Gensou no Hana
Ongaku to Hito #116
Text by Kanemitsu Hirofumi
Photographs by Iwane Ai
Hair & Make-up by Araki Hisako
Styling by Yagi Tomoharu
「Illusory flower, sing for me Tell me that this world is beautiful」
BUCK-TICK’s latest release is a beautiful ballad that begins with these words
War, cruelty…… It is all going from bad to worse. That we’re living in such a tainted era is why this song and this voice seems to cascade throughout the world, cleansing it. Yet at the same time, it’s not overly graphic. This is a song that possesses a nature different from what they have produced thus far. And that is largely due to vocalist Sakurai Atsushi’s perceptions.
18 years after their debut comes a breath of fresh air into this band. This, we will affirm with his words.
Isn’t there a lot of unfinished work that needs to be done in the world today if someone like me is spreading things like tomorrows and hope?
―― So, this new song, Gensou no Hana is a song that you’ve had around since the release of Kyokutou I LOVE YOU two years ago.
Sakurai (S): Yeah, that’s right. We’ve kept this pot boiling for quite a long time, though.
―― Right (smiles).
S: This song was written 2 years ago with the intention of creating an opposite of Kyokutou Yori Ai wo Komete. As a candidate for a single though, at the time, this was just one of a few other songs that we had. Back then, we felt that we needed a stronger song to be the single, so we chose Kyokutou～. At the time, I thought it would be a good idea to include it in the album too, but Hoshino (Hidehiko, guitarist. Composer of Gensou no Hana) said that he wanted to release it as a single no matter what. He had an unusually strong resolve regarding this.
S: It was strong (smiles).
―― Oh, really?
S: Yeah. Then, for our previous album Mona Lisa OVERDRIVE, I thought that maybe we should include it there, but this time, the objection came from Imai (Hisashi, guitarist) instead.
―― You must’ve been sad.
S: A bit (smiles). Well, considering that album’s characteristics, he had a point, though. But, I also wanted to release it as a new song within this year, and now that we’ve all got this tension in us with these circumstances¹ we’ve found ourselves in, I suppose it all worked out well.
―― You mentioned that it was intended to be the opposite, but Kyokutou Yori Ai wo Komete had exceptionally strong emotions which confronted the devastating impact and upheaval which resulted from the events of 9.11, right?
S: That’s right. It was largely composed with the raw emotions which were felt when scenes of the terrorist attacks which happened back then was broadcast on TV.
―― So what’s the opposite feeling to that?
S: Like, after a festival or…… I probably shouldn’t use a festival as a metaphor for war but [it’s that feeling] you get after everything is gone and you’re wondering, “So, now, what am I supposed to think?”.
―― So, using an extreme example, it’s a question of whether you’ll be in despair or whether hope will kindle in your heart after everything has been turned to dust.
S: Yeah. The kind of to and fro between hope and despair for these people who have lost their homes and their families―― like, “Isn’t dreaming of tomorrow pure nonsense?” or, “No, isn’t this precisely why tomorrow will bring happiness and peace?”. That’s what I thought of. So, we won’t have an answer to this in the end, but time goes on and the song will end in one of either direction. Without actually coming to a definite conclusion. Although I think I’m just a little more inclined to lean towards hope.
―― I see.
S: It’s like…… I’ve always been keeping a good balance of that within myself. Because I felt that it wouldn’t be real otherwise. Sadness and joy, good and evil, I believe that they will always co-exist. I think I’ve portrayed it in an extremely simple way. But in the end, I guess what I’ve been thinking about in these past 2 years have jumped over all of that and it’s now come out in words and sound…… At least, that’s what I’ve realised. To that extent, I suppose 2003 was a year when I felt these external influences on the inside.
―― And that’s rare for Sakurai-san, isn’t it?
―― How did you feel about being subjected to that yourself? Take war, for example; it’s something that comes about because both sides have differing perceptions of justice, though.
S: Ahh…… That’s true, but I guess you could say this is on a more personal level with no relation to the causes of either side. However, I do think that nothing can come out of a place of mutual hatred, so…… Mm… It’s difficult. Living in such times, I don’t really want to do sloven songs that spew out things like, “It doesn’t matter if tomorrow doesn’t come.” But songs that shine with nothing but hope with no plausible reason definitely don’t feel right either. I get the feeling that this contradiction is something that has been developing in my head along with the passage of time.
