Quite a while ago I wrote something about Jun Togawa for the now sadly defunct Untitled Mag. I suddenly felt the urge to revisit my thoughts, dove into the Wayback Machine and grabbed a cache. What follows is basically the original text but with some changes added. First I wanted to remember how I felt about her, how she has influenced me, but by reading this I realise she’s still sewn within myself, and she’ll probably be within me for always.
!!Note: what follows are mentions of death, blood and suicide!!
Jun Togawa is a Japanese singer, musician and actress, best known for a cutesy toilet commercial, and I’m obsessed with her. Not in love, but truly entranced by her music, her talent, and her playfulness regarding female archetypes. Though most importantly, for me perhaps, I am attracted to the many traces found in her work of depression. There are so many sad songs in this world, but only Togawa has been able to put the depression I personally feel in her work. And it makes me feel connected, or understood? Drawn to it like never before.
Though all of her lyrics are Japanese, a language I can hardly comprehend one sentence of, Togawa’s voice and use of sound transcends the language barrier for me. Especially by the use of her voice; sometimes in an almost opera-like use of her voice, sometimes distorted ugly, sometimes painfully false and off-note; it communicates with me in a very emotive way. In all of the music she has written from straight new wave pop to experimental electro cabaret, Togawa uses and distorts her voice in such a way that clutches my throbbing bloody heart and enters my addled depressed mind like a parasite. Visually as well as vocally she often plays, toys, laughs but also embodies the (Japanese) pop icon, often combining this with a sound expressing depressiveness, also given rise to the truest anger I’ve ever heard expressed and a sadness that grew into stems of sorrow on her amber coloured back.
“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.”
– Life as a Parasite?
Her songs, to me, describe a strangeness that comes from the feeling of alienation in this world, which you can hear and sense and breathe and see every step you take in this world if you feel this too. Of course, who doesn’t feel alienated at least sometimes, you know? But this one is a deep, continuous and heart-breaking one that not everyone experiences. Many, but not all. Alienation is something I want to delete yet also simultaneously cover, hide in and let myself disappear in it. Because sometimes it’s too exhausting to drag this feeling with you, always. You think I want to belong, but you know you’ll never really do. Somehow, too often, you just can’t connect. Can’t I just accept it? But you can’t, can you? Sometimes, maybe just maybe, we want to feel alienated too. Maybe? Maybe not?
In Togawa’s lyrics sometimes feelings of alienation are invoked through using insect imagery not only lyrically but also visually; dancing harsh and jagged yet clad in cute outfits and curious insect wings. Other times she does this by subverting the typical Japanese pop idol stereotypes. She gleefully plays with them while subverting them; screaming her heart out and her inner feelings of injustice, or anger? or frustration? Is it that particular feeling of loneliness of never belonging? Is is partly wanting to die, maybe? Is is just having enough of all of this and hurt slowly starts to feel even better than the numbing sensation of the feeling you’ll always be told to go away, and go away you do because you’ve forgotten what else to do? You’re not supposed to be here! The play with music genres and archetypes as well as flirting with the idea of death and a constant underlayer of hopeless melancholy is an ambiguity that defines her music for me. And it’s something I’m incredibly drawn to.
In the music video for Suki Suki Daisuku she subverts the Japanese pop idol by playing the stylish woman, the schoolgirl, the small spoiled brat, a nurse,… and in black and white her fragile self (or is it?), all the while singing:
Kiss me like thumping, as blood clots on my lips
Hold me, as my ribs breaking
I love you so much
I love you so much
I love you so much
Say you love me or I’ll kill you!
– Suki Suki Daisuki
Is it subversive or is it also a partial truth? While she seemingly laughs with the stereotypes “Kiss me like thumping, as blood clots on my lips / Hold me, as my ribs breaking” they could also be read as an intense love, a love where you want to be as close as possible, no matter the hurt it could cause. But it also reminds me of a yearning for death and hurt. Say you love me or I’ll kill you! Is it? Or is it Say you’ll love me or I’ll choose death!
Still, what I admire most is the frankness of her lyrics and music. Often unnerving, sometimes painful, all because it hits so close to home with me.
When you are to notice me
The girl who has changed into an insect
With an amber colored stomach
Shall have a parasitic plant
Growing stems of sorrow on her amber colored back
– Sanagi Ka No Onna
She uses femininity as a tool, not as a marker of her gender identity, but rather as a questioning if it. Often its a femininity tuned up to a terrifying degree it could frighten you. In a sweet dress she wears her wigs askew and goes from quiet overly cute vocals to loud false-pitched screaming. It feels like the femininity that’s forced upon some of us that can be part of you as an actual person while also gradually making you lose your mind because it’s so damn stifling. She shows us: this is how these standards have deformed me.
She tells us of wanting to destroy yourself, or the image of yourself, messy bloody, painful too. For me, it goes eerily perfect with the themes of alienation and extreme femininity.
I’m broken-hearted and in utter despair
but I’m not going to die, no, I’m not going to die
The moonlight shines so bright it’s dazzling
– Not Dead Luna
Through playing different characters and telling stories Togawa finds her own place; she seems to have created her own world, which often aligns with some of our shared worlds, too. In her singular world; telling us stories of alienation with insect-imagery, Jun Togawa has ended up communicating with a whole lot of us. But this also points to the fact the we need to make our own worlds. Experiment: scream and cry, go away and come back, try to understand your anger and hurt. Squeeze me till my ribs break and create our own spaces, bloody-hearted or kind and soft, possibly both.
(Side note: the link to the lyrics is indeed a website I moderate and I am forever looking for translations, so if you know of any let me know!)