Moved by The Fiend with Twenty Faces

Les Romanesques TOBI (Musician and Actor)

Dec 02, 2022


Formed in Paris in 2000, Les Romanesques performed live at the Paris Collection, served as ambassadors with Jane Fonda and the mayor of Paris at the 8th Paris International Film Festival, and took the world by storm as “the most famous Japanese in France”. After returning to Japan in 2011 to perform at Fuji Rock Festival, he was selected to be a main cast member of NHK Educational TV (ETV)'s Otsuta-to-Denjiro and has since been involved in a wide variety of other activities. A big fan of author Edogawa Rampo, TOBI gives his thoughts on Rampo's appeal.

Reunited with Rampo in France

——— I understand that you first encountered Rampo in elementary school, reading The Boy Detectives Series from publisher Poplar in the school library.

TOBI Yes. Yes, I probably read them all.

——— Did you still love reading Rampo's works after you grew up?

TOBI Actually after I became an adult, I thought, “I doubt I'll ever read Rampo again,” and I just ended up selling the books whenever I moved. Yet, I found I bought them again. I kept repeating that over and over again.

——— Did you often move?

TOBI Rampo relocated lot, and I also moved more than 20 times including the time I lived in France. But it is something I don't mind doing. It's like becoming a new person, or I having the feeling I want a change. It's exciting to join a totally different community or go to a city where the people didn't know you before.

——— It's like changing the environment and resetting yourself once.

TOBI That's right. I was influenced by the manga of Yoshiharu Tsuge, the poetry of Hosai Ozaki, the novels of Edogawa Rampo, so I thought I would reset myself and go to the next place. But people don't change just from moving, so I sought the same things again, and six months later end up buying them.

——— You went to France on a working holiday, met MIYA, and formed Les Romanesques. Did you bring Rampo's books with you?

TOBI No, I sold all my books and belongings before I went to France, so I had nothing in Japanese except for the entire collection of Glass Mask that I thought I had thrown away, which was somehow sent to me via sea mail.

——— Your exposure to Rampo during your time in France was…

TOBI There is a cinema in the 10th arrondissement of Paris that constantly shows old Japanese films, and I used to go there often. Japanese people living over there are starved for the Japanese language. That is when I watched Beast in the Shadows. The amazingly beautiful version with Yoshiko Kayama playing Shizuko Oyamada.

——— The director is Tai Kato. It was made by Shochiku in 1977. It starred Teruhiko Aoi.

TOBI Yes, that's right. There are many films based on Rampo's works, but I personally like The Beast in the Shadows the best. I felt that what Rampo wanted to do was also coming to terms with it as a popular film in a good way.

——— Rampo's works are partly plain and popular and targeted at the general public. Yet when they are interpreted in films, there is a tendency to emphasize the erotic and grotesque aspects of his works.

TOBI Yes, I agree. It's a shame because it's the humor that you smile a little that makes Rampo so appealing. Later, when Inju: The Beast in the Shadow was made into a French-Japanese co-production (2008, directed by Barbet Schroeder), I was asked by a friend of mine who was doing the casting to audition for the role. I didn't get the part, however.

——— I see. So you were unexpectedly reunited with Rampo through film.

TOBI That's right. From then, I thought Rampo was interesting after all, so I started reading his books again. People who are going back to Japan leave paperback books behind. They say things like, “You can take any book you want.” Many people had Rampo's books, which made me feel nostalgic.

——— Why is Rampo popular in France?

TOBI I have an impression that there are many French people who like Rampo. The pronunciation is “RAMPO” (* “R” is a French fricative), so at first I didn't know who people were talking about (laughs). Rampo's work has also been translated in French, so think there is a high affinity with the French public.

——— Are there any other films based on Rampo's books that you like?

TOBI I am also fond of The Blind Beast (1969, Daiei) directed by Yasuzo Masumura. It was also a film that depicted aesthetics. Those two things jump out at me, or rather, leave a lasting impression. When Rampo's work is put to film, it tends to be erotic and grotesque, but that narrows the scope. That's not the only truly interesting thing about his books that should be picked up. I think those two films are successful as film adaptations in that they have just the right amount of humor.

Akechi’s interaction with criminals in The Black Lizard

——— In 2010, Akihiro Miwa Documentary: In Search of The Black Lizard (Miwa: à la recherche du Lézard Noir) was broadcast in France. I heard that you were involved in that as well...

TOBI I wouldn't go as far as to say involved (laughs). At the time, a friend of mine, a director named Pascal-Alex Vincent, asked me about making a documentary on Japan's postwar LGBT culture. When I told him about Akihiro Miwa, he became very intrigued.

