Kenshi Yonezu/Hachi - LOSER / Number Nine

CUT Magazine, September 2016 (Magazine Article)

Where Did Kenshi Yonezu Come From?
Brilliant Artist of a New Generation Reveals His Roots!!

Starting as an introspective person who thought himself a monster, forming a self from the influence of many others, but wanting to deny that self the next moment.

The impetus for putting together this special Kenshi Yonezu feature was getting to hear the song Number Nine, both a title song from his new single releasing September 28th, and the theme song for the special Louvre exhibition "Louvre No. 9 ~Manga, the Ninth Art~." CUT also had a large Kenshi Yonezu feature at the time of his latest full album Bremen, but with this amazing song, we felt the universality and scale of Kenshi Yonezu's music had soared above even Bremen.

Facing himself boundlessly, living a life of putting out music and art, Kenshi Yonezu crosses boundaries of distance, time, and heart, able to connect fiercely with others who have his same passion. That much was very apparent in the song Number Nine. And so we thought to do an interview to find out what kind of path he'd taken, and how the passion of his predecessors affected him. We also wanted to do a photo session for this man who continued to express himself as both a musician and an artist.

And so we bring to you this 20-page special, "Where Did Kenshi Yonezu Come From?" This interview in which he offered 10 "origins of soul" ended up an epic life story spanning two hours. So that all generations can enjoy it, we also included explanations of the works and artists he talks about, so make sure to read them over. And whether in a tumultuous town or a lonely room, may we chase after Kenshi Yonezu's music together as its power grows greater into the future!

At any rate, I wanted other people to know me, and I've always wanted to connect with people in similar circumstances.

Kenshi Yonezu's Origin No. 1
"The Family of Fourteen Series," Kazuo Iwamura

I looked up to this kind of ordinary living.

— The oldest thing you offered as one of your roots was the "Family of Fourteen" series, a series of storybooks by Kazuo Iwamura.

That's right.

— Did you have these books since as far back as you can remember?

They'd been in my house since a long time ago. Since around kindergarten age, I always read them before going to bed. These books had really good and proper landscape drawings, so while the places were unrealistic, I felt like they could exist somewhere in reality. "How nice would it be if I could live somewhere like this?", I would imagine before falling asleep. And there were all kinds of stories, from season to season. Long ago, I'd go pick raspberries with my grandpa and grandma until the basket was basically full, and I wondered if while I was harvesting strawberries in the mountains, I might look at my feet and find creatures like these.

— So these storybooks are generally fantasy, and there was a feeling that they were different from the world we lived in, but the seasons were depicted realistically, so in that sense it was greatly adjacent to your life.

Right. It was just the right distance from reality - where you're not sure where it is or what era. To children, it's the level of fantasy where you could think "maybe this could plausibly happen in reality," so it felt familiar.

— Did you ever sense when reading that there were differences between this and your own life?

I'm not sure... But I really had a longing toward this kind of harmonious community and family. It wasn't like I had many friends. I was always conscious of myself as "somehow different from human," and I think that part of me unable to make friends with others was there from kindergarten. So I looked up to depictions of super-ordinary living like this. I'm like that to this day, but when I look back, I suppose it probably was always there.

— Did you start drawing around kindergarten?

They're really dim memories, but I remember drawing pictures with my finger in the sand pit. I really liked to draw. Probably since it pleased me to have people say I was good.

— Looking at the touches on your art, I sense there's quite a bit of influence from the art of Kazuo Iwamura, author of the Family of Fourteen series.

(laughs) Thinking about it now, I guess so. And I really like that feeling of a miniature garden, watching the lives of mice from a bird's-eye view. I was definitely trying to make something like that with my first album, diorama. I wanted to show the odd connections between various people living in a town. Maybe there's a link to these storybooks in that. I really like looking at lives that aren't anything special. This is getting to later, but when I got internet at my house, I thought it was amazing that you could look at someone's blog and not know who they are or where they're from - someone who might even be nameless, who could be a nobody salaryman or student. I really liked lazily reading things like "This happened at school" or "My boss yelled at me," ordinary complaints and such with no real payoff.

— So you often found that much more interesting than things which were written purposefully.


Kenshi Yonezu's Origin No. 2
"Monster Encyclopedia"

I think there are lots of people who think of themselves as monsters.

— You also felt like you were a monster during kindergarten, didn't you?

Yes. The first time I thought something like that was around kindergarten. We were playing some kind of chasing game, and I injured my lips. I was the one running away, but I was looking behind myself as I ran, and when I turned forward, there was someone there and I collided right into them. Then I got taken to the hospital or something and got stitches, but as a child, I felt like something incredibly terrible had happened. From an outside perspective, it wasn't that big of an injury, so I got it treated and returned to kindergarten. And when the teacher stood in front of the class explaining "he got this injury," I strongly remember everyone looking at me with suspicious looks like "waugh, that guy got really messed up!" That planted a feeling of being estranged from the circle. I think that's probably how it got that way, myself.

— So the feeling of becoming a creature different from everyone else became linked with the word "monster"?

