Life as a Parasite?
Interview to Jun Togawa
Born in 1961, Jun Togawa is a singer, songwriter and actress. Since 1980 she has performed in many TV dramas, films, and plays. In 1984, three years after making her debut with the group "Guernica," she organized the rock group "Yapoos," and began her career as solo singer with the hit song "Tamahime-sama." A uniquely unconventional style characterizes her verses, and unstable, sometimes bursting emotions empower her performance. In songs like "Konchu-gun"(Swarms of insects) and "Mushi-no-Onna"(A chrysalis woman) Togawa used "insects" and "parasites" as metaphors for freedom from the oppressive "humanity" of modern society.
Togawa: I have visited Meguro Parasitological Museum in Tokyo, several times, after I became an adult, too.
Diatxt.: What attracts you to that place?
Togawa: I don't know... Perhaps I am attracted like as a child is by that kind of stuff. See, a small child is often interested in weird things, the kind of stuff which disgusts an adult. A child likes, say, picking up a big stone on the wet ground behind a Shinto shrine and looking at worms squirming under it. They scream and run away, but soon come back. They cannot help looking again. Children love things like that. When asked, they might say it's "scary" or "weird," but they love it. When very young, we don't know how we are supposed to respond to these kinds of things, like what the "right" reaction to them is. We are easily surprised by many things in childhood, almost indiscriminately.
Grown-ups like to see a child who is fascinated by a line of ants. They can accept a child's curiosity when it is about ants. But I think... for children, there is no difference between watching ants and being attracted to worms. It is only grown-ups who find ants carrying a piece of sugar agreeable to look at, and worms wriggling in the wet soil disgusting. But children are equally fascinated by both.
I think I am still a child in this respect. I am not fully grown up and still have the indiscriminate curiosity of a child. That may account for why I got so interested in the Parasitological Museum. Well... visiting that particular Museum is not my point. Suppose I am in a friend's house and find cockroaches in a paper trap in the kitchen. I say "Ooooh," but look at them again, 'cause I know they cannot escape. Looking closer makes me scream. I leave it for a while. Then I want to ask a friend "Can I take a look again?" and she says "Well, if you want to..." Then later I take another look, wondering if they are already dead. Suddenly one of them twitches and I scream again. This sort of thing happens often. I don't know why I am so attracted to such things...
Togawa: There is a feeling I've had ever since childhood: that there exist many different "worlds" and I was born in the wrong one, a world I don't quite fit into. I've felt this strong feeling of wrongness all through my life. There is no space for me in this world. Every time I believe I've finally found my place, someone comes to me and says "Go away! You're not supposed to be here." I mean, I have always had this kind of feeling. I had a lot of trouble communicating with other children. The discipline was extremely strict in my family. I was not allowed go out freely with friends. So, I tried not to make friends. If I did, because I couldn't play with them outside like a normal child they would hate me. This made me turn away from the ordinary life of a child even more.
The world of music and theater is what I finally came to live in. It's a world of fiction. It's, so to say, "another" world existing parallel with "this" world. In a play by Chekhov I am a twenty-year-old girl from the Russian aristocracy in the nineteenth Century. At another time, I am a spirit called Puck in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. Being an actress is like that. I think this is the place I finally found out I belong to. I've accepted that there is no place for me in real world. For me, playing on the stage is being in another world. This reassures me. It's a world where I feel I am allowed to stay...
I mean... it is not just being an actress, but living in a world of fiction that saved my life. As a singer, I live in a fictional world, too. My songs are not message songs, but much more like imaginary ones. Many of them have their own, fantastic stories. In one song a girl loves a man so desperately that she metamorphoses into a cicada chrysalis. A mysterious weed, a parasite got into her body, and one night, a stalk of sorrow grows out of her back in moonlight... and stories like that. This is unreal, just a fantasy, of course. When I made this song, computer graphics were not easily available. So my staff wondered how to make music videos of this song. Clay animation didn't work will with the images, either. I think my songs contain a kind of fiction which is hard to visualize...
Togawa: Now I know why I have been so strongly attracted to parasites and worms. It's a feeling of the continuity of life. I feel there is a basic continuity between humans and these creatures. I might even call this feeling "love." Humans and other creatures are not as different as they look. And children know this better than adults.
Diatxt.: Yes. Well, I sometimes feel embarrassed by too casual and frequent use of this word in TV programs on the beauty of nature.
Togawa: I know what you mean. In those programs they use words like "love," "co-existence" or "symbiosis" too easily, without thinking seriously what they really mean. "Love" or "symbiosis" in nature will be something totally different from what we usally think of from these words. Nature doesn't have rules in the same way that humans have them. That's what nature is.
Diatxt.: Recently I came across a news item from Kenya, about a lioness which "adopted" a baby antelope, instead of eating it. No one knows why such a thing could happen. It has nothing to do with "love" or "symbiosis", as some of us may like to think. It shows strangeness in nature which we cannot easily understand.
Togawa: My songs have always been greeted with either extreme approval or disapproval by critics. Those who don't like my songs say that they make people feel uneasy, as I use the image of humans metamorphosing into insects. Some people find them disgusting, and sometimes even refuse to accept them as music. They say music is something to amuse people, to make people feel happy...
Diatxt.: Feelings of happiness can never be used as a standard to judge music, I think, because none of us can say what happiness is. I greatly admire your songs, but that's not because they make me happy. In a way, a piece of music is a kind of parasite. A line of verse is, too. When you listen to it, it enters into your brain and, if you like and remember it, lives there. They sometimes do good, and sometimes do harm. But even if they do you good, it's not because they like you. I recently talked with Dr. Koichiro Fujita, a doctor studying parasites. He discovered that some parasites, like roundworms or tapeworms, protect us from immune disorders and other diseases. But they make us healthy not because they like humans, but because our health is profitable to them too. They just act for their own benefit.
Togawa: (Laughing) Hard to believe worms do us good out of kindness.
Diatxt.: Exactly. And I feel more or less the same way with music and art. When a piece of music, image or words enters my brain, it can make me happy, but happiness is not the goal of art.
Togawa: Good. That seem to explain why I have felt so uneasy about the idea that music should make people happy.