Tenko Hikita ( Princess Tenko), Japan’s most famous magician, is a master of illusion. She is veiled in mystery. Because of various contractual.So, this time, you will see what kind of contract she makes (from her interview).
Tenko… How cool is Princess Tenko? Much, much cooler than the average Japanese woman. The only female and only non-white person to win the Magician of the Year Award, previously won by the likes of David Copperfield and Siegfried & Roy.
Under contract with toymaker to literally look forever 24.
As a young girl, you wanted to be an actress.
Was there no conflict in yourself when you were encouraged to become an illusionist instead?
There was. At that time, Pink Lady [a female singing and dancing duo] was very popular, so my agency decided to launch me as a girl who could sing, dance and perform magic at the same time.
Pink Lady ♪ Wanted ♪
Pink Lady ♪ Monster ♪
Pink Lady ♪ UFO ♪ ♪ Carmen ’77 ♪
But my image of magic was spooky — like something carried out by a Dracula-like man and a woman wearing a long dress.
It was far from an occupation I wanted to pursue. As a young girl, I also had problem about taking over a man’s name. So I said that if I had to do magic, I wanted to do it in my own way — with music I like, costumes I like, and magic I like.
I was told I was the only one in Japan’s entertainment world who made such demands, but I’m glad I did, as it’s a matter that has decided my life.
Are you now able to work in the way you like?
How did you feel when you were named Magician of the Year in 1990?
Yes. I wanted to do all the stage direction, like in shows in Las Vegas or New York, so it’s good that I can do everything in my own way.
I was really surprised I got such a big prize. But what surprised me most was that many reporters, like from CNN or NBC, asked me why I thought I got the prize, which mostly goes to white male magicians.
Up until now, I understand there has still been no other female winner, and I think it’s amazing I got it.
In Japan at the time, though, no one knew about the award, and even Academy and Emmy awards were only just beginning to be recognized. The minds of Japanese people in show business are still quite behind.
You are sometimes described as living on chocolate and staying 24 years old forever.
Do you really eat so much chocolate — and do you lose at least 3 kg during each show, as it’s been reported?
I like chocolate very much. But I sweat a lot — I run around not just on stage, but also behind. I also have to worry about a lot of things, not just whether I function well, but whether all the equipment is working and other people perform well.
There is a special training, called happo in karate, that’s taught me to know what’s going on all around me even when I’m looking straight ahead.
It’s difficult to work in this field if you can’t do that. I must sense immediately, even behind me, if someone has moved or made a mistake.
So during a performance, my nerves are alert all the way to the tips of my hair and nails — that’s why I lose about 3 kg.
Although you are always smiling on stage, you have compared yourself to a swan that looks elegant but is desperately padding underwater.
As you have been taken to the hospital in an ambulance five times following onstage accidents, that seems quite apt.
On stage, I warp from one spot to another, but human beings can’t really warp, right? When I’m gone, it means I’m running where the audience can’t see me.
But if I’m wheezing when I reappear, they’d know I was running — so I must look totally composed. The media thought for a long time that I had a twin sister.
Accidents happen, and I often have to perform with broken bones, as actors have stand-ins but not me. For example, a couple of my ribs cracked onstage at Radio City when the equipment on my upper body functioned but not that on my lower body.
But my American manager, who looks like Marlene Dietrich, said with a poker face: “Of course you’ll do it, right? It’s a contract.” So I completed my monthlong run wearing a flat plaster cast.
Is it really true that your contracts with Mattel, Saban Entertainment and your promoters require you to…
remain looking 24 years old like the dolls made after you, and restrict who you can marry?
Contracts with each company are as thick as 2 meters. With Mattel it’s mostly about the way I look, like hairstyle, hair color, weight, figure and skin color. That with Saban has a lot to do with name usage.
They are both lifetime contracts, so I have to maintain my looks for life. I can only marry a U.S. citizen according to the contract, as U.S. children believe from the cartoon that I am an American superstar.
What happens if you violate the contract?
There will be a penalty. Like in the billions? No way. More than that.
Princess Tenko and Tenko Hikita are supposed to have different characters –
like Tenko Hikita doesn’t talk or laugh, or make friends. Who determined this, and what are their other differences?
The character of Tenko Hikita was determined when I took over the magician’s name. Princess Tenko is a character developed in the U.S., and the promotion company decided the character.
Tenko Hikita is a stoic woman who performs escape tricks risking her life. As magicians must be mysterious, she cannot talk or make friends.
Princess Tenko is an idol and heroine and never carries out dangerous escape acts which children might imitate.
◉ Don’t you get confused between the two?
I’m used to it now.
◉ Who are you today?
When I can talk, I’m Princess Tenko.
◉ As you are so restricted by contracts, do you ever feel like quitting?
Yes. But because I always have work the next day, I’ve learned to control myself thanks to all the support I have had in the U.S.
In Japan, I was often driven into a corner without help and felt I couldn’t breathe anymore. But in the U.S., as long as I can attract audiences and maintain high viewing ratings they always take care of me, and that works for me.