The Shape Of My Body Changed, And I Changed Mentally Too
Kenshi Yonezu could be considered a charismatic entity of the now and a new generation. In 2016, he went on country-wide live tours at the start and end of the year. In July, he collaborated with a special exhibition at the Louvre and released its theme song Number Nine. At the end of September, he released LOSER and his fifth single. He also released NANIMONO with Yasutaka Nakata, and in December, the picture book Monster Encyclopedia. We looked back on 2016, and thoroughly asked Yonezu about his now.
Cakes: Kenshi Yonezu, you've done a variety of new experiments in 2016. What among them do you think was the highlight of the year?
Yonezu: I suppose the highlight has to be dancing.
Cakes: I think the unique dancing on display in the LOSER video can be considered "bodily expression." I can see that being the most challenging to do for the first time.
Yonezu: Indeed. It was totally different from everything I'd tried before. So I think that was the biggest event.
Cakes: You had two nationwide tours this year, at the start and end. I saw a show from the Howl tour a few days ago, and I felt that experience there in your performance. Your skill at singing while dancing took my breath away. Do you feel a change in the sensation of standing on stage, too?
Yonezu: I do. I had dance lessons this summer, and alongside them, I did a sort of weight training thing. And the shape of my body started to change. I put on muscle, and some mental aspects changed too. Simply put, rice became really delicious.
Cakes: Hahaha, I see.
Yonezu: I realized at the ripe age of 25 that white rice eaten after exercise is delicious. With things like that, I've felt refreshed more often.
Cakes: Your dance choreography lessons were given by a leading figure in contemporary dance, Tomohiko Tsujimoto. How did you end up meeting Tsujimoto?
Yonezu: At first, I was talking with the video director and we ended up on "let's do some dancing." Well, if we were doing that, it'd naturally be good to have someone to lecture me in it. So we got in contact with him.
Cakes: You've said yourself that you've "thought about trying to dance since high school." But it was your first time doing it for real, and you didn't exercise.
Yonezu: Right. The last time was in the tennis club in middle school.
Cakes: Perhaps the kind of person who uses Vocaloid to make music and draws illustrations is the type who hardly will exercise.
Yonezu: You're right.
Cakes: But in the end, Tsujimoto admired you as having "artistic sense that's one-in-ten-thousand." I think it's not often that a pro in the field like Tsujimoto makes a comment like that.
Yonezu: He's a very sharp-tongued person. He's honest, and won't give you pleasantries. But it's because he's that kind of person that I can figure he's not lying, giving me that kind of praise. Though I still don't fully understand myself what I "have" in regards to dance.
Cakes: No doubt a new door has opened to you. About how much time did it take to reach that level from scratch?
Yonezu: Oh, two weeks.
Cakes: Two weeks!
Yonezu: When I said in an earlier interview "about a month," Tsujimoto got mad at me. "You didn't do it for a full month, say it right!" So I'll be precise and say two weeks.
Cakes: What kind of lessons were they?
Yonezu: At first, there was more exact choreography. Very dance-like, so to speak. But there really wasn't a lot of time, so we gave up on that and shifted toward trying to extend my nature as far as it could go. That's how it ended up the way it did. Thinking back now, maybe it was more of a mental thing than a physical thing.
Cakes: A mental thing?
Yonezu: I was in a dance studio with a mirror, with my teacher and an assistant, and I'd take off my shirt and be told "dance like this." Basically, I danced in front of the mirror checking myself. After that, we went out of the studio to a sidewalk of sorts and suddenly they'd say "now dance." Lots of special training that put on mental pressure.
Cakes: More than technique, it was an experience that shook your values.
Yonezu: There were technical aspects too, but I think being taught about how to think of things and feel was a big part. Essentially, Tsujimoto is a "person from another planet." He grew up in a totally different culture from me, so he has totally different senses.
Cakes: The kind of person you wouldn't normally meet in daily life.
Yonezu: That's why I thought it was interesting. Since he has things I don't, I surmised that maybe if I listened carefully to him, something new could come of it. Indeed, there was a lot he taught me, and I think some of his "genes" made it into me.
Cakes: Have you been keeping it up afterward and doing practice?
Yonezu: I have. I did it at a concert the other day, but I think there's still a lot more I can do. If you ask me whether it's fun or not, it's complex. I mean, I think it's really hard. But I'm thinking that I'll at least keep it up for a few years, until I'm able to do it to a certain extent.
