A Rock-Opera Bohemia

Renegade composer J.A. Ceazer soundtracked Shuji Terayama's 'Pastoral: To Die in the Country', a bizarre avant-garde film from 1974.


WordsMiranda Remington

Album Cover for the Soundtrack for 'Den'en ni Shisu'. Courtesy of Terayama World.

Through a kind of carnivalesque cinema montage, avant-garde playwright Shuji Terayama’s film Pastoral: To Die in a Country (1974) takes us through his fragmented childhood memories. It tells a peculiar coming-of-age story, where a boy leaves his rural village for the city after a strange, sexual encounter with his next-door neighbour. He meets an eccentric troupe of circus performers on the way. But what perhaps really pushes Shuji Terayama’s ‘Pastoral Hide and Seek’ (as known otherwise) towards the edge of the time’s cultural boundaries is its soundtrack by frequent collaborator J. A. Ceazer.

J. A. Ceazer scores Shuji Terayama’s piece with a clamorous blend of guitars and percussion, sound effects of screaming women and buddhist funeral chants, protest-folk, blues rock, prog-psych, and organ music. It disorientates, in the spirit of a time where disillusioned Japanese hippies roamed the ruins of a devastated post-war country, just as rapid changes started to take place.

Hints of grotesque and erotic themes break every cliche of accepted Japanese culture, but they meanwhile reach back into the memories of a rural upbringing influenced by traditional folklore. With indigenous instruments such as the shamisen or biwa integrated into the novel rhythms of Western rock-n-roll, J. A. Ceazer colours the nightmares of Shuji Terayama, weaving an ecstatic anthem for Japan’s countercultural heritage in the meantime.


Wandering Rebel Poets

Formally known as Terahara Takaaki, J.A. Ceazer consistently provided elaborate musical pieces for Shuji Terayama’s experimental theatre group Tenjo Sajiki, until Shuji Terayama’s sudden death in 1983. In Japrocksampler, Julian Cope describes J. A. Ceazer as the Lou Reed to Shuji Terayama’s Andy Warhol ever since he wandered into the Tenjo Sajiki Theatre in Shinjuku and joined his creative troupe. His personal life is also an enthralling rock-opera narrative in itself: the little that we do know of his mystified background is tales of his travels from his birthplace Kyushu, or of his fleeing from the yakuza who had put a price on his head.

J.A. Ceazer’s career seems to have slowed down following the death of his partner, with little in the way of significant work in recent years—except for an apparent revival in the beginning of the 21st century for his soundtracking of late ’90s cult-anime Revolutionary Girl Utena. Yet, as a pivotal figure within a particularly unique lineage of counterculture, his music continues to drum out the secret history of Japanese Bohemia that emerged from the ashes of war.

Still from 'Pastoral: To Die in a Country'. Courtesy of Terayama World.

Still from 'Pastoral: To Die in a Country'. Courtesy of Terayama World.

Still from 'Pastoral: To Die in a Country'. Courtesy of Terayama World.

Still from 'Pastoral: To Die in a Country'. Courtesy of Terayama World.

Still from 'Pastoral: To Die in a Country'. Courtesy of Terayama World.

CD and Inside Jacket for Soundtrack of 'Den-en ni Shisu' 2002 Re-release. Photo by Miranda Remington.