Interview with Diamond Yukai

JAPANESE rock rebel Diamond Yukai, who was born Yutaka Tadokoro in 1962, continues to reinvent himself in a music, film, television and writing career that has spanned nearly three decades.

As a teen, his parents, who were civil servants in Saitama, wanted him to conform to the system. They told him he would never succeed as a rock and roller. Diamond Yukai proved them wrong in the mid-eighties by forming Red Warriors, a band that went on to fill stadiums throughout Japan including the legendary Budokan and Seibu, the latter of which seats close to 40,000.

During this time, Diamond Yukai branched into the movie industry, beginning with a starring role in the 1988 movie “Tokyo Pop” directed by Fran Kuzui, creator of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and Fox TV’s hit series “Angel.” He co-starred in “Tokyo Pop” with actress Carrie Hamilton, daugh- ter of the legendary comedienne Carol Burnett. He went on to appear in Sofia Coppola’s “Lost in Translation” in 2004 and numerous Japanese films and television dramas.

After such a long career, you would think Diamond Yukai would fade into Japan’s Rock ‘N Roll history books. But he’s made a comeback – and with a bang. He is a celebrity on variety and quiz shows on nation- wide TV, where he has gained fame for his clever jokes using Japanese puns. He got remarried, fathered a daughter at the age of 47 followed by two twin boys, and moved to Tochigi Prefecture, where he became a “Tochigi Ambassador.” His latest release, “Respect,” came out in July 2012. It features a mix of Japanese jazz, blues and good old rock and roll cover songs.

Tokyo Journal caught up with Diamond Yukai to see what makes this diamond shine.

Q: Why did you change your stage name from Yutaka Tadakoro to Diamond Yukai?
A: I saw a falling star that inspired me and then one day, like an Indian medicine man or a shaman, a flash went off in my head while I was singing on stage and suddenly “Diamond Yukai” came. That’s why I changed my name. During show time, I am Diamond Yukai. I’m a medicine man!

Q: How did you get started in entertainment?
A: In 1985, I started the band Red Warriors. For one year we toured all around Japan as an amateur band. Then in 1986 we got a record deal.

Q: And your first movie was 1988, right?
A: During our tour as an amateur band, producer Fran Kuzui came to Osaka and saw me playing at The Lighthouse. She said she wanted to make a movie and was looking for a movie star. They were headhunting and it was a kind of audition. After that we got a record deal and became a professional band. When I first met Fran and her husband, I couldn’t speak English.


Q: How did you learn English?
A: The movie “Tokyo Pop” taught me English! I had to learn English to communicate during the filming of the movie.

Q: Who is Little Wing?
A: After Red Warriors, I became an independent artist. Fran told me, “You need to have an independent feeling. You are now a big star, and Red Warriors broke up. You should be independent.” So I became Yutaka & Little Wing. Now everybody knows about independent record companies, but in 1989 being independent was not popular. It was new. Fran was an independent filmmaker, so she knew about being “independent.” I became a big star. So my nose became very long! [A direct translation of a Japanese idiom meaning his “ego became very big”].

Q: Did you get the name Little Wing from the Jimi Hendrix song?
A: Yeah, the name is from Jimi Hendrix. But I wanted to show that by being independent I was starting small.

Q: So your solo debut was in 1990?
A: Yeah, that’s right.

Q: What year did you sing the Japanese version of “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” for “Toy Story?”
A: 1995. Disney asked me to sing “You’ve Got a Friend in Me.” They were looking for a Japanese singer with good technique who could sing in a style similar to Randy Newman.

Q: When was your first marriage?
A: My first marriage was 1997-2001. During that time the Red Warriors reunited in 1998 at Budokan. I got re-married in 2009.

Q: In 2004 you were in Sofia Coppola’s “Lost in Translation?
A: Yes, I was mainly singing before that, but after “Lost in Translation” I started receiving offers to appear in Japanese movies and TV dramas.

Q: How did you get the role in “Lost in Translation?”
A: Sofia Coppola found my blog on the Internet and asked me to audition. I love Francis Ford Coppola, and I thought, “This is his daughter. This is so cool!” Of course I accepted the offer. Her husband, Spike Jonze, who was in charge of the audition, arrived suddenly on a skateboard! I was very surprised and didn’t know who he was, but when I found out he directed “Being John Malkovich,” I told him how much I loved his movie and we became friends.

Q: So you are you enjoying being on TV now?
A: Yes, a lot! Before I became a TV star, my manager asked me if I wWanted to be an actor. So I was waiting for a role. Then my manager suddenly told me I got a nice offer. I went to the studio, but it was a TV variety program. I thought, “That manager is a liar!” I was expecting a serious role in a movie. But I performed and got more gigs with variety shows, quiz shows and many kinds of TV programs. I received many offers, and now I am a TV talent.

Q: You’re making a big comeback!
A: Welcome to the other side!

Q: What is your dream?
A: I want to brand Diamond Yukai as a singer, actor, and performer. I want to show there is only one Diamond Yukai in the whole world.

Q: Yutaka, you’re the only Japanese guy who can ask out Uma Thurman! Did you like her?
A: Like? I love her!

Q: And you loved Carrie Hamilton too, right?
A:Yes. She was really kind and I have really nice memories of her. It’s been more than 10 years since she passed away from cancer, but I haven’t healed yet. During “Tokyo Pop,” Carrie helped me. She taught me English and acting. I really felt comfortable with her and very relaxed. She was really a CO-worker. Did you see the movie “Rock of Ages?” I think “Tokyo Pop” was the same time as “Rock of Ages.” It was a special period - a wild, crazy time. We were crazy, young people at that time, like hippies! I felt really connected to her, like a soul mate. Her singing, performing and lifestyle really influenced my style. She wrote the song “Never Forget.” I’ll never forget her for the rest of my life.

Q: Let me ask you something completely different: On TV, you keep saying, “Hello something.” What does this mean? Where did you get that?
A:To be a successful singer or actor, you need “something.” Everybody needs “something.” It’s a very important thing - it’s that special “something.” So I hope to share “something” with other people. Hello something!

Q: We heard you have three children, but you have azoospermia and had children through artificial insemination. You wrote the book “Tanenashi” (No Seed) about this. Can you tell us about it?
A: I wrote the book for couples who have a problem getting pregnant. Sometimes it’s a problem on the woman’s side, and sometimes it’s a problem on the man’s side. In my case I had a problem, so we had children through artificial insemination. In Japan, men never talk about tanenashi. It’s a problem. That’s why I wrote the book. I want Japanese society to know that the husband has to go to the hospital to check, and that if a husband and wife have a problem having a baby, they need to have good communication. It’s really important. Now recently, men talk about tanenashi. I’m a tanenashi spokesman.

Q: What is your next plan?
A: This year, Fran Kuzui wants to release a DVD of “Tokyo Pop” and make a “Tokyo Pop” party. I want to make “Respect II” – another cover album. Also, I want to make an album of songs for children. tj

This article appeared in Issue #271. Click here to order from Amazon

Written By:

Anthony Al-Jamie

Anthony Al-Jamie lived and worked in Japan for over 20 years. His in-depth understanding of Japanese language and culture has allowed him to carry out interviews with many of the most renowned individuals in Japan. He first began writing for the Tokyo Journal in the 1990s as Education Editor, later he was promoted to Senior Editor, and eventually International Editor and Executive Editor. He currently serves the Tokyo Journal as Editor-in-Chief.


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