I wasn't very conscious of it at the time, but I really liked weird creatures - like the robot soliders in Laputa: Castle in the Sky. I wasn't aware I saw myself in them at the time, though. When I was about 18, I saw David Lynch's The Elephant Man. My parents saw the rented DVD case and talked to me about it. I was about 4500 grams (9.9 pounds) when I was born, and apparently they were worried I might be handicapped. My head was super large with an irregular shape, and apparently my parents and others said things like "is he the Elephant Man?" When I heard that, I thought "ah, so that's why I see myself in that kind of thing." It wasn't a confirmation of something I had been subconsciously thinking, but that was the first time I properly thought it in my head.

— Looking at your Monster Encyclopedia series, in spite of the fact that it ties into a shocking event, it feels like you really enjoy the story potential that can come from entities called "monsters."

Yes, that's true. Even monsters who come to invade Earth in Ultraman, for example, I still have an interest in. At some point I had the thought that rather than thinking of them as beings who mean to hurt us, I'd like to say "what in the world is this guy thinking?" and view them as really lovable creatures.

— In this series, some of the monsters have human-like parts, and it was the last edition that left the biggest impression...


— It features a monster whose body is built completely different from a human, but it looks just like a human, and you explain "many die without ever knowing they're monsters."

Although I only think this way now, while I may think of myself as a monster, I'm sure there are lots of people in the world in similar situations. In the remote countryside of Tokushima where I was born, we thought something like "I'm the only person who's like me," but I don't think that's such a big deal. I figure there are lots of people who think similarly to me, and those people do this and that and manage to live. And there are probably lots of people like "this guy's weird in the head," even if they have the same human form.

— That's true.

I find myself thinking from time to time that maybe people like that are monsters. And also, I don't think they think of themselves as monsters.

— Did you end this series feeling like you'd properly depicted enough monsters?

Yeah. I think I was in a completely different mode due to making Bremen, though. I don't know if it'll be a temporary thing or if I'll keep it up after this. At any rate, I currently feel like I don't want to draw more of that kind of thing.

— You've already gone to the next stage after drawing monsters.

I suppose so.

Kenshi Yonezu's Origin No. 3
"Naruto," Masashi Kishimoto

There's a major link between Naruto and Sasuke's story and my roots.

— What kind of impact did Naruto have on you?

I liked manga before I started to read Naruto, and greatly enjoyed grade-schooler-oriented manga like Doraemon. So one day, at a nearby bookstore slash rental shop sort of place, there was a big manga page up in a frame. It was Naruto, a scene of him and his rival Sasuke holding each other's shoulders. I started reading it out of curiosity about what kind of story that was. And there were parts that were a little gruesome for a grade-schooler, and lots of tension, and serious twists, and sensations entirely unlike the things I'd experienced before, so it was all a little scary. But though it was scary, I kept on getting absorbed in it. Before I knew it, I'd established in my mind a basic standard for manga.

Also, when reading the compiled volumes, there were blurbs about the author's upbringing and recent circumstances. And there was this diagram of a really cramped, four-tatami-mat room where three or four assistants lodged together. Like "Oh, so this is the kind of place where manga is drawn! No time to rest for manga artists!" That kind of thing also got me interested in manga artists themselves. That notion of a manga artist was big for me at the time. I was always thinking that was my prospect for the future.

— So even those harsh conditions were something you aspired to? (laughs)

(laughs) Apparently so. I don't think it's anything easy, but it's fun when you, say, prepare for the culture festival, right? You're working together with friends to make this one big thing. Maybe that's the way I perceived it, so it seemed kind of fun.

— Did you have a lot of sympathy with the characters in Naruto?

First of all, I had some feelings in common with Naruto himself. Especially toward the beginning, Naruto sticks out, and it's written like no one loves him. But then there's Kakashi and Iruka who accept him. I think now I can see that I may have felt something in common with that situation.

— At the same time, Naruto's a very cheerful person. How does that compare to you?

Well, no, I'm not that kind of person. But if we consider both Naruto and Sasuke so-called protagonists, I feel something in common with both. Sasuke is very dark, right? He's always defiant. I figured I was more than kind of person than not. So the story between the two - the feud between them, the feeling of somewhere acquiring friendship, and even becoming enemies afterward - feels like it may be highly linked to my roots.

Kenshi Yonezu's Origin No. 4
"Princess Mononoke," Hayao Miyazaki

There are times music can be made from a certain kind of trauma.

— Naruto does feel like a work you could say features a battle of conflicting values within a creator. But Princess Mononoke has something like that as well.

Yes. My father took me to the movie theater to see it. Although, never before or after did my father ever take me to the theater. In some ways, he didn't know what exactly to do with me. So we never talked very much. If you condensed all the time we've talked over 25 years, it might be about 60 minutes? Maybe not even 60 minutes.

— That's really something.

Maybe the fact that this father of mine took me to the theater to see it was part of why it left a deep impression. Oh, and this one's really gory too, isn't it? Arms and heads flying off. That also left an impact. Also, Ashitaka's definitely a monster as well. He's cursed and ostracized from the village - that curse serves to open up a lot of frayed spots. Maybe that sense of monster-ness echoed inside me too.

