TOPArt & CultureMazekoze Island Tour: An invitation to face, celebrate and question Japan’s diversity

Mazekoze Island Tour: An invitation to face, celebrate and question Japan’s diversity

Layer after layer, as the show unveils, its message to Japan emerges in clarity

By Ally Hongo

“I don’t expect our society to change because of the show, but if viewers start questioning a thing or two after watching; if they begin feeling uneasy (with the status quo), I think we have achieved our mission.” 

Japanese actress and philanthropist Chizuru Azuma opened the floor to the press preview of “Mazekoze Island Tour” on August 16, preparing the audience for an unprecedented event that she referred to as the “culmination” of her activism career to promote a “mazekoze” society — a mishmash of celebrated differences.

Chizuru Azuma
Chizuru Azuma (right), with “Japan’s shortest magician,” Mame Yamada (left) and actress and model Hitomi Goto (second from left). ©Tokyo 2020

What is Mazekoze Island Tour?

Serving as one of the leading features of Tokyo 2020 Nippon Festival, Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games’ official cultural program, Mazekoze Island Tour is a 90-minute mind-spinning show (directed and organized by Azuma) that takes viewers on a journey through Japan’s largely unknown diversity in entertainment. As scenes unveil one after another, it becomes evident that the show has a clear message in place: talent is not bound to gender, physical disabilities, nationality, race or sexual orientation. 

The virtual tour, guided by Durian Lollobrigida, one of Japan’s best-known drag queens, travels through nine fictitious “islands,” each showcasing a diverse spectrum of Japan’s art and music industry representatives. Among them are multicultural artists, wheelchair dancers, queer artists and performers, a rapper with autism, Japan’s shortest magician, and a blind singer-songwriter who winds up the show with a performance of The Greatest Showman’s hit “This Is Me.” 

mazekoze island tour
Blind singer-songwriter Hirari Sato (left) and Yano Brothers, a Ghanaian-Japanese intercultural musician trio. ©Tokyo 2020

The Performers

Each of the islands is a culmination of mazekoze on its own, with often a clash of colors, sounds, costumes and emotions taking place all at once. The tour’s first stop is the “Golden Island,” where Down syndrome artist Shoko Kanazawa opens the show with a calligraphy performance accompanied by a same-sex couple and dance duo Sanika&Minori, performing in the backdrop of taiko drumming and sax playing.

mazekoze Shoko kanazawa
Calligrapher Shoko Kanazawa. ©Tokyo 2020

The show continues with visits to other unique locations, including the “Island of the Different,” where viewers meet Kazuyo Morita, a Japanese dancer born with spina bifida and scoliosis and has a prosthetic leg, and then to “Muses’ Island,” a virtual museum presented by fashion photographer and LGBTQ activist Leslie Kee.

Dancer Kazuyo Morita. ©Tokyo 2020
Dancer Kazuyo Morita. ©Tokyo 2020

Other notable performances take place at the “Rainbow Island,” where artists sing for equality for sexual and gender minorities with a performance purposely titled “Docchi?” (Which one?), a question members of the LGBTQ community continue to face. The performers end their part with the rhetorical question in return — “Are you still asking this?”

Rapper Gomess and dancer Kenta Kambara. ©Tokyo 2020

Rapper Gomess and dancer Kenta Kambara. ©Tokyo 2020

Meanwhile, at the “Island of Superhumans,” a collaborative performance takes place between rapper Gomess, who steals the show with a song describing his story of discovering and living with autism, and wheelchair dancer Kenta Kambara, while at the “Love Island,” families of all backgrounds come together for a visual manifestation of love in all forms under the sounds of Ayaka Hirahara’s famous “Jupiter.”

Durian Lollobrigida and Ayaka Hirahara
Durian Lollobrigida (left) and singer-songwriter Ayaka Hirahara. ©Tokyo 2020

‘It was a rollercoaster’

The show culminates back at the Golden Island with a matsuri joined by all 150 performers, dancing to Misora Hibari’s “Omatsuri Mambo,” performed by Hirahara and Lollobrigida. An extravaganza that keeps viewers glued to the screen (at times, desperately trying to figure it all out), to many, Mazekoze Island Tour will appear as a show that raises more questions than it solves.

Just as the majority of its featured performers, who have come where they are after overcoming series of hurdles, the show — the planning of which started last November — came together amid a series of scandals involving the Tokyo 2020 Games, many of which included, ironically, Japan’s persistent ignorance toward inclusion and denial to embrace diversity. 

“It was a rollercoaster, and at times, I wondered if we would make it in the end,” Azuma said at a press conference after the viewing. “There were many occasions when I wanted to leave it all behind. But I kept going for two main reasons — one, believing that a show like this would bring more work to the featured artists and performers. And second, and most important of all, because I think that if people start asking questions about where we stand now, the heavy door of Japan’s diversity will gradually begin to open.”

Two days before the kick-off of the Tokyo Paralympic Games, the Mazekoze Island Tour will be streamed for free on Sunday, August 22, at 4pm JST on Tokyo 2020 Nippon Festival’s official YouTube channel as well as on the Line app. English subtitles available.

Feature image: ©Tokyo 2020