Drama Digest #10 Ashita, Mama ga Inai Saga

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I started out the weekend thinking that I would write a quick update on the developments surrounding Ashita, Mama ga Inai but as I did so, it grew into a long chronicle of events reported by the media that started to seem more and more ridiculous as things went on. The hypersensitive institutions latched onto the “negativity” and “lack of realism”, made their accusations and piled on the pressure. Matters grew out of proportion abetted by the media and it became what can only be called a self-fulfilling crisis or an elaborate exercise in distraction. Whatever point NTV is trying to make with this drama has been lost in all the noise in this entirely one-sided saga.

16 January

  • Jikei Hospital which runs Japan’s only baby hatch Kounotori no Yurikago called for drama to be taken off air and sought an explanation on the background of the production. “There are too many scenes quite different from reality such as the abusive language staff shout at the children, and the children being made to cry. This causes misunderstanding, prejudice and discrimination,” it said in reference to Mikami Hiroshi’s character who tells the orphanage children “You’re the same as dogs in a pet shop” and “Even dogs do tricks, so cry.” Jikei Hospital also criticised the drama for calling Ashida Mana’s character ‘Post’ because she was left at a baby hatch, “It’s mental abuse and infringement of human rights.”
  • The National Foster Care Association also protested about the content being discriminatory and called for a stop to the drama. “The content is very far apart from reality at orphanages now. The children are treated like animals, smacked, made to carry buckets and stand. This conduct is mistreatment in an orphanage. The foster parent system is also different from the actual situation … The setting is in a group home which the country is trying to promote and it will be difficult to get the understanding of the public because of the programme’s corporal punishment scenes. Even if it is fiction, it infringes on the rights of the children, parents and staff.”
  • NTV responded to these protests and feedback on the drama’s homepage with the comment, “This drama will fully display the innocence, strength and resilience which children have at heart. We sincerely want to portray what love is from the perspective of children and the feelings of people with love for children.” It added that it will continue to broadcast the rest of the drama as scheduled, “We hope you will watch the drama to the end.”

20 January

  • After NTV informs Jikei Hospital the drama’s broadcast will continue, the head of Jikei Hospital’s gynecology department said, “We were not given responses for the reason for the continuation, apologies to the children and staff or the background of the production. We regret the content that will result in further hurt to the children. We would like the Broadcasting Ethics & Programme Improvement Organisation to deliberate this.”
  • The National Foster Care Association sent a letter of protest to NTV, saying that the depiction of orphanage staff controlling children through violence and fear “hurts children and might make staff lose their will to work”. NTV’s Public Relations Department commented, “We will be careful not to harm the dignity of children as well as not encourage prejudice. We also take what was pointed out seriously and will continue to pay careful attention to the details.”

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21 January
The National Foster Care Association called for an improvement to the content on air which “hurt children living in orphanages” at a press conference. Referring to the difficult situation at the orphanages, the association complained, “Both children and staff are struggling to live. The drama hampers this.” It had received reports from orphanages around the country that worried parents had called and people had mocked that the children “live in such places”. The chairman said, “Even if it’s fiction, it’s worrisome if the children concerned are shown this. What will be done if someone commits suicide?” According to the chairman, the association had received the script for a segment of the first episode from the production company in December last year and had called for improvements after reading it. The reply from the person in charge was, “We’ll consider.” But from what they could see from the broadcast of Ep 1, “nothing was changed”. The chairman said before the drama’s premiere, there was talk about creating a corner on the the drama’s homepage to explain the real situation at children’s homes and the law and they were asked to write the copy. But the association felt that there was no meaning if it is on the homepage and not in the drama. “If we did the copy, it would be tantamount to an approval of the programme. So we rejected.”

22 January

  • A follower on actress Suzuki Sawa’s Twitter account thinks the sensationalised reporting on the drama is clearly targeted at Nojima Shinji and NTV and asked for her comments since entertainment personalities have given theirs. Suzuki tweeted back, “I’m an actress. I only carry out the role given to me.”
  • Jikei Hospital sent a written application to the Broadcasting Ethics & Programme Improvement Organisation seeking deliberation on the drama. The earliest this would take place is 18 February since the organisation convenes once every month on the third Tuesday.
  • The mayor of Kumamoto City where Jikei Hospital is located jumps into the fray and criticises the drama for its “drastic portrayal and production as well as the many unrealistic representations. It is content which is likely to give a false impression of orphanages. I want the network to take the voices of the orphans seriously”.
  • There was no change to the content in episode 2. Mikami Hiroshi’s character still made sharp remarks like “It’s impossible for pets that have not forgotten their former owners to be lovable”. Although logos of eight sponsors Kao, Kewpie, Nissin Foods, Subaru (Fuji Heavy Industries), Ebara Foods, Kobayashi Pharmaceutical, Mitsubishi Homes and Eneos (JX Nippon Oil & Energy Corporation), were screened in the sponsor credits in episode 1. This was dropped in episode 2. Kewpie, Ebara Foods and JX Nippon Oil & Energy Corporation pulled their CMs off.

