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||A Hello!Online special: Kago Ai's "Super Cargo" interview
|| Written by B.Slade & Kuno
, updated: 21:19, 4-Feb 2009
(Big thanks go out to boinsie for providing scans of the interview pages for us. We couldn't have done it without ya!)
Kago Ai has had a lot happen in her life, and at age 20, she's someone who can express herself freely! It's Super Cargo! The super idol for everybody who can talk clearly about many interesting topics!
-- We heard that you had Ménière's disease, but it turned out to just be fatigue, so that was a relief.
K: The news made it out like it was a serious disease, so I got a lot of phone calls from different people. I know it caused them to worry, but I'm really fine now (lol)
-- It seems that Ménière's is most common with old people.
K: When they told me it might be Ménière's, I thought, "Oh no, I might be an old woman now (lol)"
-- It may not look like it on the outside, but you've been aging rapidly (lol)
K: (lol) It's true. My face looks so young, I look like a child on the outside. But inside, I'm really a mature woman.
-- A mature woman... Somehow it doesn't fit the image of Kago Ai, but anyway, please be careful.
K: Okay. (lol)
-- So, let's start from when you were born. You were born in Nara, right?
K: I was born in Nara, moved to Nagoya, then back to Nara, and then I came to Tokyo just before I turned 12. When I was about 2 or 3... my parents divorced. When they divorced, I came back to Nara, so I don't really remember.
-- Your mother's home was in Nara?
K: That's right.
-- What kind of environment did you grow up around in Nara?
K: I grew up near a temple where biker gangs would hang out on weekends. It was out in the country, near a bypass. There was a temple next to our house. We were surrounded by temples. Also, everyone in the area was related.
-- After the divorce, did your mother work?
K: She did a lot of different jobs.
-- How old were you when you got your new father?
K: It was in grade five. I was in grade five, so I would have been about 11.
-- How did it feel to have a new father?
K: It was like, "Who is this?" But he was a lot like me, so we didn't have trouble getting along. It just felt like it was fine, as long as my mother was happy.
-- What's your mother like?
K: ...I don't really understand my mother. She's passionate, clumsy, nagging, and a good cook.
-- Is she a strong mother?
K: She's really strong (lol)
-- Do you ever defy her?
K: I've never defied her. She'd kill me if I did. (lol) But really, she's not that scary. She loves me passionately as a daughter, and she'd protect me no matter what. That's why she raised me on her own after the divorce...
-- Did you ever wish you had a father?
K: I never thought that even once. I really don't remember my real father's face, so there's really no concept of a father inside me. I think that's probably why I have such a strong "father complex".
-- Did you ever get envious when you saw your friend's fathers?
K: I thought they looked cool. But I thought I didn't need a father. I couldn't imagine having a man entering our family. It would feel like reopening old wounds.
-- Did you get used to your new father quickly?
K: I did. He raised me up just like I was his real daughter and loved me so much that I even started to think that he might have been my real father.
-- Then you had younger siblings, right?
K: Two brothers and a sister. In order of age, brother, sister, brother. The oldest one was born when I was 11, and I left for Tokyo before his first birthday. I didn't get to see him for long periods, so he was always bigger each time I saw him. He seemed less like a brother and more like a teddy bear. It was complicated when I was 12 or 13. But he didn't talk very much. He had a disorder... A kind of autism called Asperger's.
-- You wrote a little about that in "Kago Ai Live - Underage Whte Paper". He had autism?
K: He's nine years old now, but it would be really embarrassing when meeting people... It's not that way now, but back then it was hard to understand his problem. For example, I was really embarrassed to let the other Morning Musume members meet him... Even when he was five, he couldn't talk properly. If you asked him, "What's this?" he'd just parrot back, "What's this?" That was something I wanted to avoid, so I didn't want to tell anyone. That caused even more stress for me. But then the next one was born, and it was like, "Oh, here comes another one." It was strange to see her being born from my mother's tummy. It was like a dog. (lol)
-- You don't normally see your mother with a big belly, so it doesn't feel real, right?
K: That's right. It's something you only see rarely.
-- What kind of a child were you?
K: My mother worked, so I tried to live in a way that wouldn't cause trouble for her. So, with friends or anybody, I'd always take care with others. For example, if something were to happen at school, they'd call her when she's busy at work. I was always thinking about things like that, so I created walls and became shy around people. But I dreamed of becoming a flight attendant or a celebrity.
-- You had dreams?
K: I always wanted to live in a brighter world.
-- Because things were dark?
K: Not dark, really... But from the time I was about four, I kept saying, "Maybe I can do it." I was thinking, "I want to be an actor."
