Anti-harassment movement grows as actors reveal sexual violence

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A group of film directors submits a written request calling for harassment prevention measures to the Cultural Affairs Agency in March.

A number of male film directors have recently been accused of sexual violence by women. Actors are vulnerable to violence because of the strict hierarchical relationships in film productions and their unstable employment status. The film industry should establish a system to support harassment victims and work to build an environment that does not allow sexual violence.

Japanese version of #MeToo

In March, a weekly magazine carried an article with accusations from several women against director Hideo Sakaki, who directed the movie “Mitsugetsu” (Honeymoon). In the article, the women alleged that they were forced to have sexual relations with him when they appeared in his previous films or participated in his acting workshops. Sakaki apologized to those concerned but also said that some points in the article were not true.

Similar allegations were reported by a weekly magazine against another director, Shion Sono, known for films including “Ai no Mukidashi” (Love Exposure). While Sono issued a statement of apology, he later insisted that the information in the article was not true and filed an action against the publisher of the magazine, demanding compensation.

Such sexual abuse accusations have been made on blogs and Twitter as well, and one woman after another has come forward to testify that they were sexually assaulted or harassed by male directors and others in the industry. There have been many social media posts urging the film industry to address the situation, and the growing movement could be called the Japanese version of #MeToo, a social movement against sexual abuse and harassment that was started in the United States.

An open secret

“These accusations are just the tip of the iceberg,” an entertainment journalist said. Acts that violate the dignity of actors could be “the elephant in the room” that has been ignored for many years.

According to sources close to the film industry, production sites are male-dominated and have a pyramid-like structure with directors or producers at the top. They often have a tight budget and schedule, so new actors and staff on the lowest tier of the pyramid reportedly tend to shoulder heavy burdens during shooting. In addition to sexual assault, power harassment, such as physical attacks and yelling, is a daily occurrence. One film industry officials said, “Everyone is so tense that anything goes.”

Hierarchical relationships are even more obvious in workshops where actors pay to take acting lessons from directors. While such workshops are a place to learn, directors often have the additional motive of using participants in their films, while actors hope that directors may give them a role. In these circumstances, harassment as the price of a role can happen easily.

Megumi Morisaki, an actor and president of the Arts Workers Japan Association, said that actors are vulnerable in this way because “many are freelancers undertaking jobs as individuals.” In February and March this year, the organization conducted a survey of freelancers in the entertainment industry and received answers from 267 respondents. Of these, 48.3% said that they had been subjected to power, sexual or other forms of harassment at work. More than 70% said that there had been harassment at their workplaces, including 23.8% who said they had seen or overheard the harassment of others.

Under the Equal Employment Opportunity Law, the revised Power Harassment Prevention Law and other regulations, companies are required to take measures to prevent violence and harassment at work. However, freelancers are outside the scope of these laws. “The film industry is less aware of the need to prevent harassment and there are no rules regarding prevention and other matters,” Morisaki said.

Signs of change

There are moves inside and outside of the film industry to turn the accusations into reform. In April, 12 people including actors who are victims of harassment and film industry officials who support them launched the Association to End Sexual Abuse in the Film and Moving Image Industry. Asako Yuzuki and other female writers whose works have been made into films also delivered a message calling for the elimination of sexual violence and saying they wish to see reforms starting in the contract stage when making movies.

Film directors are also increasingly concerned about the situation. In March, a group of six film directors including director Hirokazu Koreeda submitted a written request for measures to prevent harassment to the Cultural Affairs Agency. In April, the group also submitted a proposal calling on the Motion Picture Producers Association of Japan, Inc., comprising four major motion picture companies, to take preventive steps.

Since 2019, the association has cooperated with the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry and other organizations to promote measures to correct these issues during production and plans to create guidelines including a requirement that all contracts be in writing.

Yuichiro Mizumachi, a professor of labor law at the Institute of Social Science at the University of Tokyo, said: “Film companies and others should express a clear intention not to allow violence and harassment. They should create a rule to ban film production in places where such acts occur and make everyone involved aware of this.”