Kenshi Yonezu/Hachi - KICK BACK, November 23rd, 2022 (Original Article)

Following Instinct and Impulse to Shout Out the "Thrill" of Chainsaw Man

Kenshi Yonezu released his new single KICK BACK on November 23rd.

The title song is the opening theme for the anime Chainsaw Man, and Yonezu worked with Daiki Tsuneta (King Gnu, millennium parade) to arrange it. It's also coupled with the new song "Y'all Should Be Ashamed."

To commemorate the single's release, interviewed Yonezu. We talked in detail about everything from the background of KICK BACK's creation and thoughts on Chainsaw Man, to the filming of the hugely popular music video featuring Yonezu and Tsuneta working out, to his thoughts on finishing his first arena tour in two and a half years.

— What were your feelings when you received the request to make the opening theme for Chainsaw Man?

Well, I was super eager to do it to begin with. Because ever since I read the Chainsaw Man manga, I'd been thinking I'd like to make a song for it in some form if it got made into an anime. Even before I was contacted, I'd actually given some thought to what sort of song I'd make if it were me. When it was decided I'd actually get to do it, I was just plain glad.

— What about Chainsaw Man did you find appealing?

In the manga, devils are causing humans harm as an everyday occurrence, and cause some grotesque things in the process. It's an extremely serious world, and yet this Denji guy who's at the center of the story is, how to say... just a total moron. Denji's presence makes the serious circumstances and story into more and more of a joke. I found that extremely pleasing. The kind of person who seems like he never even went to school tears all these things up with deadly seriousness. That's something I've never seen before, and it makes for such a thrilling work.

— You said you were thinking what kind of song you'd make before being asked to, but what sort of ideas did you start with when making the song?

At first, I was wanting to do drum 'n' bass. There are still traces of that in KICK BACK now, but in the demo stages, it was more "now THIS is drum 'n' bass," with restless drums and long synth sections.

— What was your reason for wanting to do drum 'n' bass?

I think a good number of people might make that association when reading Chainsaw Man; I feel like I can sense those elements from the work itself.

— How did you begin actually making the song?

It began with meetings with the director and animation staff, and I recall the director's order being "make a song that's like a rollercoaster." A song with numerous key changes, abrupt swerves from part to part, rises and falls steep enough that you're like "is this just a different song now?" They called for a song that you'd be tossed around by as you listen to it, then all of a sudden you realize it's over. At first I was thinking that was an extremely tall order and wondered what to do after the meeting, but "key change" could mean two things. I was thinking it meant changing scale musically, but some people will use it to mean the tone of the song totally changing, so I was like "which one did the director mean?" - and not knowing, I did both.

— The song quotes a line from the lyrics of Morning Musume's "Sou da! We're ALIVE": "hard work, the future, a beautiful star." Where did this idea originate from?

All I can say is that it was instinct. I don't really know why, but I wanted to use it, like seriously wanted to do it no matter what.

— That song was released in 2000; did you listen to it at its release?

That's right. It was that generation, so I listened to it all the time in grade school. In "Sou da! We're ALIVE," they sing "shiawase ni naritai [I want to be happy]" in the chorus. And they sing it like "shiiiYAwase ni naritai." That somehow really stuck in my ears at the time. Like, why "shiyawase" instead of "shiawase"? I vividly remember singing just that part together with a friend I played with back then. When it came time to make the opening theme for Chainsaw Man, I was reminded of that. It went fast once I made that connection. Listening to the song again after so long, I was like "it has to be this." I was convinced I had to sample it if I was going to make the opening theme for Chainsaw Man.

— And from there, you contacted Tsunku♂ for permission. Using not just something that sounds like it, but the exact line "hard work, the future, a beautiful star," ended up being a notable aspect of the song.

That's right. I was extremely glad that Tsunku♂-san wrote about it on his blog, but I saw him say "if you want to get the nuance, just make something similar." And I thought, no, no, only you could write a phrase like that. I think Morning Musume, who sang the song, were idols that represented that era, and I feel acutely listening back to it that there was a reason for that. Even on a relisten, I think it's amazing.

— The line "I wanna be happy" is an extremely important one in KICK BACK. The chorus also has the line "filling up with "happy," let's go 'til we rest in peace." What were you thinking you wanted to express in the song with words like "happy" and "lucky"?

Denji was born in really unfortunate circumstances. He wasn't educated, he wasn't raised in a proper environment. In that sort of absurdly unfortunate situation, I think people lose concreteness. Like "look, I just wanna be happy." But they're not even thinking as far as "well, what should I do to become happy?" "I just want money - I don't know what I should do about that, I just want it." I think desire gets incredibly abstract in that way. "Would be great if I could just live happy, it's fine if I have fun, I hope I'm lucky." Only being able to think in that way feels like an inversion of extreme misfortune. To have the Chainsaw Man opening theme represent the protagonist Denji, I felt it was necessary to build it with words like "wanna be happy" and "lucky" that are general, easily understood, and lacking in concreteness.