-- Who was your image of an actor at age four?
K: I'd watch Matsuyuki Yasuko in "Shiratori Reiko de Gozaimasu!" and think, this is so great... Also Nakayama Miho or Asano Yuko. There was that creepy husband Fuyuhiko. I'd watch things like that and think, "I really want to do that." That Fuyuhiko, who played him?
-- Sano Shiro.
K: I still see him as Fuyuhiko (lol) That was a really interesting one.
-- It wasn't really a show for four year olds to be watching.
K: I loved acting grown up. I'd watch that show, take the lipstick from my mother's dresser, and say the lines from the show into my mirror. (lol) Also, jiang shi were really popular, so I'd play jiang shi with my friends. I'd paint my nails with a magic marker and pretend to be a jiang shi.
-- And put a talisman on your forehead?
K: Yeah. (lol) I loved doing things like that. Also, I'd use the stairs at school to play Cinderella.
-- Did you think up games like that yourself?
K: I'd think them up and write scripts for them. Also, there was a place like a cultural hall where I played Ariel from "The Little Mermaid".
-- When was that?
K: When I was five. I only had one line then, "Oh, I'm breathing air." But I started enjoying doing things in front of people from that. Before that, I was in something about a monkey and a crab, but that was just a boring part like a tree. (lol)
-- The persimmon tree from "The Monkey and the Crab". That's a pretty important part. You may have taken care with others as a child, but you had that kind of "service spirit".
K: I was shy, but people always said I was really friendly with others.
-- Even hearing you say it, it's hard to believe you were shy.
K: I really was pretty shy!
-- But you'd play Cinderella on the school stairs.
K: This happened when I was about three, maybe. But I really remember it well. One of my mother's male friends casually said to me, "Ai, show me your boobs." I think he was just joking around. But it completely destroyed me. I became afraid of people. I don't really know if I had "feminine instincts" back then, but it really embarrassed me.
-- And you were from a family without any men in it.
K: That's right. We moved a lot, even in Nara. I'd make friends, then have to change schools right away, so the TV became my friend for the most part. At night I'd watch reruns of dramas.
-- Did you want to become a singer?
K: At that time, I still wasn't thinking about being a singer, and I didn't really like them. I did like singing though... Later, I discovered Morning Musume, and I told my mother I wanted to try out for them to celebrate graduating from primary school. Then quickly, after a week, it was decided.
-- At age 12, you became a fourth generation Morning Musume member.
K: I really didn't think I'd be accepted. We all just applied casually, thinking it would be good to apply as friends... It was half just playing around.
-- Was there no age limit?
K: There wasn't. I wrote in our graduation messages that I wanted to be a celebrity, and it came true one week later.
K: I phoned my mother and she said, "Huh? You didn't get any acceptance here." "No, I've been accepted." And then she asked, "Are you saying you got accepted?" I told her, "I've been accepted." She said, "But you haven't been accepted." The second round of the selection process was on March 20. It was the same day as the graduation ceremony, so I didn't have time to stand around crying with everybody. I had to go straight home, get changed, and go to the audition in Osaka. It all happened so fast, and by March 31, I was already in Tokyo. On April 1, we had a photo shoot for the CD cover. Even my relatives didn't believe it when they asked why I wasn't around, and they thought it was an April Fool's joke. (lol)
-- Did your mother come to Tokyo?
K: I went with my grandmother. For the first six months, I lived in a hotel room. I couldn't find a middle school to get into either.
-- Did you go to middle school back home?
K: I didn't go for that half year. I didn't go to school until the halfway through the second semester. But my registration was still in my hometown.
-- You were just too busy to go at the time...
K: I really couldn't go. I didn't have a home, I didn't have a school. I knew I needed a school, but there was nowhere that could take me... I only went a few times in my second year, and I started to realise that that wasn't good. So I asked to get a home tutor. But I could only get tutored after work, so I didn't get many chances during the week. By the third year, it was already too late, and I didn't understand anything... So a tutor would come for me every day from 10:00 to 1:30.
-- You debuted at age 12, so I suppose you didn't really understand everything around you.
K: At first it felt like "Why do I have to say 'good morning' at night?" That's what it was like in the beginning. Also, I'd never used formal speech before. I always spoke in Kansai dialect. They told me I had to change that, but going from Kansai to standard Japanese was really tough. But after about a week, I'd learnt how to do it.
-- Being in Morning Musume meant singing and dancing. You wanted to be an actor, but was that good enough for you?
K: At the time, I probably wasn't thinking about acting at all. I was a singer. Morning Musume was so popular back then, my classmates were so excited. To be a part of something so popular...
-- It really was popular with kids, wasn't it?