— Aren't there also some complex elements for a movie that children watch?

Even I think maybe it'd be better if I saw it as a kid. I think things you watch as a kid, and don't really understand, but they stay in your head, are really important. Naruto was the same way; a kind of trauma, like you saw something horrifying and outrageous, etches itself somewhere deep within you. I definitely think there are ways music can be made from those wounds.

— There are times when that kind of trauma can be valuable, then.


Kenshi Yonezu's Origin No. 5

Art was my tool for connecting with people, then it suddenly changed to music.

— When did you encounter Bump's music?

In 5th or 6th grade. In 5th grade, we got a computer for my big sister's birthday or something, and got internet while we were at it. Feels like once I opened the lid, it became all I did. (laughs) At the time, I watched Flash videos that put animation or images to BUMP OF CHICKEN songs. That was really popular when I was in grade school. Well, sure enough, I really liked it too. And I liked manga earlier than that, so I watched them having an interest in animation. Yet by watching BUMP OF CHICKEN Flash animations, I ended up with an interest in music too.

— I think children getting into computers can be seen as parents and adults as "shutting themselves away," but did you feel the internet expanded your world?

I do. I think I was more than half-raised by the internet. (laughs)

— (laughs)

Most of my values and sensibilities came to me from across the internet. The other day, when Chatmonchy was on the radio - Chatmonchy's from the same place as me.

— Yes, from Tokushima.

I grew up very close to them, even used the same studios as them, and people tell me "Way to have such a knack for music, then!" (laughs) I don't want to speak ill of Tokushima here, but it's not a productive place for music.

— (laughs)

There's the Awa Dance and such, but that has nothing to do with young people's music.

— There's basically no music scene.

Yeah, yeah. I mean, there are concert venues, if you look. But across the internet, there are people from all kinds of places, and I thought maybe they might understand. So maybe there was no one around me who understood. Looking at it from the far end, you could see it as stepping further off-road, but it was the most fun place for me.

— I'm sure your first meaningful encounter with music must be a very big thing for you, and in some part, Bump works to connect with people through music, just like they connected with you. So through the world of the internet, do you feel like it was more lively than lifeless, and that you got to meet people?

Hmm, let's see. I think it was the biggest turning point in my life. Since it's probably why I became the person I am. It is kind of interesting to think about what person I'd become if it weren't for that.

— Did you start making music after you found Bump?

Right. I started a band around my second year of middle school, which was because I wanted to do original songs. I started making music from the first day I bought my guitar. Normally you'd do copying first, surely? I did try copying a few songs too, but doing original songs was the most important thing to me. I didn't feel much desire to go stand up on stage. I just wanted to make all this stuff, was the biggest thing.

— And so you were conscious of entities like you are to Bump, and like your listeners out there are to you?

That's right, I really wanted someone to listen. The environment back then wasn't like now, where you can properly make things just with free software, so I made songs as MIDIs with some kind of ringtone thing, and had the band members listen to the song that way, and posted it to 2channel and such. Basically, I was always thinking that it didn't matter who, I just wanted someone to hear it. I wanted people to know about me, and I wanted to connect with people in similar circumstances.

— You found you wanted to connect with people more with music than with art?

I did art all during grade school, and I considered that my tool for connecting with people. But once I got into the internet, and found BUMP OF CHICKEN, it suddenly changed to music.

Kenshi Yonezu's Origin No. 6
"Spring & Asura," Kenji Miyazawa

I suppose the feeling of negative self-sacrifice is like myself.

— How did you first find Kenji Miyazawa's books?

I want to say it was Night on the Galactic Railroad around high school. I was exceedingly moved when I once saw a scene form Night on the Galactic Railroad done like a picture book with buttons and cloth. So I started reading his poem collections and such. By that time, I was already making music, and had practice writing lyrics, so I felt a fair number of connections to myself. Same for the kind of simplistic nature. And in spite of being insular, there are some really beautiful scenery descriptions, but they're also highly pessimistic.

— It doesn't feel like aggressively trying to connect with people. It's unusually reserved, you could say.

Yeah, that's true. At any rate, it's dealing with things within you, with things called "natural." And when that's made into a story, it's personified, and you get things like talking animals as main characters. It's strange how you don't get a sense of humanity from them, but there isn't much of an inhuman sense either; I think that's a nice feel.

— Part of being "inhuman" is their imperfect communication. But they're not "human-hating."

They don't feel "human-hating," no. There's a definite feeling that they're living with a spirit of major self-sacrifice, or that they probably hate themselves. It's not that they want to do all they can for other people, just "I guess there's not much point in me living, so all I can do is do my best for others." The feeling of it being more of a negative self-sacrifice than a positive self-sacrifice is like myself, I suppose.

— It's the exact opposite of trying to get time in the limelight, but seeing that through results in something really beautiful. Ultimately, they even come to give love to others.

