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Non on Expressing Oneself Freely Amid Opposition: Billboard Japan Women in Music Interview

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Multi-hyphenate artist Non chatted with Billboard Japan for its Women in Music interview series featuring female players in the Japanese entertainment industry. The WIM initiative in Japan launched last year to honor artists, producers and executives who have made significant contributions to music and inspired other women through their work.

Non joins SCANDAL and Nishina on the lineup of Billboard Japan’s Women In Music Vol.1 event set for Nov. 3 at the historic Hibiya Open-Air Concert Hall in Tokyo, dubbed “Yaon” by fans. In this in-depth interview, the 30-year-old who has been expanding her fields of activities beyond genres such as acting and music shares the reasons why she expresses herself freely in every area she commits herself to and continues to powerfully evolve.

You’ll be performing at the Women In Music Vol.1 event in November. How did you feel when you were asked to perform?

First, I was happy to be invited to participate as part of the Women In Music initiative, and was also really excited to be able to perform with my band on the Hibiya Open-Air Concert Hall stage. I was once scheduled to perform at Yaon with (legendary guitarist) Reichi “Chabo” Nakaido, but the show was canceled because of a typhoon. That was really sad, so I’m very happy to be given the opportunity to perform there again with my band for the Billboard JAPAN Women In Music Vol. 1 event.

Anything you can share about what you have in store for the event?

Well, I want to enjoy myself first and foremost. This year I released an album called PURSUE with songs filled with fun and powerful messages, so I’ll be playing lots of tracks from it.

We’re looking forward to seeing you onstage. The theme of this event is “Supporting Women.” What do you think of this theme?

The power of women is something I value so much that it was the theme of my first solo exhibition as an artist, called Non’s Solo Exhibition – Girls Bare Their Fangs. So I empathize with the event’s theme and honestly think it’s lovely. I hope my performance at this event conveys the strength of women and our badassery.

So that’s the kind of woman you think is cool. Do you remember the kind of women you looked up to growing up?

When I was little, my image of a cool woman was someone who walked around effortlessly in heels and dressed smartly. Someone who never trips and is radiant. I still think women like that are cool, but don’t think I want to be that person anymore.

What’s your current ideal?

Right now, the person I aim to be is someone who “pursues” [the title of Non’s album] what she wants to do and carries it through. Carrying out one’s own will is something I think is important. And it’d be ideal if I could do it in an interesting and funny way to boot. Even if what I’m dealing with is serious, I want to transform it into something fun to express it.

Is there anyone you know who comes close to your current ideal?

Akiko Yano. I’ve loved her since I was in high school and used to study and imitate the way she sings. I started out being a fan of her voice and songs, but now I think the way she lives and everything about her is beautiful.

Could you go into detail about what exactly you admire about her?

The fact that she never relents. No matter what anyone says, she never gives in and always sticks to what she thinks is right. I think it’s really cool how she doesn’t make decisions based whether or not she might go against the grain.

Sometimes it can be hard to stand by your own opinions or how you feel about something. When you’re confronted with such dilemmas, how do you deal with it? 

I take Ms. Yano’s words to heart at times like that. I wanted to be like her so much, I asked her one time, “If there’s something I want to do, but there’s this permeating sentiment telling me not to, how do I express myself freely and do what I want, like you do?” She told me, “If there’s something you want to do, keep doing it until the people around you stop saying anything. Then everyone will give up.” Those words have been my mantra since then. So I’m sure behind the scenes of me carrying out whatever it is I want to do, there are probably lots of people who have given up and are exhausted. [Laughs]

Your fields of expression span a variety of genres, including acting, music, and filmmaking. Have you ever felt the influence of being a woman in any of those activities?

To be honest, I’ve never really thought about the influence of being a woman. But when I watch movies or TV dramas, I often find myself thinking that the kinds of roles I’m interested in playing are often played by men. It’s something that’s always really bothered me. Whenever I come across such roles, I think a lot about how I would play it or about other ways that role can be interpreted, and that probably links to my own new creative projects.

In a recent film I appeared in, called The Fish Tale (Sakana no ko), I played the role of a man, Sakana-kun. I was able to do that thanks to director Shuichi Okita’s conviction that it didn’t matter if the character was male or female. It was a role that came my way just when I was thinking about how certain roles are only played by men, so the work is now very close to my heart.

Are there any difficulties specific to playing a male role that are different from female roles?

Differences in physique between men and women are inevitable, so I had to flatten my breasts and add filler to make my body less curvy, but other than that the only thing I did in a conscious way was to study (the real-life) Sakana-kun. I observed things like his movements, tone of voice, and how he emphasizes things so I could portray him naturally, but this isn’t particular to this role and I do the same for female roles, too. I don’t think I did anything different from usual just because the gender of the role was different.

I imagine it’s part of an actor’s job to play roles that say or do things that you actually wouldn’t in real life. When you perform such roles, does it affect who you are?

That doesn’t affect me. If I happen to empathize with some part of a character’s way of life, that might encourage me or convince me that my interpretation is adequate, but on the whole, roles with similar personalities or circumstances to my own don’t come my way. So I think in that sense, I draw a line between the roles I play and my own life.

If you were to give advice to yourself when you were first starting out, what would you say?

That’s hard to answer, but if I must I guess I’d tell myself to fix my posture. [Laughs] I’ve fixed it now, but at the time I wasn’t really aware that I was slouching, so I want to tell myself to straighten up a bit.

Lastly, could you share a song by a female artist that gives you strength?

“Hitotsudake” (“Only One”) by Akiko Yano. The lyrics are mixed with fantasy-like images, but evoke daily life and are heartwarming. It’s a romantic song that makes those everyday things sparkle. From there, the chorus depicting longing for the person they’re singing about hits you right in the heart, and it’s so cool. Ms. Yano’s voice is warm and soothing, but it also stirs up my feelings and excites me. I think this song has all those elements. I often listen to this song in the middle of the night because I tend to feel motivated and more focused and creative at night. It hones my senses and stimulates me so much that I can’t sleep.

This interview by Rio Hirai (SOW SWEET PUBLISHING) first appeared on Billboard Japan

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