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Interview with Fukuyama Masaharu: self-discipline is the key to staying evergreen
Year 2010 arrived with Fukuyama Masaharu. On New Year’s Eve, he performed in NHK’s Kōhaku Uta Gassen again for the first time since his debut 16 years ago. Ryomaden, the Taiga Drama for this year which he is the principal of, went to air as from 3 January.
“To me, self-discipline is normal business”
“After the filming had started, the schedule went a bit slow. So my weight fell a little. However my body shape was still kept within a certain range. So that I could meet any sort of challenge. Antonio Inoki has said this before “it is essential to keep (your body) in top condition at all times in the entertainment industry.” 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, whenever you receive a job, you need to be able to accomplish it well straightaway. As an entertainer, you must discipline yourself everyday. Even if you don’t like self-discipline, you can’t let yourself get sick of it. Once you feel sick of it, you cannot keep it up anymore. I have an on-off switch in my brain for it. “
Fukuyama is so strict on himself as he forces himself to believe that “don’t ever believe in it even when others are complimenting you. This will prevent you from seeing the truth.”
“I am still suspicious of many things, even now (laugh). I only believe in compliments at the point where fans keep turning up to my concerts. As they pay to see me perform, they must truly like me, I think (laugh). Other then that, I don’t have much emotion when being praised. Perhaps it is because of this that I have survived in the industry until now. I would never think “I am really great”. I dare not think like that. I am just not able to. Perhaps this is my personality. I don’t get proud easily.
“If you have to say it, I probably belong to Yataro’s clan”
When I received the invitation for acting in Ryomaden, I was wondering “why me?” I should be playing Yataro instead (laugh).
“Ryoma-san is a big figure with a lot of achievement. As he could go to Edo twice to study kendo during Bakumatsu (end of Edo period), he probably came from a rich family. That’s why I think that the founder of Mitsubishi, Iwasaki Yataro, who came from a poor background had more in common with me. Well, my father gambled a lot so we didn’t have much money. I couldn’t even afford to attend tuition classes. Oh! How come I start complaining!? (laugh)
After all, the reason that Fukuyama accepts this role is “no one actually knows the truth. Although there are oral histories and photos from that time but how much of them reflect the truth? The fruits of Sakamoto Ryoma’s works are kept but those who knew him are probably long dead. So it should be OK as long as our interpretation of Ryoma can reflect the outcome. If we are not able to communicate to the audience that such a forthright and humourous person led the development of our country, I reckon this production would be a failure.
Being together with the one you love is different from the “true blessing”Unforgettable pure love.Chasing after the “not-yet-exist” melody.
The last music release in 2009 is the single “Hatsukoi”. This is the theme song for the Toshiba Regza Plasma TV CM starring Fukuyama himself. When he was writing this song, his major concern was “can it display the most common emotion?” The composition was done according to this principle. This is a single after all. A lot of effort was spent on the melody to ensure that the song would become popular. In the world of Music, there is a willow called “being popular”. At the bottom, there are always 2-3 mud fish swimming around. I think if I just do it according to the “pattern” or “formula”, it is not very meaningful. That’s why I have been chasing after the melody that has “not yet existed”.
Many people told me that this song is very “Showa-styled”. I don’t have the same feeling though. I guess different audience would have different views. Some might think that it is “Showa”, others may have different thoughts. However what I express in the song is still the same. I just wrote it according to how I felt. I don’t think such kind of feeling and emotion would have changed over the last 100 or even 200 years. It is indifferent whether it is old or new. If I want to express the feeling of love or hatred, I should just be as straightforward as possible and don’t waste energy on other things.
“This song is as straightforward as one’s first love”
I am not singing about “first love” as an incident. Instead, I am singing about the unforgettable feeling of “first love”. The original theme of this song is “beautiful memory”. Although I have grown up, the “you” that I was in love with is still deep in my thoughts and it will last forever. This feeling is as straightforward and beautiful as “first love”.
Fukuyama has always believes that “lyrics must be derived from real life experience and feelings”. Perhaps deep in his heart, there is that “somebody” that he cannot forget.
What started me off writing this song is this statement “a woman does not marry the person she loves the most”. This is part of my own experience too. I first heard that “the person that a woman loves the most is always someone else other than her husband” when I was a kid. I was really shocked then. This feeling came back again when I was writing the song.
“She still dreams of other men while being held by the man she loves…..” When I heard this song, I felt that women were horrible!!! I even suspected whether my mum was like that too (laugh)! I reckon this question started to grow in my heart since then. Not only have I heard a lot about this from the people that I know, I have also invited my radio audience to send in their stories. The result is 70% of women do not marry the ones they love the most. This is shocking!!