Yeah, like in The Life of Gusko Budori, the protagonist has a real spirit of self-sacrifice. Ultimately, he sacrifices himself to stop the change in climate and saves the forest, but it just ends going "Good thing nothing happened in the end." Normally you'd expect "they built a statue of Gusko Budori," say...

— You'd think it would be rewarded.

It should conclude like "Because of him, the world was saved!", but there's nothing at all like that. So I think it might be self-sacrifice rooted in "well, it's just me, after all."

— It's sort of like "if I can be repaid, I can't be repaid."

(laughs) Right, right.

Kenshi Yonezu's Origin No. 7

I couldn't ask for anything better than eliminating the chafing between people and intention.

— You encountered Vocaloid after you left high school and started living alone?

Yes, just after I started on my own. I was in a band up until then, even in high school, but it ended up being half for fun. It was a band I formed with longtime friends, so it was like a game given the name of practicing. We did like two or three shows a year. I was thinking I'd like to keep that band going for a long time, but it was mostly a game, so we all went in the directions we wanted to go around high school graduation. So it dissipated naturally, and when I was left alone, I wondered what to do. While I was thinking, I moved out, and saw an article online about something called Vocaloid that cost about 150,000 yen. "This is it!", I thought. (laughs) "Maybe this can get lots of people to listen."

— It's similar to what I asked earlier about the internet and computers, but was partnering with non-human Vocaloids something that broadened your horizons a lot?

Yes, I suppose it was.

— Or rather, it vastly opened up your possibilities for communication. (laughs)

Right. They don't have any will of their own, so they'll do what you want them to do, and so there was no chafing between people and intentions. When doing original songs in high school, I gave out orders like "Do it like this," "do it like that," but there were clashes there. Sometimes those could really exhaust me. "If it were just myself, I'm sure I could make something greater," I felt. So I couldn't ask for anything better than open soil where I could finish everything up by myself, post it, and have it heard.

— And that freed you as a musician.

Right. When I started creating, I thought I'd do it both ways. I'd make songs I sang, and on the side I'd do Vocaloid. But in practice, doing Vocaloid was so much fun, I kept doing nothing but that for a long while.

Kenshi Yonezu's Origin No. 8
"Sonatine," Takeshi Kitano

It had a feeling of "It's simple to die. Well, okay then."

— So it was surprisingly recently that you saw Sonatine?

Yeah. I saw it around the same time as Kids Return and Fireworks, and it felt like I was watching something so unlike what it'd seen before. I thought Sonatine had a listless yet beautiful feeling.

— Is finding violence and the smell of death beautiful a natural biological response for you?

I suppose. The characters keep dying off one by one. So that leads to a feeling of "well, then just what is life?" surfacing. Like, you're very motivated by all these people dying in the blink of an eye. Well, I don't really want to use the word "motivated." But the feeling of "Humans can die surprisingly easy; life is fickle enough that you can die from one bullet" causes you to think "If it's that simple, I should try to live a little more." As in "well, I guess if that's the way it is."

— Did that view of life and death strike you given your life at that time?

Yeah. I was gloomy. Making Vocaloid songs in my room... But after about two or three years, I stopped doing Vocaloid. After about a year blank, I made "diorama." That year period was pretty hellish. I was basically just spacing out in front of the computer the whole time. I only really went out to go to a nearby supermarket. Even when I went there, I'd realize all of a sudden an hour had passed. (laughs) "Huh? Did it take that long?"

— (laughs)

I'd think "Oh yeah, I bought natto the other day, I'll eat that," open the fridge, and find out it'd expired a month ago - I was living a super time-dilated life, and had moments where I thought "Is there a meaning to living like this?" And at that time, I saw Sonatine and Fireworks and Kids Return, and thought "Ahh, it's simple to die." Thus I deeply felt like, "Well, okay then."

Kenshi Yonezu's Origin No. 9
Kanye West

I don't think I'm good with compliments either, so it saved me.

— So Kanye West is like a representative for artists you associated with in your 20's?

Right. Within me, there's Kanye West, and Hitoshi Matsumoto after him, somewhere close to each other. They're naive, but as a result, take on a haughty attitude, I guess? At any rate, they do absurd things with the desire to have others approve of them. I feel like I might resemble that. It's certainly not something I don't have. First things first, Kanye's songs are amazing. I liked Rip Slyme and such in middle school, but after that, I didn't listen to any hip-hop at all. I have something of a focus on melody above all, so I didn't quite get what was good about it. But the way Kanye did outlandish things with intensity yet managed a good balance... I found him very good.

— In Kanye West's case, he uses plenty of expressions that can be misinterpreted, but beyond that is a delicate humanity that everyone knows.

Yeah, that's true.

— He's an extremely unique artist, with his true nature being contrary to what he does, yet getting through to a surprising number of people.

Indeed. I guess he's forgiven because of that delicateness. (laughs) His creations are amazing, so that attitude can also feel like another part of his expression. Also, when I listen to Kanye West's songs, I get a big feeling of freedom. Like "Anything's fine, so let's just do it." My favorite album is My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, but after that, I'm fond of ones like Yeezus where it feels like they took something that makes you go "Is this half-made?", packaged it, and sent it out into the world. It makes you think "I guess I can just do whatever." Thinking "If it ends up as fantastic music in the end, anything's fine" gives you a fair bit of courage.