K: Like Petit Moni, yeah. When I was at school, I got to play that at school with everybody. We'd make our favourite groups out of Morning Musume. I think that's when I really started to enjoy singing.
-- But when you suddenly became a pro, it became much harder?
K: It was hard at first. I wasn't used to living in Tokyo. When I had a rhythm lesson, I was given a map of Dogenzaka. On the map was written, "second floor, old run-down building". "Where's that? An old run-down building?" But the instructor there was really funny. I started out with rhythm practice, voice practice, and dance lessons every day.
-- So you came to Tokyo in April. When was your debut?
K: April. Right away. On the first day, even though we didn't have to do any [live] singing, we did a photo shoot for the CD cover and a recording session. After just a few lessons, we were singing right away. By May, I was on stage at Budokan (lol)
-- That's amazing. Nobody has done that before.
K: At first I didn't know that Budokan was such an important place (lol) But anyway, I spent my days in dance lessons, trying not to screw up. Our instructor told us, "Morning Musume will get along just fine without you, so if you can't do it, go home!" So that made me cry (lol) There were four of us in the fourth generation, but I was the only one from the country. So I mixed in with the other members' families and went out to eat with them.
-- I suppose you became totally absorbed in your work after that.
K: But when I appeared on TV shows - it's a bit of a weird way to think, but I found myself thinking things like, "If I don't talk this way, it won't be funny or interesting." I was thinking, "If I do it this way, it'll show more of myself. That's the way I should do it." And finally, Kago Ai was created.
-- Is that something that the people around you told you?
K: Not really. It was basically something I felt on my own. Then it seemed like everyone else went along with it.
-- Morning Musume wasn't really produced to that level of detail, was it?
K: That's right. But once everybody developed a character, we were told, "This is what you should do. This is what you shouldn't do." But still, Kago-chan and Tsuji-chan were basically free to do what they wanted. (lol)
-- Were you so busy you didn't have time to sleep?
K: I was young, so not getting enough sleep made me happy, because it felt like I was really working.
-- I guess that would be fun.
K: It was fun. It really wasn't hard at all.
-- Were you living with someone at the time?
K: I lived with my grandmother.
-- It must have been a totally different lifestyle from a normal middle school student's.
K: That's why going to school was so difficult. I couldn't keep up with what was popular at any time.
-- And you were part of what was popular yourself.
K: (lol) If I tried making friends in middle school, they'd all think of me as Kago Ai from Morning Musume, so I couldn't really say the things I wanted to. That's why I only had one real friend in middle school.
-- That couldn't be helped. You were in Morning Musume, so they didn't know how to act around you.
K: Once in class, I heard a boy's cell phone ring with a "The Peace!" ringtone, which was popular at the time. That was really funny, but it made me happy (lol)
-- I see. Then after four busy years in Morning Musume, you graduated and started a new unit, "W".
K: By that time, I'd basically decided what I wanted to do with myself.
-- What do you mean?
K: At first I didn't look at Morning Musume as being idols. For me, I thought of idols like Matsuda Seiko or people like that. But it seemed like they couldn't be put into any one category, because they did so much. I started wanting to get away from that "idol route".
-- Morning Musume weren't idols, but you thought they were idol-like?
K: That's right. When I first joined, I was told, "Morning Musume aren't idols, they're artists." But the things they did were so idol-like, it was a contradiction... But I had to come to terms with that in time (lol) From age 12 to age 16, things were great. But while the people around me were growing into adults, I was like, "Huh? Huh? It's strange. I'll be doing the same things even when I'm 25." I never thought that would be the case. But because I hadn't been doing any studying, I didn't know what I could do, and I started to feel troubled.
-- You had the idea that you'd be in the show business world forever?
K: It was all I could do. I'd never done anything else. This job was the thing I loved most, so it was all I could do.
-- Did you think about what you'd be doing if you weren't doing idol work?
K: I thought, I want to be more of a real person. I wanted not to be someone who's dressed up all the time, but someone who can make her own music, and walk with her own feel... There were nuances like that. Not someone who follows along when she hears, "Do this." Someone who can do things the way she wants to.
-- Showing off more of your normal self, rather than being dressed up?
K: I really like being free. I hate being constrained. I enjoy myself, so I wanted to do things that I would enjoy. When I started thinking that way, I had just started getting interested in boys. I was around 16 or 17.
-- What was love like for you at first?
K: I'd been interested in boys before, but I hadn't gone as far as thinking, "I want to be the one he loves." I didn't think, "I want to make myself pretty for him." But at around 16 or 17, I started thinking that way.
-- You found someone you liked?