―― But in the first place, Sakurai-san’s own sense of impermanence is……
S: ………… A weakness.
―― Right (smiles). Though I do think you’ve got a lot of lyrics that are steeped in self-loathing, that cut into yourself. Having done that all this while, is putting out something which gives a decided sense of hope a sort of retaliation against this reality?
S: I suppose that might be it. In the end, I can only say this is what happens after I’ve simplified and digested whatever catches my eye, though.
―― So, what catches your eye?
S: Well, it’s simple, but it’s the happenings in Japan or the world and things like that. War, cruelty…… Doesn’t it feel like we’re hearing about these things almost everyday? On the other hand, doesn’t it mean that…… there’s a lot of unfinished work that needs to be done in the world today if someone like me is singing a song about tomorrows and hope?
―― Unsettling news and things like that often become overwhelming, doesn’t it? But that said, I think we shouldn’t block it out entirely either.
S: Yeah. If the ordinary world is filled with hope without the need for anyone to do anything, turning your heart upside down to reveal despair and vent the negative out will turn into a sort of stimulation, like a driving force. And actually, I think that has always been a big part of me until now.
―― It was.
S: I guess you could say that this is the only time when I couldn’t do something along the lines of rubbing salt into a wound. It would be great if it was completed in the music, but no matter what, even if it was not shown upfront, when someone was made to see something like that, they’d definitely run in the opposite direction, right? It’s not that I’m trying to play nice, but if everyday life was so full of such misery, I’d want to find balance rather than pick up the slack [for misery]. Where there is hope, there is also despair. So to speak. I understand that this doesn’t have a perfect answer. It’s okay. Things like, “Tomorrow will surely be great[, so don’t be sad].” I can’t find it in myself to say such irresponsible things, but that said, I also don’t think it’s right to say things like, “Tomorrow won’t have any good. I don’t know whether I’ll still be alive tomorrow.” And I don’t think that anything will change just because I’m the one saying it. But at the very least, right now, what I want to say is, “It’ll be alright.” Because even if it comes across as irresponsible, some part of me strongly believes in this.
―― So how do you think this voice of yours comes across?
S: Mm… Maybe it’d be taken as “bittersweet” or even “lip service” but that’s alright. Although, I do also expect that there will be people who will listen to such a song in a pure and honest manner, without any negativity.
―― People, or rather, this world that we live in.
S: You’re right.
―― But I feel that the image of “flowers = peace” that is present in the lyrics to this song was conveyed in a straightforward manner.
S: Mhm. It might be vague, but I think it’d be good if something like that can gradually come to our listeners.
―― Although, it’s very sad that we live in a world where we have to label that as an illusion.
S: Isn’t it?…… And that’s precisely why these days, I’ve come to feel that the moments when I face the mic during recording, when I’m doing my work are very precious. I’d think, “We can’t just flush it all down the drain.”
―― More than ever before?
S: That’s right. So, among all of this, instruments are, of course, played by people so it possess energy as well and I believe that plays a big part in the conveyance too, but I think when it comes to the natural voice, it would definitely be useless if the singer’s emotions are dead because that’s what [gives the singer] the ability to breathe a kind of soul into [the music]. Also, I think perhaps I can express my thoughts honestly too because I myself have been inspired by such an honest song. Without thinking too much about things like how people would view us or what kind of reaction we’d get after we release it.
―― Thanks to the oblivious Hoshino melody.
S: Hahahaha. I think I was greatly inspired by that too.
There are many instances when I’d think, “I suppose it can’t be helped.”
However, I can’t quite get rid of that feeling of, “But, you know…”
―― So, in a nutshell, can we say that Sakurai-san’s colours shone strongly in Kyokutou I LOVE YOU while in Mona Lisa OVERDRIVE, it was Imai-san’s colours which came through?
S: That’s right. I believe that’s the impression someone would get if they were to listen to them for the first time with nothing but a vague idea. And the former has a sticky, or rather, humid feeling. While the latter is becoming, crisp…… That’s the kind of impression it gives. So during Kyokutou～, I felt as if I’m snugly fitting myself into that world, but during Mona Lisa～, in a good way, it felt a little bit like I was singing because that was asked of me. I felt it quite starkly too.
―― It might be a little belated to say this, but has your worldview grown clearer following that?
S: Well, I wonder…… But there’s a lot that I can’t really think about until I’m actually standing at the starting line, though.
―― Starting line?