— In some ways, it's like his musical genius goes ahead, so his human-ness stops mattering.

That sure saved me. I don't think I'm good with compliments either, you see. (laughs) I don't feel like I'm a person who does things properly, but I guess even such a person as that can live properly as long as they make things that are this good.

Kenshi Yonezu's Origin No. 10
"Broadcasting Room," Hitoshi Matsumoto & Mitsuyoshi Takasu

He's able to just barely go up to the edge, so he can make fantastic things.

— Is Broadcasting Room another thing which encourages you with its sense of freedom?

Right. When I draw, unlike when making music, my ears are free for listening, so I do often listen to something. That led to me happening to start Broadcasting Room. And I found it really interesting. It's a show he does with his childhood friend Mitsuyoshi Takasu, yet I found myself thinking, with their personal chemistry and messy personalities, that maybe they're kind of like me. Also, I like people who can ultimately strike a balance. Hitoshi Matsumoto also does really outlandish and immoral things, but ultimately keeps a line drawn. The same way Kanye West does.

— I see.

He knows the line where it's bad news to head any further, and can run right up to it, which is probably why he's able to make such fantastic things. When I make music, too, I advance right up to that point, or rather, I think of it like balancing on a narrow bridge. After all, that can result in a breakthrough, so I guess I like people like that. It's a universal sensation, being able to see at high resolution what things will feel good and what things won't feel good.

When I communicate with people now, even if it feels like we're tearing each other up, I find points in common.

— Now, considering all the history we've been talking about, I'd like to get to Number Nine. The path to Bremen felt like the process of constructing the artist Kenshi Yonezu. Your original band not going well, succeeding in Vocaloid, and then making the artist Kenshi Yonezu - in this process, Bremen felt like a point of achievement.


— So, at a time when you're heading for your next stage, I feel that comes out in the sound of Number Nine, and there are parts that require a recap of how you've gotten here with the help of many other artists, so that's why it came out as this song.

I suppose that's true... I personally think that in Bremen, I was able to do things that I previously never would have done. It is also my best-selling album so far, so I feel like I didn't make any mistake, but feel like there wouldn't be much point in doing the same thing again, so I wanted to do something that was just new and different still. I want to go further out.

any rate, it started from being a very introspective person who thought of himself as a monster since kindergarten. Being influenced by things such as those I mentioned here, I formed what's called my self. And the next moment, I already want to deny this self I've formed. I want to get further away from the things I'm accustomed to. My prior self would have done something like this, I figure people who like me want something like this; but I feel a desire to deny that, and go somewhere different. Maybe it's because I'm contrarian. Bremen came from that, and once I became my Bremen self, I wanted to go to a new self that wasn't my Bremen self. I guess the newest thing from that is Number Nine.

Really, I think I've grown being given things from Bump, Kanye, Hayao Miyazaki, but that's kind of why I don't have much interest in the self. I'm not very interested in my self or individuality or originality. The things I "have," I've torn them off from other people and chewed them up, making a collage of sorts bit by bit. So my self will eat a fragment from someone new, and become a different person again, and before I know it I'll realize, "Oh, have I come this far?" - that's my current ideal.

— And I'm sure there are people who live eating pieces from you as well. I think you're already at about that point.

Yeah. I'm told that sometimes. I go to these festivals and hear "I've been listening to you since middle school," and I think, "Oh, I'm that old already?" (laughs)

— This year, from "Louvre No. 9 ~Manga, the Ninth Art" to Universal Studios Japan's "Overkill Collaboration," you're starting to get very involved with others through visual art.


— How do you feel about drawing in such a different situation than usual?

It's fun right now. I'd been doing art all by myself, so for better or worse, it was only something inside of me. So when I'm given a specific subject, I can no longer deviate from that subject, right? I've actually come to find that freeing. I used to be so free that I was sometimes alone in the middle of the desert, having moments where I wasn't sure where to go. So having a subject feels like seeing a town off in the distance. "Okay, I guess I'll head for that town." It feels good in that way. I think the picture I contributed to "Louvre No. 9 ~Manga, the Ninth Art~" has touches I haven't done much of before. Like actually constructing and drawing a background. I can basically only draw characters, so there was some difficulty in a hurdle I had to jump being placed in front of me, yet it was ultimately fun after all.

That's sort of what bande dessinée is to me. Putting more focus on space than characters. Looking for overlapping portions like that also applies to communication between two people. I've lived a long while without doing much of that. Previously, when I had discord with someone, I'd think "Ahh, I can't come to an understanding with them" and separate myself. I still managed to make it to today even so, but it can't always go like that. I keep telling myself "It's fine to run away," but there are also grave situations where I can't just run. Thinking to myself "Well, what should I do in such a situation?", I concluded that even if it felt like we were tearing each other up, I would look for points in common and go "So these are the areas where you and I are alike." I've become able to do that better lately.

