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SMAP fans mourn as Japan pop idols leave 'final stage'

Group spans boy band to TV stars in decades-long career

The "SMAP 25 Years" musical compilation, released last week, is about to become Japan's top seller for 2016.

TOKYO -- Japan's beloved pop idol group SMAP bowed out Monday with the final episode of the long-running television program "SMAPxSMAP," disheartening many fans.

Positioned as the group's "final stage" of public appearances together, the program featured videos from the past two decades as well as a clip of the five members clad in black tuxedos singing hit song "Sekai ni Hitotsu dake no Hana" ("A Flower Unlike Any Other in the World") last month.

Members with stern expressions bowed deeply before a white curtain closed in the prerecorded video. It showed the back of group leader Masahiro Nakai as he wiped tears. But the group gave no live farewell message, since none of the members was present at the studio as the last episode aired.

A Tower Records Japan store in Tokyo's Shibuya area set up a special space Dec. 20 featuring "SMAP 25 Years," a compilation of hit songs. The compilation, released the following day, appears set to become the best-selling CD for 2016 if its popularity remains at the current level through this week.

"It's sad to think that no more new songs will be sung together by the members," a 51-year-old female fan sighed.

The Japanese public was shocked when moves toward the group's breakup surfaced in January as all but one member, Takuya Kimura, reportedly sought to work independently of the group. Then the members apologized on "SMAPxSMAP" for causing the turmoil. The situation seemed to have calmed. But the group's talent agency, Johnny & Associates, announced SMAP's dissolution in August.

Saddened fans protested the move, hoping for a miracle. A campaign to buy the CD single of "Sekai ni Hitotsu dake no Hana" went viral via Twitter. The CD sold about 400,000 copies since January, industry statistics provider Oricon said. Cumulative sales of the 2003 single topped 3 million this month.

On Dec. 11, fans delivered 373,515 signatures to the talent agency demanding a continuation of SMAP. A 29-year-old fan involved in the signature and CD purchase efforts said she cannot accept the dissolution without understanding the reason. SMAP "gave a moral boost to various people," including those affected by the country's major earthquakes and tsunami in 2011, she said. She still holds out hope that the group will come back together.

SMAP "was a familiar superstar," differing from the unreachable big names of the past era, said Takahiko Kageyama, a professor at Doshisha Women's College of Liberal Arts who teaches media and entertainment theory.

The group, which showed that harmony among vastly different personalities was possible, likely captured the hearts of many Japanese who were struggling with an empty feeling after the nation's economic bubble burst in the 1990s, said Manabu Yuasa, a well-known music critic.

SMAP, formed in 1988, released its first CD in 1991. The program "SMAPxSMAP" first aired in 1996.

(Nikkei)

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