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A suspected suicide. Cyberbullying. Why some call this Netflix reality show 'toxic'

Aida Ylanan, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

As fans continue to mourn the death of 22-year-old Hana Kimura, the shy but bubbly professional wrestler who appeared in the latest season of Netflix's popular reality show "Terrace House," one persistent theme has accompanied the wave of tributes.

"We have to get rid of this belief that you can just say anything you want to so-called famous people," wrote friend and fellow housemate Emika Mizukoshi in an Instagram tribute to Kimura, whose death was confirmed last week by Stardom Wrestling.

The official cause has not been determined, though troubling social media posts from Kimura in the lead-up to her death have stirred speculation that she took her own life in the face of cyberbullying. Outcry followed against the abuse often directed against the famous, and "so-called famous," online. (Japanese distributor and Netflix's co-producer on the series, Fuji TV, announced the cancellation of Kimura's season on Wednesday. Filming had already stopped because of the COVID-19 pandemic.)

Though such harassment finds expression in countless forms and on countless platforms, Kimura's untimely death has drawn attention to the particular difficulties facing reality TV stars, social media influencers and others of "in-between" celebrity status. Figures like these may be exposed to far more scrutiny -- or abuse -- than the average person, without the protective layers of the traditional celebrity entourage.

It's not a phenomenon unique to "Terrace House," the Japanese reality show that's obtained a global cult following since being acquired by Netflix in 2015. Each season, the show follows the lives of six strangers -- three men, three women -- as they live together under the same roof. Deep friendships and budding romances bloom as housemates learn more about one another.

But the "Terrace House" cast -- unlike that of the "Big Brother" reality franchise, for instance -- often draws on those, like Kimura, who bring with them a following that predates their time on the show. Though not everyone who enters the house is already semi-famous, aspiring models, talented musicians and dedicated athletes have all been among the cast, and the series offers a tangible shot at greater fame and its material benefits.

 

In fact, the series' thorny relationship with celebrity is one of its central features: While "Terrace House" was a boon to professional snowboarder Takayuki Nakamura, whose clothing brand received international attention after he wore it on the show, basketball player Ryo Tawatari found himself in hot water when fans theorized he cut short an in-house romance to placate his admirers.

Unfortunately, the abuse that may accompany a star's rise to prominence is often treated as par for the course -- the trade you make in return for notoriety. "Terrace House" alumni began sharing their own experiences with the phenomenon after Kimura's death. "I was often told 'that's the price of being on television,' 'if you're going to get hurt, don't be on it,' 'die,' 'leave,'" Mizukoshi wrote.

That price is a lot to ask, even of someone who's signed away their privacy for the sake of our enjoyment.

"I'm just an athlete, not an entertainer," Tawatari wrote in his online tribute to Kimura. For those who enter the house with even less experience in the public eye, the transition may be even more difficult.

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