What Hana Kimura's death says about the relentless cyberbullying of reality TV stars
On Friday, Terrace House: Tokyo star and professional wrestler Hana Kimura died at 22. Now, the series has canceled the remainder of its Tokyo-centered season, which had already suspended filming during the pandemic.
Terrace House, while freewheeling in its live commentary, tends to amplify criticism of the contestants online. In extreme cases, this can create rifts and emotional turmoil for cast members weeks down the line, once they’ve watched the previously aired episodes. Kimura was the frequent target of cyberbullying and harassment about her appearance online, and she posted candidly about this before her death. Japanese media has largely reported that Kimura died by suicide, although Japanese authorities have not yet confirmed a cause of death. On the day of her death, she posted on Instagram a photo with her cat, captioned: “I love you, please live a long and joyful life. I’m sorry.”
Fuji Network, the show’s Japanese broadcaster, released a statement to Variety confirming the show’s Tokyo season will not resume filming when it’s deemed safe to do so. “We would like to express our regrets for the death of Hana Kimura and offer our sincere condolences to her family,” the statement reads. “Taking her passing with utmost sincerity, we will take active steps to formulate a response.”
In the meantime, the network has taken steps to wipe Terrace House: Tokyo off the internet. As Jezebel’s Hazel Cills points out, the series has also scrubbed evidence of its Tokyo season from all social media accounts. All video clips from Terrace House: Tokyo have been deleted from its YouTube, along with posts on the official Instagram and Twitter accounts. Aside from four tweets addressing Kimura’s death, the most recent posts are from last February’s Opening New Doors season. Despite apparent efforts to disappear the latest season of Terrace House, a Netflix spokesperson confirmed to Variety that the service has “no current plans to take down the latest season of this incredibly beloved show.”
Variety reported on Tuesday that the Japanese government has explored new laws to crack down on cyberbullying, with plans to discuss action in parliament. “It’s necessary to properly implement procedures to disclose information on senders in order to curb online abuses and rescue victims,” said Japan’s communications minister Sanae Takaichi. One proposed change is requiring social network service operators to disclose identities and phone numbers of abusers. The Japanese arms of Facebook, Twitter, and Line also pledged to ban abusers — while simultaneously aiming to “respect freedom of expression and protect privacy.”
The poor treatment and support systems for reality stars is far from unique to Terrace House. One report from last year estimates as many as 38 deaths by suicide of reality contestants, spanning as long as the form has existed. Kimura’s treatment and tragic death is just the latest reminder that an industry-wide reckoning is long overdue.