After Filmmaker's Death, Japan's Tabloid Media Come Under Attack

The suicide of leading Japanese movie director Juzo Itami has thrown the spotlight on the nation's tabloid media, after a muckraking report was accused of driving him to despair, Japanese commentators say.

The director was the subject of a photo spread published on Dec. 22 by Tokyo magazine Flash, which showed him walking down a street accompanied by a young woman who the publication alleged to be his lover. It said he gave the woman 500,000 yen ($3,860) - while Itami in his suicide note said she was merely a friend and that he had lent her the money to move.

Commentators held Japanese tabloid journalism to account for "the tragic waste." Japanese photo magazines are very much like Peeping Toms, says Sophia University media professor Yasuo Ueda.

Mr. Ueda says that he has observed a narrowing of the separation between Japan's quality press and its junk news media, along with an increasing willingness to print scandals regardless of their newsworthiness.

Friends of Itami and his wife actress Nobuko Miyamoto have expressed disbelief, saying his marriage with the most frequent leading lady of his films was strong. And several acquaintances interviewed on television after his death say they thought the Flash story had merely tipped Itami over the edge of despair. Fellow director Nagisa Oshima speculates this was the case. "He probably was worried about what he would do next. This is always the burden a director bears," he says.

While Japan's mainstream newspapers are extremely restrained by European standards, less-inhibited publications have come under fire for their pack-like pursuit of the Imperial Family, targeting in particular Empress Michiko and Crown Princess Masako.

A news media ceasefire was called when the Empress collapsed and lost her voice for months under a barrage of tabloid coverage about her relationship with the Imperial Household Agency, which runs the royals' lives.

But the private lives of celebrities in Japan have remained fair game despite widespread shock at the death of Diana, Princess of Wales.

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