K: But I couldn't go out with him. I wasn't allowed to. I was in Morning Musume, and it would cause problems if we were caught. So it was really... It felt like, "All right, but how long until I can?" I'm human, so of course I'm going to fall in love. I'm a celebrity, so I can't fall in love. That disjointed way of thinking... It really made me feel like I was just a puppet.
-- Were there no other members you could talk to about love?
K: If I told another member, they'd tell another member, and soon they'd all know. (lol) So, I didn't talk to anyone.
-- That's what you get with a group of girls. So, who was it you liked back then?
K: He was about three years older than me. The very first person I fell for was a producer at NTV. I was about 12 or 13 at the time, so I think that's where my "father complex" started. He was always saying, "Kago-chan, Kago-chan" or "You look great!" So, I always enjoyed every day, knowing I'd get to see him.
-- From his viewpoint, he probably just thought you were cute.
K: Because I was a kid (lol)
-- So, after that, when you were 16 or 17, you had a real love.
K: Right. I really did love him. But I couldn't go out with him.
-- But around then, when you were 17, you were photographed.
K: Smoking, right? In those days, my father was falling into debt.
-- Things weren't going well for your new father at work?
K: It was bad, and he was in debt... He hadn't worked in about five years, so he was getting into debt. I think it was tough for him, being a father...
-- And the money you were making wasn't enough?
K: That's right. Up until then, I'd never thought of work as a way to make money. Even now, I'd say I don't really have a desire for money.
-- You were earning money from age 12, so you probably have a different viewpoint from most people.
K: I never even looked at my payslip once.
-- So, you'd planned to stay in this world, but then the reports of your smoking incident came out, and you plans were ruined?
K: That's right. It was right on my sister's birthday when I was published in "Friday".
-- Then just before "Friday" went on sale, you were put under "indefinite house arrest".
K: For about the first four days, I stayed in a hotel room, with the windows and curtains shut, and not allowed to go out into the hallway. When I watched TV, they said things like, "Former Morning Musume member, K-san" because I was a minor. But that made it feel like I was a criminal or something.
-- But indefinite house arrest is for a pretty heavy crime.
K: At first they said it would be for about two months, but after incidents involving other young talents started piling up, it became indefinite.
-- The first four days were in a hotel, and then what?
K: After that, I lived in Tokyo for about a month. But it seemed like such a waste of rent money, so I moved back to my parents' home, and stayed under "house arrest" for a year there.
-- While you were under "house arrest", you weren't earning any money?
K: That's right. I'd been working every day, and suddenly I had nothing to do. It made me wonder what people do to pass each day. I'd get up in the morning and think, "What should I do today?"
-- That would be tough. Going from your special situation where you were having fun with everybody all the time, to suddenly being left all on your own.
K: I was at my parents' home, but my mother and father started living apart... Anyway, I was told I couldn't leave the house, so the first few months were just a blur. I just watched the clock moving on. I didn't watch any TV.
-- TV... It was too hard for you to watch?
K: The worst part was being told I couldn't make my comeback until I turned 20. I thought, "So please relax my house arrest. What am I supposed to do in all that time?"... What was I doing? I wasn't doing anything. I didn't know what I was supposed to do.
-- Your house arrest lasted for a year?
K: Yes. I think it was about 11 months. In that time, my weight dropped to 36kg. I was just skin and bones, and my periods stopped. My chest got flat, my butt lost all its tone, and just sitting in the bath made it hurt my bones. Each time I took a bath, my hair fell out, and I was left with a bald spot. My mother noticed what was happening, but she had a harsh "it's your fault" attitude. I didn't want to make her cry... And I couldn't tell my father, so my brothers and sister were the biggest help in getting me better.
-- Being in that state, did you feel any resentment?
K: Not at all. I wasn't thinking anything, just wanting my house arrest to be relaxed, since I couldn't do the things I wanted to at that age. I talked about going somewhere so that I could study, but I was told I couldn't leave, so I couldn't even do that.
-- And you had no money.
K: But the company didn't know that I had no money at the time. I went to Tokyo in December to tell the head of the company about everything. So, we talked about making my comeback while doing odd jobs around the office. And on that day, my period came back. I went to the toilet and had my period.
-- You're so honest about it.
K: I thought it was so great. It was like, "All right!" I really thought there was something wrong with my body... It had been about 11 months, so I started crying.
-- With everything you'd done, being confined must have been rough.
K: If I see someone being confined in a movie now, it puts me on edge right away.
-- Then, heading towards your comeback, you worked at the office for a while?
K: Just for a month. At that time, they got another photo of me. The person in that photo was the first person I could really talk to about myself, so it was someone so important to me...
