Actor, director, comedian, manga artist and once-designated ceremony director for the delayed 2020 Tokyo Olympics, it seems Kentarō Kobayashi has many reasons to be recognized.
Instead, he’s garnering worldwide attention for a distasteful joke he made 23 years ago.
The headlining news lengthens the list of controversial stories surrounding the Tokyo games, begging us to ask: What is going on?
The WSJ noted the releases of two other creative team members — one of which took place after Hiroshi Sasaki, the lead creative director of the opening ceremony, touted the idea of placing a plus-size female celebrity in a pig costume in March.
The other came earlier this week when opening ceremony musical director Keigo Oyamada admitted to bullying classmates in the 1990s. (It’s much worse than it sounds, actually.)
So, the Kobayashi incident marks the third removal from the games’ creative committee over the course of a few months. Combine these separate developments with rampant socio-political issues such as transgender athletes, coronavirus, Black Lives Matter demonstrations, etc., and you have a recipe for the disastrous ideological dogma that’s consuming this world gathering.
Kobayashi is facing considerable heat for the joke extrapolated from his 1998 skit, a joke which centered around kids playing a “paper Holocaust” game.
You can take a look at the footage yourself (be sure to enable closed captioning if you do), but, in brief, the contentious moment went a little something like this:
The duo seen in the clip was known as the Ramens, according to the Daily Beast.
As they were sitting on stage, discussing different uses for paper, one actor mentioned he had “human-shaped papers,” then walked aside and pretended to pick up something before sitting down again.
Then came the kicker.
Kobayashi’s character said, according to translation, “That must be remaining from the time you said, ‘Let’s play [the] massacre Jewish people game.'”
As the media caught wind of Kobayashi’s distasteful 23-year-old joke, the uproar ensued — prompting Olympic officials to fire him on Thursday.
“We found out that Mr. Kobayashi, in his own performance, has used a phrase ridiculing a historical tragedy,” Olympic Organizing Committee President Seiko Hashimoto said, according to The Associated Press.
“We deeply apologize for causing such a development the day before the opening ceremony and for causing troubles and concerns to many involved parties as well as the people in Tokyo and the rest of the country,” he added.
Others voiced their concerns about the skit, including Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean and global social action director of the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center (a human rights group).
“Any person, no matter how creative, does not have the right to mock the victims of the Nazi genocide,” Cooper said, according to the AP.
He then said the joke was inexcusable for another reason, noting that Nazis not only committed injustices against Jews, but also against other groups, including the disabled.
“Any association of this person to the Tokyo Olympics would insult the memory of 6 million Jews and make a cruel mockery of the Paralympics,” he added.
Kobayashi’s joke is inexcusable indeed, and it’s not something you’d want looming over an Olympic official’s record.
But, did one 23-year-old incident (albeit, a bad one) warrant banning him from the Olympics — and possibly ruining his image and career forever going forward?
Better yet, does this mean that it’s impossible to be reformed these days, to regret your actions, to make rights out of wrongs?
I’m a firm believer in facing the consequences of your actions, but I also understand that people are fallible. (I’m sure all of Kobayashi’s critics have lived perfect lives and have never said anything that could be even remotely construed as offensive, right?)
But, in law, the concept of criminal intent surfaces from time to time. Did the suspect have malicious intent when he/she committed an offense?
We could apply some iteration of that concept to Kobayashi: Did he make his joke with malicious intent?
I’d like to think that he didn’t (I’d like to think someone wouldn’t be that twisted, actually), but it was a very stupid, juvenile and insensitive joke to make.
People are malleable, however, just like time. And it’s safe to assume that Kobayashi — like the world — was at least a little different back then.
I invite you to consider a couple of elements here: Entertainment used to be far less accommodating for sensitivities than it is today and the true nature behind Kobayashi’s joke is still up for debate, even to the extent that CBS News stated he “appeared to joke about the Holocaust.”
Commenters on the YouTube clip even came to Kobayashi’s defense.
“So, the joke is about the creepiness of kids playing a ‘paper Holocaust’ game, not about the Holocaust,” one user wrote.
Another user responded to the comment, saying, “As soon as I heard about this I knew it was overblown. Cancel culture strikes again. The media is literally running as him being ‘caught’ on camera making ‘anti-Semitic remarks’ concerning the Holocaust. Completely out of context and missing the point.”
Is it out of context? Is the media’s reaction to this throwaway joke completely overblown?
Perhaps we should treat the entire ordeal the way mistakes (at least, not detrimental ones that harm or kill another person) should be treated: as a learning experience, an opportunity to improve.
It’s safe to say that, if Kobayashi had the chance, he likely would not do it again.
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