— I think your music will become this way too, but art is a weapon you've had long before music, so I feel like you can use that to start approaching communication with others, even if it hurts.

That's true. I guess I need to feel pain to some extent. Pain itself can't become the goal, of course, but sometimes important things are bothersome ones, aren't they? Although I won't say everything's like that. Even if injury isn't the intent, I wonder how necessary it'll become.

— Right. Because you have varied outputs in art and music, I feel the Kenshi Yonezu of 2016 is becoming a tougher artist, and a tougher person.

I really do want to be tough.

Kenshi Yonezu's Origin No. 1
"The Family of Fourteen Series," Kazuo Iwamura

The Family of Fourteen (AKA 14 Forest Mice) series is a popular series of storybooks by Kazuo Iwamura about a large family of fourteen mice. Starting with The Family of Fourteen On the Move in 1983, 12 books have been released, such as The Family of Fourteen Fix Breakfast and The Family of Fourteen and the Moon. They depict the family of mice living in the forest, their everyday lives and seasonal events, with soft and gentle detail. The fourteen span three generations - a grandpa, grandma, father, mother, and their children - and all have their own personalities, running around cheerfully all over the pages. The way it's presented like you're watching the story unfold from slightly above feels like secretly peeking into the mice's lives, similar to the "looking into the lives of people living in a town" viewpoint shown in Yonezu's "diorama."

The lines themselves are striking; a forest that feels both powerful and soft, the tasty-looking meals of the mice, all the sights and little things that surround their daily lives, all of it is drawn with the same soft sketch lines as the characters. As a result, the characters fit into their world, and live happy lives without deviating from their world's common sense. Yonezu's illustrations too have a style where most everything within the work is drawn with the same line thickness. Perhaps Yonezu, who felt different from other people, aspired to this family which blended into their world and felt the same flavor of beauty. Even as our skill develops, as long as we have that unchanging aspiration toward "regular living," we'll keep clinging gently to this famous series.

Kenshi Yonezu's Origin No. 2
"Monster Encyclopedia"

Monster Encyclopedia is an illustration series by Kenshi Yonezu that ran in music magazine ROCKIN'ON JAPAN from its August 2013 issue to December 2015, spanning 28 parts in all. Each month, an original "monster" thought up by Yonezu was featured with an illustration and description. For example, the 7th edition featured a monster called "Child-Carrying Furball." He explains: "Most dwell in frigid regions. When it becomes an adult, its eyesight gets worse, so it puts a child on its head to act as its eyes. But their eyes are already bad from childhood, so they often give completely wrong directions. A generally docile and gentle monster, but gets scary when angered."

one can tell from this excerpt alone, these monsters Yonezu created for the Monster Encyclopedia all have bizarre appearances and qualities, but have aspects you can't hate, and a sense of pathos. The "Policeman" who floats up 50 meters in the air and watches people, chasing around things it isn't fond of. The "Ladykiller Frog" who possesses cute girls and ultimately turns them to water. The "Insider Acquaintance" who appears around people nearing their death and waves a flag... This series, with its unique visuals and characters with a sense of humanity, proved popular in ROCKIN'ON JAPAN and spread awareness of Kenshi Yonezu as an artist.

Like he's said in past interviews, Yonezu considered himself an "abnormal entity" from a young age. The primary cause of this was a childhood injury also discussed in this interview. The looks his classmates gave the injured Yonezu gave his young mind the impression "I've become like a monster or something." Even afterward, Yonezu wouldn't communicate much with family and at school, spending long periods thinking "Why was I born so irregular?" The Monster Encyclopedia could be considered one self-made answer to those days of questioning. Among the 28 "monsters" featured, some used to be human, some are parasites of humans, some startle or watch humans, and some live very close to our daily lives. In other words, the "monsters' Yonezu depicts are irregular, but it's not as if they live in an entirely separate world from us.

In this series, Yonezu depicts and speaks about monsters, typically shown as "evil" or "things to be defeated," as "lovable neighbors" instead. The reason for that is none other than the deeply-rooted sense of being a "monster living among humans" he's had since childhood. The final edition of Monster Encyclopedia in the December 2015 issue of ROCKIN'ON JAPAN, which came alongside the release of his Oricon-topping third album Bremen, is the number one evidence of this: it features a monster simply called "Monster" with the appearance of a human girl. The description is as follows: "Its body is constructed completely differently 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." By wrapping up the series with the message that any person may be a "monster," perhaps Yonezu has leapt out of the miniature garden of monster friends in his imagination, into the outside world where there are monsters known as "humans."

Kenshi Yonezu's Origin No. 3
"Naruto," Masashi Kishimoto

A manga by Masashi Kishimoto, started in Weekly Shonen Jump in 1999 and run for 15 years until 2014, with 700 chapters in all. Its popularity and acclaim go beyond Japan, with over 200 million issues printed worldwide. It's a battle/action manga focused on young ninjas, but also depicts the heavy burdens of its characters, with occasional scenes that seem too cruel and raw for a shonen manga. In many ways, such as with its imaginative "jutsu" backed by overwhelming artistic skill, it overturned the expectations set by its predecessors.

