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Leaving a Strong Impression: The Artistic Endeavors of Natsuki Mari
Japanese Women on the Global Stage

From voice acting in Miyazaki Hayao’s Spirited Away to fronting a band inspired by the music of Janis Joplin, Natsuki Mari’s career has covered a lot of ground. Her other activities have included well-received theatrical works that explore physical performance and a project supporting families in developing countries. Her varied resume has won her a large following among young Japanese women.


NATSUKI MariRelaunched her singing career in 1973. Has appeared in numerous films and TV dramas. Received the Minister of Education’s Art Encouragement Prize for New Artists in 1984 and the Japan Academy Award for best actress in a supporting role in 2003. Has given her Inshōha (Impressionist) series of conceptual art theater performances overseas since 1993 and run the development support organization One of Love Project since 2009. Also wears many other hats, including narrator, radio personality, editor-in-chief of an online magazine, and author. In 2014, was appointed as an advisor to the Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

International Theatrical Success

INTERVIEWER  Your best-received work is the conceptual art theater work Inshōha [Impressionist].(*1)    

NATSUKI MARI  I started the Impressionist series in 1993. I took the show to places like France and Poland because it wasn’t accepted in Japan. Being an avant-garde work, it just wasn’t understood here, so much so that newspapers called it “a work of self-indulgence.” When I went overseas, curious to see what the response would be like, the audiences in Paris, Poland, and Germany all showered us with bravos. Their delight was night and day compared to the cool reception in Japan. I’m the type of person who thrives on a bit of praise, so I made another work and toured places like Avignon and Edinburgh. I came back to Japan asking myself why I couldn’t get domestic audiences to come see my show and launched my own management company to get the Impressionist going.

INTERVIEWER  Perhaps overseas audiences found your show positive and challenging.

NATSUKI  I agree. I’ve had comments to the effect that Japanese artists typically bring along a variety of traditions, like the kimono, but that there’s no hint of Japan about me. At the same time, I found it tough being abroad when I was asked about politics in my first overseas interview. I would also get questions about my philosophy, and these experiences made me stronger and helped me to brush up my act. To continue down the road with the Impressionist, I knew I needed to steel myself and really get down to it.

The Impressionist NÉO Vol. 2: Cinderella. (Photograph by Hiro Kimura.)

Supporting Moms and Children in Ethiopia

INTERVIEWER  I am also interested in your support work in Ethiopia, which you started in 2010 through the organization One of Love Project. What prompted you to do this?

Natsuki Mari at the One of Love Project Gig concert. (Photograph by Ryūgo Saitō.)

NATSUKI  Having no children of my own, at first I picked three countries that I had never been to and simply sent money as a child sponsor. Later, when I became life partners with a musician and we were talking about traveling, we decided to go meet the children with musical instruments in hand. As it turned out, we came home from the trip very happy. We launched an organization called One of Love Project so that we could provide further support.

We started the project in Ethiopia, where we help improve the education environment for children and the work environment for women. We raise the money to send to Ethiopia by organizing a live concert called Gig every year on June 21, World Music Day, and through sales of roses at florists who support us.

Inspired by Janis Joplin

INTERVIEWER  What are your musical roots?

NATSUKI  My roots, I would say, are in classical music. Although my father worked for a trading company, his love was music, and I grew up hearing him play classical music on the piano. So that’s where my roots are. But when I started listening to Western rock music in my adolescence, the songs and voice of Janis Joplin electrified me, and I wanted to be a singer like her. That was the first time I thought about a career in music. When I followed an invitation to become a singer, though, my debut album was in the kayōkyoku pop genre.

For the longest time, Janis’s music to me was purely for listening. But when I formed my own band about thirty years on, I decided to “borrow” her songs and do blues rock.

INTERVIEWER  Did you aspire to Janis Joplin’s way of living as well?

NATSUKI  I only learned about her life later on, so at first I was just drawn to her singing. All of her songs are about love, but I didn’t know they were love songs at the time. That voice of hers really got me.

Natsuki Mari at the One of Love Project Gig concert. (Photograph by Ryūgo Saitō.)

(*1) ^ Inshōha: The Inshōha (Impressionist) theater is Natsuki Mari’s mode of artistic expression, exploring physical performance vis-à-vis art, language, and space. The series has been presented to critical acclaim in countries including Britain, France, Germany, and Poland as “conceptual art theater.” Natsuki has produced 10 works in the series to date as director and performer. She founded the performance group MNT (Mari Natsuki Terroir) in 2007, where she trains young performers and hopes to stage shows both in Japan and overseas. The 2014 Impressionist show was based on Cinderella, putting a new spin on the classic tale while seeking in it the epitome of beauty.

  • [2015.04.15]
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