By Shaimaa Khalil
A prestigious Japanese all-female theatre company has admitted it feels responsible for the death of a young actress whose suspected suicide was reportedly caused by overwork.
Executives from Takarazuka Revue apologised for “loss of life” but did not announce a compensation package for the 25-year-old’s family.
Chairman Kenshi Koba also said he was stepping down.
There’s fierce competition to join the company, one of Japan’s most popular.
Formed in 1913, it has achieved cult status in Japan for its glitzy interpretations of romantic musicals.
The troupe is highly sought after by aspiring young female singers and dancers, who operate in a rigid hierarchy. Often playing male roles, the female performers draw huge audiences.
“It is undeniable that a strong psychological burden was placed on [the woman], and we did not sufficiently fulfil our duty of care for her safety,” Mr Koba told a news conference at the revue’s base in the western city of Takarazuka.
Addressing relatives, he said: “We deeply apologise for not being able to protect a precious member of your family.”
The chairman and two other executives promised new measures to ensure nothing similar happened in future. It plans to reduce the number of weekly performances from nine to eight.
But they said they were not aware of young artists’ struggles at the musical troupe. In a statement, they said they had received no complaints and were not aware of any staff shortages.
The actress, who had been with the company for six years, is not being named. Her family have chosen to remain anonymous because of the stigma still attached to suicide in Japan.
She was found dead in her condominium in Takarazuka on 30 September. Police said she died of suspected suicide.
An independent team comprised mainly of lawyers was commissioned by the company to investigate the circumstances surrounding the death. It did not confirm any incidences of bullying or harassment at the news conference.
But it found that it was “undeniable that the combination of long hours of activities and pressure from senior members may have placed a psychological burden” on the woman.
Her family are suing the company for compensation. The actress took her own life because the overworking and bullying by her seniors “compromised her mental and physical health”, her family’s lawyer said last week.
The lawyer said she was under an outsourcing contract with the company and that her overtime exceeded 277 hours a month, which was above the government’s criteria for worker compensation. Takarazuka Revue has put the figure at 118 hours a month.
The woman’s family have also claimed she suffered burns two years ago when a senior member pressed a hair iron against her forehead, an allegation the company denied when it was reported in a weekly magazine this February.
The company “turned a blind eye while subjecting [the actress] to abnormal, excessively long working hours, leaving her extremely fatigued,” her family said in a statement, demanding that the company, along with those it alleges abused their daughter, acknowledge their responsibility and apologise.
Investigators reported “we could not confirm (that it was intentional)” that a senior member of the troupe had burned the 25-year-old’s forehead with a hair iron, The Asahi Shimbun reported.
As well as the apology the company wants to compensate the family but no details have been decided yet, according to Japan’s public broadcaster NHK.
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