Here is Katori Shingo’s tearful apology on behalf of fellow SMAP member Kusanagi Tsuyoshi, who was arrested last week for indecent exposure after being found by police drunk and naked in a Tokyo park.
Shingo’s performance is, if anything, enhanced by contrition. The lump in the throat, the stuttering, the long pauses, the repeated phrases (“SMAP ni… SMAP ni… SMAP ni…“), the downcast eyes: all combine to great effect. The Youtube comments (now deleted), too, were mostly sincere and supportive, like the encouraging words of an uncle at an unenthusiastic nephew’s Bar Mitzva: “just go through the motions, it’ll all be over soon.”
The obvious question is, what prompted the surrogate apology? Could he really have been so torn up by all this? Is he acting out of concern for the disrupted well-being of fans? For the reputation of his ichiban shin’yū (“#1 best friend”) Tsuyoshi, or his own hide, implicated by association?
But most viewers were indifferent about the whole affair, and despite the few canceled contracts, Shingo knows that neither of their careers is in any jeopardy; in fact, the incident may only increase their celebrity. And so neither fears of profit loss nor concern for the mental health of fans can be said to be the primary cause. It’s clear that something deeper is at work here. Even if the immediate explanation is simply that industry powers that be thrust him onstage to minimize damage, the question of why they care when nobody else does remains.
In making this apology, Shingo was, to borrow Heidegger’s phrase, simply “doing what one does, as one does,” that is, behaving in a typical way that conforms to the prejudices of the group. The apology itself is meaningless — in fact, impractical — as there were no victims in the first place, no amends to be made. It seems unlikely that the authors of the bland, supportive comments of the audience on YouTube had ever been upset or angered by the affair. Rather, it is as if the ritual itself demands to be performed, and that not performing it would be a transgression far greater than the original transgression of running around in the buff.
Much can be said about all this — about the custom of the shazai kaiken (“apology conference”), the psychological dynamics of shame, the unwritten rules of social interaction, the tacit understanding between viewer and actor, apologist and apologee, etc. However, not being qualified to comment, I thought I’d instead quote from philosopher-critic Slavoj Žižek, who in a recent interview made the following remarks:
What I see in Japan — and maybe this is my own myth — is that behind all these notions of politeness, snobbism etc., the Japanese are well aware that something which may appear superficial and unnecessary, in fact has a much deeper structural function. A Western approach would be: who needs this? But a totally ridiculous thing might, at a deeper level, play a stabilizing function we are not aware of. […]
The usual cliché now is that Japan is the ultimate civilization of shame. What I despise in America is the studio actors’ logic, as if there is something good about self-expression: do not be oppressed, open yourself up, even if you shout and kick the others, everything in order to express and liberate yourself. This is a stupid idea — that behind the mask there is some truth. In Japan, even if something is merely an appearance, politeness is not simply insincere. […] Surfaces do matter. If you disturb the surfaces you may lose a lot more than you accounted for. You shouldn’t play with rituals. Masks are never simply mere masks. Perhaps that’s why Brecht became close to Japan. He also liked this notion that there is nothing really liberating in this typical Western gesture of removing the masks and showing the true face. What you discover is something absolutely disgusting. Let’s maintain the appearances. (European Graduate School website)