One of the greatest gifts in my life is having the opportunity to meet with extraordinary people. My love for magic and mentalism eventually lead me into the industry, and my love for marketing, causing waves, and writing eventually lead me to become the editor and publisher of Street Magic Magazine and then subsequently, Magician Magazine.
Our premiere issue featured the incredibly talented magician Cyril Takayama on the cover and an in-depth one-on-one interview with the man himself from his home in Tokyo, Japan. Here’s the original text to that interview, but if you want to read the real thing then download the PDF I’m including here from the magazine itself.
Full Interview Text With Cyril Takayama
By James L. Clark, MBA
James: Thanks for taking the time to meet with me and share your life with our readers.
CYRIL: I am sorry I couldn’t get to it sooner; I am very busy. Thank you for understanding and being patient with me.
James: It’s my pleasure Cyril; I’m glad to have the opportunity and I don’t want to take anymore of your time than necessary, so let’s just jump right in if that’s okay.
James: Like a lot of us, you were very young when you became interested in magic; six I believe. When did you first know that magic was what you wanted to do with your life?
CYRIL: As a child, I was completely mesmerized by magic! Back then I didn’t see magic as being about tricks or trying to figure out how it was done, for me, it was real magic… To this day, I still remember trying to make random objects move or float in my room. I also remember concentrating really hard to make random objects transform and to morph into doves. Of course, none of my imaginary childhood spells worked! I think I was about ten years old when I figured out that it wasn’t real; I was devastated like when a child first finds out that Santa isn’t real. I saw magic in a new way and not long after I started to just absorb as much knowledge as I could. I started off by showing friends and family things; it was a hobby that I loved. For me magic was something special that none of my friends in school had.
James: How did your parents feel about you doing magic?
CYRIL: They just thought of it as a hobby. They didn’t have a background in entertainment or anything.
James: I heard that the Magic Castle turned you down when you were about twelve? How did that impact your desire to be more successful? Obviously, you didn’t give up because you were accepted around six months later, right?
CYRIL: Yes. Back when I was a kid, finding resources of magic effects and tricks was difficult. It wasn’t like it is now. Magic was a well-kept secret to the public and for a child or adult wanting to learn how to do magic, resources were limited. For this reason, being part of the Magic Castle program meant a lot to me at the time. I did a matrix routine with Hershey Kisses with a big kiss coming out at the end. They turned me down flat.
James: That must have been tough.
CYRIL: Yes, it was. I was hungry for knowledge and so when I was turned down, my world was shattered. But I come from a background where my father was very hard on me; he is old school Japanese. He never complimented me and nothing ever impressed him. Being turned down at the Magic Castle was something that I was sort of already acclimated to. But it didn’t stop me. I loved magic too much to let a bunch of people I didn’t even know of at the time to tell me that I was not good enough to be part of the Jr. Program. I just kept at it and came back with a new stage routine which I involved cards, silks, and doves, and that time they accepted me.
James: Tell us a little more about that.
CYRIL: I was first introduced to magic seeing a stage magician. At the time there were mostly close up magicians at the Castle. So I was seeking people who were interested in the art of magic the way that I perceived it. Unfortunately, there were only three other stage magicians including myself. But of course I was hungry for knowledge and was accepting anything that came my way. I learned a lot being there. It was some of the best times of my life. It was a great program and I loved every minute of it until I got sent to Japan.
James: Before we talk about you getting sent to Japan, what led up to that? What kind of problems did you have when you were in high school? I know you were suspended and even began cutting school. Why did you do that? What do you think caused those problems?
CYRIL: I’m not too keen on speaking about my childhood. I don’t share much about it publicly. I was troubled. I disobeyed my parents and went through some pretty bad times. I cut school, began getting in trouble. My home life was hard. My father is first generation Japanese and my mother is French and I was born in Los Angeles. They divorced when I was young. They fought all the time and talked bad about each other and I had to go through that. In my opinion, they were not ready to raise a child.
James: I know how difficult that can be. My mother has struggled with addictions my entire life. We grew up very poor, on welfare, and I didn’t even meet my father until I was twelve. When I did meet him he wanted to change everything about me and he and my mother never really got along; like you, I was caught in the middle.
CYRIL: Exactly. I was going to Japanese school in Japan and then Catholic School in America, raised as a Buddhist while attending my mother’s side at Jewish holidays, commuting between
Japan and America, and having parents going through three marriages. Both of my parents were having tough times and as a troubled child, I ditched for like two quarters, and I got sent to dummy school. I used magic as an escape instead of turning to drugs or whatever.
James: The more magicians I get to know personally, the more I begin to find that our art isn’t the only thing that many of us seem to have in common. Magic often was what helped keep us sane.
