Elaiza sings: Perhaps you can say it with music

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Singer, model, actor and film director Elaiza

Long before her singing debut, Elaiza was already known to have a flair for song. The somewhat melancholic tone of her voice and her highly expressive delivery make a song sound as if she is talking directly to the audience. Already working extensively as a model, actor and film director, she has released her first album, “Shitsurakuen” (Paradise Lost), from the Universal Music label.

Elaiza was born on April 16, 1996, and comes from Fukuoka Prefecture. In a recent interview, I asked her about the album and how she approaches music.

“I wanted to make an album that has an afterglow,” she said softly, looking straight into my eyes. “And I want [listeners] to digest it and convert it into something higher within them. When they listen to the songs, or after they’ve finished listening to the album, I hope they’ll spend some time thinking about themselves.”

Her words suggest that she let her thoughts simmer, gently and slowly, to make the album.

“I didn’t think it was something I had to hastily produce. I wanted to deliver what I could be content with. Physically, [the work process] felt very relaxed,” she recalled. She just followed the work process without setting a clear deadline.

The album’s first track, “Ayayay,” was composed by rising music producer Yaffle. It is one of four songs on the album for which Elaiza wrote the lyrics herself. One line from the song, delivered in her relaxed and polished voice, translates, “The pebbles I threw will later fall on me.” The refrain “Ayayay” to the stylish melody lingers in the listeners’ ears.

Elaiza thought of writing the lyrics for this song when she was going to a driving school. While some adults were taking pains to learn how to drive with a teacher seated by their side, other adults were debating social issues on a TV inside the school building.

“Everyone is equal at a driving school. I felt the future and hopes there and found that exciting. News shows on TV report the same old stories for months. It’s difficult to speak out about politics and society. You’ve got to have knowledge and responsibility to do so. But perhaps you can say it with music,” she said.

“Yumemachi” (Dream town) is a subtly dangerous and disturbing song, which also includes spoken lines in her whispery voice. It is a complex and interesting piece. She asked the composer to incorporate music from the dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy in the ballet “The Nutcracker” by Tchaikovsky. This is another song for which Elaiza wrote lyrics. She said she forced herself to write in a self-revealing way after a conversation with famous lyricist Takashi Matsumoto.

During a talk with him arranged by media, she asked him for advice, saying she cannot write love songs because she gets writer’s block whenever she tries to write about herself. His response was spontaneous: “Why don’t you just write?”

The cover of “Shitsurakuen” (Paradise Lost), Elaiza’s first album

“It was like seeing things open up in front of me. He saw through me — that I wanted him to give an encouraging push from the back. Then I thought that I should start by carving out [some writing] first from the earliest experiences I can remember,” she said.

This included a recurring dream she has had since childhood, in which the same friend and regular playmate always appears. The lyrics for “Yumemachi” reflected such a mysterious experience. The Sugar Plum Fairy music sounds familiar to Elaiza, who took ballet lessons for a long time.

“In the past, I ‘logged in’ to the dream to escape from boring things like school, for example,” she said.

“Close to You” is Elaiza’s first digital single. The song conveys sadness as she sings in her melancholic voice to danceable sounds. “Wakusei” (The planet) has lyrics written by poet Tahi Saihate. The music is grand and amazes the listeners when the sounds suddenly halt toward the end.

The songs are all filled with various ideas resulting from Elaiza’s efforts and commitments.

The title of the album is the same as John Milton’s famous 17th-century epic poem based on the Old Testament story of Adam and Eve consuming the forbidden fruit and being evicted from paradise.

“I often read mythological stories. When having a meeting with my staff, we thought ‘Paradise Lost’ would be a nice title,” she said.

The album embraces both hope and despair. The title felt right to me as I listened to the tracks again and again.

Filmmaking ‘infinitely fun’

Elaiza has also been doing well in her acting career, in which she goes by the name Elaiza Ikeda. In the TV drama “Komi-san wa Komyusho desu” (Komi can’t communicate), which was broadcast on NHK this fall, she played protagonist Shoko Komi, a high school student who has difficulty interacting with other people. Elaiza was much praised for her use of subtly nuanced expressions to portray the character.

She says she did not have a strong wish to become an actor when she entered the field. Yet she also said: “You can’t do anything unless you prove that you are here. I’ve been wholeheartedly doing what I can do in my own way.”

She made her film directing debut in the movie “Natsu, Itarukoro” (Town without Sea), which opened in theaters in December last year. The story, set in Fukuoka Prefecture, is a refreshingly youthful work depicting the conflicted feelings of young people in adolescence.

“It was infinitely fun,” Elaiza said emphatically.

She said she likes the process of creating something, such as writing a storyboard, thinking hard about structure and planning a script.

“It was tough physically as well as mentally, but it was liberating and immensely fun,” she said with a beaming smile before adding, “I’ll definitely do it again. In fact, I have various projects in mind.”