The "Vague Unease" Felt Back Home - Yo Oizumi and Kenshi Yonezu Speak About "Provinces vs. Tokyo"
"Everything and anything was Tokyo, so I felt vexed," said Hokkaido-born Yo Oizumi (46). "I thought if I went somewhere with more people, I might have some good encounters," Kenshi Yonezu (28) from Tokushima prefecture recalls. Both of them raised in provinces, then moving to Tokyo to work on the front lines - how do they see "the provinces versus Tokyo"? They fiercely spoke their thoughts in this dialogue, showing the common points between these people of different generations.
Getting his start with the variety show "How Do You Like Wednesday?", which gained popularity in Hokkaido then spread around the country, Yo Oizumi has acted in many dramas and films and become a household name. Meanwhile, Kenshi Yonezu has put out widely-known songs and set records such as 3 million sales of his 2018 single Lemon across digital downloads and CDs, yet hardly ever makes television appearances. Though in different genres, the two of them carry Japanese pop culture on their shoulders.
Oizumi: You're 28 now, is that right?
Yonezu: That's right.
Oizumi: Regular broadcasts of How Do You Like Wednesday ended when I was around 28 or 29, so that'd be about your age now. I thought I could just work in Hokkaido forever. Since I had no ambition. But as 30 crept up, I was attacked by a vague unease. All "What should I do from now on?" I became famous in Hokkaido, but as soon as it occurred to me "the people of Hokkaido don't just support me because I'm in Hokkaido, surely," I wondered if it was okay to keep on like this.
I felt a little locked-up, too. And I have a fickle nature, and at times felt like my life of just going different places for a variety show just to record day after day was kind of boring. So I started thinking "I wanna do proper acting."
Yo Oizumi: Born in 1973 in Hokkaido. Member of the acting unit TEAM NACS. The Hokkaido TV variety show "How Do You Like Wednesday?" which he performed on in his student days set ratings records, and he became a Hokkaido celebrity. Afterward, he moved to Tokyo, and acted in many TV dramas, films, and plays. He also wrote and produced TEAM NACS' 13th performance, "Shimoarai Bros. Spring Has Come" (2009). Some of his recent starring film roles include "A Banana? At This Time of Night?" and "Restaurant in the Sky." Currently, he stars in the TV drama No-Side Game, airing now.
Yonezu: I was raised in Tokushima until age 18, then left for Osaka. I couldn't fit in one bit when I was in Tokushima, and had a strong desire to go somewhere with people who would actually understand me. Like, "if I go somewhere with more people, I might have some good encounters." Though that's my past self speaking - I was really just shifting the blame for my aimlessness.
Oizumi: When you say "there might be people who understand me," do you mean in terms of musical talent? Or something a little different?
Yonezu: I believe it was about music, yes.
Oizumi: So you were already doing music in your teens, then.
Yonezu: I began music in middle school. But I had absolutely no one who I could strike up a chat with. Wanting to talk about my favorite music but unable to, I sought salvation on the internet. Because the internet can connect you with people reaching out from really distant places. After a year and change in Osaka, wondering if I'd get closer to that, I left for Tokyo. But arriving there didn't really change much, I feel.
I go to concerts in Tokyo sometimes. I completely understand the beauty of live sound played by a live musician. And yet I think, "I want to listen at home, alone." I've been raised on the internet since grade school, so I felt music was something that began and ended on a screen.
Oizumi: Huh, I see...
Yonezu: Wherever I go, I can't instill a sense of place in my body, and can't take root. I understood that for the first time after arriving in Tokyo.
Kenshi Yonezu: Born in 1991 in Tokushima prefecture. Musician, illustrator. Released many hit songs, primarily on the internet. In 2018, his theme song for the TV drama Unnatural, Lemon, sold 3 million combined digital and physical copies. Produced Foorin's NHK 2020 support song Paprika, currently regarded as the number one most popular kids' song. On September 11th, 2019, he'll release the single Horse and Deer, written for the TV drama No-Side Game.
Oizumi: I imagine that has to be the generation gap. I'm the kind of person who never thought "I want to leave for Tokyo," but our generation is one in which an overwhelming number of people felt "I have no choice but to leave for Tokyo." Since everything and anything was Tokyo. The theater productions won't come to Hokkaido, you can't see popular shows in Hokkaido, etcetera. I felt vexed in that way. There was quite a period where you could only see How Do You Like Wednesday if you came to Hokkaido, though there was a little bit of a thrill to that. But in such an era of the internet, young people now must feel like "what is there that you can only find in Tokyo?"