CYRIL: Yes. I had a lot of hateful feeling for my parents and life when I was a child, but now as an adult, I know that they love me; as a child that was something I didn’t understand. Back then I hated and I had a lot of negative feelings in my life, but that has turned around now… and even to this day, though my father still doesn’t compliment me or acknowledge my achievements, I know he cares; it’s sad but it is just the way he is. My father’s never said “I love” you to me. They just aren’t emotional or expressive about it.
James: I am glad you were able to reconcile those feelings and learn to understand what was going on. It isn’t healthy to harbor resentment, pain, and hate. Good for you. Thanks for sharing that; I know a lot of our readers will relate to what you’ve just shared. And I appreciate you giving us a more intimate picture into your life.
CYRIL: I just didn’t want to sound as if I was bagging on my parents, because I’m not.
James: I didn’t take it that way at all; I think you are being honest and respectful. So, was it around this time that they sent you over?
CYRIL: Yes. Aside from the problems, my parents also wanted me to get my citizenship and you have to live in Japan to do that. And since I was getting in trouble they sent me to my grandmother who lives in Okinawa with about $2000. When I got to Japan, I just left out on my own.
Cyril gets a phone call on his cell phone…
CYRIL: Mushi Mushi. Hi hi. Domo. Okay. (Hangs up). Sorry.
James: Not at all. That was interesting. I have watched your specials and, of course they are all in Japanese, so it is fun to see you switch between Japanese and English so easily.
CYRIL: (Laughs). So, where were we? Umm… so I was sent to Japan to get my citizenship. I was supposed to go stay with my grandmother in Okinawa, but when I got to the airport in Tokyo, I just took the $2000 my parents had given me and stayed there. I never went to my grandmother’s.
James: I bet that didn’t go over very well.
CYRIL: No, it didn’t. It seems like it would be a lot of money, but it isn’t—especially in Japan. It ran out very quickly and I ended up on the streets having to busk for money just so I could eat. My parents were not financially well off so I ended up going to clubs and seeking out the night life at the age of 16 and working for tips. It was very, very hard. I offered to entertain for free in exchange to keep any tips I made, so people didn’t think I worked at the establishments I went to.
James: How long did the $2000 last when you got there?
CYRIL: A few weeks! I did the only thing I knew what to do after that to survive—magic. I went into clubs and bars and it lead to tips. It soon became a regular thing for me.
James: Where did you stay?
CYRIL: At first I stayed with one of my father’s acquaintances. But soon I was sleeping on the couches of friends I would make over night. At the time I was kind of digging being a young adult and not having parents tell me what to do—just living life the way I wanted to live, and busking for money. I would take the train in and mostly busk around high-class places where the mafia would frequent.
CYRIL: Yes. Let’s put it this way, in Japan the Yakuza never tip less than $100. When they tip they tip. It is part of the image. But if you’re no good, you don’t get anything. The best tippers were the mafia, they had tons of cash to spend, and they loved showing it off to the people they were with. At times, and it was rare, but I would get up to $1000 tip. But about a year later somebody introduced me to a wealthy gentleman, a businessman, who ended up taking me under his wing and gave me a three-year contract to work for him. He ended up housing me with a small apartment and giving me a monthly wage and in return I entertained at one of the hotels he owned. I was doing wedding parties, small events, and that kind of thing.
James: Just out of curiosity, what is the legal age of an adult in Japan?
CYRIL: You are allowed to drink at twenty years of age, so I think twenty would be the number.
James: Okay, what about military service? As you know, here in the US you can join the service at 17 with a parent’s signature like I did, but most people join at 18. Yet, even though you can fight for your country, it is illegal to drink.
CYRIL: I really don’t know, but I think it is 18 years old here.
James: I guess my curiosity is that at 16 most people would consider you just a kid trying to be an adult, even if you are hanging around nightclubs. I mean, that gives you, like, four years of roaming around doing busking before you’d even be considered an adult. Did you find that to be a problem at all? I guess what I am asking is, how did you find that transition between being 15-16 years old on the street and seeking to make a legitimate career out of this?
CYRIL: Well, I had a puppy face when I was 16 and I was very young. Legally, you have to be over 20 years old to work in clubs in Japan. But I was able to get in and to purchase alcohol or cigarettes if I wanted to, even though it wasn’t the legal age—I was a bit of a bad boy (laughs). It didn’t stop me.
James: I wouldn’t take it that way. Personally, I don’t really drink and I’m not a smoker either, but each person must make those kinds of choices for themselves. So I didn’t take that in a negative way, I was just wondering how it all impacted you.
CYRIL: In a way, I was in heaven. I was in charge of my life for the first time and got to do what I wanted when I wanted. I was in heaven in the sense that I was being accepted into the adult world and wasn’t being treated like a kid—like how my parents saw me. In a way I felt powerful, but for the wrong reasons.