The protagonist Naruto Uzumaki, especially in the early parts of the series, is a problem child and outcast, shunned by others for the "Nine-Tailed Demon Fox" dwelling in his body, yet he has an exceedingly honest and cheerful nature. On the other hand, his rival Sasuke is generally a cool, good-looking elite type. With a great darkness and wounds deep in his heart, his personality could be called the polar opposite of Naruto's. The two butt heads over everything, but as they fight, a faint friendship seems to bud... Then in the middle of the series, Sasuke leaves the village, and the two part. In the chapters that follow to the conclusion, Naruto matures, and Sasuke keeps facing his darkness, and it's shown at the end of a long battle how they accept each other. Kenshi Yonezu, who as a boy felt great empathy toward both characters, must have learned in following their destinies the difficulty and wonder of finding the "true answer" even if your heart is bloodied.

Kenshi Yonezu's Origin No. 4
"Princess Mononoke," Hayao Miyazaki

animated film released in 1997 by director Hayao Miyazaki. It's the story of Ashitaka, a boy affected by a deathly curse after exterminating a Tatarigami, and San, a human girl raised by wolves. From its release to the present day, it's adored as a classic by many generations, and is also famous for the variety of theories about its plot. Director Miyazaki has produced many animated works representative of Japan. Before Princess Mononoke, he directed adventure movies like Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984) and Laputa: Castle in the Sky (1986), but this was the first adventure to be set in Japan.

Set in the Muromachi era, it depicts the confrontation between nature and humans as well as human hatred, and features intensely grotesque and violent aspects. For instance, at the start of the story, the scene where the Tatarigami of the destroyed forest comes to attack humans. Its hatred is depicted as bluish purple feelers seeping out from its body. And as if passing on that hatred, it curses Ashitaka. Later in the movie, there are scenes where heads and arms come off, with lots of bloodshed. These scenes are hardly indirect, and would likely leave quite an impact on children. To Yonezu, this movie is tied to the memory of his father taking him to the theater to see it, and is also an influence on his work as an artist. Amid pop expression, how can one imbue messages asking deeply about what it means to live and exist? Yonezu's work has always been tackling that.

Kenshi Yonezu's Origin No. 5

A rock band comprised of four childhood friends from Sakura, Chiba: Motoo Fujiwara, Yoshifumi Naoi, Hiroaki Masukawa, and Hideo Masu. Knowing each other since kindergarten, they started their band in middle school, releasing FLAME VEIN and THE LIVING DEAD under an indie label in 1999 and 2000. Even on those early albums were famous songs like Glass Blues and K which are still performed live to this day. At the time, Kenshi Yonezu was in grade school, but through the early days of the internet, their music vividly reached the young Yonezu and seemed to open the door to music.

The stories and emotions depicted within received overwhelming support, and people came to describe it as "our music." BUMP OF CHICKEN has released 8 albums, their latest being Butterflies from this year, but as they go through remarkable musical evolution, that essence has never changed. It's music that isn't for a group of listeners, but meant for just one "you." They're faithful to the relationship between givers and receivers of music, and that lets the message of the compositions come through more deeply. In other words, BUMP OF CHICKEN is a band that's always challenging themselves to see how preciously and heartbreakingly they can depict the connections between people living within limited time. And speaking of relation to Vocaloid, an alternate version of "ray" on the album RAY has a collaboration with Hatsune Miku.

Kenshi Yonezu's Origin No. 6

Kenshi Yonezu's brilliance became known to the world because of the existence of Vocaloid. Vocaloid is a voice synthesis technology developed by Yamaha, and also refers to products that use that technology. This tech, which lets you have whatever words you like sung by other people's voices, saw rapid growth on the internet in the latter 2000s. This was started off by the virtual singer Hatsune Miku, developed by Crypton Future Media. This notion of a character assigned to a voice synthesizer, with its simplicity of putting vocals to music without dealing with other people, and its virtual feeling of becoming whatever you want, freed the creative abilities of young people like Yonezu whose talents were locked away due to being poor at dealing with others.

Hatsune Miku is a female Vocaloid with long blue twin-tails. There are other Vocaloids with differing voice types, but she and others were given qualities by creators - a human girl, a mechanical singer, a character from a fantasy land - and made to sing. Being virtual entities with no past, they can become the protagonist of any song and sing it; that is Vocaloid. Yonezu used Vocaloid under the name "Hachi," releasing songs like Matryoshka and Panda Hero. With this to open his world, the music he couldn't fully express himself with before could now reach many users.

Vocaloid not only gave creators a new means of expression, but changed the relationship with listeners. People would rather listen to a song sung by well-known Hatsune Miku instead of someone they don't know. The composers were in the background, and listeners would come just to listen to Hatsune Miku singing. With Miku in the middle of the relationship, it became a place where listeners could see the merits of a creator without bias. Even if creators did come to the forefront, they could be received positively since their talent was known.

