Famous since the age of twelve, sugary sweet idol Ai Kago grew up in the limelight. By the time she turned 18, that light had dimmed. During the past few weeks, Kago's been on television, first for Yakuza connections. The second reason is far more tragic: Ai Kago tried to kill herself.
During the early part of this century, Ai Kago was one of the most popular members of Morning Musume, then the biggest girl group in Japan.
Before song writer Tsunku made Rhythm Heaven games, he concentrated on churning out tunes for Morning Musume. In the last few years, with the rise of AKB48, Morning Musume has been on the slide.
This weekend, Kago was found on the floor of a Tokyo high-rise after she apparently threatened to commit suicide. She was in a drug-induced state and had unsuccessfully tried to slit her wrists. According to news reports, the cuts were not deep, and Kago is currently in a stable condition.
News reports, such as this one by Japan Zone, have stated that the suicide attempt was triggered by last week's arrest of Kago's 44-year-old boyfriend, who runs a restaurant that supposedly has Yakuza connections and apparently is also a prostitution ring for a jet set clientele. Kago, who is 23, was also brought in for police questioning last week.
Japan is currently carrying out a Yakuza crackdown, as evident in the recent exposure of Shinsuke Shimada's Yakuza ties.
Before last week's arrest, Kago's only connection to the Yakuza was thought to be via her former band mate: ex-Morning Musume member Mari Yaguchi lent her voice and likeness to Yakuza 4.
While former Morning Musume members, like Mari Yaguchi, went on to find continued fame on Japanese variety programs, Kago didn't. When she was 18, she was photographed smoking. The legal age to smoke in Japan is 20 years-old.
To add insult to injury, smoking is a no-no for idols, and in the past it has cost idols their careers and led to their blacklisting from the Japanese entertainment industry. Idols are supposed to be pure, and something like smoking taints that. Kago was put on probation, but further indiscretions, such as being photographed smoking again as well as being with an older married man, cost her. Kago was booted from the talent agency that manages Morning Musume.
When I interviewed Kago a few years back for my schoolgirl book Japanese Schoolgirl Confidential, she wasn't represented by a huge Japanese talent agency. Instead, she was represented at that time by a firm that handled mostly foreign celebrities. Out of all the talent agencies I've contacted in Japan, this was the first time I'd heard of a foreign one representing a well known Japanese talent. It felt like none of the Japanese agencies would touch her.
While the American entertainment industry thrives on such scandal, black eyes like this make it difficult to find work in Japan.
Kago continued to record music and even appeared in an Hong Kong flick with Sammo Hung as well as a small part in last year's entry in The Grudge films, which starred Akina Minami. She was doing more semi-nude modelling — perhaps a way to show she wasn't the chubby cheeked kid anymore. Kago was working — a good thing — and it seemed like if she could keep her nose clean, she could claw her way back.
Somewhere along the line, things went south. Kago wasn't happy. She got mixed up with the wrong people, and there were even reports that she was in an abusive relationship. When you rocket to fame before you're 13, you grow up before the entire country's eyes. The same thing also happens with you hit rock bottom. The hard part is never going up. It's coming down.