23 January
The head of Jikei Hospital’s gynecology department said, “We’ve learnt of reports of orphanage children being bullied after the broadcast of the first episode. This is very urgent. We hope the Broadcasting Ethics & Programme Improvement Organisation will quickly come to a decision. NTV’s Public Relations Department responded that “This is not the stage for comments”.

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24 January
Fuji Heavy Industries and Nissin Foods joins Kewpie, Ebara Foods and JX Nippon Oil & Energy Corporation in suspending CMs from episode 3 onwards. A Fuji Heavy Industries spokesperson explained, “This is in view of customer feedback and social impact.” It was the same for Nissin Foods. The remaining three sponsors say they are “reviewing”.

25 January
At a commemorative event for D-BOYS, actor Shirota Yu is asked about the controversy surrounding the drama. His response was “I believe there have been various opinions, but the important points were not in episodes 1 and 2. So I wish (people) would pass judgment after watching the whole thing.” He emphasised that the drama’s approach is to “convey love with the element of entertainment on the subject of the state of parent-child relationships, the ideal and reality”.

27 January

  • NTV’s president said at a press conference, “We take the protests and opinions that we lacked consideration for the children to heart. If you watch the drama to the end, (you) will understand the aim of the production.” He went on to declare that the drama will be broadcast to the last episode, episode 9, without changes to the content. The head of NTV’s production department said there will not be significant changes to the script and direction. At this point, recording for episode 4 was in progress and the script had been completed up to episode 5.
  • The remaining three sponsors Kao, Kobayashi Pharmaceutical and Mitsubishi Homes pulled out from the drama. “We made a comprehensive evaluation and decided that it is not the appropriate setting to bring CMs on Kao products,” Kao said while Kobayashi Pharmaceutical commented, “This was a comprehensive evaluation in response to the intense reaction and feedback from customers to stop sponsoring.” Although the sponsors will continue with their contracts with NTV, the fact that they have all put their CMs on hold is unprecedented.

28 January

  • The head of Takasu Clinic tweeted his intention to be a sponsor for the drama and said that he has communicated with NTV and Dentsu. “I only want to support the people who have been working hard,” he explained. However, he later tweeted two hours later that the current sponsors don’t seem to welcome him being a new sponsor, indicating that it would not be straightforward even if he is willing to buy all the slots.
  • The National Foster Care Association sent another letter of protest to NTV because it did not get a reply to the first letter and demanded a response this time.

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29 January

  • The National Foster Care Association announced 15 cases self-inflicted injury and taunting in schools experienced by children living in its orphanages because of the drama. According to the association, one girl who watched episode 2 injured herself and received medical treatment at the hospital. The association also sent another letter of protest to NTV and sought a response by 4 February. It said that although a letter of protest was sent on 20 January, “the children were still treated in the same way as pets in episode 2. Fear is commonly observed to hold sway over the children. No improvements to the issues were seen”.
  • Jikei Hospital wrote about the misunderstanding caused by its protests against the drama by addressing the problem areas in the drama and the reasons why it is seeking to stop the broadcast. “We worry about the psychological support to children who have suffered abuse at home before they moved into the orphanages. There are cases where the children cannot overcome the effects of the emotional trauma. Even words that friends say in jest like ‘Post’, ‘Locker’ and ‘Donkey’, is like stabbing the hearts of these abused children with a knife and might trigger flashbacks. The National Foster Care Association saw the content as a problem before broadcast and offered suggestions to alter the content in December. In spite of this, episode 1 was aired, and there were actually children who were affected. It was a slight relief that the drastic impressions in the content in episode 2 were less, but there were no changes to the parts where the children call each other by discriminatory nicknames and the treatment of children as pet shop dogs. That’s regrettable.” “We recognise that it will be an inconvenience to the parties associated with the TV network, actors, sponsors if we ask for the drama to be pulled off air. However, the sense of crisis over the effect of unrealistic scenes and nicknames is big. Therefore, we made this request.” “We worry whether there will be a barrage of the nicknames hurtful to the orphanage children in future episodes. We hope the network people will make changes so that this is no longer a big issue.”