— It's also very meaningful that "I wanna be happy" is followed by "I wanna live at ease." I think it grasps the character of Denji who's true to his desires, while also expressing the dried-up nothingness behind it.

I extremely love Tokyo Story (1953) directed by Yasujiro Ozu, and while making the song, part of me recalled that movie. In the movie, an old couple visits their children in Tokyo, but they're treated really unkindly by the children, and even after being driven out to an inn, they still can't get any sleep. They walk around Tokyo treated like nuisances, but the old lady's always smiling. She says things like "such relationships are hard to come by" over and over like a prayer, smiling. It's surely not like that at all, right? You're being treated like a nuisance. But all she can say is "family's truly irreplaceable." I really think you lose concreteness in situations like that. Your only option is to trace the pattern of going on a fun trip. I think there are misfortunes that are like that. In the same way, when you're really at rock bottom, the only words you can come up with are blunt things like "I wanna be happy" or "I wanna live at ease." All you can talk about is "happy" or "lucky." I thought it would be good to get that feeling of "that's all I've got" in the lyrics.

— The part later in the song where it abruptly goes classical is also extremely striking. It's a separate section not in the 89-second length used for the anime, so I imagine it's not directly related to the director's request of "making a song like a rollercoaster," but what intent and ideas were behind this part?

Tatsuki Fujimoto-san's manga has some extremely thrilling aspects, so I thought if I were to express that mood in music, I'd need something like this too. Chainsaw Man is no exception, always betraying the reader's expectations and going through chaotic twists and turns. The idiotic Denji keeps it from falling apart like walking a tightrope, and flips it into all being a joke. I think there's that aspect to it. That's why I wanted to do even more at first. With the line after that, "happy, lucky, good day to you, baby," I actually wanted to make it "konnichiwa akachan [hello, baby (as in child)]." See, there's a really memorable scene in the movie Cops vs. Thugs (directed by Kinji Fukasaku, 1975). There's a bloody massacre that takes place in an apartment room, and alongside it, there's a TV playing Konnichiwa Akachan [song by Azusa Michiyo] the whole time. I really loved that scene, and actually wanted to do that in this song too. I stopped myself since it was admittedly too messy, but that mood is still sort of there.

— I see. I get the sense talking to you, with Tokyo Story and Cops vs. Thugs coming up in this interview, that this was your sincere answer to Tatsuki Fujimoto-san's creative style that pays homage to various movies.

It feels like it inevitably had to go that way.

— Let me ask about your vocal style as well. You said in an earlier interview that you wanted to change your singing style, and in KICK BACK, the vocals are rather rough and hoarse-sounding. How did you go about this?

I get more and more tired of my own voice, so I wanted to change it drastically. As such, I did some rather serious shouting this time. Having actually gone to voice training, and learned proper singing technique where you stretch your spine and draw back your chin to produce a clear voice, I then made a total mess of it. Spoiling it with messy shouting, diligently going astray - that's how I approached it.

— You worked with Daiki Tsuneta-san on arrangement for this song. I believe you've been deeply involved before, but what sort of events prompted you to make this song together?

When drinking with Daiki, we'd had conversations like "Chainsaw Man is nuts, huh. It's amazing." Then one time I went drinking with him, I was like "Oh yeah, I'm gonna be doing Chainsaw Man, you want to do it with me?" It started very casually.

— What sort of essence was added to the song by creating it alongside Daiki-san?

A feeling of "man, he really is amazing." I made my demo with a stoic drum 'n' bass nuance, but he boosted it up with a sort of delinquent feeling. It was appropriate for a work like Chainsaw Man, and felt like something I could've have done myself, so it was just Daiki Tsuneta to a T.

— The music video also had quite an impact. First of all, why did you think to make this kind of video?

I figured the music video would go all out with gags. I think it took a form no one could anticipate. Chainsaw Man has an unpredictable appeal of "That's where it's going?!", and I think that's one of the beautiful things about Tatsuki Fujimoto-san's work. So I decided I'd play to the fullest with the music video, and by just running in the direction of how much I could make people laugh, it ended up that way.

— What about the idea of having a workout competition with Tsuneta-san?

Yoshiyuki Okuyama-san directed the video, and when I first gave him my general picture of "I want to do this sort of thing," he came back with an outrageous suggestion. I'd be working out, then Daiki would show up, casually surpass me, and then I'd work out even harder... like that. When I heard that, I just was like "uh?" (laughs) But the proposal was amusing, so I was like "Okay, let's go with that!", and we did.

— Looking back, were there any moments from filming that were striking or memorable?

Shooting was delayed four times. One time I pulled a muscle, and then there were three times in a row it was canceled for rain. It really made me experience the feeling behind the line "Before "there's no rain that doesn't let up," gimme that umbrella first."

