Film Subsidy Ruling: Use Top Court Decision As Opportunity to Consider State Support for Culture

If a film actor is involved in a scandal, works may be withheld from public release or the scene in which the individual in question appears may be replaced by a different scene. A recent court ruling should be seen as a clue for thinking about how to deal with such situations.

In a lawsuit regarding whether the Japan Arts Council, an independent administrative agency, had the right to withhold subsidies from film production companies because an affiliated actor was convicted in a drug case, the Second Petty Bench of the Supreme Court ruled the move to be illegal.

In 2019, the council unofficially decided to offer a grant of ¥10 million to the production company of the film “Miyamoto kara Kimi e” (“From Miyamoto to You”).

However, in light of the drug case involving the actor, the council’s president changed her mind and withheld the subsidy, saying such a provision would send the wrong message to the public in that it would seem the government was tolerant of drug crimes.

The Tokyo High Court accepted the council’s argument and ruled that the decision not to provide the subsidy was appropriate. However, the Supreme Court overturned the high court’s ruling, stating that the actor was not in a position to benefit from the grant and that providing such funds would not convey an inappropriate image.

The Constitution guarantees freedom of expression. The Supreme Court emphasized this aspect and likely cautioned against “overreaction” due to a possible negative impact on film production if subsidies were to be widely withdrawn.

Decisions to grant such funds are based on the theme of a work, its creative aspects and the expertise of the staff, among other factors. When a grant is planned to be withdrawn, there must be a careful assessment of the scandal in question’s impact on the work and society, and responses must be restrained.

The latest court decision may provide an opportunity for the film and music industries to consider how best to deal with misconduct by performers and staff.

When an actor commits a wrongdoing, film and music companies, TV stations and other entities sometimes stop airing or streaming works involving that person, or recall music CDs from store shelves. Many observers have suggested that such steps may be excessive.

Once works are released into the public domain, they are sometimes deemed to have become common societal property. It is certainly undesirable to deprive consumers of the opportunity to view or listen to such works.

However, works may be undermined, and their public release may attract criticism depending on the seriousness and nature of a performer’s transgression. The industry should carefully consider how to respond to individual cases so as not to condone misconduct on the grounds of freedom of expression.

In the entertainment world, there has been a spate of scandals involving sexual harassment and power abuse. It goes without saying that production companies and others should strive to prevent misconduct as long as they continue to receive government subsidies.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 19, 2023)