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Sunday, Nov. 25, 2007

MEDIA MIX

Oh mother, I can feel the soil falling over your head


As shown by the media frenzy sparked by lapses in decorum on the part of women like Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton and Britney Spears, the value of a person's sins increases exponentially in direct proportion to her fame. Women celebrities are subject to closer scrutiny for their mistakes than are men, who can still count on some dispensation thanks to the "boys will be boys" rule. And if you add motherhood to the equation, as in Spears' case, you earn even more opprobrium since your problems may harm innocents.

All these factors were in play during the Nov. 16 press conference where actress Yoshiko Mita apologized for the arrest of her son, Yuya Takahashi, for possession of 0.2 grams of amphetamines the day before. It was Takahashi's third drug-related arrest since 1998. On the surface, Mita has little in common with the above-mentioned celebrities. She is 66 years old and has never invited scandal with her own behavior or actions; and unlike Spears, who is apparently a bad drunk and an even worse driver, she did nothing to give the appearance of endangering her children. But Takahashi's problems have been directly blamed on Mita's presumed deficiencies as a parent; or, more precisely, as a mother, since no one has pinned responsibility for Takahashi's problems on his father, a former NHK director.

Maybe that's because Takahashi's father doesn't appear at these press conferences. Another factor that intensifies the media's attack is the willingness of their target to take the blows in person. Every time Takahashi has been arrested, Mita has called a press conference where she is subjected to condescending questions about her fitness as a mother. "What did you do wrong?" one reporter asked. "Should you have been more strict?" another queried, implying that Takahashi was spoiled.

Though Mita said there is only so much a mother can do for her child without infringing on his rights as a human being — Takahashi, after all, is 27 years old — she accepted the stoning and admitted she failed.

"I don't know how to change him into a normal adult," she said, as if that were something she alone could accomplish. By all appearances, Takahashi's problems seem to be serious. Mita said he suffers from depression and that she persuaded him to enter an institution last spring. She wanted him to go back to the institution this fall, but then he was arrested at a convenience store, where a clerk saw him acting strangely and called the police.

Takahashi's problems are related in some way to his status as the son of a famous actress. His older brother has achieved a measure of success as an actor, but Yuya has drifted ever since his first arrest at the age of 18. After his second arrest in 2000, he joined a famous Tokyo theater company but it seemed to be more for the purposes of therapy than for honing his acting skills. He also released a CD that went nowhere. Showbiz failures happen all the time, but when they happen to sons of celebrities, the failure seems even more pathetic. The press has reported that Mita and her husband are supporting Yuya with a monthly allowance that is anywhere between ¥300,00 and ¥700,000, depending on which publication you read.

But Mita's biggest sin was being seen as prioritizing her career over her responsibilities as a mother. She knew this is what she would be accused of, and said that when she is working she puts everything into her work, but once work is finished, "I spend all my time on my family and no time on myself." The quote from the press conference that received the most attention was Mita's pledge to "apologize to the public by working hard in the theater." Showbiz reporter Seiko Mitoi commented on TV Asahi's "Super Morning" show that Mita was probably relieved Yuya was in jail, since it would allow her to turn her full attention to a new play she was about to star in.

Mita often plays mothers, though not necessarily because she is one. Career women in Japan traditionally put aside motherhood or even marriage, so many of the great Japanese actresses of the past who specialized in maternal roles were not mothers in real life. For that and other reasons, an upcoming movie starring 60-year-old Sayuri Yoshinaga has attracted attention. Yoshinaga, who is married but has no children, is Japan's most beloved film actress, and while she has played mothers a few times, it is not her metier.

Yoshinaga discussed this aspect of her life publicly for the first time last week in a special interview with NHK to promote the film "Kaabee," which opens in January. Originally, Yoshinaga turned down the part, but after director Yo^ji Yamada told her "only Sayuri Yoshinaga can play this character," she agreed to do it.

She may not have felt comfortable playing what the NHK narrator called the ultimate "Showa Era mother," which in this case means a selfless woman whose family lives under extreme hardship during World War II after her husband is arrested. In the interview, Yoshinaga explained her decision not to have children as basically a reaction to her own Showa Era mother, who pushed her into acting as a child. It's really nobody's business why she didn't have children, but she seemed to understand that, by taking on such a role, she would have to address the question.

Were she 20 years younger, the more versatile Mita might have been a better choice for the part since Yoshinaga always plays a character known as Sayuri Yoshinaga, who's demure and pure-hearted, the ideal of Japanese femininity. It is Yoshinaga's limitation as an actor, rather than any lack of maternal experience, that is the main obstacle to her successfully recreating her character in "Kaabee." However, in terms of public perception, maybe she is the best choice to play the paragon of motherhood. Having never been a mother, Yoshinaga could never be seen as being a bad mother, as Mita is. Besides, what's the point of real-life experience when you're playing a figure that doesn't exist in real life?



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