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Hiroshi Kawani

Kawani (centre) playing with Buffles in 2002.(Hiroshi Kawani & Buffles)
Underground legend, performance artist, political activist, editor and instigator of Japanese translations of French books by Artaud, Bataille, Nijinsky, Klossowski, Derrida and Fournier, all round pain-in-the-ass, Hiroshi Kawani was all of these things and a junkie, too. He appeared in several different roles throughout the late 1950s, and then on down the whole of the ‘60s, manifesting at ‘actions’ and other happenings by such radical groups as Hi-Red Center. Kawani set up the Bigakko Art Academy in 1969, and performed with Group Ongaku founder Takehisa Kosugi in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. And yet Kawani’s actual recorded legacy appears to be nothing more than one late CD-R album and the sole PSF Records retrospective of several years back. Put together by longtime devotee and sax player Masayoshi Urabe, the FLASHBACK retrospective mainly features recordings of his daily ablutions, gargling, snot exhalation, and vocal warm ups… perhaps a neat summation of the man after all. Born in Tokyo’s Shinjuku centre in June 1933, Hiroshi Kawani graduated in French at the prestigious Keio University, and became involved with the underground scene, starting the action group Tokyon Kodo Sensen (Tokyo Activist Front), and also helping in the running of Jintsu Gakko (Independent School) and Taisho Kodotai (Taisho Action Group). Kawani was a member of Hi-Red Center during their Yamanote Trainline Agitation event, and later led the support group when Hi-Red Center’s Genpei Akasegawa was sued for printing fake 1000 yen notes. In the mid-60s, Kawani took up a position as chief editor with publishers Gendaishichosha, facilitating many debut publications, including those of Hi-Red Center’s Genpei Akasegawa, and both Juro Kara and Akira Kasai. Kawani continued his activism throughout the 1980s, including a famous collaboration with Takehisa Kosugi, and a duo performnce in 1982 entitled MOUTHPIECE, with the young female Buto dancer Toshi Tanaka, twenty five years his junior. However, Kawani’is long-term heroin addiction slowed him down in the ‘90s and he was eventually confined to a wheelchair. Just before his death in 2003, Kawani was persuaded to record one last time with Shuichi Chino. A CD-R album entitled IKA-DOBUN was released from these sessions and, typically, still found Kawani playing anything from his pockets or his desk top, while Chino accompanied him on ‘household objects’. When Kawani died, a fraction of his ashes were scattered into various world rivers to signify his place as a ‘channeller of the arteries in the irrigation of the greater oceans’.

Julian Cope
  • IKA-DOBUN (CDR, 2002)

  • Kawani (centre) playing with Buffles in 2002.
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