Later, Yonezu released albums Bouquet and Burial at Sea and OFFICIAL ORANGE as Hachi. And you know his activity following his move from Vocaloid to being an independent creator as Kenshi Yonezu: his third album Bremen topped the Oricon rankings, and he's now an artist that represents a generation. If not for Vocaloid, perhaps Yonezu's creative talents would have perished in a lonely room. In fact, not only to Yonezu, but to we who are saved by his music, Vocaloid could be considered a savior.

Kenshi Yonezu's Origin No. 7
"Spring & Asura," Kenji Miyazawa

Spring & Asura is a collection of poems by Kenji Miyazawa released in 1924. Known as the only poem collection he released during his life, it consists of 69 works. Miyazawa's works are characterized by idealism, and a unique style and worldview that comes from his work as an agricultural manager. Also, he was a passionate believer in the Lotus Sutra, so "self-sacrificial love" is a constant theme. These things added great personal charm to his works.

Spring & Asura often questions the lives of those who live full of earthly desires in the pure, beautiful worlds Miyazawa creates. Miyazawa's fairy tales mentioned in the interview, Night on the Galactic Railroad and The Life of Gusko Budori, also depict the necessity of self-sacrifice to make peace with the world. Thus, we can tell it's not just Miyazawa's writing itself, but the underlying themes that have strongly influenced Yonezu. One of the songs on Yonezu's first album diorama, Love and Fever, takes its name from a poem contained in Spring & Asura. Yonezu himself hesitated to use the title, but states "I just really wanted to use it," an anecdote indicating a sense of respect for Miyazawa. Even 80 years after his death, his works continue to shine, and still charm many.

Kenshi Yonezu's Origin No. 8
"Sonatine," Takeshi Kitano

Sonatine is, following Violent Cop (1989), Boiling Point (1990), and A Scene at the Sea (1991), the fourth film directed by Takeshi Kitano. Kitano took the roles of writing, editing, and acting, with the music being done by Joe Hisaishi. The year after its Japanese release, it screened at the London Film Festival and Cannes Film Festival, and while it won no awards, it received high acclaim overseas. It served as an chance for Kitano's films to gain worldwide popularity.

The film shows the fate of yakuza boss Murakawa, who is sent into a war between gangs unfolding in Okinawa, and is known for having extreme violence, even among Kitano's films. With Okinawa's beautiful nature as the backdrop, a quiet madness fills the air as people dragged into the war easily die one by one. The end of the film, where the protagonist (played by Kitano) shoots himself in the head with a smile, is a famous scene known by many who haven't even seen the movie. But the sight of such easily-occurring death can be taken as an indication of how living is just as simple. Yonezu sings in his 2014 album YANKEE, "We just want to live our lives to the fullest, no need for fate or chance " (Living Dead Youth); this resigned view of life and death tells us how Yonezu, who was living gloomy days questioning the meaning of living, was in some small way influenced by Kitano's works.

Kenshi Yonezu's Origin No. 9
Kanye West

Kanye West is a rapper/producer from Chicago, and an artist who stands at the frontier of modern pop music. In the early 2000s, he caused a revolution in hip-hop with new methods of speeding up samples of existing music, and has contributed to many big hits as well as creating superb works of his own. Kanye distinguishes himself from other artists by filling the charts with hit songs about machoism, monetary success, the pleasure of parties, etcetera, and has even made his own inflated ego a theme.

That pursuit led to his 2010 album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, which shocked the world with a crossing of genres formerly considered progressive rock with precise sound construction and lyrics exposing his weaknesses and ego. Even after this, his release of the album Yeezus with a title likening himself to God, the comments he makes that stir up the media, and the co-existence of a desire for his talent to stand out and his easily-hurt nature, all continue to get him attention. His newest album The Life of Pablo even made a splash with the way it was released; his attitude of trying to be on the cutting edge of everything hasn't budged an inch.

Kenshi Yonezu's Origin No. 10
"Broadcasting Room," Hitoshi Matsumoto & Mitsuyoshi Takasu

Broadcasting Room is a radio show that ran for about 7 and a half years, from October 2001 to March 2009, on TOKYO FM channels. This program featuring Hitoshi Matsumoto of comedy duo Downtown and his old friend and broadcast writer Mitsuyoshi Takasu, in spite of its late-night time slot, was supported by a wide age range. The show began from Matsumoto's suggestion that since they were getting too busy with work to talk, they should make talking into work; thus, the contents are largely them talking about their lives, stories from school, lewd jokes, the behind-the-scenes of the show, and general chatter - plenty of in-jokes with hardly any recognition of those listening.

The reason they acquired many fans regardless must be their distinct sense for comedy: missteps resulting in risque content, the humanity of Matsumoto getting frank in their relaxed talks, and the impromptu language that comes about amid open talk. Yonezu, too, was drawn by the toeing of the line Matsumoto was allowed in the relatively unrestricted medium of radio, and while comedy and music/illustration are different forms of expression, he felt an overlap with Matsumoto as a human and artist. Broadcasting Room has been made into CDs and books, and 7 years after it went off the air, is still loved by many listeners who hope for a revival. And Yonezu is no exception.

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