In December 2012, Benedict Cumberbatch arrived in Japan from the UK several hours after filmmaker J.J. Abrams and actor Chris Pine had arrived from Los Angeles to take part in a preliminary press junket for the summer 2013 release of Star Trek Into Darkness. Apparently unbeknownst to Cumberbatch, as well as to a Japanese mass media always on the lookout for the next big thing, roughly 500 fans – overwhelmingly female – were waiting for him on his arrival at Tokyo’s Narita International Airport, the information about his flight number and arrival funneled through Sherlock and Cumberbatch-related websites that had, in turn, received it from Paramount Japan. Where Chris Pine had garnered some fleeting recognition from the many fans who had already begun gathering earlier in the day to see Cumberbatch, Cumberbatch himself received an enthusiastic welcome and attempted to respond in kind, shaking hands and acknowledging as many of his fans as possible as he was ushered to the door.
This outpouring of interest in the heretofore all-but-unknown Cumberbatch generated considerable attention within the Japanese mass media. Prior to his arrival in Japan, Cumberbatch had only been featured in one Japanese publication, Hayakawa Mystery, in a special issue focusing on BBC’s Sherlock in preparation for a New Year’s broadcast of series 2. However, the enthusiastic turnout at the airport caught the attention of magazine editors who were then faced with slowly declining interest in, and not insignificant backlash against, South Korean stars and shows – the fandom of which had sustained them for nearly a decade. In Cumberbatch they had a non-Asian star – one of the only outside a Hollywood context to generate this degree of popularity in nearly twenty years – who brought with him that nation-based pedigree that has been a constant of foreign star promotion since at least the late 1980s and the first ‘heritage film’-fuelled British star boom. Soon, magazine articles based on the interviews Cumberbatch conducted during his visit proliferated in the Japanese press, each proclaiming him a quintessential ‘English gentleman’ and, in turn, helping to spur what would, by the latter half of 2013, become a full-blown British male star boom.
By the time of Cumberbatch’s second Japanese junket, conducted a month before the Japanese August premiere of Star Trek Into Darkness, he had become a full-fledged phenomenon, less on the basis of his anticipated role in the reboot of an American TV show that, in Japan, had little more than niche popularity, than on his starring turn in BBC’s Sherlock, which had only begun airing in Japan in late 2011, and then in a late-night slot on national broadcaster NHK’s premium satellite channel. Which is to say, Cumberbatch’s Japanese fandom was itself quite niche, but it was also part of a broader global fandom that enjoyed momentum primarily online, and it was for this reason that on this second trip, spearheaded by the careful dissemination of information by Paramount Japan, Cumberbatch was greeted by 1000 fans. The degree of ‘fan service’ he provided at the airport, which after his December junket had been favorably compared to that of such fan service luminaries as Johnny Depp and Leonardo DiCaprio, was scaled back somewhat; however, he did take the time to stop and talk to the gathered crowd, satisfying even those who had been waiting in place since as early as 3 am that morning.
Moreover, in anticipation of broad interest in Cumberbatch’s visit to Japan, his arrival was streamed live online on a feed available not only to Japanese fans unable to be at the airport, but to overseas fans as well. Indeed, the entire junket played out online in real time over the course of the next four days, ultimately giving global fans insight into the ways that celebrity fandom plays out in Japan and influencing fannish activity spurred by the visit in ways that reveal the increased porousness – both cultural and fannish – of transcultural fandom in the age of social media. Continue reading