Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Featured article - Cyril Takayama

This is a featured article that appeared in Metropolis issue #648 (Aug 25, 2006) on the Wonder Boy - Cyril Takayama

Wonder boy

From a troubled youth in Los Angeles to sold-out arenas in Japan, Cyril is enjoying a magical ride.


It seems entirely fitting that Japan’s most popular magician shows up for our interview in disguise. Just moments earlier, Cyril’s manager had assured us he was on his way, but as we look up and down the busy Harajuku street corner, the performer is nowhere in sight. And then, suddenly, he’s right there in front of us, wearing a black cap and sunglasses and offering his hand in greeting. Cyril has appeared just as he should—as if by magic.

During the next hour, over coffee and cigarettes in a trendy neighborhood café, the man who single-handedly sparked Japan’s love affair with magic talks about his rise to fame and his upcoming shows in Tokyo. Poised, articulate and almost painfully courteous, Cyril discusses his craft the way a 6-year-old talks about dessert—as if it’s the only important thing in the world. And listening to him describe magic’s ability to inspire people and bring them together, we get the feeling that he may be right.

Cyril has captured the imagination of audiences—and the hearts of female admirers—with TV specials and live shows both here and in the US. Fluent in Japanese and blessed with an idol’s good looks, the magician combines a stylish demeanor with a hint of the exotic. But it’s his jaw-dropping illusions, performed everywhere from street corners to auditoriums to bowling alleys, that have caused audiences around the world to slap their foreheads in amazement. Some of his notable acts include:

The card in the window
Cyril performs his signature piece of magic in a variety of settings, even on glass-bottomed boats: a spectator selects a playing card and signs it, and after Cyril flicks the entire deck at a window, the chosen card is left by itself stuck on the glass—the outside of the glass.

Hamburger-menu grab
Cyril stands before a fast-food menu trying to figure out what to order, and then decides to sample the wares. He does this by reaching into the menu… and pulling out an actual burger. The trick is completed when he restores the sandwich—missing the bite he’s just taken—to its 2-dimensional backdrop.

Samurai bungee jump
Perhaps Cyril’s most dramatic act took place high above the Las Vegas skyline. From a perch 52m above a hotel pool, Cyril bungee jumps with a sword in hand and spears his co-host's chosen card from a full deck floating in the water.

Sero-jisan
As Cyril’s fame grew, he noticed that bashful Japanese were becoming intimidated when he passed them on the street. His solution? To go undercover. Disguised as the character Sero-jisan (or “Old Man Sero,” a pun on the performer’s Japanese name), Cyril blends into the crowd, only to astound them with bizarre physical tricks. In one memorable episode, Sero-jisan sneezes—and, much to the horror of passersby, his head falls off his shoulders.

With a repertoire that includes sleight of hand, acrobatics and disguises, and with his ability to work street corners, arenas—even, as in a recent TV special, rural Nepal—Cyril is one of magic’s more versatile acts. Yet he strives for a common touch. “I like to stimulate people’s minds using the things they’re already knowledgeable about,” he says of his preference for tricks that involve gum, food and money. To emphasize the point, Cyril takes a coin from his pocket and makes it disappear with the nonchalance of someone turning on a light switch.

Recently, though, he’s turned away from the “gotcha” aspect of manipulation tricks in favor of more theatrical work. This is partly due to the fatigue of creating dozens of pieces of street magic to fill nine lengthy TV specials over the past three years. Arena shows mesh well with Cyril’s preference for illusions that have a narrative arc, a recognizable beginning, middle and end. “I no longer want to trick people,” he says. “I want to make them wonder.”

As Cyril’s magic has matured, so, too, has the magician himself. Born in 1973 in Los Angeles to an Okinawan father and a French-Moroccan mother—both of whom were beauticians—Cyril Takayama had an eventful yet troubled upbringing. A recent profile in Magic (“The Magazine for Magicians”) describes him being expelled from school at 15 and then, on a visit to relatives in Okinawa the following year, how he got off the plane during a stopover in Tokyo and never got back on. Cyril wound up busking on the streets of Shinjuku, and at times had so little money that he could afford just one meal a day.

