Interview with Ichirou Mizuki at Japan Expo

interview - 09.21.2007 08:00

The legendary Ichirou Mizuki answers JaME's questions about his first visit to France.

It's after a short show and a long autograph session that we meet with Ichirou Mizuki in a quiet room at Japan Expo. The charismatic man gave his opinion about his reception at Japan Expo and tells about his music career.

First, can you introduce yourself please?
Ichirou Mizuki: I am Ichirou Mizuki and I have dedicated around 40 years of my life to singing the themes of various anime songs. My nickname is Aniki. Nice to meet you.

Before this visit, had you ever been to France?
Ichirou Mizuki: No, this is my first time.

Why did you choose to perform at Japan Expo?
Ichirou Mizuki: Actually, I came for the TV show called "Japan is cool - Messages from cartoons for the world", as an ambassador of Japanese animation and as a presenter for the show. The director of the show wanted to show me French fans who also sing anime theme songs such as Mazinger Z. I didn't come only for the Japan Expo; I wanted to visit the Champs Elysées, Louvre's Museum, etc.

Tomorrow I'm going to visit the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe. (laughs) I'm going to play the guitar and sing. As we know that Japan Expo was around the same time, I tried to contact the person in charge of this convention and here I am. The Japanese TV show "Japan is cool" is going to be following me around France while I'm here and are going to be showing the footage on their channel. I'm really happy to be here and am having a great deal of fun, unfortunately I don't have too much time to make everybody happy because I’m really busy.

Since when did you know that you would make music for a living?
Ichirou Mizuki I dreamt about that since I was 5 years old. When I was student, I wanted to pass an audition for a jazz livehouse and I did it. This is how I started my career.

How did you prepare yourself for your 1,000 songs concert?
Ichirou Mizuki: In fact, it was a great opportunity for me to perfect my body's preparation skills, but naturally it was necessary for me to pay close attention to my vocal chords in particular.

How did the idea for a concert such as this come about?
Ichirou Mizuki: It was a project from the Japanese TV channel, FUJI TV, with the show Utaemon, with which I sung for quite regularly. The goal of this program was to show which songs corresponded to which year and to evoke memories and rediscover the older songs that had experienced much success at the time.

Despite countless new songs being provided for the channel, I found several of my songs had appeared at the top year after year in every genre!

The director for the TV show Utaemon said to me on one occasion that it felt that I had always been there in the industry and, since my debut, that I had perhaps sung over 1,000 different songs! My reaction to that was 'Yeah... maybe...' it did however get me thinking. Suddenly, one day during Utaemon it was announced that I would be holding a 1,000 songs live. Well, I just couldn't just say 'no'! (laughs)

After that, there were two contracts: the first was for if I succeeded and the second was for if I failed. If the latter option occurred, my friends in the industry, (Hironobu Kageyama, Mitsuko Horie, etc.) would replace me if I either forgot the lyrics or lost my voice. Obviously then they would take my place on the stage because it was all live, every detail pertaining to this had to be decided and confirmed before the performance itself. Thankfully, however, I succeeded although Mitsuko Horie said to me "Oh, it's too bad because I learned all of your songs". (laughs)

Are you prepared to perhaps do a concert like this again in the future and maybe attempt to surpass your own record?
Ichirou Mizuki: Today I only sang five songs. I really loved it and felt good afterwards. I could have a concert like that in France!

So you really loved the public today?
Ichirou Mizuki: I didn't feel anything but warmth in this showcase. Ultimately there are no differences between the Japanese and French people. Of course, I’m Japanese, but I learned a lot of foreign songs, Spanish, American, etc. I love listening to these types of songs as often as I can. Now our roles have reversed; it is the people outside of Japan who listen to my songs. This makes me very happy and I'm grateful to them for their appreciation!

How did you discover artists such as Adamo seeing as you sang some of their songs after the main performance ? (Ichirou Mizuki sang a few songs by the famous French variety singers Adamo and Aznavour impromptu.)
Ichirou Mizuki: I forgot the name of the artist on stage at the time, but I also like Enrico Macias. I often listen to French songs and I collect a lot of vinyl records, using them as guides for my own performances.

How do you choose the anime themes that you would like to sing?
Ichirou Mizuki: Usually, the directors of the anime program and the record company come to see me. In some cases, there are the songs I've always wanted to sing. For example, in Japan, there is a TV show genre that we call ‘sentai’ (some elements of what is known as the Power Rangers in the United States). They had created thirty different sentai previously. However, I have never actually sung theme songs for the ‘sentai’ series before. As it was now their thirty-first series, they felt it was important for them that I participated in the project so I performed in the Juken Sentai Geki ranger project (the thirty-first series) and released the ending theme song TAO.

