In one of my earliest posts I reviewed an illustrated novel that draws a connection between magic and early film history. While reading I immediately thought of my friend Kazunari because he’s a skilled magician and because of his maniacal passion for film.
In the last two years, Kazu has been one of my best buddies. He has a natural love of bringing people together to have fun. At any moment he’ll regale the table with his card tricks, and he’s always game for an evening of karaoke. We must have logged hundreds of hours in karaoke rooms. While my voice lends itself to jazz standards, he sounds like a white British soul singer.
He’s also my personal movie rental store. From his vast collection of DVDs, he lends me movies every week. I don’t even choose. He comes up to me and says, “I got something for you.” It could be a terrible but entertaining B movie about female assassins, or it could be a highbrow, stylized film about a hitman.
Like me, Kazu has lived in four countries, but paradoxically he’s one of the least well-traveled people I know. Born in Switzerland, he mostly grew up in Paris, with a short stint in Berkeley, California, and a longer stay in Japan. But he’s never really extensively traveled outside the cities in which he lived. When I asked him about this he told me that he didn’t enjoy flying and that he’s a homebody in general. It’s the paradox of the Magic Man, a worldly homebody I nicknamed Kazmatazz.
The following is an interview, a conversation via several media.
How did you get into magic?
I carried around a deck of cards for weeks intending to learn but didn’t do anything about it. Finally I met a magician who taught me a few tricks and then I ignored everything for a year and just focused on learning and practicing.
You mean you dropped everything?
Yeah, I didn’t attend classes. I almost failed university that year. It was crazy, but it was what I was into.
You’re also a little obsessed with movies. How many DVDs do you have?
Hundreds. Including TV shows? Who knows.
Do you have any favorites?
Pulp Fiction for the dialog. Smoke, Good Will Hunting. Heat. Walk the Line. I like movies with good dialog.
Alright, so tell me about Switzerland.
I was born in Geneva in 1978. I would have been Swiss if my father had forgotten to run to city hall and tell the Swiss government that his first born son was Japanese. That’s right, apparently if you are born on Swiss soil you automatically become Swiss if you don’t declare anything within a month.
What do you remember about those first years?
I don’t have much memory of Geneva since I was only a baby, but in a weird way every time I go there a strange comfortable feeling possesses me.
How old were you when you moved to Paris?
When I was 3 my father got hired by a French car company, so we had to move to France.
Do you remember anything about those early years?
Yeah, I remember stuff like being friends with a Vietnamese boy who couldn’t speak a word of French
Then you moved to California?
After 5 years in Paris, my father was transferred to the US for two years so we moved with him to California when I was 8.
That must have been hard for you to move around so much?
For a kid, it means going to a new school with a different school system and classes, a new rhythm of life, leaving your friends, making new friends and so on. You don’t learn the same history, you don’t read the same books and you definitely don’t speak the same language.
Did you like living in Berkeley?
California was cool. I went to school until 3 or 4 o’clock and then it was tennis, swimming and eating hot dogs and frozen yogurt by the pool while sun tanning. My brother and I were literally black after two months. You could swear we were Indian or something if you look at our pictures.
That’s the California life! Sounds like a smooth transition.
Well we had trouble at school, which drove my parents nuts, but that wasn’t new and with a lot of help from my father I did more than fine by the end of the second year. I became fluent in English thanks to that.
Have you been back to the US?
I never returned to the US since we lived there but I sure want to one day. I would probably feel right at home.
Wow, so that’s three countries before your teens. When did you finally get to live in Japan?
We came to Japan when I was 10. As a Japanese family, we had visited Japan many times before, but as you might know, living in a country is very different from just visiting it for kicks. Adaptation is hard in Japan especially if you are a Japanese kid who grew up in a foreign country. If you are not one of them you are an outsider.
But you must have felt more at home in Japan than in California.
In the US I never felt like an outsider, even though I didn’t speak the language. I was a Japanese kid and that alone was cool to the other American kids. Most kids in Japan don’t understand or are disturbed by difference. The worst for me was because I looked Japanese, which made it even more difficult for kids to understand who or what I was. Imagine, this kid who looked Japanese and spoke perfectly but didn’t read or write well and didn’t know who Hikaru Genji is (the popular boy band). So you get teased or bullied a lot and you hit back.
Did you have much contact with Japanese kids in America?
I never liked Japanese kids even before in California when I went to a Japanese school once a week. Kids were just mean. For a long time I didn’t feel like being one of them. Outside of Japan I would say I was Japanese, but those were just words to make me feel original. However, one day something happened. One kid actually came to apologize to me in class. He said “Kazu, I didn’t know you lived outside Japan all your life, I’m sorry I didn’t try to understand.” That changed everything. I made new friends immediately and I finally felt a little more at home.
At this point did you feel like you fit in as a Japanese person? Did you start losing your western identity?
You start wearing the same kind of clothes as your friends, listening to Japanese pop music and forget you loved Billy Joel, Michael Jackson and Bon Jovi. Strangely enough, my taste in movies never changed, probably because movies are a part of me more than anything else.
So do you tell people you’re French or Japanese or what?
I can be both Japanese and French, I can also say that I’m American and people would believe me and accept me in any country because looks don’t matter. The opposite would probably be a lot more difficult unfortunately. You could be born in Japan and live there all your life and only speak Japanese but if you don’t look Japanese you would never be accepted by them. People would say you speak well and that you behave or act like Japanese, but you are not one. In many ways and levels, that is very sad and cruel.
Then you went back to France when you were 14 and went through high school and college there. I know you love Paris, so why did you return to Japan?
Unfortunately, it was a hard time even for a French guy to find a decent job. People were constantly out of a job or laid-off. As a result it was hard for a Japanese guy to find a good job. In France people don’t care if you speak three languages. Speaking English is not even truly necessary. So I came back to Japan in 2005.
So was it a purely economic reason that you came to Tokyo?
I also wanted to go back to my roots. My DNA was telling me to go back. Not only just as a Japanese but also to work in a Japanese environment.
After two years do you feel that Japan is your home now?
Although I feel home sick from time to time (by that I mean France), I can say that Japan is home now. Unconsciously I say “I’m going back home” whether it’s France or Japan which confuses my friends from time to time. And when I talk, depending of the country where I am, I always say, “in France we…” or “in Japan we…” By now, I would say home is pretty much anywhere I’m familiar with. Home is a place that allows me to be myself and be constantly creative. Home is where the culture and I become a symbiosis and finally become one.