Cakes: Listening to this, I wonder if it's not simply your performance that changed, but if some core values of yours are changing. Do you feel that way?
Yonezu: I do think they're changing. I mean, 2016 was a year where I consciously decided to change myself. First, at the start of the year, I had an ambition to "talk to lots of people." I'd made things in my own world for a long time prior, so I wanted to see just what'd happen if I went somewhere else. So first, I moved into the heart of the city. In general, it was a year of thoroughly engaging in meeting and talking to people.
Cakes: Did something prompt you to think that way?
Yonezu: I feel like it was an inevitable thing. Because I've been doing it all myself ever since I started using Vocaloid to make music at my computer. Though there was no clear event prompting it, looking back at the last few years, I think it's only natural that this time would come.
Cakes: You've not only met people, you've taken part in a variety of collaborations. For the Louvre's special exhibition "Louvre No. 9 ~Manga, The Ninth Art," you provided both an illustration and a song. What did you think of the experience?
Yonezu: The Louvre thing was rough. After people see the art of so many masters of their craft, having mine on display at the end... There was pressure, and I felt a sense of worthlessness. But I'm grateful for being given such an opportunity. It was a lot of fun making the song, too. Regarding Number Nine: at the time, I was able to brag that I'd made something clearly new, and I felt that perhaps I was the only one suited to make a theme song that fit Louvre No. 9. I was happy about that.
Cakes: Since the bande dessinée (comics with detailed art which originated in the French-speaking community) on display at "Louvre No. 9 ~Manga, The Ninth Art" was one of your roots, wasn't it?
Yonezu: I wanted to do manga long ago, and was very much influenced by bande dessinée author Moebius. I was raised with exposure to those things before going on to make Vocaloid and draw art.
Cakes: So your work now naturally tied into your roots.
Yonezu: Thinking about how those seeds have now borne fruit gives me some strong feelings.
Cakes: Next time, I'd like to ask about your collaboration with Yasutaka Nakata, and Monster Encyclopedia.
The Things Born of Fighting A Warped Individuality Become Something Beautiful
Kenshi Yonezu could be considered a charismatic entity of the now and a new generation. In 2016, he demonstrated a variety of talent through tours, collaborations, and new releases. We looked back on the year and thoroughly interviewed Yonezu about his now. In this middle part, he speaks about how he's faced his individuality in making his works.
Cakes: In 2016, you also had the collaboration with Yasutaka Nakata for NANIMONO, the theme song of the film Nanimono. You provided the lyrics and vocals for that song, which I believe was your first time putting your words and voice in the hands of another producer in such a way. How did you feel when it first came up?
Yonezu: There was no saying no to it. Since I was in the mode of trying things my past self wouldn't do. I had a little unease about not being able to make the song myself, but by doing it, I think new things came to me that hadn't been there before. And it was an interesting experience in practice. The song was the kind I would never make myself.
Cakes: You entrusted the final work entirely to Yasutaka Nakata.
Yonezu: That's right. Well, but honestly, I couldn't tell you I left without any ill feeling. I even had thoughts like "if I made the song, it would've been like this."
Cakes: I see.
Yonezu: In the end, I think it was a good song.
Cakes: Incidentally, you've said before that "your intentions are misunderstood no matter what you do." And that you're poor at communicating with people. After a year of deliberately meeting others and talking to them, how has that changed?
Yonezu: My thinking that the things I say will be misunderstood no matter what hasn't changed since then. Basically, I think of humans as creatures who just say incomprehensible things to each other. We're just living pretending that we understand each other, and understanding is fundamentally impossible. I think that moreso the more I talk to people.
Cakes: So that hasn't changed.
Yonezu: It's pretty difficult to put into words, but among the words humans use, some of them serve as a kind of advertisement. If you pick up these words and throw them at a person, you can get them to say "ahh, I get it." When you use the advertising words, you're able to fool a person... or rather, feel like you got something across. I think I'm getting better at drawing the line on when and when not to use those.
Cakes: In December of this year, you released your first book, Monster Encyclopedia. Why did you decide to round up those illustrations, originally done for a magazine, and make a book of them?
Yonezu: I ended Monster Encyclopedia when I finished making Bremen. I figured that it was probably enough.
Cakes: But I'm sure it wasn't simply a decision of stopping because you got too busy.
