TOKYO (Reuters) – Johnny Kitagawa, one of the Japanese entertainment industry’s most powerful producers and the Guinness record-winning brain behind many of Japanese pop music’s most popular boy bands, such as SMAP, died on Tuesday at 87 after a stroke, his office said.
Born in the United States as Hiromu Kitagawa, he came to Japan after serving in the U.S. military in the Korean War and worked at the U.S. Embassy before starting a musical group called “Johnny’s” and setting up a talent agency called “Johnny & Associates” in 1962.
Over the years he honed a strategy of making sure the bands he created, after holding open casting calls to recruit and then train his musicians in singing and dancing, became cultural icons through a combination of appearances on television variety shows in addition to concerts and recording sales.
This pattern, which gave birth to groups such as SMAP, Arashi and Kinki Kids, among many others, is also widely followed in Korea’s mammoth K-pop industry.
Kitagawa won three Guinness World Records for his phenomenal production experience, including the most #1 singles and most concerts produced by any one individual.
Even Japan’s staid political world paid heed to his death.
“He raised many entertainment idols through the years in a huge contribution to Japan’s entertainment industry,” Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Kotaro Nogami told a news conference on Wednesday.
In 2002, the Tokyo District Court found in favor of Kitagawa in a defamation suit against a weekly magazine that had alleged he sexually harassed some of the young entertainers he recruited, although the judgment was later partially overturned.
Reporting by Elaine Lies and Kaori Kaneko; editing by Gopakumar Warrier