What is entertainment?
When I wonder about what entertainment is, I think of it as a category people created without really thinking about it. That's why I don't believe there is a true answer to the question of what is entertainment and what isn't. Drawing a borderline will only provide you the comfort of knowing which category you belong to. Another thing that I have especially sensed recently is that entertainment is not a business. Lately I've been impressed by the things that children can do, and that kids can get excited by music or dancing before they learn to speak. I wonder if perhaps the instinctive movement of your mind and body is in fact the essence of entertainment. That's why more than a business, I think of it as a means of communication. For example, when Japanese people communicate with foreigners and they find out that these people from other countries don't understand what we're saying, we give up on communicating. The people from outside Japan are more positive and at first they try to make contact through body language. Depending on the setting, they may sing or dance. But it's because it might get the point across. Things should be more fun if Japanese people could also be open-minded this way. And in that sense, perhaps entertainment can play a role as a common language connecting the world.
Does PPAP also contain that essence?
First impressions are important to me, like the first time you see, hear, or touch, or otherwise interact with something. That first impression determines everything. It can make the level of understanding completely different. I also don't give lengthy explanations. If you can say everything in about a minute, then it sticks in the memory easier. When I performed PPAP as Pikotaro, every single thing was completely thought out, down to the eccentric music, the fun dance, my appearance, and the amusing visuals. I thought the key point should be that no matter how you look at it, you should understand it easily. From the purest child to old men and women who have witnessed so much, I think there is a strong tendency to accept things as they are presented, without thinking about it deeply. Whenever I write a song, I imagine I am a comedian on a stage in a local supermarket with a bunch of people whose names and faces I don't know, and I wonder how many of those people will laugh when I get up on the stage. When it comes to comedy, you can shape the atmosphere to some degree with your name recognition. That is the person's brand, and their accumulated power. I always think of an aggressive way that I can get spontaneous laughs out of people who have no preconceptions or basic knowledge about me. When writing a song, however, it becomes a bit more of a challenge. As a professional, I try and add a little something to a simple song that will appeal to a connoisseur. I want those people to think, “Wait, what?” I want it to be something where at first they can't figure it out, but as they listen to it more closely and notice it they say, “Hey, listen to the instrument or the phrasing he's using in such a silly song!” To me, that is also comedy, in a sense.
What should we do to reach across borders and race to identify common emotions?
I may have picked up on this when Pikotaro's reputation started spreading worldwide. It was still just a vague thought at that time, but it was about some kids laughing and being happy about something. For example, a child may jump around randomly when happy. But this is a part of our rudimentary human nature, perhaps like headbanging ay a concert. These were both starting points. Both these actions have the same origin. I tried to reproduce that with my recent song, “Hoppin' Flappin'.” I thought at least it would be fun to jump around to that background music. With my handwashing song “PPAP-2020-,” I tried to make a Pikotaro version that people could sing in every country, and it's been viewed over 10 million times. I think it's something that people have no inhibitions about listening to it.
After PPAP, the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs appointed you as a Goodwill Ambassador for the Promotion of SDGs, and you went to UN headquarters in New York. Was it around that time that you started thinking about doing something to make society better?
Well, Pikotaro has always had three goals: world peace, love for friends and family, and prove the existence of the Dark Master of the Universe. Let's consider this mission as part of his work toward world peace. When most people say they aspire to world peace, they get laughed at. As they cackle, they say, “What are you talking about?!” But as I get closer, step-by-step, when I achieve it, the final laugh will be on them. World peace is a “blue ocean” where nobody else is doing anything, beyond which is the goal of snagging a Nobel Peace Prize. Other than that, I think I want to do a collaboration with Arianna Grande. It would be so grand it would be funny. But if it's possible, then I'll try to make it happen. If I just proceed calmly, then at some point I may get there.
As an artist in the coronavirus pandemic, how do you see the show that Travis Scott put on in “Fortnite,” which is among the cases presented here?
I am pure envy. Before, I was going to do all kinds of things in “Second Life.” It's a bit outdated now, but I was actually prepared to do something in this virtual world. But now I'm stuck because of the coronavirus. When I took a look inside, the first impression I had of Scott's concert was the amazing visuals. I understood why he appeared so huge. It was so impressive, and overwhelming. And when using computer graphics in a game, of course you can't move around so fast, so his solution was to teleport. It's something you can only do in a place like this, and that made for a nice performance. I believe there are two worlds, and I thought the one on this side is currently at its peak. For gamers, there's nothing more fun. But in the future, maybe not everything will go like this and we'll split in two directions. Will this worldview become bigger? There are 350 million “Fortnite” users, so I guess that when they grow to billions of users, there will be lots of people popping up who can monetize the game like Travis Scott and the game will gradually become more a part of the real world. That's why we can't ignore reality, but instead we have to do something about it.
There are more ways of putting on real-world events popping up, like the drive-in concert in Denmark. What do you think about that?
I would've been there in an instant if they'd done it in Japan. When all is said and done, when people seem more real, the way they convey a message is completely different. Even if they're far away, when you see a face online, there's still a lot of information being conveyed, like through facial expressions, gestures, and warmth. Without that, you can't get excited in a true sense. For example, even if audience members are sitting in a car, the connection is still stronger than if it were online. Plus, for the audience, there is a story that extends beyond the stage. There's a trip in the car from the home to the venue, and then the conversations they had, the presence of being with the other assembled cars, the feeling of togetherness from listening to the same sound coming over FM radio, and so on. Also, it is absolutely impossible to reproduce online the sense of real-time interaction created at a real-world event. By concentrating and listening instant by instant, you feel moved, don't you? That's why maybe it has been a good experience to learn about lots of different approaches in the virtual world, but I don't think the real world will go away, or at least I don't want it to.
Made his debut in 1991 on “Sokonuke Air-Line.” Created a global hit by producing “PPAP” by Pikotaro in 2016. Ranked first in the YouTube music playback rankings for three straight weeks. Also recognized by Guinness World Records for having the “shortest song to enter the Billboard Hot 100.” Released the handwashing song “PPAP-2020-” on YouTube in April 2020. Contributions to raising awareness about preventing infections through handwashing include the launch of medicinal soap “PIKOWash!” and free distribution of the “Pikotaro Handwashing Promotion Poster.”