Asia: SMAP, Movie Animation Park Studios, Chung Myung-whun

SMAP Stars Leaving Management

One of Japan’s biggest talent management companies, Johnny & Associates, announced that three of its most lucrative clients will leave the company in September.

The talent, Goro Inagaki, Tsuyoshi Kusanagi and Shingo Katori, belonged to Japan’s biggest boy band, SMAP, until last December, when the quintet broke up after almost 30 years together.

However, all five members had been working successfully as individuals for years as TV personalities and actors, aside from their group activities.

The news that they were leaving the management company that made them stars was met with a considerable amount of shock.

The trio’s contracts will expire Sept. 8, the day before the 26th anniversary of SMAP’s debut single.

According to media reports, the three told Johnny’s that they would not renew their contracts. The other two members, Masahiro Nakai and Takuya Kimura, apparently will remain with Johnny’s.

In an extremely rare written statement for the press, the company’s founder and president, Johnny Kitagawa, said, “The three will embark on their own paths that they themselves decided on, but anywhere they go, and under all circumstances, I’ll wish them the best of luck. The five great people of SMAP will not only remain in your hearts, but also in my heart, as well.”

The band originally formed in 1988 with six members, but one, Katsuyuki Mori, left in 1996 to pursue a career as a motorcycle racer.

The group’s extremely popular variety show, “SMAPxSMAP,” ran from 1996 to 2016, and their 2003 song, “The Only Flower in the World,” is the third biggest-selling single in Japanese history.

It is extremely unusual for Japanese artists to announce publicly that they are leaving their management companies since it is often perceived as a sign of disloyalty. If the company is at all powerful, TV producers and others will silently blacklist the artist for a certain period of time to not upset the company.

Movie Animation Park Opens

Movie Animation Park Studios
– Movie Animation Park Studios
Bandar Meri Raya, Malaysia.

More than 7,000 people attended the soft opening of Movie Animation Park Studios in Bandar Meri Raya, Malaysia, June 26.

The theme park is touted by its management as the first in Asia to be devoted completely to animation. The park, which cost $121 million to build, features rides and attractions based on characters from a wide variety of animated sources, including local works, the Smurfs, and Dreamworks Animation Studios.

According to the Straits Times, many of the visitors had never been to a high-tech theme park before, and so they experienced 4D theatrical presentations and live stunt shows for the first time.

The park includes six themed zones comprising 40 attractions on 21 hectares of land. Staff estimate that it will take a visitor an average of six hours to tour the park.

An executive told the Straits Times that the feedback has been “very positive,” and that the park has plans to expand with new rides, including a roller coaster.

They expect about 1 million visitors a year. The park also offers free wifi.

“We’ve been actively promoting MAPS on roadshows to shopping malls and trade shows in India, China, Indonesia and Singapore,” said the executive. “In addition, we are also working with local and foreign tour agents, Tourism Malaysia and Tourism Perak.”

An adult day pass to the park costs about $30.

Korean Conductor Cleared Of Charges

The investigation into charges of embezzlement by South Korean conductor Chung Myung-whun has finally concluded, with prosecutors clearing the world-renowned musician of all charges.

According to Korean media, the Seoul Central District Prosecutors Office was given the case by local police last August, even though police were quoted as saying they “could not find evidence proving Chung’s guilt after more than a year of investigation.”

The prosecutors, as well, didn’t find anything amiss in their own investigation and concluded that the maestro had not done anything illegal. Through his legal representation, Chung said, “After two and a half years of investigations by the police and prosecutors, I am finally cleared of all accusations, which have been revealed to be groundless.”

Chung had been accused of mishandling funds of the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra while he was the ensemble’s artistic director. Most of the accusations came from the organization’s former president.

As a result, Chung, who is Korea’s most famous classical musician, was compelled to resign.

“I truly feel regretful for the immense damage that fell upon SPO’s reputation, which had been built up by myself, the orchestra and the citizens of Seoul for the past 10 years,” said Chung, who will appear with the orchestra in August to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the Lotte Concert Hall.