James: You know, many psychologists would say that the degree to which you feel in charge of your life is the degree in which you will feel happiness. In some respects, control can be equated with freedom—one of the things every human cherishes. So, it isn’t surprising that you’d go to clubs, smoke, or drink alcohol because these are things that most parents frown upon and want their kids to stay away from. You mentioned your relationship with Ito. You were pretty successful not long after your contract with Ito in those early years of your career—winning some pretty prestigious awards between 1991 and 1994, putting together great shows, and so on—but then walked away from all of it because you felt stifled; then you ended up broke and back on the streets busking? Why did you walk away from that life?
CYRIL: Yes, the sponsor that I told you about was Mr. Ito—a fantastic gentleman—who wanted to help me. He was the chairman of a foundation that owned a number of businesses. But he put me under the care of his colleges. Of course, they had no experience in the field of entertainment so they didn’t know how to handle my situation. That’s why I was put into a lot of wedding parties and asked to do magic in places that I was not very happy with. I felt very lucky at the time because I was starving and was hungry. Before I met Mr. Ito I had spent many months essentially homeless. I was poor, I had no money. I remember going from friend’s house to friend’s house. People I had just met, even. I remember going through a period of several months where I was weak—I was only eating one meal a day.
James: Goodness. That’s harsh.
CYRIL: My friends were also poor. They were artists too; artists hang out with other artists. I can remember buying lunch boxes they sell at the convenience store and sharing it with three people just to feed ourselves. So I was really struggling as a teenager at that period in my life and when this opportunity came along I was hungry and wanted to be helped, which is why I signed a three-year contract. It was all in Japanese and I didn’t even know what it said. But I signed it anyway. I didn’t really comprehend what I’d be doing or dealing with in the next three years, which brings me to finally answer your question: for three years I felt stifled. I felt like I was just stuck in this system, where I had a roof over my head and a basic income that barely got me through each month, and I wasn’t growing. I was eager for growth, so I spoke with Mr. Ito directly and told him about this big international conference called FISM that it was coming to Japan in six or seven months, and I want to compete in it.
James: How responsive was he?
CYRIL: He gave me a budget that was, I can’t really tell you the exact amount in US dollars, but it was around $100,000. And I was 18, almost 19 years of age, and I went out to America to get the props because I thought that if I could show the magic community at FISM what I was capable of, that I would get more work and acknowledgement; it was more about being accepted.
James: Right. I think that’s a common misconception; you don’t need the accolades or direct support of the “magic community” to succeed in life. What you really have to know is what you want to accomplish and then start working towards that. Winning competitions, while possibly personally gratifying, doesn’t put food on your table. It pads your resume a little, but that’s it.
CYRIL: Right. This was the inexperienced kid speaking. I created this 10-minute act and about six months later I competed at FISM. So, here’s this now 19-year-old kid at FISM to show what he is capable of in front of all of his peers and I got there and I had the most elaborate production; I think I had like 30 people there setting things up. It became very political. At the time there was another magician who had won the World Magic Seminar in Las Vegas, and the prize for him, the award, was that he was going to be sponsored at FISM—to fly out to Yokohama to compete. But his props were too large and he ended up not getting that award. The prop that he performed with was an appearance levitation of a girl that, at the time, I was told was his original act. I, six months beforehand, had purchased an appearance levitation with water from a manufacturer in America and all the judges who were politically involved tried to get me disqualified for copying this other magician. But the fact was I had no idea that we had similar illusions because I knew nothing about him. I didn’t know what was going on in the magic community, the opportunities he had to go to FISM, or anything. Since I had never seen this other magician perform, I purchased it from the manufacturer without thinking about it. But with the support and friendship of Luna Shimada—I had a very close relationship with her—she explained to the panel of judges what the situation was and my score for FISM was first place, but they decided to not disqualify me and just gave me second place prize. No first place winner was awarded.
James: I don’t even know what to say. To be honest Cyril, that disappoints me on a level I can’t even articulate properly. It speaks volumes by itself.
CYRIL: I was devastated. Here I was thinking I was going to become friends with everyone in the magic community, and get their support; that I was going to prove myself and be accepted. That was my whole purpose for going to FISM and I felt nailed to the F%$*#ng floor with a jackhammer. Like I tried to come out and do something good and they nailed me down to the floor so bad; I was totally devastated!
Cyril and I then talk about his performance and I watched a video of the routine that earned him “second” place. It was astounding and, with the spontaneous eruption of applause and a standing ovation, I simply can’t understand why the judges felt second place was the right choice. Cyril tells me that The Dream of Crystal (the name of his pet parrot) was partly inspired because of his relationship with Luna, who at the time was living in Japan with her father. She encouraged him to develop a theme and a story line with the routine. It starts out with Cyril coming home, hanging up his jacket and scarf, checking his answering machine, and then walking behind a changing screen with a quick-change into his PJs, to which the crowd bursts into applause.