-- And it became the subject of more gossip just before you made your comeback.
K: I really didn't think it would be a big deal. But because of it, a shocking change happened. I was terminated, and felt so relieved. I'm sorry to my fans, but right now, I'm really happy. (lol)
-- Did you think that, if you'd made your comeback, you'd want to do music shows and variety shows again?
K: Well, I didn't like the idea of being on variety shows. Really, variety shows aren't something I wanted to do. But maybe that's something I couldn't say. I was really interested in becoming an actor, so I wanted to challenge new things. When I was making my comeback, I asked, "What am I going to do?" There was a futsal team, so they let me be the "manager" [In the Japanese sense of the word. Think "waterboy"] of that. I didn't like it, but I figured I had no choice. If it would let me make my comeback, then fine.
-- When that photo was taken of you, did the company decide to let you go right away?
K: That's right. With everything that was happening, I went to LA in May, and stayed there for three months.
-- In that situation, it was the better choice than staying in Japan. You'd been dismissed, so it didn't matter where you went or what you did. What did you do in LA?
K: I took dance lessons to work on my English and to make friends, went to a lot of auditions, and saw an agent over there. He told me, "It's all right, but you need to work on your English."
-- Were you really planning on going into show business over there?
K: That's what I was really thinking. I knew I didn't want to do it in Japan. I hated Japanese show business. When I went to LA, my way of thinking really changed. I came back to Japan with a completely changed personality.
-- What changed the most?
K: I no longer mind, no matter what happens. I'm an individualist. I don't mind what other people think of me, because now I know that my self image comes from within myself. The people I met over there encouraged me a lot too. And there was a psychic that somebody knew there...
-- A psychic?
K: Jim Watson. Somebody there knew him and said I should see him once, so I went to him in August. He told me to give him something I always carry with me, so I gave him my lip cream, and he said, "Your mother will soon be seen by the world." The next day, my mother appeared in "Josei Seven" magazine (news article). Whoa, that was amazing. After that, he told me I'd meet someone in four months who would change my life. And I did meet the head of my current company. Isn't that amazing? His words gave me hope. "You'll have a life-changing meeting in four months. If you keep living with a clear idea of what I want to do, it'll happen. But if you act childish even a little, it won't come true. You have to show more strength than expected for your age." He told me I had to stay in show business.
-- You're basically an optimistic person.
K: But I'm timid (lol)
-- But when Jim Watson told you that...
K: I was immediately like, "That's right!" (lol) I'm the type who goes along with things easily (lol)
-- Everybody gets down from time to time. Even upbeat people do. But it's like when you wrote in your graduation message [that you wanted to become a celebrity], and one week later you made your debut. It was like you it was all just a joke to you.
K: That's right. I think I was making fun of everything, too.
-- But even treating things as a joke, it was in an optimistic way. Even in bad circumstances, good can come of it.
K: I think I have really good luck and really bad luck. I think that's why my life is always like this (lol)
-- If you make don't take the world seriously enough, you'll end up in a bad situation.
K: I know that all too well. (lol)
-- But I think good things will happen to you.
K: That's what I hope.
-- If you start off in a good situation, you'll be optimistic. You're the type who'll gamble and end up in a bad situation.
K: (lol) It really has been an incredible life. I mean, last May I was wondering, "What will I be doing in one year?" And then I was filming a movie in China. My life has already been so interesting!
-- When you came back to Tokyo, did you join your new company right away?
K: I met Hosaka Naoki and told him I was having a lot of trouble, and he said he'd introduce me to someone.
-- After hooking up with Hosaka, how did you wind up in a Chinese movie?
K: It seems like pictures of the Chinese actor were leaked. She was supposed to do it, but the position became open, so he asked the producer, "How about letting Kago-chan do it?" I didn't even have to audition.
-- That was the Hong Kong movie, "Kung Fu Chefs".
K: With Sammo Hung and Vanness Wu from F4. We filmed it in Guangzhou in a month. I was hanging from wires, and didn't know what was going on! It's like, "One year later and you're doing wire-fu! Hey!" (lol) My first work in two years is in a Hong Kong movie (lol) But before I joined my current company, I was working really hard and had an audition in Australia. It's all in English, but I made it through the first round. So, I have to learn English by next year. And in January, I'm in a two-person play with Master Koasa...
-- You sound busy.
K: Right now, I'm still not at the point where I can say, "This is what I want to do." But in the future, I want to be in a place where I can say that.
-- If it's in movies, you're okay. If you don't want to be in a Japanese movie, you can be in an Australian one, or a Hong Kong one.
K: I want to be somebody who's coloured by all different countries. Ni hao!
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