We know that you play guitar, can you play any other instruments?
Ichirou Mizuki: I have never been engaged in formal musical instrument training, but I can play the piano. Due to the experience of my performance of Captain Harlock's theme, I've also learned to play the ocarina (Ichirou Mizuki mimics the sound of the instrument). I really wanted to play the ocarina today, but unfortunately I’ve left it at home! (laughs)

Can you explain to us what the JAM Project is ?
Ichirou Mizuki: JAM project is an abbreviation for 'Japan Animation Song Makers', which is a vocal group project created by animation singers such as myself and Hironobu Kageyama. Since all the singers in this group have their own original songs, it was a rare occasion in which the members got together. The Japanese fans are hungry for a show that contains elements of both of us as performers and our songs themselves. As new members have joined the group, I now sing as an occasional member of the project.

How was your collaboration with DJ Dimitri Von Paris?
Ichirou Mizuki: A few years ago, Dimitri asked the party concerned whether there was a possibility that we could create something together, unfortunately I never knew about those plans. All I was ever told was that somebody wanted to see me and that was the end of it.

A project Dimitri has been planning for a long time was the remix release of Bokura no Mazinger Z with Mizuki personally laying down fresh vocal tracks. The project was offered to Tom Jones initially, however Dimitri's wish for the original singer to join the project was strong, hence the project was brought to me. For The Aristocats' song Everybody Wants to be a Cat, (the second collaboration work with Dimitri) I told him to sing the lyrics in French with me. Dimitri didn't agree but I insisted and in the end he did it. I helped launch the singing career of Dimitri and he can sing very well! (Ichirou Mizuki sang the song).

For a quick anecdote, what have you done with the many gold discs you've received?
Ichirou Mizuki: I never throw anything away so they must be somewhere in my house! (laughs)

What advice would you give to someone who wishes to sing theme songs for anime?
Ichirou Mizuki: It's true that someone who wishes to become an anime theme singer must develop their voice and have lots of courage. Though to achieve this, courage alone is not enough. It's necessary to know various styles of music such as jazz, rock, pop, etc and to practice them. One must start with the base theories of music so many new styles can be born.

Is there anyone you would like to work with?
Ichirou Mizuki: Mitsuko Horie! I've already recorded many duet songs with her in the past. But recently, a new duet has just been released. It is a parody of Gakeen.
Ichirou Mizuki's Manager: This song has previously been performed by Mitsuko Horie and Ichirou Mizuki. In fact, they parody themselves.
Ichirou Mizuki: Every year we perform the song, Futari no Anison, live. I want to perform this song in France with Mitsuko Horie, the JAM Project and others, and have a 1,000 song concert in France! (laughs)

From the beginning of your career to now, what is your best memory?
Ichirou Mizuki: Quite simply - today!

Do you plan on touring in either Europe or America?
Ichirou Mizuki: I have received requests to tour in places like Spain and France, but it never really worked out. After today's events, I feel like I'm ready to tour France, but I would also like to go to other areas of Asia like Vietnam and other places since the concert in Hong Kong has already been a great success.

This is a typical question, but which song of yours do you prefer?
Ichirou Mizuki: Ah yes, this question is really difficult! You know, all of the songs are my children. I cannot say which one is my absolute favourite, but of course Mazinger Z has a place in my heart because it allows me to sing with power. Mazinger Z is like a big brother and Captain Harlock is the little brother. (laughs)

What do you think of people who believe that anime themes aren't real music?
Ichirou Mizuki: I do not pay attention to them. There are many things to choose from on television and I accept the fact that not every one likes the same things. I think that it's sad that some people say ‘I do not like manga and anime and I prohibit my children from having anything to do with them either.’ It might be better for them to consider different views and tastes themselves. I have met people today who have said to me that they watch anime with the rest of their family and that touches me. Anime music themes are not only some of the first songs heard by many children, but these songs often contain many important themes and moral values for young people. Therefore the message will not fade after they are grown up - it will resonate with them as they move into the world as adults. There were people who sang my songs with me and cried during my Japan Expo performance. It is my belief that something with true value will reach to the hearts of the people and stay with them.

Will you please give a message to our readers?
Ichirou Mizuki: I dream of performing anime theme songs that give courage to poor children, the sick, and everyone in the whole world! I think that only anime themes can allow that.

Thank you!
Ichirou Mizuki: Thanks!

JaME wishes to thank Ichirou Mizuki for his kindness as well as his management, Suzuka of Nolife for her great help in translating and with the Japan Expo, and also Matthew and Rieko Twigg as cooperator translators.
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