Kenshi Yonezu/Hachi - Bye Now, See You Someday!

Billboard Japan, April 12th, 2024 (Original Article)

Kenshi Yonezu's Valuing of "Indignation" and "Breaking Away" in Morning Drama Theme "Bye Now, See You Someday!" - How to Approach Writing a Song For a Woman's Story as a Man

We conducted an interview with Kenshi Yonezu about his writing of the new theme song "Bye Now, See You Someday!" for the NHK morning serial Tiger With Wings.

Tiger With Wings, which stars Sairi Ito as protagonist Tomoko, tells a story based on that of Japan's first female lawyer, Yoshiko Mibuchi. It depicts a woman and her companions who, amid the upheaval of the Showa era, clear open a path in the world of law where there had been none.

On its release, Yonezu commented that he "greatly endeavored to make "a song you could listen to every morning," while also thinking upon Tomoko's way of life and carefully considering how [he], as a man, should be intervening in this story." We asked him what feelings he built this work upon.

— Your new song is the theme for a morning show. What ideas did you start with to make a song that would be played on TV in the morning, not to mention be heard by people of all ages and backgrounds?

Kenshi Yonezu: Morning dramas are fundamentally something I wasn't very familiar with, so I began from "so what are these like?" I felt that first, I had to learn what sorts of songs musicians had made in the past, and what stories and energies were to be found in the "all-timer" morning dramas. And I concluded that indeed, it has to be something you can listen to every morning. Something that, for better or worse, just smoothly flows by. It's not something you listen to with your guard up, say. I started thinking I should make something refreshingly light, like a food you can eat every day.

— Were you in a different mode compared to past experiences making the theme songs for anime, dramas, or films?

Yonezu: I feel like my approach wasn't that different in itself. However, I do feel that fundamentally, my songs start to get all muddled if I'm not careful, and swirl with all these sentimental thoughts. I did consider that it might not be very good to have that hurled at you in the morning. Making something light and easily listenable was a bit of a new challenge for me, so it was difficult, but pretty fun.

— In making this theme, did you have thorough exchanges with the NHK creative team, or were you shown materials, or anything like that?

Yonezu: I did have a meeting with the general producer one time. Afterward, I received a script and a short collection of footage, and began working from there.

— Were there any aspects of the Tiger With Wings protagonist you sympathized with, or moments in the show's story that left an impression on you?

Yonezu: It had a direct influence on the song's lyrics, actually, but there's a scene where Tomoko meets her mother and is told she's "thinking of her." Her mother goes on about how she thinks, "for your sake," it'd be easier to live this way, but this puts Tomoko on the verge of tears, and with a sour face, she says "I'm sure that'd be easier to you, and maybe that's the right answer when you're living in this society, but to me, it's only hell." Effectively saying "I have my own way of living, and I want to see it through." I thought that was a really good scene, and I deeply sympathized with it. It felt like a fundamental part of this story, and had a major impact on me.

— The line "It's beyond that which people declare hell, in fact, where I see the spring" was no doubt inspired by exactly that.

Yonezu: Right. I think all people have "hells" that only they can understand. That's a thing I think about daily myself, so I feel it's an aspect that really connected me to Tomoko.

— What was it like trying to get an initial handle on the song?

Yonezu: While I figured they probably wanted a refreshing ballad you could listen to in the morning, at the same time, I had this thought of "is this really that kind of story?" It seemed like it shouldn't have an easygoing tempo. There's a sense of the protagonist Tomoko advancing forward rapidly and energetically, so I remember thinking it had to have a good-feeling, four-on-the-floor-type tempo.

— I think many morning drama songs are ballads with either soft, gentle tunes or heartrending melodies. Meanwhile, there are also exceedingly cheerful songs, but this song isn't really either. What sort of temperature felt like it meshed best with the show?

Yonezu: I felt that it was essential to "go off." You know, like "fly off the handle," or "get mad" - I'm talking about the kind of "going off" that represents powerful, indignant energy.

— Meaning?

Yonezu: Tiger With Wings is a story with a feminist tone all over it, so there's no avoiding getting a perspective on the ways in which women have been involved in society. So first, I put an intense amount of consideration into how I should be involving myself with this. In the first place, I had doubts about me, a man, having been asked to do this, so I had a meeting with the general producer. I asked, "I'm a man, so why is it that I'm singing the theme song for a story about women elevating their social status?", and they replied "In your own way, I want you to depict an expanding world from a bird's-eye view." They wanted someone to make a universal song with an a overhead perspective, one step removed from the women of this story, and apparently they had talks that concluded in "maybe Kenshi Yonezu would be good for that." I thought to myself, "ah, I see," but as I considered how to actually apply this story to a song, I felt it was impossible to make it objectively. If I think about what shape it would take were I to do it objectively, I think it would become sort of like "I'm giving a hearty yell for your hard work." It would be forced to use phrasings like "you're working hard, you're wonderful, I'm rooting for you." And I thought that would be incredibly irresponsible.

— I see.

