This is part 7 of Wild MOTHER Party – a round table discussion on the MOTHER/EarthBound series of video games with series creator Shigesato Itoi, musician Maximum the Ryokun (of Maximum the Hormone) and Kenny Omega.
You’ll probably want to start with Part 1 if you’re just joining in.
Ryokun: Kenny, when you’re wrestling, which do you consider more important – your own performance, or the audience’s response?
Omega: My thinking about this has changed a bit lately. At first, I was only focused on my own performance and the reactions I got from the live audience.
But social media and video streaming are a huge part of wrestling these days. The audience isn’t limited to the people sitting in the stands anymore; it’s spread out all over the world. I’ve been trying to take the fans watching from afar more into account.
Ryokun: Ahh, I see.
Omega: So now, there may be some parts of my big matches that aren’t readily apparent to the people who’re physically there in the arena. Sometimes you have to make that sacrifice to make things more enjoyable for people tuning in from elsewhere. It can be tough to strike the right balance between those two audiences, but I’ve come around to recognizing that appealing specifically to the audience at home is important, too.
That’s because I want to help grow NJPW into more of a worldwide brand. We’ve got to keep that goal firmly in mind. Everyone in the promotion is working hard towards that, and I think we’ve been steadily leveling up.
Itoi: What you’re talking about now is teamwork.
Omega: Right, teamwork. Up until now, each different wrestling promotion filled its own stylistic niche. Today, all those styles come together in New Japan. Lucha libre, strong style, my own personal style, they’re all there. New Japan brings all these styles together, and the result is some truly spectacular wrestling. If it were any less, we wouldn’t have the international fanbase that we have. It’s vital for us to keep showing off that mix of styles.
Itoi: If you don’t have a clear picture of what it is you want to preserve in your art, and what you enjoy about it, you lose sight of what you’re doing and make something wishy-washy. Bands deal with the same problem. Though when you’re in a band, you have more free reign to do whatever you like, so keeping focus like that might end up even harder.
Ryokun: Right now I’m in a position where I can devote half my attention to the band itself, but the other half goes to the hidden business side of things.
Itoi: That does seem to happen.
Ryokun: Don’t get me wrong, I still give it 100% on stage. The last thing I want any fan to think is, “Huh, Ryokun’s half-assing it today.” I mean, that’s just professionalism.
But beyond that, I’m not the type to devote everything to work. When I’m going off to do a show, my wife tells my kid, “Oh, Dad’s going to work, say goodbye,” and I’m like, “C’mon, I am not going to work!“
Itoi: You just reminded me, I have two friends about my age who’re musicians. One of them is [singer] Kiyoshi Maekawa.
Maekawa’s take on the business is totally different from yours, Ryokun. He thinks of everything as his job. He doesn’t even particularly like singing, apparently – he says he wants to sing as little as possible. But he gives singing everything he’s got, even when he doesn’t want to, because it’s his job. And he’s really, really good at it.
Itoi: My other musician friend is Eikichi Yazawa. He still watches footage of his own concerts, and tells himself, “Oh, Yazawa, you’ve done it again!” He listens to the songs he wrote when he was much younger and thinks, “Ahh, this song’s great.” And that’s his honest opinion. He’s truly in love with his own songs.
Ryokun: Your friends are polar opposites!
Itoi: Yep! They’ve had their own difficulties, but they’ve both clearly come a long way, along different paths, to get where they are today. So when I see the two of them, I think there might be something nice about still being partway along on your journey.
As for myself, I’m like you, I’m also not the type to push myself too hard for work. But when I have a task where there isn’t any leeway for something to go wrong, I have to at least approach it with the general sense that I’m “working,” or else something might slip. Especially when I’m part of a team, it’s not just my fellow team members depending on me, but their families, too. I have to assume that accountability.
But on the other hand, it’s also all meaningless if I end up losing sight of my own individuality.
Ryokun: Yeah, I think I get it. Right now, ticket sales aren’t the only thing bringing money in at Maximum the Hormone shows. We also make and sell merch. All the merch we make usually sells out pretty quickly. Of course, we’re real thankful for that, but on the other hand, I can’t help thinking, “hey, we’re a band, not a clothing store!”
Ryokun: Ultimately merch is just souvenirs for people to bring home from shows, so it feels kind of lame for a rock band to take it too seriously.
When people tell us, “You could sell a ton of this stuff if you made more of it,” I have to refuse. I think if we focused hard on merch and made most of our money there, that’d be the beginning of the end, where we’d start caring too much about the money.
Itoi: I can agree with you there. If you get too caught up in counting your money, you start thinking of that as your main thing, and get very serious about it. Personally, I don’t think that’s where I should be putting my talents. I never really paid much mind to how much money I was pulling in to begin with, but once I was part of a team, I knew for sure I didn’t have to make it my thing.
To go back to Yazawa, he moves a lot of merch. He’s sold hundreds of millions of yen worth of towels alone. And that’s why he has his own studio, to handle that sort of thing.
If the main reason you don’t want to make more merch is because you’d rather focus on your next creation, I completely understand that. But if it’s a matter of just not wanting merch to be your job, you should try leaving, say, T-shirts up to someone else, just once. There I go, though, giving you more unsolicited advice.
Ryokun: Hmmm, I see…
Itoi: I know I sound like I’m trying to be an authority here, but I didn’t even start thinking of doing things in a team like that until I’d gotten pretty old. In some way, I enjoyed deciding on everything by myself. I think there’s a time in all our lives where we’re proud to be considered a little foolish and risky.
But there comes a time when you realize that, if you’re too much of a daredevil, it’s not just your own livelihood that you’re gambling with, but other people’s as well. And of course, that’s no good. After I realized that, my goals began to change, little by little. And along with that, my mentality started to transform, little by little, too.