S: Like trying to do it on my own, or something. That’s the kind of situation I need to be in. Besides, no matter how hard I try, the only way I can see that happening is when I’m in a band. But I think if I really force it, I can extend myself beyond that. Even if I were to work with other people, I believe I’d most likely consciously keep in mind to write lyrics that are more straightforward.
―― Like the things you want to see, the things you don’t want to see.
S: But I haven’t felt like that recently. Instead, I really [feel that I] have one or two, or at times, even three or four things that I can do, or that I can put my all in. That’s why I don’t want to do anything that’s just going to be a waste of effort anymore. Or rather than calling it a waste, it’s more like things that are impossible for me to do. This is something that is now clear to me. That’s why I feel that no matter what we’re going to do next, I want to express myself properly. I’m interested to see what kind of person I’d be able to see from myself, though.
―― You’re looking to skip the detours.
S: Yeah. I’m already at the age where I don’t have all that much time left to waste anyway (smiles).
―― Hahahaha. So, this is a slight change of topic, but what kind of image do you have of flowers?
S: Strength and…… There’s also vulnerability, and vitality, you know? Not only do they look beautiful…… They’re like the essence of enlightenment². It can be found in both men and women but I guess, you could say that more of it is aligned with feminine strength in terms of percentage (smiles). That’s the kind of image I have in mind.
―― Like kindness, or a desire to be enveloped. I suppose it’s like a symbol of sorts.
S: A symbol is a symbol, but I suppose it’s the innocent purity in it. Because it has grown and matured without knowing what’s going on in the world, I’d say that it is innocence, strength, and vulnerability. Even if we leave it alone, it has the strength to even break and grow through asphalt. At the same time, while it is vulnerable to being trampled upon, it will still have the strength to sprout again.
―― Actually, when I heard this song, COSMOS (← title track from their 6th album) came to mind.
―― COSMOS sounds like a song that’s telling a new life, “Welcome to this beautiful world,” but like its title, Gensou no Hana (Illusory Flower) appears to start from a point where the world is already in despair.
S: There’s a sense of things lying in ruin, isn’t there? In this song.
―― What do you think about people fighting among each other?
S: Mm…… I think it can’t be helped. There’s nothing that can be done but…… Isn’t it strange? There are also people who get money from making guns, bullets, missiles, but these people who make these killing tools have families and children too, don’t they? I want them to just think [about what’s happening], but there’s the possibility that all they’ll say is, “But, I suppose it can’t be helped,” even if they do think about it, right? But, recently, I hesitate when I’m throwing things away too, though.
S: Recently, I was sorting out clothes that I’m not wearing anymore and things like that. I thought it’d be good to bring those to the UN. Really.
―― Did you throw them away in the end?
S: More than half was thrown away, and only some were recycled, though.
―― Well, it feels like there isn’t much you can do about it, but at the same time, you’d also think, “But, you know…”.
S: I can’t quite get rid of that feeling of, “But, you know…”. It’s beyond reason. It makes me wonder what’s wrong with me, being this man who can’t even control that one single emotion, but…… I do feel like that.
―― The feeling that you can’t control it?
S: Yeah. Even though I’m at this age. I suppose, putting it nicely, you’d say that I’m “overflowing with human kindness”, but on the other hand, you could also say that I’m “childish”. Hm, how should I say this…… Narrow-minded, aren’t I?
―― I don’t think so at all.
S: Well, then I guess we’ll just consider that true (smiles).
―― What kind of person do you want to become?
S: Well, I don’t know.
―― Hahaha…… Do you have anyone you consider as an ideal?
S: Nope, I don’t. Although, I can name quite a few people if we’re talking about the superficial. But if you asked, “What kind of inner qualities?”, I’d be stumped, but it’s not as if I knew what kind of person I wanted to become in the first place. Although, I do want to be a slightly calmer person.
―― You’re considerably calm during interviews, though (smiles).
S: Why is it, though? I’m perplexed that I don’t know why.
―― Well, I don’t know either, but do you get the feeling that you don’t like the person that you are now?
S: There are parts that I don’t like, for sure. I think just about everyone will have those negative feelings, although, if a person doesn’t have those feelings, I think they’d turn into a rather weird person, you know (smiles). Sort of like, lacking a certain set of emotions. But as to my own negative feelings, I still don’t like them after all.
―― But that part of you has been the motif for your songs thus far, right?
S: Well, that’s true. Since there are far more narratives which start from negativity after all.