“You won’t live for long if you cannot relax…”
While going through the process of making this song, we can also grasp some ideas about Fukuyama’s view for love. “Not marrying the person you love the most indicates that spending your life with this people is not the “true blessing”. This idea of “although I am not able marry the one I love the most, I stay with the one that gives me the true blessing” is fairly mature. There are youngsters in their teens and 20s who believe in “being with the one you love the most = true blessing = being with the one you love the most”. Of course they can believe in this until they die. However in life you often meet somebody, and then leave somebody. You hurt other people and you get hurt too. Over time you start getting confused about truth and lies. You may finally realise that “it is so tiring to be with the I love the most as I cannot be myself.” It is essential that you can relax completely in front of your other half, even to the extent that you can pick your nose without worrying. Not matter you are male or female, you won’t live for long if you can’t relax.
“I am not bothered being considered old-fashioned. I did it my way.”
Fukuyama’s music activities were travelling at full speed in 2009. “Zankyo” released in June was his first original album in 8 years. It popped to the No. 1 position of the Oricon chart immediately. Then he commenced his 20th Anniversary concert tour which was the largest in scale in his career so far. He did 36 shows in 12 venues over the country. Regarding the making of Zankyo, with a smile, he said, “I wrote the lyrics when I was a little depressed.” (laugh)
When working on a new album, the thing that I am most concerned is “what message do I want to bring out this time?” This will lead to questions like “why do I make music?” which keep me thinking over and over again. Although it is joyful to compose the music, I feel depressed when writing the lyrics. That was when I thought deeply about some really serious questions….. it was a process of revealing my inner self. My main thoughts when creating Zankyo were about my hometown.
About his works in Zankyo, in Fukuyama’s terms, is “it is the first time that I played so many songs”. There is a lot guitar playing by him throughout the album.
“I don’t have a lot of confidence about singing. However I had confidence about guitar playing since high school, even when I was playing really badly. (laugh) The sound of guitar carries my own flavour. So far I played all the guitar parts in my demo tapes. However I still use professional guitarists during formal recordings. I am not “new” anymore so whatever I say may sound “outdated”. I feel a bit embarrassed about that. However when I hit 40, I thought it didn’t matter anymore. I just did it my way. That’s why now I do most of the guitar playing (in my songs).
“I could only forgive after I had left”
Fukuyama originates from Nagasaki prefecture. In 2008, he became “The Ambassador of Nagasaki” who promotes the charm of Nagasaki.
“Nagasaki is a hilly place. So the atmosphere is very quiet. However when I lived there, I could only feel its closeness.”
Many youngsters who live in small towns would have similar rebellious feeling. Fukuyama was the same. “I thought I wouldn’t be able to fulfil my dream as a musician in Nagasaki.”
“Nagasaki has very deep culture. However when I was too close to her, I couldn’t understand her charm. “ “Why would this culture matter to me? I won’t become a musician because of it!” He pushed all the blame to Nagasaki. At that time I thought it would be OK if I could live on busking but even this was not possible in Nagasaki. There was really no choice. So I left.
He went to Tokyo at the age of 18. “I forgave my hometown a few years later. Although Nagasaki didn’t provide an answer to me, a lot of people’s dreams were fulfilled there, still. It is now all in the past. I was probably too shallow then.” (laugh)
"I want youngsters of Nagasaki to feel the heartbeat"
“The main industry in Nagasaki is ship building. Recently I heard that there is economic recovery in Korea and the rest of Asia. Nagasaki is recovering too.” He still worries about his hometown.
“Economic recovery is difficult. It is even harder for a provincial city. This is closely related to her (Nagasaki’s) relationship with Tokyo and the local administration. However I am neither an economist nor a politician. I can only use my 20 years experience in entertainment to repay Nagasaki.”
For this reason, Fukuyama held 2 outdoor concerts in Inasayama Park last summer. He also offered free viewing for 50000 audience in the Nagasaki baseball ground. Besides residents of Nagasaki pefecture, there were many fans coming from other parts of the country. In just 2 days, Nagasaki’s economy was having a good boost.
“It would be pointless if I said this (about free viewing) beforehand. That’s why I didn’t mention anything at that time. I sincerely hope that everyone in Nagasaki, especially the young ones, can feel their heart beating. I want to bring them this feeling. If I had stayed in Nagasaki all along, I wouldn’t be able to do this. This homecoming concert was made possible by my move to Tokyo. I hope those youngsters who are sick of Nagasaki’s closeness, like how I used to be, can now find new possibilities for their future.