Yonezu: It was becoming something "concluded" to me. It was a personal thing, so I figured there wasn't much point in continuing it, and I was losing motivation to draw it. But entering this year, despite having ended it once, I drew quite a few additional "monsters."
Cakes: At the end of Monster Encyclopedia, there's the "Monster" who looks like a human girl. Its description reads: "Its body is structured completely different from a human, but its appearance is just like one. It speaks the same as a human and has the same feelings, so it even thinks of itself as human. Many die without ever knowing they're monsters." I felt like this conveyed what you were going for with Monster Encyclopedia.
Yonezu: It's only occurred to me recently, making this book, but the 20-some years I've been alive have been a battle with my individuality. From the moment I was born, I've thought of myself as a warped person. "Why did I become such a warped person?", I thought and fought against, all my life.
Cakes: Back in our interview with you at the end of last year, "Until the Boy Raised As A Monster Is Chosen By God.", you said "I always thought I was a monster."
Yonezu: But ultimately, I felt I needed to coexist with those things. In essence, fighting my individuality and self-consciousness ultimately brought me to Bremen. Even though I'm such a weird human, I could conquer that irregularity and make something universal. That's what I wanted to prove.
Cakes: Many people would say to cherish your individuality, though.
Yonezu: Individuality isn't necessarily a beautiful thing, or anything in particular. It's not something to boast about either, at least not to me. I've never felt a shred of pride about being born in this huge, irregular form.
Yonezu: Individuality is no more than something you're given. You can't help that you were born in that form. But with that awareness, you need to live among discord. I think people who express themselves need to fight against that discord. Maybe the things that come of fighting it can become something beautiful.
Cakes: And what you made by doing so was the album Bremen.
Yonezu: I felt like I made something universally beautiful there. That's why I decided to drop something so smelling of my individuality as Monster Encyclopedia.
Cakes: I see.
Yonezu: So from there, I decided to go somewhere different, but in this year my thoughts have changed. Rather than deodorize all my individuality, I decided to try and keep a balance. Starting dance also got me to think that. Initially, I tried to practice what was choreographed for me, but there wasn't enough time. So there was no other option than to consider what I could do by making use of my individuality.
Cakes: With your thoughts changing, did it also change how you make music?
Yonezu: It did. Before, it was like putting together puzzle pieces, thinking "maybe it'll be beautiful if it's like this."
Cakes: In your early days, you made music that practically ignored physical elements - like drum parts you would need 8 arms to play.
Yonezu: Right. But now, I'm able to make things that can be accommodated by my body. It's more often now that I can make music using feelings like "this feels good to sing."
Cakes: Monster Encyclopedia includes a song called "love." And indeed, I think it's a song themed entirely around love. Next time, we'll ask about that, and your new song "orion."
It's Just Nothing But Love
Kenshi Yonezu could be considered a charismatic entity of the now and a new generation. In 2016, he demonstrated a variety of talent through tours, collaborations, and new releases. We looked back on the year and thoroughly interviewed Yonezu about his now. In this last part, he discusses the lyrics of "love" and his new song "orion," and speaks on how all his works thus far revolve around "love."
Cakes: Kenshi Yonezu, your new release Monster Encyclopedia comes with a song called "love." I feel your many illustrations of monsters depict human individualities that stick out from the average or the norm, including your own - in other words, irregular forms. Why did you make a song based on "love" as the theme song for this collection?
Yonezu: I don't remember. I made it in a day or two, and it was done before I knew it. "love" wasn't a song I originally decided to make for Monster Encyclopedia. There was another song I made before that, and that one was more happy. But as a song for Monster Encyclopedia, it felt something was off, so I scrapped it. Then I made it in no time at all.
Cakes: Though the tone is poppy, the lyrics are by no means happy.
Yonezu: Ultimately, even if I depict darkness, it has to end up at love. Indeed, I think the most important thing in life is affection. If you ask me why I fight my individuality, my self-consciousness, it's because I wanted someone to love me. I fought to be loved, and live as a social animal. In this sense, I feel that while I've made a lot of different songs, maybe ultimately I can only sing about love. Among them all, "love" lays that especially bare. There's nothing decorating the fundamental feelings of "I want to be loved" and "I want to love." It's just nothing but love.
Cakes: The lyrics keep repeating "even if" - "even if we can't live eternally," "even if we'll someday be hated." I think this expresses doing away with all sorts of premises, society, and relations with others, to arrive at that core love.
Yonezu: Indeed. Without something resembling affection, you can't keep living. You can't live on individuality. When you have individuality, if it obstructs affection, you have to conquer it.