——— So TOBI proposed the project.

TOBI No, no, not at all. He had always loved Japanese films and had seen many old and new ones. Before becoming a director, he even worked on the distribution and DVD release in France of past masterpieces by Yasujiro Ozu, Kenji Mizoguchi, Mikio Naruse, and others. His passion impressed Miwa, and he was able to include interviews of such amazing people as Tadanori Yokoo, Kinji Fukasaku,Takeshi Kitano , and Hayao Miyazaki.

——— I heard that The Black Lizard is also a favorite of yours.

TOBI Yes. I first saw the film starring Akihiro (Miwa) Maruyama (1968, Shochiku) on TV. Her looking back and saying, “A-ke-chi!” which was a shock to my child's mind. As an adult, I also saw the film at a theater in Shibuya on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of Rampo's birth. I felt that this was a film to make the world aware of Miwa's appeal with the splendid lineup of director Kinji Fukasaku and screenplay by Yukio Mishima.

——— What about the preceding film, The Black Lizard (1962, Daiei), starring Machiko Kyo?

TOBI I saw it in France. That was great too. However, even in Kyo's case, it still looks to me like a promotional video for someone who performs Black Lizard.

——— What do you feel are the differences between the film based on Yukio Mishima's adaptation and the original work?

TOBI They are totally different. I basically think that Akechi's cherry-picking behavior is unfair, so I read on with vague expectations that next time Akechi would suffer (laughs). It is interesting that The Black Lizard portrays Akechi as also resonating with criminals.

——— Like the climax, the kiss scene when Black Lizard dies.

TOBI Yes! I thought, “Going that far!” I was anti-Akechi as a child, but after reading The Black Lizard, I realized that Akechi is also an outcast from society.

——— Maybe that's what makes The Black Lizard unique.

TOBI That could be. Thanks to The Black Lizard I could see that Akechi was also a troubled man. He also had to live as he is. He's not emotionally involved with the criminals, but he's not putting himself on the side of the police or the public either. I think the awareness that he is not from that side of society was born from his encounter with Black Lizard. Naturally, the film is interesting in its own right, but I personally think it would have been more interesting if the eccentricity of Black Lizard had been picked up, with the story depicting Akechi as a detective who feels sympathy for the criminal Black Lizard and communicates with her, as in the original story.

——— In terms of empathy for criminals, you compiled various experiences you encountered in your book Hidoi Me (Bitter Experiences). Before coming to France, you also had an experience that was very similar to that depicted in Rampo's Watcher in the Attic.

TOBI That's right! Someone lived in the loft of my empty apartment, not the attic, for 22 days (laughs). Yes, that is indeed also very Rampo-esque.

——— It is as if the world of Rampo has entered into everyday life.

TOBI That may be so. That's why I didn't notice him (laughs).

——— That's right.

TOBI That person is also... When you refer to a criminal as “that person,” you are already standing on the criminal's side (laughs). I feel like we were buddies in a shared house. My apartment is a memorable for being the first place entered by a thief who stole 400 million yen from an upscale residential neighborhood.

——— It was a good start.

TOBI If I had failed there, I would have given up already. It's like I was living together with The Fiend with Twenty Faces, isn't it?

——— During the day when you were at work, he relaxed in your room and went to work from your house at night...

TOBI So maybe The Fiend with Twenty Faces also had a patron who supported him behind the scenes.

——— Otherwise, he would not have been able to get by.

TOBI Someone who is emotionally invested in The Fiend with Twenty Faces' side. That may possibly be Rampo himself (laughs).

Former Edogawa Rampo Residence Parlor / September 14, 2022
Video and editing: Yuichiro Yoshida (Rikkyo University Media Center)
Photos: Nozomu Suenaga
Interview and text: Ryuki Goto (Assistant Professor, Edogawa Rampo Memorial Center for Popular Culture Studies, Rikkyo University)

*The content of this article was correct when the interview took place and may not reflect the latest information.


Les Romanesques TOBI

In 2000, he formed the music unit “Les Romanesques” with MIYA in Paris, France. He has performed in more than 50 cities in 12 countries around the world, and returned to Japan to perform at the Fuji Rock Festival 2011. In 2013, he was selected as a main cast member of NHK Educational TV (ETV)'sOtsuta-to-Denjiro, and has energetically released singles and albums. Recently, he has appeared in Kamen Rider Saber and the musical West Side Story, provided music for NHK's Okaasan to Issho, and published the book Les Romanesques TOBI no Hidoi Me and the autobiographical novel The Turkey: Mountain, Father, Son, Mountain.


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