Ken Noguchi, Hide, Ichiro… How do writers deal with “superhumans”?
Author Shigemi Komatsu has portrayed Hidetoshi Nakata, Ichiro, YOSHIKI, and Ayumi Hamasaki, among others, who have gone on to become household names in their respective fields. Motoki Kobayashi, author of “Sayonara, Ken Noguchi,” nominated for the “2022 Yahoo! News Bookstore Award for Best Nonfiction Book. How have these two writers dealt with “superhumans”? We present the first part of the story.
Eighteen Years with Ken Noguchi
Kobayashi: Nice to meet you. I was very moved by the review you wrote in the Tokyo Shimbun, and I was very eager to meet you. I was surprised to see that the works mentioned at the beginning of the review were Shintaro Ishihara’s “Season of the Sun,” W. Burroughs’ “Naked Lunch,” and Kenta Nishimura’s “Gyakuyaku Ressha” (Trains of toil).
Komatsu: In both fiction and nonfiction, there are works that not only move you emotionally, but also leave you with a physical pain. In that sense, “Goodbye, Ken Noguchi” ranks up there with the previous three works in my opinion.
I myself have written nonfiction books about the lives of many people, and when I interview and write a book, I am not only describing their happiness and joy, but also the opposite, their frustration and despair. The subject of the book has to be prepared to expose his/her life and the pain he/she is going through.
What struck me most when I read Mr. Kobayashi’s “Sayonara, Ken Noguchi” was the grace with which he portrays the shadow side of life. Without any hesitation at all, he completely exposes and describes not only Ken Noguchi, but also the author himself, including his foolishness and shameful parts. That is what drew me in so strongly.
Kobayashi: I have known Mr. Noguchi for 18 years, during which time I have repeatedly joined and left his office three times and served as his manager for 10 years. When writing the book, Mr. Noguchi told me, “You can write whatever you like,” but since the theme of the book is the relationship between the two of us, I felt that I would have to expose myself if I wanted to fully depict the relationship, and I felt that this would be a disservice to Mr. Noguchi, who is the one being written about.
I had wanted to be a writer since I was a student, but no matter how many times I wrote, it never took shape. I was still unable to give up, I was hospitalized for depression, and my family was on the verge of collapse due to financial difficulties. When I was writing these episodes, I felt as if I was reliving them, which was scary and certainly “painful.
Komatsu: Human folly and shame can become literature if written to the fullest, and as I looked at each of these episodes, I was thinking that Mr. Kobayashi must have been hurt and saw the blood that flowed as he wrote. I think that is why I shared the “physical pain” as I read through the book, as I wrote in my review. I thought this work could only have been written by someone who felt the “pain” of the wounds he had suffered physically and mentally. I wondered how you made it all the way to the end. I was moved by that.
Why did you write “Go Home, Mushikere”?
Thank you very much, Kobayashi. I feel that this “pain” is also a common theme in Komatsu’s works. In his debut novel, a biography of Astrit K., the first female photographer to photograph the Beatles, his nonfiction works on Hidetoshi Nakata, Ichiro, and YOSHIKI, and his latest novel, a first-person portrait of Ayu Hamasaki, one can read not only the superstars as they are in their own right, but also the “pain” they are in, and it really gets to you. I was deeply moved by the “pain” of these superstars as well as their life-size images.
For example, in “Hidetoshi Nakata: Heartbeat,” there is a scene in which Mr. Nakata says, “Go home, you insects,” during a conflict with the media. I felt that not only Mr. Nakata, the writer, but also Mr. Komatsu, the writer, must be prepared to take on a certain kind of “pain” as well.
Komatsu: When I was there and witnessed the whole scene, I asked myself many times whether it was really right to write about it, whether it was right to cut out that moment when a 21-year-old young man was in a rage and leave it in a “book” that will remain forever.
Nakata had just moved to Italy and had a whole life ahead of him, both as a player and as a human being, and I wondered if I would hurt him for the rest of his life by writing a single word of anger.
But then one day I suddenly thought, “If I cannot write this, then I will stop facing Hidetoshi Nakata as a writer. I wondered whether or not I would be a writer who would be allowed to write about the facts of the moment, about the heart-pounding scenes. With that in mind, I chose the former. Whether or not to write that scene was a major turning point, and looking back on it now, I feel that it was a touchstone for me.
The “one point of correction” that came from Hide
Kobayashi: Did Mr. Nakata see the manuscript before publication?
Komatsu Yes. However, Mr. Nakata made only one correction. It was a typo in the kanji characters of a certain player’s name (laughs). (Laughs.) He read the rest of the manuscript as it was and accepted it. What did you think? When I asked him, he said, “I thought there were two of me, because it was portrayed as it was in my heart. He was a great soccer player, of course, but I really respected his “readiness to write. It made me think that I will continue to write about people who are prepared to write about themselves with determination.
Kobayashi By the way, why did Mr. Nakata offer to write for Mr. Komatsu? Perhaps if you were such a big star, there were many people who wanted to write about you even then, as there probably are today, right?
Komatsu That was a nostalgic episode. I was a soccer fan who loved the game and had been attending the Japan League since elementary school. I have admired the play of many star players, and when I saw Nakata-san play at the World Youth League when he was 17 years old, I had a gut feeling that he would change soccer in Japan.
From that time on, Nakata was a player with a distinctive personality. He played soccer in a way that was uniquely Japanese. However, when I brought Nakata-san’s interview project to a publishing company, it did not go through. They all said, “Such a cocky and selfish player will be gone soon. He has no future as a player who does not respect the team and plays individually.
This was true even after he was selected for the national team. When I asked them if they wanted to write a nonfiction book about Nakata-san, they turned me down across the board. I often had dinner with Mr. Nakata, who played for Bellmare Hiratsuka, at Denny’s in Hiratsuka. He taught me about soccer tactics, and each time he would also tell me, “I will definitely write a book about Hide. I will definitely write a book about Hide. Mr. Nakata also told me, “I will try my best to become a player who will be written about in the book. This event made me realize how important it is for a writer to have trust with the people who are the subject of the book.
(Continued in Part 2)
Composition & Speaker： Motoki Kobayashi
Born in Yamanashi Prefecture in 1978. His book "Sayonara, Ken Noguchi" (Shueisha International), about mountain climber Ken Noguchi after 10 years as his manager, was nominated as a finalist for the "Ken Kaiko Nonfiction Award.
Speaker： Narumi Komatsu
Born in Kanagawa Prefecture in 1962. After working for an advertising agency, began writing in 1989. Author of many books, including "Hidetoshi Nakata: Kodo" (Gentosha), "YOSHIKI/Yoshiki" (Kadokawa Shoten), and "M: Someone to Love" (Gentosha).