— But it made for something even greater than expected.

I'm super fond of it. I also got a workout from it, so I'm starting to acquire some muscle now.

— The coupling song "Y'all Should Be Ashamed" was also wonderful. It gives an impression of rough, frank words; what feelings did you have making this song?

I'm extremely unable to deal with the mindset of "I only care about myself." Furthermore, I really hate the act of dressing that up with nice-sounding words like "this is for other people" or "this is for the good of the world" in order to push your own desires though. I've always had that feeling, and that came out here.

— So the origin of the song was a form of disgust.

I've sometimes gone back and reconsidered the question of how I would put into words the way I want to live. Basically, there's what we call ethics. Of course, society fundamentally means living alongside others in accordance with the ethics of your country or region. So then, I want to know as much about those ethics as possible. I want to know them more than anyone. That said, if you asked me if I wanted to live perfectly ethically, I wouldn't think so at all. I felt that the guiding principles I live by are found in that balance. I don't want to recklessly hurt people one bit, and it's best if everyone's happy and lives with affection for one another. That being said, if you asked me if I would defend all the ethics at the root of those thoughts, I wouldn't think so at all. This song has that sort of nuance. If you have "ideal" and "reality," then sure, I'd want to pursue the ideal. And yet, there's no getting around the fact there's a reality I have to accept. I'm not a kid anymore, and I can't pursue an ideal while ignoring the reality I've lived through. I think it's deplorable to forget about reality and just chase ideals. I feel like the most important thing is navigating through all the things you have to accept.

— The chorus of "Sangria wine, it ain't to my taste" felt very suggestive. Sangria wine is a symbol for "getting drunk on cheap wine." And the listener is left room to imagine what "getting drunk on cheap wine" could mean here. I think it's that sort of song.

That's true. Also, I simply don't like wine. Drinking wine makes me feel the sick kind of drunk. So there's also that incredibly subjective aspect.

— Let me ask about your tour, too. The "Transformation" tour was your first in about two and a half years, so how did it feel finally standing on stage once again?

At first I was uneasy about how it'd go, but once I got started, I kind of got over it, for better or worse - I felt like how I view my concerts sure has changed from two and a half years ago. Before, I'd always had this sense that I was out of place standing on stage, that it wasn't my kind of thing, but I don't tend to think that way anymore. It's as if I've gained some sort of body language - it feels ike my body's range of motion has increased through the tour.

— There were a number of things that impressed me seeing you perform, but your first greeting was especially memorable. Seeming like you were going to talk in a normal tone, then going "Hey there! I'm Kenshi Yonezu!", introducing yourself super energetically.


— I felt an entertainer's spirit from that. What do you think?

I would've never done something like that before, but I'm a contrary person, so I tend to go places that are like "Kenshi Yonezu would never do something like that." I thought it'd be a hit if I started talking with "Hey there!", like it's the start of a manzai show. Perhaps a "will this get a laugh?" circuit has formed inside me. When I look back on my career, I think I've always had a desire to damage my own "commercial value." As far back as when I was working as Hachi, if someone said "This is the kind of person he is," I'd understand they were saying it favorably, but it felt extremely discomforting somehow. If I'm told something like that, I want to go the opposite way, and if that makes people develop an impression of "ahh, he's actually this kind of person," I'll go yet another direction this time. It feels like I've kept loosely repeating that process. And I think the thing that feels hottest to me right now is "how can I joke around with people?"

— The bit with the conveyor belt onto the stage was like nothing I've ever seen before.

The conveyor belt part comes from being pulled around by the controller in the POP SONG music video, and I thought it'd be funny to just suddenly slide through the audience onto the stage. That was another thing incorporated using the judgement of whether it'd be funny to people or not.

— Getting to share songs included on STRAY SHEEP and songs released afterward with many people by performing on stage was, I'm sure, also a chance to re-examine the path you've traveled these past few years. Did you have any realizations through that process?

It felt like I've really piled up a lot of things. I used to be extremely naive about involving myself with others to do anything, but now I don't sweat the details. Ten years ago or so, I couldn't help just worrying about these pebbles around me, and was always thinking I might stumble on them and hit my head and die. But ultimately, I became able to think of them as only pebbles. I don't know if that's good or bad; there can be beauty in that kind of obstinacy. But you could also say I became more free, and it feels like my vision became clear. Like if you climb a tall mountain, and get a higher vantage point, you can look out far into the distance. When you can see far away, you can see distant things clearly, and that can mean new forms of fear presenting themselves. I've really gotten a sense of that lately. Like for concerts, lately I've started putting on contact lenses, so I can see the crowd's faces super clearly. Since I couldn't see them before, it felt like I was being protected by my inability to see them. Losing that, and being able to see their faces better, it makes communication much easier, yet now it feels like I'm able to see into that audience's depths. It's abstract, but perhaps I've started to learn the feeling that there's a greater darkness spreading in those depths.

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