He walks over to his pet parrot, spends a moment cradling it like a baby eliciting laughter from the audience, and then puts it back into the cage. Picking up a poster off the floor, Cyril hangs it up on the wall; it is Fantasy Island. The coo-coo clock sounds an alarm and the lights dim; it is bedtime. Cyril pulls the covers up to his chest and with a clap of thunder, over his head, the spotlight instantly moves from Cyril and centers on the poster as the stage opens up with music, and he is magically transported to a land of enchantment.
The scene is beautiful and Cyril has again changed clothes to a costume more fitting for the new paradise of his dreams; adorned in black trousers, a while ruffled shirt, and a blue sash—Cyril looks the part. His pet parrot sits perched and silhouetted against a mountain backdrop with a tropical forest in the background. He runs up the mountain to the parrot and after some engaging choreography levitates it in front of him. He then places it behind a curtain and in a blink of the eye a woman is revealed clad in clothing that matches the bird’s natural coloring. The woman is levitated around him on a bed of water and is eventually brought to rest on his shoulder; he carries her off the mountain and they dance together on the stage and he gives her a rose. She appears cold so he wraps her in a blanket and she vanishes right in front of everyone. It is flawless magic.
The stage darkens again and he is back in his bedroom as dawn breaks through the window. Cyril emerges from his bed, back in his PJs, and rubs his eyes as if he has awakened from a dream. Appearing confused, he rushes to his parrot’s cage; she is in there safe and sound along with a rose. Cyril sits on his bed, the rose in hand… maybe it wasn’t a dream.
CYRIL: After being sponsored with so much money, I felt I owed my life to Mr. Ito. I ended up having a heart-to-heart discussion with him and asked to be let out of the contract. He agreed, but I had to give up everything. All of the props I had acquired, the place I stayed—everything. I ended up broke again on the streets busking.
James: Do you still have your parrot?
CYRIL: My father takes care of her.
James: How would you characterize your relationship with the magic community now? How are they receiving you?
CYRIL: I’d say now they are receiving me pretty well. Everything in life happens for a reason. At the time it was good for me to see things like that. It allowed me to go off and be my own person. I just worried about myself and nobody else; I became an outcast on my own. I didn’t hang out with other magicians anymore. I was really in my own world for many years. That has forced me to create my own style and become the magician I wanted to be.
James: I think there is a wonderful lesson there that you will find with all successful people; they do what is best for them and ignore the idiots who try to keep them down. At least that would be the lesson I would take from this aspect of your story so far: just be yourself and continue to go after your goals.
CYRIL: Yes. I remember performing at the Magic Castle about five years ago and having all of these professional magicians I used to look up to coming up to me and saying, “Wow! You’re fantastic.”
James: That is quite a contrast from what happened to you at FISM.
CYRIL: I feel very lucky that these things have happened to me in life. At first, it was very hard, but now I see that good things came out of it. At the time I didn’t understand why these things had to happen, but they became very clear later.
James: There is definitely an interesting correlation between your story and that of many of the other successful artists that I’ve met. You’ve all been attacked and treated pretty poorly by other artists, yet you’ve fought for what you believed in and continued to go after what was important to you and now you are at the top of the game, while the people who loath you so much are still in the same place they were a decade ago. There is certainly some poetic justice to that.
CYRIL: Yes, there is. So you asked me how I felt about the magic community now—well, I’m overwhelmed. After all of these years just doing what I love, it has finally come full circle. It’s very… what’s the right word? It’s an honour.
James: I’m glad of that. And I’m impressed with your attitude. If anyone might have the right to say, “I told you so” it would be you, yet you are humble and appreciative. I can’t imagine any real professional with any real level of integrity not truly appreciating your work, what you’ve accomplished, and more importantly, what you’ve overcome in life to reach the level you have. Even at 19 when you performed at FISM, your act was very polished.
CYRIL: That was the first time I performed it.
CYRIL: Yes. The first and last time.
James: No kidding.
CYRIL: Obviously it went very well. But I was very nervous. That whole experience to me was a lot like, well, you’ve seen Spider-Man right?
CYRIL: There is a time where things change for him. You know, he is young, he is wild. He goes to fight clubs and that kind of stuff. Then, when his uncle dies, there is a moment of clarity where he figures out what is important to him and what his life is going to be about; he makes that change. That was that moment for me.
CYRIL: So I ended up, like I said, leaving everything behind and for a year and a half I lived with a friend in this little cramped apartment sharing meals and just trying to survive. It was very hard—a very tough time.
James: It’s sort of ironic, that the people who try to control you and keep you down end up doing nothing more than lighting a fire within you to succeed even more than before. I love that.
CYRIL: Yeah, I continued to develop my magic. I kept working at clubs and busking and building up clientele through word of mouth. And one thing led to another and an agent contacted me and started getting me more shows—some in the weirdest places in Japan. I did magic anywhere I could do magic; I performed at birthday parties, clubs, or wherever an opportunity came up. I even did stage magic in a close-up environment. In other words, I would do dove productions in a restaurant, for example. I did whatever it took.
