Kazuki Tomokawa

Poet, singer, artist, bicycle race commentator, essayist, actor, drinker.
An artist who miraculously embodies the romance of the vagabond poet, a rarity in an age where our very freedom means we have forgotten how to live.

Youth and encountering the poetry of Chuya Nakahara

Born in Hachiryu-mura (now renamed as Mitane-machi), Akita in northern Japan on February 16, 1950, Tomokawa’s real name is Tenji Nozoki. He was brought up by his grandparents, surrounded by the lush nature of the Mitane River which flows into Lake Hachiro. During his years at Ukawa Middle School, Tomokawa was a notably poor student and displayed no interest in literature. However, by chance one day in the library he came across the poem Hone (Bone) by the early 20th century Japanese symbolist poet Chuya Nakahara. This poem shocked him to the core, and he started writing his own verse. After leaving middle school, he entered Noshiro Technical High School, a school famous for its basketball program. While managing the school basketball team, he read widely – devouring books by the likes of decadent novelist Osamu Dazai and noted literary critic Hideo Kobayashi. (He later coached the team for a while, one of his students going on to represent Japan at the Olympic Games.)

The Birth of Kazuki Tomokawa… The 1970s

Inspired the example of Bob Dylan and others, the early 1970s in Japan witnessed a boom in folk music. Tomokawa found himself caught up in the movement, taught himself to play acoustic guitar and began to set his poems to music. In 1974 he made his long-awaited record debut, releasing the single Jokyo no jokyo (Coming up to the capital). Around this time he got to know the members of the radical Japanese rock band Zuno Keisatsu. He got on particularly well with the group’s percussionist, Toshiaki Ishizuka, who would go on to become one of Tomokawa’s most important musical collaborators. In the late seventies, Tomokawa would become heavily involved with several theatre companies, writing songs for their plays and even appearing on stage as an actor. This was a period when he seemed to seek ever new spaces into which to expand his creativity. It was also during this period that he first became interested in art.

Tomokawa, the Artist

Tomokawa held his first solo show in Tokyo in 1985, with the support of the art critic Yoshie Yoshida. Since then he has had shows all over Japan, and has attracted the attention and praise of artists and opinion-makers like the outsider author Kenji Nakagami and the poet Yasuki Fukushima.

Moving to PSF Records

In 1993, Tomokawa released the album Hanabana no kashitsu (Fault of Flowers) on PSF Records, a label until then better known for avant-garde music and psychedelic rock. The album attracted much praise from the contemporary composer Shigeaki Saegusa, and suddenly Tomokawa found many of his out-of-print albums being reissued. The relationship between PSF Records and Tomokawa continues to this day, producing a steady stream of releases. One of the most notable of his PSF albums was Maboroshi to asobu (Playing with Phantoms, 1994), which broke new artistic ground in its encounter with free jazz musicians. Around this time, Tomokawa also produced a string of books – the poetry compilation Chi no banso (Earth Accompaniment), a picture book Aozora (Blue Sky, text by Wahei Tatematsu, illustrations by Kazuki Tomokawa), and a collection of essays, Tenketsu no kaze (Wind from the Skyhole). More recently Tomokawa has become known as an authority on bicycle racing, working as a commentator on the satellite TV channel Speed Channel, and writing a racing column for an evening newspaper. Bicycle racing is now one of Tomokawa’s main obsessions.

Film Soundtracks and Overseas Tours

In 2004 Tomokawa appeared in cult director Takashi Miike’s film Izo, which uses the motif of the 19th century killer Izo Okada to depict time-travelling scenes of carnage and butchery. Tomokawa appears as a mysterious singer who symbolizes the killer’s internal thought processes, and he sings five songs during the course of the film. Tomokawa also provided the music for Koji Wakamatsu’s 2005 film 17 sai no fukei (Cycling Chronicles: Landscapes the Boy Saw). Since moving to PSF, Tomokawa has continued to release one album per year. His reputation has begun to rise overseas, and in recent years he has performed in Scotland, Belgium, Switzerland, France and also in Korea in the autumn of 2009, in Europe again in the spring of 2010. While Tomokawa’s music has been most warmly received by artists and music obsessives that does not imply that it is difficult to understand. Rather it is the ironic result of his fastidious way of life as an artist. As the years go by, Tomokawa’s music and art seem to become even more beautiful, ever more limpid and they will surely continue to inspire his listeners with the courage to be themselves.

Kazuki Tomokawa Official Website: www.kazukitomokawa.com / Myspace

Kazuki Tomokawa

“If it pierce’s you through the heart consider yourself blessed. If your eyes fill up with tears consider yourself (one of the) chosen. For, your heart responds to a love that asks for nothing in return. He’s willing to bare himself to us revealing that a love which asks for nothing in return still breathes inside of him.” — Quoted from a text for A Collection of Masterpieces [the early years], 1989

By Nagisa Oshima, Film Director

“There is a perception that being called a genius simply means having a natural talent or brilliance but that’s really only one side of it. A true genius possess’ a unique style, one that has no peers. Their works are given eternal life and only when death calls does the soul of a one grow old. Kazuki Tomokawa is a man of this nature, a true gift from God.” — Quoted from a text for Fat in the Morning Light , 1996

By Masato Kato, Playwright

“The first time I met this so-called mad Akita dog, he poured a huge shot of whisky into a pint glass, fixed his big raptor-like eyes on me, and showing his pearly white teeth he laughed, “Fujisawa-san, I’d better stop all this human being crap before it’s too late! I need to kill it stone dead.” Madness, violence, decadence. All shone from those handsome eyes, but at the same time there were there dreams too.
I remember thinking that his eyes seemed fixed on something not of this sphere, like a pattern reflected up from deep in the earth on to the shimmering water surface of our world, or something far off in the distance. They reflected too the loneliness and struggle of being alone.” — Quoted from a text for Sky Fish, 1999

By Shu Fujisawa, Novelist

Kazuki Tomokawa Biography:  Translated by Alan Cummings
Quotes:  Text by Nagisa Oshima,  Translated by Naofumi Kuchiba / Text by Masato Kato,  Translated by Naofumi Kuchiba / Text by Shu Fujisawa,  Translated by Alan Cummings

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