Luckily, he was able to fall back on one constant in his young life: magic. Cyril first became hooked on illusionism at age 6, when friends of his parents brought him to a live performance in Las Vegas. He then largely taught himself, honing his skills through constant practice and by watching famous performers on videotape. At 12, he entered the junior program at the prestigious Magic Castle in Hollywood, and his enthusiasm persisted even after his parents, concerned about behavioral problems, took away his props. “I was shattered and stopped for about six months,” he told Metropolis in a 2004 interview. “But the magic in me was so strong that I came back to it.”

After lean times as a Tokyo street performer, Cyril's dedication began to pay off. In 1991, he was awarded a top prize by magic's international governing body, the International Federation of Magic Societies, and in 2001, he and a partner won the Golden Lion Award at Siegfried and Roy’s World Magic Seminar in Las Vegas.

Cyril’s career has been helped by a surge of interest in magic during the past decade, especially in the US. The boom can be traced, perhaps, to the avant-garde stunts of David Blaine, to whom Cyril is sometimes compared, and the TV show Magic’s Secrets Revealed, in which a hooded performer demonstrates the tricks behind well-known illusions. Though the program was widely derided by magicians, Cyril has a more nuanced take. “It did two things,” he says. “One, it hurt magicians—or I should say, it hurt average magicians. Two, it raised magic’s profile.” Secrets became so popular that other networks scrambled to produce their own versions, and Cyril looked on in dismay as magicians rushed to cash in. “Magic was a well-protected art form for centuries,” he says, “but now it’s all about the money. It pisses me off.”

Overall, though, Cyril is heartened by magic’s newfound openness. “When I was a child, I couldn’t find info about magic, and the info that was out there was boring. There were no sources, and magic wasn’t accessible.” Now, he says, DIY magic kits abound in department stores, there are performances all over TV, and anyone with an internet connection has access to virtually unlimited resources about the topic.

Cyril, for one, has embraced the new media, and has even been dubbed “Magic’s First Cyber-Celebrity.” When asked to provide some clips of his performances, he refers us to YouTube, where a search turns up hundreds of videos of the magician in action. Cyril’s Wikipedia entry provides a link to his MySpace page, and readers can keep up with his comings and goings via his blog. And then there’s his look. Sporting a spiky hairdo and multiple body piercings, Cyril is definitely not your father’s magician.


The same could be said of his friends in Magic X Live, a US-based group of 10 “modern-day Merlins” who practice a guerilla brand of illusionism. “The ‘X’ stands for generation X. We’re a bunch of sorcerers and magicians,” Cyril says of the group, which includes good friend Enrico de la Vega, who helped Cyril develop acts for his Japanese TV shows. “We’re all busy performing around the world, but when we get together, we jam, just like musicians.”

Considering Cyril’s success in Japan, it comes as a surprise to learn that his upcoming shows at the spacious Tokyo International Forum (see sidebar) will be the first in front of a ticket-buying audience here. Following a previous tour that included stops in Aichi and Nagoya, “Magic Revolution: The Xperience” promises to reprise Cyril’s well-loved TV acts while offering considerable new material, including pieces set to music. “There will be a side of me that no one’s seen before,” he says.

One thing that fans may not be able to enjoy is Cyril’s post-performance tradition of accepting gifts from the audience; the ritual is becoming too popular and has created logistical problems for the venues. “There was one woman recently who gave me a hug—and wouldn’t let go. We had to pry her off of me,” he says with a laugh. Yet as he reminisces about presents he’s received from fans, which have included everything from flowers to cup ramen to a single piece of umeboshi candy from a little boy, it’s clear that he relishes close contact with his audiences. The talon-like silver charm he’s wearing around his neck, in fact, is a gift from an admirer.

When asked what causes such an outpouring of affection from his fans, Cyril has a ready answer. “Magic creates an energy, a bond and a relationship between people,” he says. “You don’t even need to speak the same language. Some people approach me and ask, ‘Can I do magic?’ I always tell them, ‘Of course you can—magic is in all of us.’”

1 comment:

jayesh said...

nice article.
cyril inspires me a lot.

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