Johnny’s Lawsuit: Matsumoto Hitoshi vs. Bunshun Trial Insights | FRIDAY DIGITAL

Johnny’s Lawsuit: Matsumoto Hitoshi vs. Bunshun Trial Insights

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Downtown’s Hitoshi Matsumoto has chosen to have an all-out confrontation with Bunshun in court.

On January 22, Hitoshi Matsumoto of the comedy duo “Downtown” filed a lawsuit against the publisher Bungei Shunju and the editor-in-chief of “Shukan Bunshun” with the Tokyo District Court, claiming approximately 550 million yen in damages for defamation based on an article in the December 27 issue of “Bunshun” which published testimony from two women claiming they were forced into sexual acts. The editorial department of Shukan Bunshun filed a lawsuit against the publisher, Bungei Shunju Co.

The editorial department of “Shukan Bunshun” stated on the same day

“We have full confidence in the entire series of articles.”

This marks the beginning of a full-fledged legal battle in the courtroom.

How will the trial unfold?

I have attended and covered defamation trials many times before. Defamation trials involve the ‘three defenses’ as a means of balancing freedom of expression and protection against defamation. In summary,

“If an article pertains to facts concerning public interests and is published solely for the purpose of promoting public welfare, and when the disclosed facts are proven to be true, such an act is not deemed illegal, and an unlawful act does not occur.

Furthermore, even if the disclosed facts are not proven to be true, if there is a reasonable ground for the person involved to believe in the truth of those facts, it is appropriate to consider that there is no intent or negligence in their actions, and an unlawful act does not occur.”

This interpretation is well-established.

If the sexual assault issue in the article is proven to have public nature and public interest, the claim for damages will be dismissed and the Bunshun side will win the case.

On the other hand, if the judge determines that the article is not truthful and true, Bunshun will be ordered to pay a certain amount of damages, and Matsumoto’s side will win the case.

Since Matsumoto denies the “sexual acts” themselves, it is expected that the trial will be contested whether or not there were sexual acts, as well as whether or not there was sexual coercion against the women.

At the first trial, it is expected that the Bunshun side will either file a brief in rebuttal to Matsumoto’s complaint, or only state that they will fight the case and file a brief at the next trial.

The trial will proceed at a pace of about a month and a half, with both sides arguing in briefs and submitting statements and other documents containing the testimony of those involved, but the key is expected to be the testimony of the woman who claims that she was forced to engage in sexual acts. It will be interesting to see how the judge will judge the claims of both sides.

By the way, there was a lawsuit related to a series of ’99 Bunshun campaign articles that reported on the alleged sexual misconduct by the late Johnny Kitagawa. Johnny’s office (now: SMILE-UP.) sued for defamation. Regarding this lawsuit, Hirokazu Kitamura, a lawyer known as the “guardian deity of Bunshun” who handled the case, provided an interview for the monthly magazine “Sou”.

“What Did Johnny Kitagawa Testify in the ‘Shukan Bunshun’ Trial?” (Delivered on October 13, 2023)


According to it, two boys testified in court about Johnny Kitagawa’s “homosexual harassment,” but in the first-instance judgment of the Tokyo District Court, Bunshun lost the case, and damages were ordered as the court determined the lack of truthfulness or justifiability in the part of the article related to sexual victimization. However, in the appeal, the Tokyo High Court reversed its decision, stating that the article had truthfulness or justifiability.

“There was evidence proving the truthfulness in the critical parts.”

As a result, Bunshun essentially won the case, as there was evidence proving the truthfulness in the critical parts. Johnny’s side appealed, but the Supreme Court rejected the appeal, and the High Court decision is final.

This is an example of a case where different judges have different opinions on the same testimony, and although it cannot be simply applied to the current trial, it is possible that the trial will continue to unfold in an unpredictable manner. The Johnny’s vs. Bunshun trial took about four years and three months from the filing of the lawsuit (November 1999) to the Supreme Court decision (February 2004).

In defamation cases, even if both parties present their claims, there are instances where the judge suggests a settlement, and the case settles without waiting for a verdict (the details of the settlement are not disclosed). However, it seems unlikely for a mid-trial settlement in this case. If either party (or both) appeals the first-instance decision, and the case proceeds to the Supreme Court, it is expected to take approximately 4 to 5 years. Matsumoto filed his lawsuit on January 8th, and if the legal proceedings follow a standard timeline, the resolution might extend over several years.

“I want to confront the various articles and focus on the trial.”

It remains to be seen whether Matsumoto will continue to suspend his entertainment activities during the trial.

In any case, the long court battle between Matsumoto and Bunshun is set to begin soon.

The issue of Johnny’s sexual assault, which became a major social issue last year, has prompted companies to actively address sexual assault and human rights issues, and the media has also been active in reporting on the issue. For this reason, the future of the trial will be closely watched.

  • Bunshun's "method" that also won in the Johnny's lawsuit. Ryo Sakamoto (Writer, former head of the Culture and Society Department of Tokyo Sports Newspaper)

    Writes articles on entertainment, movies, Hollywood information, etc., including the web magazine "PlusαToday". Member of the Japan Film Pen Club.

  • PHOTO Ippei Hara

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