James: I’m fascinated that you’ve managed to hit rock bottom twice and then pick yourself back up again and still reach the top. You’ve managed to reach a level in only a matter of years that most magicians will never reach even if they spent a lifetime trying to accomplish it.
CYRIL: For me it was about survival; I had to succeed. It is that simple. Magic was the only thing I knew how to do and if I didn’t do magic, I didn’t eat. There was no being wish-washy about it. It wasn’t about “I can’t do my show at this place or that…” If I didn’t perform, I didn’t make any money.
James: That’s interesting. Again, I see a striking parallel here. I know several artists who won’t perform unless a certain dollar figure threshold is met. They snub their noses at certain kinds of opportunities. While I understand to a degree, I also know that they struggle financially because of it. To a certain extent, I think that is a revealing picture of our society in general; many people would rather go on welfare than take a job that they consider beneath them.
CYRIL: I had to do it to make a living. I didn’t have that option. In a way, it is like a little bird being pushed away from the nest. Either it survives or it doesn’t. You know, one of the questions I get asked a lot is how I do something new or how do I create something different. I think people have this impression that I take lots of risks with my magic, and in a way I do, but that goes as far back as when I was a child. There are two ways of thinking on this matter: there are those who say you should never do material unless it is complete polished; and then there is the view that I have, which is “just do it” because there is no better way to get polished except for doing it.
James: There is a trend in street magic, so this is a good place for a segue to address it, where kids will download tricks from magic sites, watch it once, and then run out and “just do it” in front of people, perhaps screw it up, and so on. What are your thoughts on that?
CYRIL: That’s a touchy subject. I think that—hmmm, I’m not going to comment on that except to say that we’ve all done it. And you can quote me on that. We all have to start somewhere. I started doing exactly that.
James: I totally agree with you. In my youth I did the very same thing. And truth be told, I still do it on occasion when I see and effect that excites me, I may only practice it once before I show someone to see what their thoughts are. And that is something I take issue with: many of the magicians out there that cast stones do the exact same thing. Even if it is to just show their girlfriend, wife, or roommate; they all have done the very thing that they complain about. I have associates that I’ve caught doing this. They are the first to preach, but seem to think that they don’t have to live by the same rules they say everyone else should. The fact is that when I was a child I was most likely destined to drug abuse, alcoholism, and prison given my family history. But magic gave me something to focus on that kept me away from those things. It wouldn’t have happened if people weren’t willing to “expose” me to magic.
CYRIL: Same story here.
James: That’s important. I personally love the fact that companies provide opportunities for young artists to have access to magic. Let’s be honest here. Most towns across America don’t even have magic shops in them. When I was growing up I had to go into a pretty bad area of town. In fact, while I was on one street corner at the shop getting my magic “fix” there were people across the street getting their drug fix.
James: Too many shops barely eek out a living. If we don’t support them by making magic products exciting, and more importantly, economical… shops will continue to close or be relegated to the more seedy parts of towns because they cannot afford to compete in retail districts. Magic shops and companies that sell magic products keep our art alive; they usher in the next generation of artist. Without them, there wouldn’t be a Cyril and there certainly wouldn’t be a magazine like this.
CYRIL: I think it is fantastic that people are going out and buying magic and learning how to perform. There is so much magic available in this day and age. It is a luxury that I certainly didn’t have when I was younger. We all have to start somewhere and I think it is okay to go out there and do magic for friends that you quickly obtain on the internet or buy in a shop, but I also think you have to learn to respect the art as you become a better magician and other artists.
James: It is nice to see an informed view from a working professional who is at the top of his game doing television specials and live shows seen by millions of people.
CYRIL: It is also flattering to see young artists copying what I do and what I have come up with. It comes to the point where people contact me saying, “Cyril, there’s this person doing your effect and this and that.” And it’s basically the same issue. And for me, for myself, I’m not going to go after these people because it’s a journey they have to take, it’s a path they have to decide to take on their own. They have to discover who they are and find their own style, just like we do. I am also too busy creating what’s next to worry about what other people are doing and what has happened in the past. I think sometimes people take it too far. I once got a phone call from another performer. He tracked me down, got my phone number, and called me up yelling at me for supposedly “copying” him and his act. He even complained about the fact that once I had my finger nails painted black as if I got that idea from him—I got the idea from Depeche Mode and people like that. But this artist ended up attacking me over things like that and telling me off.
James: That’s too bad.