―― You’ve said that you don’t want to be pretentious, but do you think that being able to express such positivity or hope in a song has brought about some sort of change within yourself?
S: Yeah, you’re right, in the end, it comes back to me, doesn’t it? Saying it’s useless to just do nothing and feel sorry for myself…… I do get that, in recent days. The idea that it’s foolish to let things end like this. Like, nothing is going to start like this yet, what if I end up infecting people with this [mentality]? What am I going to do then?
―― I wonder what causes this.
S: Ah, well, I don’t know. I’m just saying that I’d think like that and become like that too. But as to why I’d think like that, it’s kind of hard for me to say. Well, it might be because I do socialise with people, although rarely.
―― So, like, something which comes out of socialising?
S: Something which comes out of that is…… feelings, isn’t it? It’s hard to put into words, though. When I come to realise other people’s opinions, I’d get this moment of, “Ah, so I see.” Even since I was young, I’ve always had this idea that everything revolves around me, but I think I was finally able to break that down and accept [others’ opinions]. I probably won’t be able to accept every single thing, but I’ve come to get the sense of, “Ah, so I see,” more often.
―― So, I take it you were quite self-centered in the past?
S: Everyone sees themselves as the protagonist after all, don’t they? In their heads.
―― That the world revolves around you.
S: Mhm, that’s what I thought when I was in elementary school or something.
―― And you gradually realised that it wasn’t true.
S: But to a person, I think that it’s only natural they think of themselves as the center of the world, you know?
―― But lately, you’ve started to get a sense of others’ opinions.
S: More specifically, it’s only recently that I’ve grown to be able to say that. Because depending on the person, the ‘stranger’ can very well be themselves.
―― Like a mirror?
S: Uh-huh. But, well, even if I understand this, I’d still end up thinking about myself no matter what, right? I’ve come to empathise with the opinions of others but I can’t possibly accept everything. I think that’s the reason why people fight and hurt each other, but at the same time, I’d want them to at least try and understand each other.
―― I feel that these thoughts of yours can be felt in this song too. Benevolence (jiai, 慈愛) or something.
S: …… Is that “jiai” the word that starts with the “ji (慈)” from Jikei University Hospital (慈恵大病院)? Or is it the one that starts with “ji (自)” from “oneself (自ら, mizukara)”?
―― The Jikei Hospital one (smiles).
S: Understood (smiles).
―― It’s probably strange to call it being strict with yourself, but I thought that imposing it on yourself this much might make you sound stoic even in song.
S: No, but hearing you say that is quite a relief, though…… Or perhaps I’m only thinking about my own love, you know?
―― But don’t you think that on the contrary, it’s because you’re thinking about this that benevolence comes through when you sing?
S: That could be it. It’s not just me, but I suppose I have to face myself even if I don’t want to. Those who keep saying that they hate themselves only say that because they actually care and like themselves, right? And the next and only step we can take from there is to love ourselves…… because we can’t let ourselves get admitted into Jikei Hospital (smiles).
―― So I guess you’re going to try and love yourself who you hated so much.
S: That’s what I’m hoping for (smiles).
―― But don’t you think that the emotions that you’ve been killing have come alive in your music now that you’ve created a worldview like Gensou no Hana’s?
S: Yeah. You’re right…… This might be taken negatively, but I’m struggling and trying to take a step forward towards somewhere, but I might’ve ended up going backwards or drifting sideways instead. It may be easy if I’m made to do the same things but I suppose you could say I’m struggling. But that’s just me, and I guess I just want to do things like a spoilt brat, you know? Besides, I’ve got no intention whatsoever to simply play a role. Perhaps that’s how I’m trying to find myself now.
¹ I’m assuming this is in reference to the spate of terrorist attacks during those years. Not sure if they’re talking about a particular event.
² The word for this phrase is actually 菩薩 (bosatsu), which directly translates to “Bodhisattva”. Bodhisattva comes from Buddhism and it refers to any person who is on the path towards Buddhahood, or anyone who has made a resolution to become a Buddha and has also received a confirmation or prediction from a living Buddha that this will be so. In Mahayana Buddhism, this is defined as a person who is able to reach nirvana but delays doing so through compassion for suffering beings. The translation I’ve gone with is actually the definition of its original Sanskrit text, where Bodhisattva is a word derived from bodhi (enlightenment) and sattva (essence) to mean, “one whose essence is enlightenment”.
Scans: Tigerpal on LJ