On March 31st, 2010, to celebrate her 30th birthday and the 15th anniversary of her debut, Maaya Sakamoto put on a special one-night concert at the Nippon Budōkan. The scenes from that night, including all 24 songs, have been recorded in their entirety to Blu-ray and DVD, to be released on August 11th as “Maaya Sakamoto: 15th Anniversary Concert ‘Gift’ at the Nippon Budōkan”. With approximately 13,000 fans enclosing the 360-degree stage, her enchanting performance that night was both heartwarming and dynamic. I asked her about how the idea of a Budōkan concert on her birthday first came about.
“During the wrap-up party after last year’s ‘WE ARE KAZEYOMI!’ tour, I was talking with the staff about wanting to do more concerts, and I wondered aloud about when we could schedule the next one. That’s when—probably because they guessed I would say that and did some research (laugh)—they told me that actually the Budōkan was supposedly available on my birthday, on March 31st. Part of me wanted to set my next goal while I was still excited about concerts, so right then I said, ‘Let’s do it!’ and it was all set.”
In January of 2009, after ending her tour at the International Forum, she set out at once toward a Budōkan concert. In the creation of this concert, among the ideas she presented to the staff was that of a “circus tent”. The play of lighting that reminded one of strings of incandescent bulbs and the extravagant outfits prepared for putting on a one-night party were quite a treat.
“Circus tents always appear suddenly, in the middle of nowhere. And though the time you’re there is lively and exciting, by the next day it’s like a dream, and if you go back everything’s disappeared. So I wanted to make this concert like a circus tent that pops up in the middle of average, daily life. After it’s over, both I and the audience have to go back to our usual places, but I wanted to make it the sort of concert that, after savoring that anything-but-usual atmosphere, would become a source of strength for each person to live out those normal days.”
From the opening to the middle, the highlight was the lineup of songs that seemed to retrace the footsteps of the 15 years since her CD debut all at once—songs that she sang with a decisive voice and delivered with superb quality. The exceptional charm that is her voice formed lilting and beautiful melodies that truly carried in every direction. It was an indescribably pleasant thing to experience.
“I really think the one thing I can do now is to sing the best I can. Especially with this concert having 15 years’ worth of old songs in it. There are people there who have listened to my music for years and years, but there are some who are seeing me live for the first time. I didn’t want to just have people reflect on the memories of those old songs, but to also show that when I sing them today, this is what they sound like. Also, so I could calm myself down, I decided to first focus on singing well, and during the first half in particular I was making a conscious effort to do that.”
Among these were “Feel Myself” and “Hemisphere”, into which she poured all the feelings she couldn’t understand at the time she first sang them, and spoke of being able to sense her own growth as she sang. And in the latter half, adding surprises to follow surprises, Maaya Sakamoto took that expansive atmosphere and made it completely her own. Yōko Kanno appeared as a guest for a piano medley, and she sang “A Jet Waiting for Wind” and “Magic Number” with Shōko Suzuki on drums. Also, for the intro to “Get No Satisfaction!”, the sight of her determined strumming in her first guitar performance must have sent shock waves through many fans.
“I thought that since there’s only one chord I could manage it, but I didn’t think it would be that tough (laugh). If you were to ask me whether I did a good job in the concert I’d have to say far from it. But I’m happy that I could play incredibly better than I did during rehearsals. I feel like my personality might be suited to taking those things I think might be impossible and setting them as hurdles for me to work toward. I have a feeling it’s been that way not just with the piano and guitar, but all through these 15 years.”
The extent to which this challenge was a gamble for her has been completely captured in the making-of segment, “Maaya Sakamoto on the Path to Becoming a Guitarist!! ～Days of Get No Satisfaction!”, and I encourage you to watch it together with the concert. In the encore, during her piano accompaniment of “everywhere”, which seems to sum up her 15-year journey, an unbelievable warmth enfolded the entire arena. That was the moment the Nippon Budōkan became, for Maaya Sakamoto and for the audience, a place full of memories, just like home. Looking back anew, she spoke of that day:
“With the audience spread 360 degrees around the stage, it really felt like I was putting on a concert together with everyone, which made me glad. There were so many people who each had their own memories attached to each song. When you looked at me, you could see the audience on the other side. I thought it would be nice if it could be a space where the members of the audience could face each other like that. Also, everyone has their own worries and discontent in their own lives, but I think everyone really values themselves, and they want to love themselves more, so they listen to music, or read books, or watch movies as they try to succeed. I think it’s wonderful if I can have people listen to my music in that way, and it makes me really happy to think about how that concert was a gathering of people who are living that way. It was really a special day I’ll always remember.”
She herself said that she was “able to take her own concert style without change to the Budōkan,” and in this very way until the last song ended, she presented a spectacle of entertainment in an atmosphere that made one doubt it was her first solo performance at the Nippon Budōkan, and I hope you can sense through the images the wonderful and joyous atmosphere that was born there. Beyond this, during her talks between songs, she speaks extensively of her feelings toward music over these 15 years. As if savoring each word, she conveys to the fans her reasons for singing as well as her determination to continue singing. This release is imprinted with this extraordinary time, full of 15 years’ worth of Maaya Sakamoto’s dreams, love, and feelings of gratitude.
[Japanese] Text: Miki Ueno