It's their life, so I'm not telling them one of them's better either. But when you're born and raised right in the middle of Tokyo, you grow up not knowing anything about life in the countryside, in nature. Since a lot of people come to Tokyo because they have a job there, or there's something they want to do there, then if you're not doing anything, it feels like you're left behind. It's a city that makes you think "Shoot, shoot, I gotta do something, I gotta leave some accomplishment." I think that's exhausting. To this day, I still feel kinda relieved the moment I arrive in New Chitose Airport. Not only the people, but the cars feel slightly slower too. Though truthfully, the people in Hokkaido are the ones speeding along. Since there's more land there. (laughs)
Oizumi: After you leave the provinces, you learn the virtues of them.
Yonezu: That's true.
Oizumi: Ever since I started to work in Tokyo, I've been constantly questioned "What about Hokkaido do you like?" At first, I would always say "Ah, I don't know if I "like" it per se, it's just where I was born..." But after years, I came to understand that huh, yeah, I do like Hokkaido. Though it's just where I was born.
Yonezu: You can't escape the place.
Oizumi: Right. And that's why at the year-end Kohaku Uta Gassen, when I saw your broadcast from the Otsuka Museum of Art (Tokushima Prefecture, Naruto City), I thought "ahh, I really love this."
Yonezu: I really loved my grandparents' house. I mean, it was up in the mountains. But I really believe the things I felt there have been absurdly important for making music. I want to "pay back" those feelings of gratitude.
Oizumi began full-blown working in Tokyo in 2004. The following year, he landed his first role in Emergency Room 24 Hours, a serial drama broadcast nationwide. "How Do You Like Wednesday?", which ended regular broadcasts in 2002, slowly began being shown by various broadcasting stations, and even a young Yonezu watched Oizumi go on body-tackling journeys on late night television.
Oizumi: The moment my manager told me "You were chosen for Emergency Room 24 Hours! Congratulations!", I was happy, but inside I was like "For real?!" I wanted to work in Tokyo, but I was afraid whether a guy who earned half-hearted fame in Hokkaido would be as well-received all over the country.
Yonezu: I've had more annoyances to deal with lately myself, but I'm always thinking how I want to affirm the fact that if my environment changes, my own self gets recreated. I want to go on changing, always. As I move closer and closer to pop, I'm highly curious about what kinds of songs I'll be making.
Oizumi: That must be exactly why you made the song Paprika, right? Did you start making it thinking from the start "I'll make a children's song"?
Yonezu: NHK sent me a request for "a support song preparing for 2020," and "something children can sing and dance to." And when I thought about "well, who's going to sing this?", in my head children were already singing it. Because when kids hear children's voices in something, they think "this is made for us."
Oizumi: I see, I see. My own daughter sings it. Just belting it out in the bathroom. (laughs)
Yonezu: Oh, is that a fact? (laughs) I haven't had many opportunities to interact with kids, so all I can do is search my own memories. I played in the mountains of Tokushima, so as I made it, I was thinking things like "Right, there was stuff like that. I liked that sort of thing."
Oizumi: If you've had no interactions with kids, there must have been the option to just refuse and say "it's impossible." You didn't think of doing that?
Yonezu: Well, I want to do things I've never done before. I guess I have a spirit of "giving it a try once." Maybe it's similar to your fickle nature, Oizumi-san, but I want to do new things, or things that are strange to me.
Both speaking of their fickle natures, the topic shifted to "new things I want to start in the future."
Oizumi: Hmm, I wonder. Lately, little by little, I might be thinking I want to direct.
Yonezu: Oh, really?
Oizumi: I had a meeting with (film and drama director) Yuichi Fukuda-san. Until recently, I've been doing filming for the movie "Three Kingdoms: New Interpretation." This may be overstating things, but if you go to one of Yuichi Fukuda-san's sets, you get the false idea that anyone can direct. (laughs)
Oizumi: He's gallant, Fukuda-san is. He's like "I'm only interested in laughter, so I'll handle that, but generally you take care of the rest." When you direct, you might think "I have to decide when to cut, right?" But depending on the scene, he might just say "you do it, cameraman." His perspective is "that's what you became a cameraman to do, isn't it?" Of course, I suppose that's only possible because he's a tolerant guy.