CYRIL: It really frustrated the F&^# out of me at the time, but the truth is that I immediately got over it and I just feel sorry for the guy, and the only reason I can feel sorry for the guy is because I’ve been through all of those emotions myself. The special I just finished is my 11th two-hour television special. I have been through so many things and been to the point where I thought I had nothing left in me to give. Where you are so hungry for material that you just say “F*&@!” and you wish you could just do this trick or that trick. I am sure this other artist feels similar things and there is a lot of pressure on him. But I’ve never copied any of his effects—not even once. It is insulting and small minded to suggest such a thing. In fact, I was fine with him on the phone until he started accusing me of doing things I didn’t do and saying that I owed my success to him. Please. I made the effort to explain to him that, believe it or not, magicians do come up with similar ideas quite independently; that I didn’t need him in the slightest bit. He wasn’t convinced. It is really sad to act like that; I don’t take anything for granted. But I wish him and other artists luck, because there is enough magic out there for everybody.
This is a great place to break in and tell you a little taste of what you’ll see in his 11th special.
In one scene Cyril goes out onto the green and plays some golf and performs some pretty spectacular magic. It starts out with him on the putting green where he instructs his putter to stand up and stay; it does. He then gets the group to walk with him past the putter to the cup. He kneels down, puts his hands over the cup, and next thing you know… it is gone and he carries it hidden in his hands over to his putter, kneels down again, and puts it back into the ground. A simple shot at that point and he knocks the ball in without effort. I could use that in my games!
But my favorite effect in this special was performed with a pet goldfish. It is absolutely fantastic! One of the ladies in the studio audience is asked to name a goldfish swimming around in a bowl that Cyril is carrying. She picks the name “Vanilla”. As he begins to talk he slips and drops the bowl and it shatters all over the floor. He scrambles to pick up the fish and then gets an idea; running over to a bar he grabs a sealed bottle of water and with just a brushing glance of his hand, the goldfish penetrates the plastic bottle and is saved. Incredible!
James: Obviously, you are doing well now, so how did you go from being poor again to landing television shows?
CYRIL: I think it was just because I was maturing more. If you go back to my Magic Castle junior days, a few minutes seemed like an eternity to me. Then at 19 I was doing 20 to 40 minute shows. Because I did magic in every conceivable situation, my ability to perform grew. I think this is something magicians ask me a lot; it is something they want to know about me. I just performed a lot. I was gaining knowledge and experience by doing my magic all the time and in every situation, and every situation was different. Sometimes I had to do a show completely surrounded and I had to adjust to that and still make the magic look good. Sometimes there was really bad lighting, so I learned how to deal with that. Other places would not let me use live animals like my doves and I had to force myself to learn how to handle every single situation accordingly. And I think that is one of my main things that I can say truly was my training to be who I am today; to be able to go into any situation or venue and know how to handle myself.
James: There is a great lesson there for our readers; if you want to be successful as a magician, you really need to push yourself—to study, train, learn, grow, and get out there and just do it. You have to take things seriously; you have to learn how to perform right from the start. It is as if too many artists think they can just jump into something and the flood gates open right up for them. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard people say, “Heck, if I had that kind of money I could do it too.” But it isn’t all about the money, in fact, that is way down on the list compared to all the other things you mentioned.
CYRIL: That was me. I thought money was the answer too. Trust me; I was exactly where most are. I was that young kid who said, “If I had the money I’d be right where they are!” but that isn’t the case. And then I got the F&%^*#$ money, and what happened (laughter)? You can print this too… I used to say if I had the money I could do the same things until I got the money to do it and I realized how much hard work it takes; I realized how much is really involved. Since that day at FISM I never said the same thing ever again. I had never realized what it took to make magic look so simple—how much hard work, dedication, and effort it took to do it. And later on, I said the same thing about television. I said, “I can do a TV special; I can do what David Blaine does.” Until I had the opportunity myself and I found out how much it took. I never say things like that anymore. I have a lot of respect for anyone who is trying to or successfully creates a special or a show. Just be careful what you ask for.
James: This is a good place to ask you then: how did you eventually hit the television scene?
CYRIL: Okay, yes. Well before I go into that, I know that I am giving you a lot of the history, but there is a little piece missing about my stage work and live performances in Japan; let me tell you about my partner that I’ve had for many years, because she plays a significant roll in my success. I met Jane many years ago, hired her as an assistant dancer, we bonded very well, and since then she has been a big part of my life on and off stage. She is one of the best dancers I have ever met in my life and is a fantastic choreographer, who continues to choreograph and perform in the live shows I do. She is fantastic. In my opinion, we make a great team and I hope your readers get to see us someday. We work very well together. But we were getting fed up with the market here in Japan and didn’t feel we were going to be able to grow anymore than what Japan was able to offer. Right when Jane and I decided to move out of Japan to America, was when I all of a sudden got a telephone saying, “Cyril. Can there is a two hour slot for television; can you create a special like David Blaine did?” David had created this fad worldwide and it had reached Japan and Japan wanted to do something similar. I admit that I owe my success to David because of what he created. My opportunity to do this show was because of his shows in America. That was my transition into television. It just came at the right time.
James: How long have you and Jane been together?