Cakes: Why is it that you have a strong sense of having to fight your individuality and self-consciousness?
Yonezu: I've been obstructed by my individuality throughout my life. Hindered by the things I was born with. But I think the most important thing is that you have to live with love for someone.
Cakes: I think Monster Encyclopedia is also an affirmation of diversity. Depending on the viewer, they might get a feeling of forgiveness, like "even if you stick out in some ways, you have a place." Though, what you just said about "being obstructed" feels like it's quite the opposite. Have you thought about how your expression is perceived by others?
Yonezu: I'm not sure about that. I mean, I think about a lot of things. And plenty of them displeasing. And I also get a feeling of "thanks for listening."
Cakes: So, conflicting feelings.
Yonezu: But the feeling that ultimately comes out of the muck, I think, is hoping that it can be for a person's benefit. I want to send my affection for listeners. That's a feeling I have.
Cakes: On February 15th, you'll release your new song "orion."
Cakes: You wrote it to be the ending theme for the TV anime March Comes In Like A Lion. I heard you wrote it thinking about the things you had in common with the protagonist, young shogi pro Rei Kiriyama. What made you feel that way?
Yonezu: Though Rei plays shogi and I make music - totally different fields - I felt like our thought processes were similar. Shogi is a battle against another person, so you need to have an opponent there; yet before playing, he goes in the room alone to read records of shogi games, and thinks to himself with the board in front of him. That's similar to a musician agonizing in front of a computer.
Cakes: In your interview with us last year, you frequently said "I want to keep getting stronger." Kiriyama, too, keeps aspiring to be stronger. And by meeting people around him, he gains a lot of things. In that sense, I think there's some definite overlap.
Yonezu: In any event, I thought it was most important whether or not there were things in common between me and the work. If there weren't, it would just be a loss for both parties. But in the case of March Comes In Like A Lion, it was a manga I was deeply familiar with, and I thought there was probably a link to myself, so I figured I could do it.
Cakes: There's the line in the lyrics "I keep a storm." I felt that was an aspect in common between Rei Kiriyama and Kenshi Yonezu.
Yonezu: At times, it seems like natural phenomena like storms have a will of their own. Something with its own intention, with life distinct from your own, living inside you whether you like it or not. I wondered if maybe that applied to me.
Cakes: That there's something like that inside of you?
Yonezu: Right. That's why the expression of "keeping a storm," I think.
Cakes: Looking back at everything in your life, do you think that thing has harmed you? Or has it helped you?
Yonezu: Hmm, it's complicated. Though I feel like I've been always confronting it as I make music... I don't know if it's harmed me or not. It could conceivably be protecting me, and could conceivably could be hurting me. It could go either way.
Cakes: Do you have a sense for where you're aiming for next?
Yonezu: Hmm, I wonder. Maybe there's no clear destination. I think anywhere that's not where I am now would be fine, at least at present. Although I do set up fictional objectives like "It'd be great if I appeared at the Kohaku Uta Gassen." But it's not like I started in music because I wanted to do that.
Cakes: That's true.
Yonezu: Reconsidering what's most important to me at every opportunity, I think I'll turn the rudder a little bit at a time. But if you ask what I ultimately want to do most, it's to never take a step out of the house. (laughs)
Cakes: You want to stay holed up at home.
Yonezu: If I could, I'd like to be by myself at home all day. Looking online, playing games, reading books. If I were allowed it, I don't think there could be anything happier. But I don't think that happiness ultimately can be. So I need to fight. In which case, I'd like to get to the Tokyo Dome. If I'm going to die, I want to go be the best. It's like that.
Cakes: One more question I'd like to ask: you said you decide what's important to you at every opportunity. What do you think is important to you at this particular moment?
Yonezu: I guess it has to be meeting people. Be it good friends, or people I haven't met yet. Meeting people is the most fun part for me, and I think it's something I have to do. Of course, I have many jobs to do, but that doesn't matter. Meeting people is most important.
Cakes: And making friends?
Yonezu: Right. Becoming someone who can make friends. I want to meet people who make me think, "I want to do something for this person."
Cakes: And meanwhile, be someone who makes others think that about you.
Yonezu: So, ultimately, it's something necessary for loving people. Because to do something for someone, it means you have to trust yourself who feels that way. I want to be with people who make me think I can make beautiful choices, who make me able to like myself.