See you again at Sad Cafe, someday
Ongaku to Hito
15 August 2023
text by Imai Tomoko
First image: A picture published in the February 2003 issue of the magazine (photographer ＝ Kasai Chikashi）
On 5 August 2023, the vocalist of DER ZIBET, ISSAY passed away due to an unforeseen accident.
Here is a passage about the artist that he was with the one-of-a-kind presence he exuded with each different worldview and his distinctive sense of aesthetic. Penned by writer Imai Tomoko-san who has been acquainted with him since DER ZIBET’s debut, it covers ISSAY’s life and the person he was as an outstanding artist who not only worked with music, but also an actor and a pantomime artist, and had considerable influence on BUCK-TICK’s Sakurai Atsushi, for starters and many, many more who came after him.
DER ZIBET’s vocalist, ISSAY has passed on.
He was bewitching as he sang in Meguro’s LIVE STATION on the 14th of July, and was scheduled to have a joint gig with FAR EAST PHALLUS KICKER in September. The sudden news of his demise left every single person who knew him distraught, and posts from people expressing their thoughts of him continue to flow on social media.
Possessing an astounding beauty and a unique aesthetic sense, he would always offer a kind smile to anyone and everyone, but he was also well acquainted with the darker side of life. A singer, an actor, a pantomime artist; these were but some of his wide-ranging activities as a prominent artist. He doesn’t act like he’s all-knowing yet he is wise and knowledgeable in so many different things that it often surprises. There is no doubt that every person who meets someone like him will always love and have faith in him.
His stage performances were theatrical, full of aestheticism. He makes use of masks, a cane, hats and more to full effect, bringing his unique world to life. There is no other band who executes live performances in this way, so the first time I saw it, I was captivated. Also, his being a voracious reader since he was a child brought a literary flavour into the lyrics he wrote, giving them a depth that set his lyrics apart from the lyrics of pop songs which flood the streets. From Baudelaire to Edogawa Ranpo, to Capote to Mishima Yukio to Kyogoku Natsuhiko and so forth, these were authors we had conversations about from time to time.
I got to know about ISSAY when I first saw a beautiful young man Chikada Haruo-san brought to some party. Later on, I think it was the launch party for Sixty Records, the label that DER ZIBET debuted with. It was around the release of the movie The Legend of The Stardust Brothers (1984) which was directed by Macoto Tezuka and written and produced by Chikada-san.
According to a Facebook post which Tezuka wrote in memoriam of ISSAY, he said that he happened to see a picture of ISSAY that one of his staff had when they were having a meeting for the movie, and picked ISSAY out of the many candidates. His and Tezuka’s fates were strongly connected, and he later went on to act in the 2018 sequel The Legend of the Stardust Brothers, and later the movie adaptation of Tezuka’s Barbara, originally a manga written by Tezuka’s father, Osamu Tezuka.
When I actually met this handsome young man, it was at an interview for DER ZIBET’s first album, Violetter Ball-紫色の舞踏会- (Violetter Ball-Murasakiiro no Budoukai- / 1985). I remember having an awkward conversation with a well-mannered but highly guarded ISSAY. But we had a number of mutual acquaintances like Chiwaki Mayumi and Okano Hajime, so things grew more comfortable over the course of the interview.
Always stylishly dressed in sophisticated fashion with those looks, he also looked good wearing a hat and with a cane in hand, but as exceptionally otherworldly as ISSAY appeared, he was an unexpectedly affable, practical man. He was an adorable person who would have a wide smile on his face as he chatted with people over drinks, sometimes blurting a cheeky line or two.
Rock entered ISSAY’s world when he was in high school. He said that he was greatly inspired by musicians like David Bowie, T. Rex, Lou Reed, Sex Pistols and went to school wearing makeup. He moved to Tokyo when he was 19 and started the glam rock band, ISSAY and SUICIDES which remained active for about two years before he embarked on his solo project.
Alongside his music career, he also studied pantomime under the tutelage of Mochizuki Akira who influenced not only ISSAY’s technique in physical expression but in all facets of the arts as well, from songwriting to all the way down to lifestyle. Although DER ZIBET’s work has begun, I had the chance to watch ISSAY’s pantomime performance. As I watched him support an elderly Akira-sensei with his passionate performance, I could sense from him an energy unlike that of what he exuded when in a band.
