsibility and resigning.
Okamoto Not Going Anywhere for Now
When asked directly as to whether he would resign, President Okamoto responded that he would not and would instead focus on “changing himself”. Another reported asked what Okamoto could do that others in his position could not. After a long pause, Okamoto answers, “I’ll have to ask (others).”
Regarding Yoshimoto’s Infamous Image for Being Cheap With Their Talent: It’s usually a 50-50 cut?!
In the press conference Okamoto also denied that the pay ratio between the agency and comedians is the rumored 9-1 cut. Instead, he said it was “more like 5-5 or 6-4” in most cases although he noted that it varies. Understandably, comedians at Yoshimoto took exception to this with several posting on SNS the absurdly low amounts that they had been paid for past jobs. One comedian posted a video of him stating that when he was still in a manzai duo he was paid 10 yen for one job with taxes taking out 1 yen, making his take home pay 9 yen. “This means that Yoshimoto accepted a job for 20 yen. What a great company”, he said dripping with sarcasm. I personally have heard from several younger comedians who say cases vary from job to job but sometimes pay can be 10% and even zero if there are less than four in the audience.
Comedians Express Disappointment
Many comedians who watched the press conference while on television shows or privately expressed deep disappointment in the press conference. Through SNS, television and on radio various comedians expressed disappointment with Okamoto’s performance. Maybe the one that stood out the most was the reaction of Saito of the duo Trendy Angel. After looking crestfallen on a daytime talk show he later commented in Twitter. “I want to apologize to everyone that my company is like this. It’s very pitiful. Why did he give such roundabout answers? The answers were so long I thought they should have just given him signs that say “yes” and “no”. He doesn’t understand the situation he is now or his position at all. With a press conference like that Kato is going to quit.” (link)
Reports of Possible Abuse of Pressure From Other Comedians
Several well-known comedians stepped out after the press conference to say that they had felt intimidated by Okamoto in the past. Female comedian Tomochika. Recounting one time when she brought up concerns regarding the educational system at Yoshimoto. “When i noted that this wasn’t just my opinion but also how other geinin (comedians) felt, he demanded to who the other comedians were.” “He started off with “Who were the other comedians? Tell me their names.”” (link) Another comedian (Shimizu Kei) on his blog noted recounted an incident 18 years earlier when Okamoto yelled at him for inquiring why his best scenes had been cut from a television drama at the time. “Okamoto, who up until that time I barely had any encounters with, came into the green room and once we alone and yelled at me.” “Do you have a problem or something? Just so you know, the producers and program sponsors said they didn’t need you. The reason you have this job is because Yoshimoto asked for you to be hired. If you have a problem with the way this company does things you can quit anytime.” (link)
As you can guess, because Yoshimoto is dominating the news right now there are a lot of things to cover and many angles to look at. I will cover as much as I can but undoubtably I won’t get to it all. If there are other major developments I will do my best to bring them to you on this site.