Yonezu: The fact I'm a man meant I had to consider the topic of women's social elevation all the more carefully - like, I didn't want my gesturing to result in anything detrimental. And so I realized that if I took the "a hearty yell for you" approach that came to mind as a way to achieve that, it would actually just be putting women on a pedestal as sacred. Given my own nature, I got the feeling it might come off as treating them like muses of some kind. But ultimately, that's no more than an inversion of sorts. I feel like idolization and self-deprecation are basically the same at their root. As such, at least for me, being objective was practically impossible. Strictly speaking for myself, I concluded I had to make the song subjectively. I do think it's its own kind of violence to equate myself with those of a different nature, but being made to choose one, I had to pick subjectivity. Preparing myself to just buckle down and do it, this is where the song ended up.

— So how did you come to conclude that being "indignant" was necessary?

Yonezu: "Women elevating their status in society" is at the heart of this show, so in making the theme for it, I couldn't just be making judgements all on my own. I felt it was essential to carefully ask others things like "is this a good way of expressing things or not?", so I talked with female friends and others around me about all sorts of things as I worked. I asked what sorts of feelings they were actually living with in modern-day Japan. They all occupied a variety of different positions, some being musicians, some being designers, and their tones differed as well, but I concluded that indeed, none of them lived a life without stress. I was made to realize that women have a viewpoint only women can have, and that as a man, I've been unconsciously living at an advantage without an awareness of the benefits I'm getting. When faced with such obstacles, women can be forced into various choices. This may just be coincidence, but many of the women around me said that they would "snap" at times like this. Refuse to yield, basically. Like going "I don't give a crap, go out with me." Not that they necessarily used strong language, but many of them had that in them as a fundamental part of their attitude. So while it's strictly my own perception of what's around me, I feel that's where you have to launch off from. And if you don't believe what's happening in a 5-meter radius around you, you can't possibly make universal music that'll spread far and wide. I feel the song took on this form because I made it taking inspiration from those women's opinions and ways of life.

— Let me ask about the song's arrangement. There are voices with a sort of playfulness put into the song, like the laughter in the second verse. What intentions did you have there?

Yonezu: I wasn't the first one to use this term, but when talking with Tomokazu Yamada-san in meetings for the music video, he used the phrase "breaking away." It was while I was explaining how I made this song that he used that phrase. I thought that was a really good expression.

A thing that ties into that phrase is the fact that I don't want things to settle on a singular impression. It could be "ballad" or "rock song" or "R&B," or whatever; I just wanted to get away from being put in a box like "Ah, this song is one of these." I don't want people to get just one impression of it. Hearing him express that through the phrase "breaking away," it struck me as a good fit.

Living day to day, people are implicitly confirming things with each other like "you're that kind of person" and "I'm this kind of person," right? I often feel myself chafing against that. Judging what kind of person you or someone else is based on their current nature or state of being, then assigning names to those natures, states, or relationships so you can go "you're that kind of person," or "this is the kind of relationship we have," or "that's why you should be like this." That all feels incredibly rigid. Whether it's "friends," "lovers," "parent and child," "family," anything - relationships like that are all given individual names. When you assign a name to something, then no matter what, it'll be summarized and condensed. "Friends should be like this," "lovers should be like this" - you inevitably find yourself drawn to that. Sure, at times I do feel like I want to put people at ease, to just go along with the social code so I can settle things without having to think about it. But in general, I think "more than anything, isn't it just "me and you"?" Before it's given a name, I'm just me, here talking with you. We might be men, we might be women; we might be Japanese, we might be Korean, we might be Chinese. But before any of that, shouldn't we begin from "me and you"? That's how I want to do it. So when I'm putting out a song, I don't want things to stop at "it's a ballad" or "it's a rock song" or "it's R&B." To instead go "I'm me, okay?" The fact that I exist in this world as an individual feels, to me at least, incredibly important..As such, I'll reject any such looks or glances others give me. I made the song thinking about that sort of thing. And so "breaking away" was an appropriate way of describing that. I thought it was really smart.

— Would you also consider that sort of "breaking away" to be the opposite of "carrying responsibilities"?

Yonezu: Naturally, I think that there are things I'm carrying, too. Despite everything I said, I clearly am a Japanese person, with various natures and factors that connect to my identity, which puts me in this state I'm in now. That's at the root of any interaction with others, so it's absolutely required that you take responsibility and carry those aspects and states when you associate with someone. But there's also a "be that as it may" to that. And so "running away" feels like the most accurate descriptor. "Go as far as you want" - break away, run at a speed their eyes can't even keep up with. All the shackles keeping you down, the questionable things in front of you, your harsh circumstances, you just have to run away from them. To me, that doesn't feel like an inherently negative expression. "Breaking away" and "carrying responsibilities" aren't necessarily contradictory. After all, I'm someone who's worked really hard to run away from difficulties that take hard work to overcome. By running, you can obtain a way of being for yourself, as well as things to carry with you. I think it's possible to live that way.

— Running away can, in fact, be a thrilling thing.

Yonezu: The enormity of the things it can bring about, itself, has something truly enormous to it. That's sort of how it feels.

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