‘Kiren’, Yasuaki Shimizu’s Illusory Gem

The acclaimed saxophonist, producer and composer’s unreleased 1984 masterpiece reveals a lost chapter in his atmospheric excursions.


WordsMiranda Remington

Yasuaki Shimizu, ‘Kiren’ (Originally 1984, reissued 2022). Palto Flats.

Diffusing the dreaminess of Japan’s 80’s new wave scene, composer Yasuaki Shimizu gestures to utopian realms with his saxophone-led folk riffs. With several of his works already established as retrospective classics in contemporary re-issues, Kiren—comprising his songs from 1984 finally seeing a first-time release by Palto Flats in February 2022—showcases some of his most exploratory moments.

A series of crystalline vignettes, Kiren unfolds into liminal electronic layers. The spirit of jazz, as meticulously studied by a Japanese musician, is filtered through a breeze of ambience which excited Tokyo’s art-pop circles at its time. Pushing the sentimentality of Japanese folk beyond simple instrumentation, the result is a genre-resisting chimera that continues to entrance international listeners.


Elusive Outlines

Yasuaki Shimizu’s early-80s work has been admired for their ethereal pop and folk references, combining ambient synthesisers with jazz. In his forty-year career he has touched an impressive span of styles as a musician, producer and composer, with Oscar-winning film scores and sound installations made alongside Nam Jun Paik and Ryuichi Sakamoto, only a couple names amongst his long list of high-profile collaborators. While creating sounds for companies like SEIKO, Honda and Sharp, experimentalism remained a constant throughout his many projects delving into different languages and world traditions, sometimes wildly re-imagining classical pieces using new technology. His several jazz-fusion milestones, including those created with his experimental folk-band Mariah, have been admired for their bewitching qualities, especially in their recent years of rediscovery. Going far beyond the framework of existing genres, his unique combination of exotic pitches and futuristic tones opens up portals to dreamworlds.

Considered a ‘lost’ album until its recent release, the ambiguous Kiren comprises a creative zenith. It was made shortly after his most famous Kakashi (1982) and Mariah’s Utakatano Hibi (1983) but, born in a free moment outside of official projects, it crystallises his elusive artistry at its best. The rhythms of songs like ‘Asate’ and ‘Shiasete’ foreground the radical deadpan of new electronica, while nonetheless expanding a shapeshifting folklore from saxophone. The strange tones of ‘Momo No Hana’ or ‘Ore No Umi’ presages the spectrality of contemporary genres like vaporwave while manifesting lived atmospheres of field recordings: something in which Yasuaki Shimizu has dabbled in since a young age. He works with the harmonies of Japanese folk throughout, blending pagan history and electronic modernity—but in the nostalgia drawn beneath everyday science-fictions, its reverie extends beyond Japanese identities, touching the rest of the world decades onwards.


Kiren (1984) a music album by Yasuaki Shimizu is available through Palto Flats’s official bandcamp page.