Right when we were finally down to one person (!) I’ve left this series idle for a while. The wait is now over. Here’s the final guest. The general atmosphere gives me a feeling everyone expects this choice: Yōko Kanno! My producer. She’s been with me since my debut, so that would mean we go back seven years. I’ve long since given up on concealing anything, and since she gets to see everything about me, asking about the ideas she has of me is somewhat scary, but I suppose it’s a good opportunity.
Ms. Kanno’s most impressive aspect is, I think, the strength of her animal instincts. It shows up in places like her work, and her power to sense things when she sees someone, and her ability to make decisions when it’s all on the line. It’s not on the level of that “woman’s sixth sense” you hear about, but she’s more like a rare example of someone who still has instincts from a primal era.
Everyone, whether it’s food or people or lifestyles, prefers things that are natural. But in this world filled with artificial things, just distinguishing what is natural is no walk in the park. Our bodies actually speak the truth, and we expect them to resist what they can’t take, and to respond to hardship with sadness, yet we infuse our minds and bodies with drugs and are able to dupe ourselves into pretending nothing’s wrong. We feel like that’s the way it should be in this day and age. But for Ms. Kanno, she picks up on those things with her invisible tail and beard, and can react on an honest level. And when she senses something, she trusts it with all her heart. It’s as if her instinct becomes even sharper each time she follows it. She always seems to know what she desires and what she should choose. This is actually really difficult, and I bet there aren’t many people who can do this.
That’s why it’s useless to try to hide something from Ms. Kanno. She’ll see right through you, and you’re always the one who gets embarrassed. Also, she tells you what she thinks right away (so no matter what you’re told, for some reason you can’t hate her. It’s so not fair!), and she has the curiosity of a kitten that’s fascinated by everything that moves. She’s super tough. I wonder if this sense of openness about her is what attracts people to Ms. Kanno. Those who come into contact with her natural character can themselves be natural. The reason I’ve always been able to go at my own pace and sing while keeping in touch with my own existence is because I met this natural Ms. Kanno.
1) What do you normally call Maaya?
As if I’m speaking with someone I don’t know—Ms. Sakamoto.
2) When did you first meet? What was your first impression from that time?
Ms. Sakamoto was a first-year high-schooler. She came with the manager from her agency. I couldn’t decide whether to have her sing, so I wanted to first meet her and get a feel for her character before deciding.
As we chatted, I asked her offhandedly, “So are you out of your rebellious phase?” She glared back at me with eyes that said, Who does this lady think she is, asking a rude thing like that! Seeing those eyes told me this girl had a Self, and she couldn’t lie about her Self’s feelings.
3) Compared with that, what’s your impression of her now?
It hasn’t changed at all.
Everything she feels is written on her face. Hahaha.
4) Maaya Sakamoto is like _____.
Warabimochi. Squishy and a little sweet, and you want to dust it in soybean flour.
A vegetable with dirt still clinging to it. The root is there, you can transplant it, and it’s not tainted with chemical fertilizer.
A monkey. She makes a screeching racket with her stomach bared for all to see, yet when someone new appears she’s frightened and scurries into a corner to hide. She’s rather stingy with her money.
If she were a guitar chord, D Major. It’s bright, yet it has a slightly reminiscent tone.
5) Share one of your “Legends of Maaya Sakamoto”.
At 16, she sang in front of the mic as if she had been doing it all her life.
At 17, I was shocked by the fresh sensitivity in the lyrics to “Pilot” that she wrote with hardly any effort.
At 18, perhaps on the brink of adulthood, I think she hesitated to try to play the role of the singer Maaya Sakamoto.
At 19, after we hadn’t met for a while, she showed up in the studio with her nails polished green, and everyone was excited.
At 20, she made it through countless tunnels.
At 21, she said she might not be able to graduate from college, and that if she didn’t it’s not what she would hear from others, but her own problem, and went off by herself. Afterward, as we worried and watched over her she squeaked by graduation. I realized she’s looked out for. In our girls-only meetings she made quite a few shocking statements.
At 22, she pretends not to be bothered too much about setting out on her own, but she actually can’t keep it off her mind.
6) Tell us about a new side of Maaya Sakamoto you’ve discovered recently.
Without any support, she wins countless auditions just by sheer skill, and receives roles in musicals and voice-overs. Moreover, she doesn’t show that she’s used to it or out of her element from having gotten past those hurdles. She’s pretty tenacious.
7) Anything you wish she’d stop doing?
When we were on a trip for recording, she picked up a head of lettuce to make a salad for everyone and asked, “Do you wash vegetables with dish soap?”
Since then I’ve been afraid to try her cooking.
Please wash vegetables in water.
8) Are there any places where you and Maaya Sakamoto are alike?
Our masculine characters.
When we get serious during recording, the way our speech turns blunt.
9) What is Maaya Sakamoto’s greatest charm?
Her watery voice. It’s filled with droplets.
Both her Japanese and English—her pronunciation is equally beautiful and refined. There’s no waver in the way she approaches the microphone to convey her words.
I’ve praised her a little too much, so I’ll add one complaint:
I wish she could at least memorize lyrics she wrote herself.
10) Please write whatever you’d like in a message to Maaya Sakamoto.
I’ll shout it out: I love you more than anyone else in the world! (But not in that sense.)
In this world that’s going too far in the direction of being able to attach words to anything and analyze everything, I never stop thinking about how to express that watery, warabimochi-like charm you have to your fans.
I’m sure the people who buy your CDs like that you can’t define exactly what’s the best thing about you. Also, there are most definitely certain kinds of pain, hardship, and suffering you can’t express without making a big fuss about them. So don’t bottle it up and fuss away. Keep at it, OK?
Finally, I want you to treasure those encounters with people who find and cultivate those charming parts of you that I missed. Don’t be afraid to fly your own course.
You can choose. It’s OK now.
11) What catch phrase would you attach to Maaya Sakamoto?
A boy named Alice.
Maaya Sakamoto’s Response
What now? What’s this?! Doesn’t it kind of feel like I’m being a little over-complimented?! Ahh, it’s a good thing I asked Ms. Kanno to be the last guest—thanks to her I was able to wrap up this corner on a good note. Ahaha.
Recently in the studio, we were passing around a birthday horoscope book and having a great time as we read each column and exclaimed, “That’s so true!” Here’s what was written for Ms. Kanno:
“You were born to make those close to you and also countless others happy. You love to bring people enjoyment, and you’ll make that your occupation and gain support.”
That’s so true. She of course brings joy to many people through the avenue of music, but that’s not all—the mysterious force she herself possesses enables us to always enjoy working together. She’s a master at bringing out the best in the staff and musicians. A master at firing up everyone to accomplish her vision. A master at reworking anything to make it fun. When Ms. Kanno’s around, there’s a spring in every step, and everyone has fun.
In the seven years I’ve spent at the feet of this master, I’ve borrowed many things from her as I watched from nearby her approach to her work. These things go beyond music—they’re a lifestyle, and a way of thinking.