Yutaka Ozaki was born in Tokyo on November 29, 1965.
In 1982, aged 17, he signed a contract with CBS Sony, debuted the following year, and dropped out of high school in 1984.
His first hit was the single “Sotsugyo” (1985), soon followed by the album “Tropic of Graduation” which landed as number one on the Japanese Oricon chart. Soon he became recognized as one of the most charismatic artists on the scene.
The success kept growing, his oceanic concerts were frequently documented on TV shows and video collections. Some of their titles – “Hayasugiru Densetsu” (A Too Fast Legend) – were a testimony of his iconic status: he had become a hero for the youth of Japan.
He made “his own music, in his own way”, and even in the earliest songs he revealed an extraordinary insight and maturity.
He was mainly influenced by 70s American rock (among his favorite artists: Jackson Browne and Bruce Springsteen) and Japanese pop/folk singers such as Masashi Sada.
His singing voice was beautiful and instantly recognizable just as his lyrics, characterized by long, evocative lines. His live performances were equally powerful and heartfelt.
The early records dealt with the “frustrations of young people chafing under a conformist social system”, but later evolved into a more encompassing reflection on life, love, and the concept of truth.
Deeply fascinated by New York City (Taxi Driver being one his favorite movies), in 1986 Ozaki moved to the Big Apple, where he stayed for one year. He started experimenting with drugs, allegedly to “find out what lies beyond the door”. He found himself on the edge of a dangerous precipice.
Unable to help Yutaka with his addiction, his parents forced him fruitlessly into rehab. He was arrested in December 1987 for drug possession and was sentenced to 18 months in jail, which after paying bail was reduced down to two months.
The middle of 1988 marked his comeback with a rare event: he sang the new single “Taiyo no hahen” live on Fuji TV. It was his first (and only) TV appearance, so much he disliked TV as a medium.
In December 1988 he married Shigemi, the young woman he had met in 1984, muse of the melancholic “Shelly”– one of his best songs. His son, Hiroya, was born in 1989. The double CD album “Birth” was dedicated to him.
Yutaka Ozaki also wrote novels short stories, a few of which were loosely autobiographical (such as “Futsuu no ai – Ordinary Love”, 1991), and poems that were later musically arranged and released in CD format.
Having seemingly solved his drug problems, Ozaki had still to deal with a weak contitution (early in life, he had been hospitalized with intestinal torsion and bronchitis). He was taking several meds and, despite being advised otherwise, also indulged in drinking.
On the early morning of April 25, 1992, Yutaka Ozaki was found drunk, unconscious and naked in a Tokyo alley. He was still alive, however, and was immediately taken to the hospital.
Upon regaining consciousness he insisted on being taken home, and his wife surprisingly agreed. After several restless, painful hours, he died of pulmonary edema.
There was mystery surrounding his death: his lifeless body was covered in cuts and bruises. What had exactly happened during the 48 hours prior to his death?
In 1995, 100,000 of his fans “signed a petition asking the police to re-open the investigation into his death. The petition was sponsored by Ozaki’s father and brother, who believe the artist didn’t die through misadventure but was murdered.” The mystery is still unsolved.
His last studio album, the melancholic “Confession for Exist”, was realeased posthumously. The cover image – selected before that fateful day – is an eery premonition: Yutaka is lying on the ground, beneath him what looks like a cross.
Today Yutaka Ozaki is still one of the most beloved singers of Japan. Many successful artists such as Gackt and Hikaru Utada cite him as a source of inspiration.
To commemorate the 19th anniversary of his death, TV Tokyo produced a mini-drama titled “Kaze no Shonen ~ Ozaki Yutaka Eien no Densetsu.” ( Boy of the Wind – Ozaki Yutaka Eternal Legend). The show, starring Hiroki Narimiya, portrays Ozaki’s life based on a book by Akira Sudo, Ozaki’s producer.
During the past few years, his son Hiroya has risen to prominence as a DJ (his radio show on InterFM is titled ”CONCERNED GENERATION”). Hiroya also sang publicly a few of his father’s songs, evoking deep emotion in the audience.
“Ozaki’s passionate and, sadly, self-destructive legacy remains a though act for other Japanese artists to follow.
His rebellion tapped the same well of dissatisfaction existing beneath Japanese society’s complacent exterior that more overtly political artists have used as a source of inspiration.
But no one has said it quite like this handsome, doomed young man, whose uncompromising stance gives him a unique place in the history of Japanese pop music.”
– Steve McClure, Billboard Vol. 107, N 29, 2 July 1995.
-“Yutaka Ozaki sang about youthful dreams, anxieties, and love. The young spirit is sometimes rebellious towards the status quo, for the very good reason that the fiery energy cannot be contained in a conventional social structure.
Yutaka Ozaki’s song, while being an anthem of rebellion, eventually deepens into a love which is all-encompassing, including those against whom the young artist expressed his mistrust in the lyrics. Overcoming the obstacles, Yutaka Ozaki’s songs attain the universal value of a great art.”
– Ken Mogi [qualiajournal.blogspot.com]
-“It’s been just over 20 years since one of Japan’s most iconic figures has left us. While I’m much too young to have experienced his impact and profound influence upon music in real time, in retrospect I’ve been able to find a deep appreciation and understanding of the movement he both influenced and created with so much of the youth of Japan in times of uncertainty and self searching.
His music continues to transcend time to this day and it’s largely due to the deep understanding of his lyrics and how he directly related to Japan’s youth in an age of identity and turbulence.
In a sense in hindsight it was like the perfect storm had brewed for me when I first discovered Ozaki, I too being a teenager in my late teens then, I was able to first appreciate his artistry and vibrant edge of youth in very much a similar light of time personally.
Ozaki was deeply accomplished on both piano and guitar and while his song writing was deeply rooted in rock he effortlessly would transcend into many other genres of style including a jazz influence which can be heard in numerous compositions of his.
From intricate to driving to the softest of nuances to avant garde, Ozaki Yutaka’s ability to express both in lyrics and music were simply phenomenal.”