DER ZIBET was formed in 1984. It came together when ISSAY was going to form a band with HAL (bassist), who he had been working with in his solo project, and HIKARU (guitarist), who he met through a mutual acquaintance, and at the time, MAHITO (keyboardist) brought MAYUMI (drummer) along with him. Thus arrived a non-conforming band with a beautiful vocalist straddling the lines between new wave and hard rock in an era when the term “Visual-Kei” had yet to even exist.
Embodying the contrasting styles of decadence that ranged from David Bowie to Joy Division and a rock spirit backed by bands like Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin, they were a novel concept in the music scene of those days, yet at the same time, it was a huge hurdle to them. But DER ZIBET continued as a band without succumbing to the pressure.
Their 4th album, GARDEN (1988) was the product of their first time recording in London. They worked at Maison Rouge Studios, which saw artists like Jethro Tull and Peter Murphy, with Dick Beetham, who worked on Jimmy Page’s solo work, in charge of sound engineering. I spent about a week with them for interview and reporting work, and even though they had to deal with the perplexity and unfamiliarity of working foreigners, the four of them enjoyed the London life. ISSAY loved fish and chips dipped with malt vinegar so much that he said numerous times he wanted to buy some and bring them back to Japan. It was an unusual occurrence for a man like him who was generally disinterested in food.
And it was during that same period when BUCK-TICK also came to London to record their 4th album, TABOO. In between scheduled work, they held a secret gig which all the members of DER ZIBET went to watch. BUCK-TICK’s Sakurai Atsushi spoke about how reassuring it was to have fellow brethren in the audience of their first show overseas in London during a later conversation with ISSAY.
To Sakurai, ISSAY was not only a vocalist he looked up to, but also someone who influenced his stage performance in no small way. It can be inferred that the theatrical performances that Sakurai specialises in now and his use of masks and other objects to express the worlds of his songs were things that he acquired from his relationship with ISSAY.
To Sakurai, ISSAY was probably one of the few people who shared and validated his sense of aesthetic and sensibilities, and understood him as well. And to ISSAY, Sakurai was likely the junior who adored him the most but also, maybe, his most trusted person too. ISSAY would always be invited to BUCK-TICK’s year-end concert at the Nippon Budokan without fail, and it’s become an annual sight to see the two of them quietly drinking and talking with each other at the after-party.
DER ZIBET’s activities came to a pause in 1996. Since then, ISSAY has been actively involved in all sorts of musical collaborations. He was often called upon because of his distinctive voice and performances, and ISSAY was never one to say no.
In 1997, he formed PHY together with HAL and ex. 44MAGNUM band member JIMMY (Hirose Satoshi), he formed HAMLET MACHINE with ALLNUDE’s TATSUYA, and also formed LYnx with X JAPAN’s HEATH. Alongside Fukuhara Mari (keyboardist), their unit, ISSAY meets DOLLY was created based on the concepts of Neo Cabaret Music and Theatrical Music. I felt it was a space where ISSAY could be most comfortable.
In this unit, ISSAY often sang Alabama Song (from the play Little Mahagonny. Lyrics by Bertolt, music by Kurt Weill. Covered by artists like David Bowie, the Doors, and more). Hearing his rendition, Tsuchiya Masami called upon him to become a member of his band, KA.F.KA. With all these activities, ISSAY’s singing grew ever more polished.
When HAL made a recovery from the serious injury he sustained in an accident in 2004, DER ZIBET seized the opportunity to come back together and resumed activities in 2007. I remember how ISSAY would frequently visit HAL when he was hospitalised and how he so happily told me HAL was on the road to recovery. Facing trying times with positivity was precisely the kind of person ISSAY was.
MAHITO, who left before the band made its debut in 1985, even came back officially as a member of the band when they restarted activities this time. Since then, they have continued to perform live shows and release new works. They even kept going by streaming their shows online during the COVID-19 pandemic, and now, finally, we were just getting to the point when shows can be held and performed normally again.
Even now, the sudden news of his passing still confounds me. But I believe all the things that ISSAY has left behind will continue to be cherished and handed down in lasting legacy. Even now, he’s probably out there somewhere singing Matsu Uta, Pas Seul-ing (solo dancing). Let’s not forget the promise to “meet at Sad Cafe”. Because I don’t want my memories to turn into Nostalgia. May the soul of the ever-smiling, ever-positive ISSAY rest in peace.
Source: Ongaku to Hito online