30 January

  • The head of NTV’s production department met the chairman of the National Foster Care Association for more than an hour. He explained the intention of making the programme and communicated that the network will give a written response to the association by 4 February. At the meeting, the association requested improvements on three points 1) the violence and abusive language to children in the orphanages, 2) expressions which treat the children like pets, 3) nicknames such as ‘Post’ for the children, and an apology to the children hurt by the drama. NTV indicated its intention to continue with the broadcast and replied that it would review changes to parts of the content.
  • The head of Takasu Clinic tweeted that he had been rejected by NTV. NTV’s conclusion was that it would not allow the sponsors to step down, and it would not concede the slots to other companies. He was critical of the sponsors for pulling their CMs off air because the drama would be negative to their company images. “It is as if the programme is a disgrace. I want to protect the theme of the drama and to support the people producing it. That’s why I offered to buy all the slots to smooth things over.

1 February
Actor Mikami Hiroshi is asked whether he thought the drama was controversial, content changes and remarks for viewers after the press conference for a stage production. However, he merely smiled and left without a word.

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3 February
The Minister of Health, Labour and Welfare indicated at a Lower House Budget Committee meeting that the effect of the drama on children at the orphanages will be studied “because of reports that children in orphanages inflicted injuries on themselves. The details have not yet been decided.

4 February
The head of NTV’s production department visited the National Foster Care Association and handed over a document detailing a plan for specific changes to the programme’s content. At the end of last month, the association had submitted a second protest letter calling for improvements that give consideration to human rights. NTV had replied that it would change its content and respond in writing by 4 February. The association will hold a press conference to comment on its opinions about NTV’s written reply on 5 February. According to people familiar with the production, the script for episodes 4 to 6 have been completed. One of the points seen as a problem is the nickname of the main character ‘Post’. It is likely that there will be a gradual phase out from the exchanges between the characters.

5 February

  • At a joint press conference held by the National Foster Care Association, Jikei Hospital and National Foster Parent Association, it was disclosed that they had received a formal apology from NTV. The written response from the head of NTV’s production department made the case that “This drama deals with the theme of children proactively seizing hold of love as they fight against their harsh environment,” but apologised for the identified cases of injury, “We take such an outcome to heart and express our deepest apologies to the children”. In response to accusations that there was insufficient material gathered on the facilities in question in the production process conceded, he acknowledged, “We recognise the need to find out the details of the environment surrounding orphanages beforehand and to be more cautious about the expressions which we should pay attention to.” The drama will develop along the initial plot but the network will give attention to the details so that there is no misunderstanding. On 1 February, NTV officials visited Jikei Hospital which is equipped with the country’s only baby hatch. According to the head of the gynecology department, “We were promised by NTV that they would improve the rest of the broadcast.” As for the specifics about what will be changed, he said, “Because the other part understands our standpoint, we will not interfere further. We will only wait and see future episodes. This is also the same position as the National Foster Care Association and National Foster Parent Association. The hospital has no plans at this point to withdraw its written application to the Broadcasting Ethics & Programme Improvement Organisation. “We will come up against the freedom of expression in the portrayal of the vulnerable for years to come. This judgment is not made by the courts but by the media. Whatever the outcome is, we believe it will become a reference for the future.”
  • Episode 4 aired without scenes of violence, and in particular, language which would hurt children and expressions treating them as pets. However, the children’s nicknames were still used.

7 February
The Japan Society for Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect sent an urgent petition to NTV. It was critical of the drama which it said “is loaded with content that runs counter to children’s welfare” in reference to scenes where the orphanage director shouts abusive language at the children and administers corporal punishment. The society asked the network to explain in a way that even children can understand before and after the drama that that the setting is different from real life, and also called for a reminder to children who have trauma to refrain from watching. NTV responded that it will review the petition.

About jadefrost

This blog contains information and musings on current and upcoming Japanese dramas but is not intended to be comprehensive.
This entry was posted in Drama Digest, NTV, Winter 2014 Dramas and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Drama Digest #10 Ashita, Mama ga Inai Saga

  1. Rootabega says:

    Excellent analysis, jadefrost. Talk about bashing down the tiny nail that sticks up with great sound and fury. Have you seen the Mitani Koki film “The University of Laughs”? Lord knows I can’t stand the lead actor (SMAP dude), but it is very topical as far as the contortions writers need to go through to avoid controversy, then and now. Scary stuff for a comedy.

  2. hey9 says:

    Seriously? Seriously? Hey, why don’t we just remove all contentious scenes from dramas – you know, cuz someone might hurt themselves because of it. These agencies have completely blown this out of proportion and given so much spotlight on the drama. You know they WANT kids to hurt themselves, just so they can say “See? This is all that drama’s fault!” It’s sick. If anything, it makes me think they’re trying to cover something up because of how overblown their reaction is. And here I thought NTV was gonna be badass and not change anything. Ech.

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