Another Olympic opening ceremony hitch — the director is fired for Holocaust comments

Kentaro Kobayashi, the director of Tokyo Olympics' Opening Ceremony, has been ousted over comments he made about the Holocaust in a 1998 comedy routine.
Kentaro Kobayashi, the director of Tokyo Olympics' opening eeremony, has been ousted over comments he made about the Holocaust in a 1998 comedy routine.
Tokyo 2020 | AP

Just a day before the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics, Japanese organizers have dismissed the show's director over past comments about the Holocaust. It's yet another setback for the troubled event on the same week that the ceremony's composer was forced out.

It's not clear yet how the last-minute departure of director Kentaro Kobayashi is going to affect the ceremony, which is expected to be an elaborate production unfolding over the course of three hours on Friday morning.

"How we're going to handle the ceremony is currently being discussed," organizing committee president Seiko Hashimoto told reporters on Thursday.

Kobayashi, who is a comedian, reportedly made an anti-Semitic joke about the Holocaust in a 1998 show.

That act reportedly had a portion titled "Let's play Holocaust." It recently resurfaced in Japanese media in the lead-up to the opening ceremony.

Kobayashi also is said to have bullied people with disabilities.

"We are facing a lot of challenges right now," Hashimoto acknowledged on Thursday. "Maybe that's the reason why these negative incidents will impact the messages we want to deliver to the world. The value of Tokyo 2020 is still exciting and we want to send our messages to the world."

On Wednesday, the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center condemned the comments from the former director.

"Any association of this person to the Tokyo Olympics would insult the memory of six million Jews and make a cruel mockery of the Paralympics," SWC's associate dean, Rabbi Abraham Cooper, said in a statement.

The opening ceremony organizers are also scrambling because of last-minute changes to the music after the composer resigned. In interviews in the 1990s, Keigo Oyamada boasted about bullying people when he was a student — including classmates with disabilities.

Oyamada, who is known as Cornelius, stepped down on Monday after Japanese officials reversed their original decision to let him keep his role. Ultimately, the organizers also decided not to use his composition in the ceremony.

"As far as the opening ceremony is concerned, this is a very critical matter so therefore it's important that we put up a respectable opening ceremony. We will exert our maximum efforts towards that," Hashimoto said on Tuesday.

Hashimoto herself became head of the organizing committee after her predecessor resigned in February. Yoshiro Mori sparked outrage when he made comments suggesting that women talk too much at board meetings.

And in March, the creative director of the opening and closing ceremonies resigned after he made disparaging remarks about a Japanese female comedian.

Despite all of the turnover of opening ceremony organizers — including its most central figure a day before — the show will go on Friday. It's the official kickoff for the Games that were postponed by a year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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