When it comes to Japanese idols, no one is bigger than Johnny & Associates. Johnny H. Kitagawa (1931-2019) was at the forefront, and one of the individuals responsible for creating idol culture not just in Japan, but across Asia. During his lifetime he was considered one of the biggest influencers in the world of Japanese entertainment, and in the years since his passing, his idols have continued to inspire and entertain fans all over the world. In fact, some of the company’s biggest names have even stepped into roles that are a part of (and support) the LGBTQ+ community.
This list, though far from complete, does give some insight to the company and how active they have been in helping to promote the inclusion of the LGBTQ+ community.
Ikuta Toma, an actor raised by the company, starred in the family-drama feature-film Close-Knit. Ikuta starred as Rinko, the transgender girlfriend of Makio (Kiritani Kenta), who becomes the guardian of his niece Tomo (Kakihara Rinka) after being abandoned by her mother. The film touches on several issues, including Tomo unlearning the homophobia that’s been taught to her.
The film The Cornered Mouse Dreams of Cheese starring Tadayoshi Ohkura of the rock group Kanjani∞ (pronounced “eight”). The film, based on the manga of the same name, is filled with scandal and intrigue. Kyoichi (Ohkura) is a serial cheater and makes love to different easy women. The salaryman meets with an old classmate from his university days named Wataru (Narita Ryo). Surprisingly or not, he is an investigator hired by Kyoichi’s wife to look into the husband’s infidelity. However, Wataru has a sexual offer of his own for his old schoolmate.
Meguro Ren, one of the most popular members of Snow Man–itself one of Japan’s biggest boybands–stepped into the role of Ida Kousuke for the Saturday night series Kieta Hatsukoi (eng: My Love Mix-Up!). An innocent love story about good-natured high school students, Ida finds himself the accident recipient of the affections of his classmate Aoki Sota. Through a series of comical events, the two young men realize that, while everything started as a misunderstanding, they developed real feelings for one another. Aoki was played by Michieda Shunsuke, one of the members of the (then) newly debuted Naniwa Danshi, who is another one of Japan’s hottest groups and one of the most wholesome under Johnny & Associates. My Love Mix-Up! can currently be streamed on Viki in the West (Netflix in Asia), and Michieda has made several statements about how much he would love to further explore the relationship between Aoki and Ida in another series or film. (Note: This series was my introduction to the company, and as such will always have a very special place in my heart).
Hayashi Shota, another solo actor raised by the company, starred in the touring production of SOHO CINDERS, a gender bent, and very adult musical retelling of Cinderella starring Hayashi as a gay prostitute in love with a closeted politician.
Sato Arata, a member of the Johnnys’ Jr. group IMPACTors, and Oriyama Nao of another Jr. group Shonen Ninja (少年忍者), starred in Takara-kun and Amagi-kun. Also set in high school, Takara-kun and Amagi-kun was a bit steamier than My Love Mix-Up!, but one of the things I loved about this series was how realistic it was. Takara wasn’t shy about his emotions for Amagi, even when that emotion was “horny.” It was a very well-written and well-produced piece of television, and can now be streamed worldwide on the Viki app.
Maruyama Ryuhei, also of Kanjani∞ took the stage as the fiercely fabulous rock goddess lead in the Japanese stage production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch.
Solo artist Nakayama Yuma starred alongside actor Yoshitaka Hara in the stage production of DADDY, about a complicated May-December interracial romance set in a luxurious Bel Air home.
Wrapping up the year, solo actor and former member of pop group Hey! Say! JUMP Okamoto Keito starred in the Japanese stage production of David Henry Hwang’s M Butterfly, taking on the lead role of the cross-dressing opera diva / super spy Shi Pei Pu in an inspired take on the classic Puccini opera.
Star Masayuki Sakamoto of 20th Century SIN and Seiya Suezawa of Aegroup also starred in the Japanese production of Peter Allen’s hit Broadway musical The Boy from Oz!
This year kicked off with the semi-supernatural BL series Suki Suki Wan Wan! Starring Kishi Yuta from the King & Prince, Kishi stars as Yuki Kotaro , a 26-year-old shiftless loser who loved baseball as a child but hasn’t really tried at life since. After quitting his job, he spends his days meandering aimlessly around the house his parents left behind, existing but not really living until one day everything changes when a mysterious young man appears before him. The youth introduces himself as Kotaro’s former pet dog, Ten. Played by Ukisho Hidaka, a member of the Johnnys’ Jr. group Bishonen (美 少年).
While it’s true none of Johnny’s guys have officially “come out,” that doesn’t mean they don’t exist within the company, but in Japan, a person’s private life is personal – especially for an idol. They are to appear available but never be available. They’re the fantasy for everyone – male or female and most of them don’t seem to care one way or the other.
Over the past year, I have found myself getting more and more lost in the world of Johnnys & Associates, all thanks to that innocent little Saturday night BL dramedy My Love Mix-Up!. With Meguro and Michieda as my guides, I have discovered this company’s rich and diverse talent, and as an out gay man, I have been impressed by their desire to grow their LGBTQ+ representation organically. They’re not just a “we love the gays, but only during pride month” type of company. They’re the real deal and while nurturing authenticity isn’t always a speedy process, I am excited to see where this company goes.
More from Johnny & Associates soon, so…