TOKYO – Just a day before the opening ceremony of the delayed Tokyo Olympics, Games organizers fired Kentaro Kobayashi, the creative director of the ceremony, after video footage of him mocking the Holocaust was released in a comedic act in the 1990s.
During a press briefing on Thursday, Japan’s Olympics Minister Seiko Hashimoto, appearing under siege after a series of scandals that plagued the Games and the creative staff at the Opening Ceremony in particular, said she had learned the routine Wednesday. In the skit, Kobayashi joked about the “massacre of Jews” while mimicking the act of cutting human figures out of paper. The organizing committee, she said, decided to fire him “immediately”.
In a statement, Kobayashi said he regretted the routine after doing it and “started aiming to create comedies that don’t hurt others.”
“I understand my word choice was wrong and I regret it,” said his statement. “I apologize to those who felt upset.”
The organizing committee, in a statement, said Kobayashi had “made fun of a painful historical fact in the past” and apologized “for causing problems and concerns to many stakeholders, as well as ‘to the people of Tokyo and Japan’.
The swift decision to fire Kobayashi contrasted with the resignation this week of Keigo Oyamada, a composer who had written music for the opening ceremony, after excerpts from interviews he gave in the 1990s, admitting to having suffered severe bullying and abuse from disabled social media comrades.
Oyamada apologized at first and it emerged that he would keep his job before a massive social media campaign prompted him to quit. “We should have fired Mr. Oyamada earlier,” Hashimoto said.
Kobayashi is the second Creative Director of the Opening Ceremony to step down. In March, Hiroshi Sasaki resigned after a magazine revealed he compared a popular comedian and plus-size fashion designer to a pig by offering to participate in the ceremony. Sasaki’s resignation came just weeks after Yoshiro Mori, the former chairman of the Tokyo organizing committee, also resigned after making sexist comments about women.
On Twitter, some people have asked why Kobayashi was fired for an old routine, but others said his firing was not enough. “The dismissal of Kentaro Kobayashi after the Holocaust skit was discovered in the past is a quick step,” wrote one attach. “But are they going to play what this guy directed at the opening ceremony tomorrow?” Is the problem solved just because he was fired? “
When asked if she regretted continuing with the Games amid the unfolding scandals and the increase in coronavirus cases in the Olympic Village, Hashimoto admitted that the Tokyo organizers were “facing all the possible problems “. But, she said, “we want you to remember Tokyo for overcoming a lot of problems and being successful.”