A scene from “Gaksital” (Bridal Mask), a 2012 television drama, which is set during the Japanese colonial period in the 1930s. Courtesy of KBS
The continuing diplomatic tension between Korea and Japan has spilled over to the world of entertainment where some Korean stars are finding themselves shunned by Japanese producers and distributors.
Actors Song Joong-ki, Joo Won, Song Il-kook and Kim Tae-hee are among the top Korean entertainers being ignored by Japanese television stations. Their comments or activities related to Dokdo, Korea’s easternmost islets that Japan argues it has a historical claim to, ruffled the feathers of right-wing groups in the neighboring country.
Officials from the Korea Creative Content Agency (KOCCA) said that Japanese producers and broadcasters have become more selective in picking Korean dramas to import to shun actors who are now considered controversial in Japan. They express concerns about the souring diplomatic relations between the two countries and the worsening public sentiment in Japan in their business meetings with Korean content providers.
“The situation is a lot more serious than most people think. The Japanese broadcasters and producers are combing the Internet to see which Korean star made which comment about Dokdo or other issues related to Japan. They sometimes edit out parts of television dramas in which these stars appear. Japanese investors are also avoiding spending on dramas that use Korean stars who have commented on Dokdo or are seen as politically active,” said a KOCCA official, asking not to be named.
In a recent meeting, representatives for five Korean dramas met their Japanese counterparts to discuss pre-market sales of the shows. The Japanese businessmen showed great interest in collaborating with Korean companies from the production process, but were consistently trying to influence who should be cast.
The Japanese producers and distributors also expressed their concern over the Korean government’s support in promoting hallyu in Japan. “Although the Korean government plays a supportive role in the overseas hallyu projects, the Japanese industry showed a sensitive reaction to the support,” he said.
He said that there seems to be no big sign of an immediate decrease of Korean dramas on Japanese small screens right now because schedules were decided years ago in advance. “But we don’t know how many Korean dramas will be on Japanese television later as subtle signs of antagonism against hallyu dramas have been detected through the entire entertainment business community,” he said.
After the “Dokdo Crossing Project,” a relay swimming event to Dokdo in 2012, “A Man Called God” and “Detectives in Trouble” starring Song Il-kook were replaced by BS, a Japanese broadcasting company, last year. Song joined dozens of other swimmers in the project to protest Japanese claims over the islets.
Fuji TV has not aired Korean dramas since “Love Rain” starring Jang Keun-suk and Yoona, while television advertisements starring Kim Tae-hee were abruptly cancelled a few years ago. It is assumed that the actors were targeted for what was seen as their anti-Japanese activities.
“Japanese online users are searching the Internet to find every single remark Korean actors or singers make about political issues related to Japan,” a hallyu expert living in Japan said.
Recently, 2-Channel, Japan’s biggest online forum, specifically mentioned certain hallyu stars who made negative remarks on Japan or sensitive political issues, making Japanese investors and distributors more concerned about their reactions to Korean stars.
The DVD market, the largest profit-making channel for hallyu content, has been hit hardest, seeing a steep decrease in revenue to less than half in 2012 from 2011.
“I think it is inappropriate to link the political situation with culture in this diverse and open world. Also it is not a good idea for Korean media to encourage stars to make political comments because their remarks are shared by everyone on a real-time basis through the Internet,” the expert said.
The significance of the Japanese market for hallyu content is as big as the domestic market. Thus coexistence between the two parties is necessary on this score by aiming for win-win projects, the expert advised.
“Japanese cultural business partners believe that hallyu is being pushed by the Korean government and it’s driven like a business. This view of a one-way cultural influence being pushed on them is prevalent in the Japanese showbiz industry. So we need to emphasize the need of coexistence between the two,” he said.
Co-productions can seek third markets such as Europe, the Middle East, North and Central America and India by combining the two cultures.
“Japan cannot be a major stage for hallyu content forever as it doesn’t allow Korean content to take up more than 10 to 20 percent of its entire market. The hallyu content plays a supplement in the Japanese market,” the expert said.
Top photos are Joo Won, Song Il-kook, Kim Tae-hee
and Song Joong-ki, who are finding themselves
avoided by Japanese producers and distributors
due to their comments or activities related to Dokdo,
Korea’s easternmost islets Japan argues it has
a historical claim to.