|Although your exhibit consisted of nothing more than yourself being confined to a box for the duration of the show, that fact alone functions symbolically to invoke thought in us about communication, life and death, what contemporary art is doing today and the state of contemporary society. It is very difficult to explain such a performance in words, I’m sure. And since your theater works and live performances are both of the kind that enable the audience to connect directly to your sensitivities and form of expression. In that sense I feel that it is almost futile to attempt to explain or interpret them in words.
Since saying that they can’t be explained in words is also a form of escape, I don’t like to make or hear statements like, “There are no words for it.” The efforts to put things in words is also important, and it is important to talk about the work, but when I do something [as a work] it is always basically very complex and I am trying to present things on multiple levels of meaning. So, yes, it becomes very difficult to explain in words.
That feeling of things happening on multiple levels is also connected to my love of music and, for example, in music it is virtually impossible to have a state where only one note is sounding. It is always an interaction of multiple sounds. There is a saying in Japanese that the political genius Shotokutaishi could listen to and comprehend things being said by several different people it the same time. And that is how we all listen to music, don’t we? We are listening to the bass, the guitar, the drums and the vocals all at the same time. And if it is a song, there are words too. The fact that we are listening to all these elements together means that we are also listening to them separately. That’s why we are able to say things like, “This bass part is pretty good.” That is the kind of multiple-layered work I want to do, but if you ask me how I balance the parts at any given moment [in the performance] I wouldn’t be able to explain it at all. If you asked me why I lowered the volume on the bass track a bit during mixing, I might give a reason as an afterthought. That’s the way things are, isn’t it? And it is a bit off track to just say it is a sense.
In the stages you actually direct, there is a mood that seems to suggest that the process of composing and the process of performing are happening at the same time. It seems that you are mixing the elements in real time during your live performances and the result is like visual live performance or, in music terminology, it is like dubbing or live electronics.
I think it is probably easier to watch that way, but there are also some people who can’t see things that way, aren’t there? When there are words the meaning takes precedence and things tend to lean in that direction. There are people who want to interpret things as they watch, and for those people I believe my performances are rather difficult to deal with.
When did you begin making music?
I don’t have any presumption that I am making music. And, at this age I am not trying to be humble about this but I really feel very strongly that I am a person who can’t to anything myself. That is why I have the greatest respect for people who are actually doing music well, and I envy them. It is the same with actors. When I see someone who can act well, I admire them. So I think it is presumptuous to say that I am doing music. But, I am already on in years, so I make a point not to think about that much and resolve myself to the fact that nothing worthwhile will come of me trying to decide things myself. So, I always let other people decide for me (laughs). Having other people decide for me may sound irresponsible, but don’t you sometimes see artistic expression as an ugly business in one sense? You create something and then try to convince people that it has value and then make money off of it. I for one could never say that I wanted people to pay to hear music I made. So, I prefer to have people say to me, “You do this for us” or “That’s good enough, so please do it for us.”
So you could never do a solo live performance of music? (Laughs)
That would never happen! The acting profession can also be seen as a bit of an ugly profession in the same way. A person really has to be big-headed to think they can take an image and embody it in a way that moves people and then make them pay you for it (laughs). And, in that sense, the people who come to be called stars are really in a class by themselves, I believe. They are actually able to go up there and say, “Look at me!” I am not being critical at all but, for example, at his live performances, Benzie (Kenichi Asai) has the presence go out on stage and just say, “Hello, babyyy!” He is a star because he can do that. I think it’s incredible. In contrast, I am always apologizing for what I do on stage. That is a big difference (laughs). When I think about that, I realize that the judgment of whether something has value as art always has to be made by the audience [and not yourself]. That’s why I will continue to perform as long as people are telling me to do it, but when they stop asking me to perform I will probably go off and just start doing some ordinary work to earn my daily bread. I have a strong feeling that whether I perform or not is a decision that other people should make, not me.
Rather than your approach as an artist, that must be your approach to life, isn’t it? Is that view of life influenced by your experiences from running a pet shop and being with animals so much?
Ever since I was small I have loved being with animals, and I grew up in an environment where I always had animals around me. So, I think that has indeed been an influence. And when you are always around animals, you see a lot of life and death. You see life and death, you see sexual arousal and mating and the laying of eggs. That is especially prominent with fish and insects. Watching them you see that it is natural for a large number of their offspring to die, and that this fact is the premise of their life cycle, isn’t it? From the time I was young I came to see death as a natural phenomenon, and before I ever had a first love I had seen crickets mating countless times. So, when I reached puberty I was able to say, “So this is what being in heat is like?” (Laughs) So, in that sense you could say that I have never really known real love.
So, would you say that you have a habit of looking down from a bird’s eye view on the big picture?
I always do look at the big picture. I think that is how I maintain my natural balance, but that doesn’t mean that I have a nihilistic outlook. I don’t look down on things and get that feeling that they are meaningless because they are only small parts of the big picture. Half of me does get directly involved in things. It is the same with eating. I do have the desire to eat and there are times when I want to eat delicious things, but that is always just half of the feeling, while the other half of me is thinking about the process of eating, digesting and the food eventually coming out as feces. Even when I am on a date with someone I like, I am still tremendously interested in what is going on in her stomach. I never get completely away from thinking things like, “That hamburger she ate ten minutes ago is now in her stomach. What is it like in there?” Or, “Where is the actual location of the stomach in her body?” So, half of me can’t fall completely in love, you might say, and there is nothing I can do about it.
So, do you get the feeling that other people’s loves are quite exaggerated in terms of their emotional/spiritual intensity?
Yes, I do tend to see it that way. But, at the same time, I do understand, so it never looks meaningless or foolish to me. I have the feeling that that is the way it is with human beings. But, on the other hand, I also know that bugs don’t get that way (laughs). When you become absorbed in only that [love] the meaning and value gets bloated and I always feel that is presumptuous and excessive.
Perhaps it is easiest to understand if you consider the case of your own child dying. Of course, I would cry and be extremely sad and in that aspect there is nothing nihilistic, but on the other hand I know that in the big picture the life of one child in this world could not have such tremendous value. If a life were worth than much, I would feel terrible about eating fish roe with my rice in the morning. Plants and animals live not as individuals but within the relationship of their species, and the natural premise in that case is that there will be a large number of deaths, and the death of an individual in the species population is not a great matter. My need to realize that is the stronger of the two. In relation to this, human beings are a species that attributes meaning to things that have no real meaning at all and live with strong emotions in their hearts.