In my case, I'm interested in theater, so I want to decide my own direction for things like little pauses between lines. But I leave the filming to the professionals. I find myself thinking I could be that sort of director. Ah, but I'm lazy by nature, so I probably won't.
Yonezu: I'd like you to. Myself, I have all sorts of answers, but I always wanted to be a manga artist.
Oizumi: Your art's amazing, after all.
Yonezu: I wanted to do manga all the way until I devoted myself to music, and it was my dream to get serialized in Weekly Shonen Jump... But before I knew it, I was doing music, and it stuck around as something I couldn't do even if I wanted to. So I do occasionally muse about if I could someday.
You also sing, Oizumi-san, but I'd like to mention - when I made a song with Masaki Suda-kun, he truly produced the kind of voice that only he could. What's with that, I wonder? Like the two of you are some sort of acting-and-singing hybrids. Someone with one beautiful essence can behave with similar beauty wherever they go; I'm tremendously interested in what that beauty is, exactly.
Oizumi: Watching the music video for Horse and Deer and seeing you in it, I felt that you were an actor, you know. It's part of the song's world, but while the hands of a crowd reach at you, you're trying to emotionally get something across, right? I think that's truly acting.
These two met in February of 2019. Oizumi attended Yonezu's concert in Sapporo. Afterward, Yonezu was chosen to provide the theme song for the Oizumi-starring drama No-Side Game. And finally, this discussion came to pass.
Oizumi: When I heard the theme song would be Yonezu-san, I thought "Good work, producer!" Just my own impression, but I felt like he was a person who would write it with a super good understanding of the show. Even when I'm exhausted, if I play this song, everything I see out the car window looks dramatic. Even the construction workers, and the salarymen, they all start to look like "everyone's fighting the good fight."
I'm the one shaping the character of Hayato Kimijima (in the show), but if you want to know whether I can simply go out there in plain clothes, I can't. There are things I only start to see after I get my makeup done, have my costume put on, and stand on the set, and seeing the members of the Astros performing at length in the blazing sun fills me with feeling. And as part of all that, there's also the song Yonezu-san made.
Yonezu: Wow, I'm glad. I developed my image of the song by multiplying the beauty of sports with your role as Kimijima. I was allowed to read the script for episode 1, but I've never become a worker, and thus never been demoted either. I worried over what I should grab hold of, but when I watched rugby matches, I found them to be super beautiful. I made it with a basis on that preciousness, but when I make theme songs, my intention is to not get too close to the work itself.
Oizumi: Thought so. If you said "Try!" or something, it'd just cheapen it. (laughs)
Yonezu: Right, right. I struggled a lot with where the middle ground there was, and it took quite some time.
Oizumi: When you're making songs, I suppose you always have a deadline? So for instance, with lyrics, do you form them over a long period of time, or go "It's no use!" and write them up all at once?
Yonezu: I usually do the latter. I'm bad at making things systematically. I'll spend days on end just making a song, then when I get tired, I'll do nothing for about a week. It repeats like that, then when the deadline draws near and things become seriously dire, I'm filled with a mysterious energy and create something super good.
Oizumi: Well now, that sounds similar to how I create. (laughs) Time spent doing nothing isn't useless.
Yonezu: Right, it isn't.
Oizumi: Even supposing you do make it in a week, you couldn't have done that without months of idling beforehand.
Yonezu: Spent just doing stuff like cleaning your room.
Oizumi: Totally! I've written play scripts for my troupe at times, but I can't write. I just can't. So then, I might turn on the TV like "maybe it'll give me a little hint." Telling myself "I might just encounter something." With it being like that, aren't times when you're not thinking about anything really happy?
Yonezu: They're happy. Truly happy.
Oizumi: At times like those, I watch DVDs I wouldn't normally watch. I love "24," but I'm keeping the last season unwatched. Because I'm afraid of Jack Bauer leaving my life.
Yonezu: I really get that. I myself play role-playing games, and when it seems like they might be ending soon, I get really lonely and stop playing. The more I like a game, the more likely it is I'll stop.
Oizumi: So that you can think "I've still got this one." Man, I could really be best buds with Kenshi Yonezu. Hahahaha.