CYRIL: (Looking towards Jane who is in the background busy with something) How long have we been together? Eight years?
JANE: No, ten.
CYRIL: No, it has to have been about eight years.
JANE: You were twenty-three when we started working together. You’re now thirty-three. Ten years.
CYRIL: (Laughs) Ten years.
James: (Laughing) Thanks. I’m a little confused though. How did it come about? Sorry. The call… I mean, how did they end up contacting you?
CYRIL: It was a television producer that I had met before. At the time he didn’t know how to sell me, and what I did, on television. But when David’s first special aired and that made it over to Japan, it just fell into place. Because David became popular, the networks wanted something similar and I got the call.
James: Some magicians feel that they live in David Blaine’s shadow. For example, in your second special you were urged by your producers to, in effect, use a similar version of David’s coffee to coins and you’ve also done the bitten off and restored coin. Do you ever feel like you are forced to compete with his celebrity?
CYRIL: I’m not into competing with anybody. I just do what works best for me. I have the biggest respect for David Blaine, like I said, I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for him, but at the same time I was creating my own special that would be seen worldwide so I didn’t want to be just like him. Yet it was the kind of magic he did that the producers wanted to see, so I had to find a way to create my character and style while still providing the network with what it wanted. I’m not really sure how to answer this question.
At this point the expression on Cyril’s face changed; I could tell he was truly contemplating the best way to answer this question.
James: Take your time man.
CYRIL: David and I are friends now. Last year he contacted me and I was a guest at his home in New York and we really bonded, so I don’t want this to come across in a bad way or betray his friendship.
James: I didn’t take it that way at all and I know our readers won’t either.
CYRIL: I was a stage magician, so it was a difficult transition to doing television. I love all kinds of magic and I had tried to make a living in Japan doing magic, and right when I thought we’d have to give up and move on to other countries because Japan just wasn’t seeing our vision, this opportunity happened so I was eager to do something with it. But the terms were I had to do street magic. I was working with a producer who had a vision of his own and he wanted to create exactly what David had done. So the materials I had to work with were pretty much the same thing. I had to do some things like David did it. My first special was a tremendous challenge for me. Out of the chaos of making that show I was able to take my previous years of experience of doing stage magic in close up situations and sort of blend it into my own style of magic. So to finally answer your question about the coins in the cup effect, that is something I am not proud of—it was something I didn’t want to do. But in the end I gave into the producers and did it and that’s why, in the end, I can understand the pressures people have when they are trying to create a show; there is a lot more to it behind the scenes. Not everything is simple.
James: Thanks for sharing that. I think most intelligent people know that life isn’t black and white. There’s always more to it than that. But you mentioned just how much material has to go into making a show; how much work there is, so where do you get most of your inspiration for effects? Do you have a team? Do you go to books, videos, and other resources? What’s your secret?
CYRIL: You know that’s a really good question. After my first special I thought there is no way I could possibly do that again—that there was no way that I could find more material to do another show. I was completely dry. But somehow they keep popping out of nowhere. As far as inspiration is concerned, it just appears; we have brainstorming sessions and things just happen. I have a very good friend of mine named Enrico de la Vega…
James: Yes, from T.H.E.M. He seems like a fantastic guy.
CYRIL: Right. He is a very good friend of mine from the Castle days. He is a very clever thinker. He thinks on the edge. He thinks unlike most magicians. He has really wacky concepts. He was on my team for my third special.
James: Does he still work with you?
CYRIL: Yes, he does. But he didn’t work on this last special because he is working on something else; something big that I can’t talk about. But yes, he still works with me all the time. Have you seen my specials?
James: Yes, a number of them. They aren’t that easy to get a hold of, but I have a few DVDs. They’re excellent; I really enjoyed them.
If you’ve not seen Cyril in action, you should run right out and get one of his DVDs of the net. I found copies at Amazon.jp and it only took about a week to get them to the US.
CYRIL: Fuji TV took down a lot of the clips off the Internet because of copyright issues.
James: There are still quite a few up. I remember one of the first clips I saw of you was you doing a coin through glass. Then you put the saltshaker through, which I have to say, looked amazing.
CYRIL: Thanks. Yes, I am very proud of that one.
James: You know, I looked—I examined—and I couldn’t catch you. I know how it is essentially done, but you performed it so well that I couldn’t verify my beliefs. There is another magician who is currently on television in the US and I know for a fact that he uses stooges a lot. I have to ask you, did you use a stooge for this effect?
CYRIL: (Laughs) No. No stooges at all. I really try not to do that. I really try to do magic that I can do on my own without help of someone in the audience to make it look real.
James: I really admire that. It is great to know that what you see is what you get with your shows; that the audience and the immediate spectators are just normal people that aren’t apart of the effect itself. I hope others follow your lead on that. Let me ask you a few more questions.
James: How many hours do you have to film to get a one to two hour special?
