My personal history of male infatuations is largely comprised of the angry and middle-aged types. Men who have reached their prime through the “thistles of ignorance, thorns of genius and blossoms of love”.* They wear their souls on their skin, and never lose the urgency to fight and to know. These men reject the poison-sucking of ‘friend zones’ and cutesy, nice-guy infantilization. They belong solely and unapologetically to themselves. They most certainly will rage against the dying of the light.
‘Screaming Philosopher’ Kazuki Tomokawa (aka Tenji Nozoki) is a prime specimen among these types. While he is in fact very attractive (those heavy-lidded eyes, romantic lips), no one could accuse his music of pretty affectations or self-consciousness. Even as a young man, he sang with the experience and depths of a much older, more ragged human being. A pretty person would simply be incapable of growling and spitting at the abyss, or whispering against the ear with such angelic tenderness…especially at 60 years old.
Yes, I am once again a shamelessly smitten, spazzy teenager when I hear Tomokawa’s voice.
Like so many, I had my personal discovery of Tomokawa in Takashi Miike‘s samurai-cum-time travel movie IZO. As much as I love the film (I can rarely afford to buy DVDs but had to have this one), it was the blazing troubadour and narrator to the demon samurai’s plight who won my heart. At turns sardonic and frantic, his singing and playing was a rare experience of a piece of art being cut through by a real, flawed human presence – and the flawed human wins.
To begin your own affair with him, I would personally recommend starting there – at least, his performances in it. Though if you are rather averse to violence in films, then iTunes* has a pretty good selection available. I have linked to a great fansite on his name at the beginning of this article with great bio information. Discogs also has some great resources for purchasing non-digital. Two personal favourites to get you started: God Is Crying in the Well, which is like a lyrical kiss; Come, Next Spring never loses it’s tragic potency even after many, many listens. The album version is tinged with tenderness and regret, whereas the performance from IZO is far more raw and typical of his more recent style:
In my experience, it isn’t easy to find English translations of his songs. [The video above has a helpful translation by user ark80] I supplement my scant Japanese knowledge with patched together translations using a few online tools. It doesn’t really matter if you only get a vague translation, because the heart of the music is entirely in Tomokawa’s voice. In the same way that most people who listen to a Tchaikovsky concerto won’t understand anything about playing the violin, the truth and beauty are just the same.
Fortunately, a documentary from French filmmaker Vincent Moon will offer those of us outside Japan a more intimate knowledge of Tomokawa’s career and unique personality. I first saw this story on Toronto J-Film Powow almost a year ago, and have kept an eye out for more news since. La Faute de Fleurs has so far had a tantalizingly limited showing – though it has already won an award – and I just had to ask about a US premier.
I received a kind reply from Naohito who runs the website, saying that NYC is definitely in the pipeline. That was in August, so perhaps I can hope for a nice Christmas present. In the meantime, some superb videos can be found on the film’s website and on Moon’s Vimeo page.
Enough of my tender adoration: LoneWolf310 of Youtube waxes lyrical in a way that only the Internet can inspire:
lol i fell in love with this guy (no homo)after watchin IZO the other night, he really sings and plays with passion when reading about this movie they mentioned an “acid folk singer” so i thought hed be like a Japanese Bob Dylan but i never expected this lol he blew me away, now im thinking about going to pick up some of his stuff to listen to
*quote from a critic regarding Alphonse Mucha’s first solo exhibition poster
*the song links will take you to US iTunes – simply copy the title into the search bar to find it in your store – I am open to more professional song title translations as well!