CYRIL: Umm. About four hours. We shoot double what we need because not everything looks good once it is filmed and then we cut it to make the show.
James: Do you prefer doing TV or stage shows?
CYRIL: Stage! But I love all magic.
James: You are both prolific and varied in your performances; why did you decide to be an artist that changes rather than building a specific character or look.
CYRIL: I prefer to just be myself. My magic represents my emotions, what I feel, who I am, and what I want to do with my art. I’m not a character, I’m a real person and my art reflects that.
James: What is it like being a “celebrity” in Japan?
CYRIL: Crazy. I can’t go anywhere without being noticed anymore. There are good things and bad things to having everyone recognize you. For example, I was at Universal Studios in Osaka, and I couldn’t walk around because people just started following me everywhere I went. I just wanted to see the park. Eventually, security just took me in all the back exits, but it would have been nice to have been able to just be like everyone else. Tokyo is a little different. It is like LA, you see a lot of celebrities just going out to lunch or shopping. It’s not so bad where I live as it is in other places.
James: How did you come up with the Serojiisan character? It truly is one of the most entertaining and unique things I’ve seen in a long time.
CYRIL: (Laughs) Oh, I saw it on Jack Ass. I loved it and thought that it was a great idea.
James: That’s great; that show is funny. Sometimes over the top, but Johnny Knoxville really makes it what it is. I’m not as impressed with some of the other guys.
CYRIL: Yeah, he dressed up like an old man and I thought it was so funny.
James: How long does it take to put the makeup on?
CYRIL: Hours! It’s very uncomfortable too.
James: I’ve heard that you tend to feel stifled with projects you get involved in. Is that true?
CYRIL: Yes. Definitely! I am constantly trying to do new things and push myself and that’s how I’ve been able to accomplish all that I have.
James: Do you have a signature trick?
CYRIL: You want to see one?
Cyril stands up and begins a really cool cigarette routine where he makes it vanish, reappear and then, break and restore; it’s pretty solid. Damn man, that almost makes me want to take up smoking just so I can do cool effects like that!
James: Who are your favorite magicians? Who has most influenced or inspired you?
CYRIL: I can’t answer that—there are too many people to name. I’d like to finish answering you about inspiration because that is a very good question. Inspiration happens everywhere—just living life. It happens all around you. Going to concerts. Eating dinner. Seeing shows. Traveling. Sitting on an airplane talking to people. An artist portrays his life; magic is just the tools the artist uses. Magic is just the paintbrush and the paint. Just like in music. A guitar is just the tool the artist uses to express himself. When I was going through my dark time my performances reflected it. My emotions come out in my art.
James: Tell me about your recent trip to Thailand.
CYRIL: Sure. That was part of this last TV special too. A woman sent a letter to the network and told us about an orphanage she had started in a little village for children who are infected with HIV. When she had found these kids on a trip, they were living alone because they had been abandoned or their parents had died.
James: That’s horrible. She started the orphanage on her own?
CYRIL: Yes. She is about 60 and just decided to go there and do it. She has about thirty kids now. It just so happens one of the children has a dream of becoming a magician. His name is Gurai and he is fourteen. I took a crew over there about a week and a half ago and stayed there for about three days; it was one of the best experiences of my life. They are absolutely beautiful. She wants to give them a way to survive after they grow up. We got there and found that the villagers would never come around the kids because of their lack of knowledge about HIV. They couldn’t go to school because schools turned them down. I did magic around the village and over 80 kids came out and watched. Really simple things and it went over great. All of the kids bonded together. I taught Gurai the first trick I ever learned, rolling up newspaper and making it turn into a tree, and then he debuted as a magician for the first time. Magic truly communicates across all cultures and languages. I don’t speak Thai, and they don’t speak English or Japanese, yet we were able to share with each other and get to know each other. I was able to experience the lifestyle they go through. In the end, the children I spent time with… I was gaining much more from the entire experience than they did. But we really bonded. Doing things like this is worth more than money ever will be; it is the reason I do magic.
James: I think I’ll end on that positive note with just one more question. If you could give young performers any advice on how to be successful, what would it be?
CYRIL: Follow your dreams and don’t listen to people who try to keep you from being successful. You have to be true to yourself.
James: You’re an amazing man and I respect what you are doing. Thank you for sharing with us; it’s real honor and a gift that you’d take the time to give us all a view into your life.
CYRIL: Thank you; it’s my pleasure James.
- END -
On a personal note, I really admire Cyril; he’s become a great friend and is someone I love to visit with and I enjoy following the things happening in his life. He’s a fantastic person and a great credit to our art. If you’ve not yet seen him perform, check him out on Youtube.com; he’s amazing at what he does.
© Copyright 2007, 2009 by James L. Clark. All rights reserved. Duplication prohibited by domestic and international laws. This document is not for open publication and may not be released to third parties. The rights of the author have been asserted.
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