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[Center News] "ParaFes 2017 — UNLOCK YOURSELF" Highlights Superhuman Musicians and Athletes

The Nippon Foundation Paralympic Support Center hosted the sports and music festival "ParaFes 2017 — UNLOCK YOURSELF" on November 15 at Ryogoku Kokugikan. The event featured "superhuman" performances that amazed and mesmerized the audience.

This was the second time to host this event. This year the theme was "Winter." The lighting, sound, videos and technology together created an atmosphere reminiscent of the Winter Paralympic Games, inviting the audience to that world.
Japan's para ice hockey team, qualified for the Paralympic Games, and alpine skiing athletes, expected to gain multiple medals, showed off the appeal and attraction of their sports to 4,300 spectators.

Kabuki actor Kazutaro Nakamura during the opening session

ParaFes opened with a kabuki kojo performance (formal stage announcement ) by Kazutaro Nakamura, a young kabuki actor and leader of the kabuki community. He talked of when and how the Paralympic Games started, playing the role of a young maiden. This was followed by performances by ParaFes Kids and ParaFes Dancers, an LED production by performance group Kaguzuchi, and a musical performance by armless pianist and guitarist Johnatha Bastos. This opening session raised the excitement of the venue by several degrees.

This was Johnatha Bastos' first time to visit Japan from Brazil. He played the piano with his two stumps and chin, and the audience responded to his transcendent virtuosity with thunderous applause. Bastos played guitar with his feet at the closing ceremony of the Rio Paralympics. On this day he said, "I am so nervous I feel like my heart will burst out!" yet captured the audience with his wonderful performance.

Yasushi Yamawaki, Chairman of the Paralympic Support Center, then offered a representative greeting. "I am very happy to be here today with all of you, including those of you who continue to support the Paralympic Support Center." Seiko Noda, member of the Japanese House of Representatives and initial proposer of ParaFes, sent the message, "I hope you will be a bridge between (people who are and people who are not interested in) the Paralympic Games and para sports." Yoshiro Mori, President of the Tokyo Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, seemed impressed with the huge turnout, laughing as he said, "I have been a politician for many years, but I have never spoken in front of so many people."

ParaFes opening, designed to offer an all-five-senses experience of "superhuman" performances

The venue increased in excitement as representatives gave greetings.

The next to come on stage was actor and filmmaker Takumi Saito. The girls in the audience went wild as he entered the stage, adding even more excitement to the venue. He said he is following snowboarder Gurimu Narita, who he interviewed in the past, and about being impressed by para sports in the American film Murderball. "I want to increase my knowledge one thing at a time, and become engrossed in para sports together with everyone."

Next was a session where Saito, as guest supporter, talked with Winter Paralympians about the highlights and attractions of the Winter Games. Satoru Sudo, Kazuhiro Takahashi and Mikio Annaka, members of the Japan para ice hockey team recently qualified for the PyeongChang Paralympics, came on stage. Saito tried sitting on a para ice hockey sledge and learned how unstable and wobbly it can be. He was very curious: "How do you change directions?" "So you need a lot of arm strength in this sport." He added, "I think watching an actual game would be very different, with the sound of collisions and the physical vigor of the game."
The three athletes are silver medalists of the 2010 Vancouver Paralympics. Takahashi voiced their ambition for the Paralympics: "We hope to get the best results in PyeongChang through teamwork."

The next to come on stage were alpine skiers Taiki Morii, two-time consecutive overall World Cup champion, and Akira Kano and Takeshi Suzuki, favorites for gold medals in alpine skiing. There was an introduction of their sports and a promotional video in which the audience learned of the athletes' speed exceeding 120 kilometers an hour as well as their uncompromising stance on sports equipment to pursue greater speed. The venue was full of exclamations and applause. Morii, the leader of the group, made a powerful comment about PyeongChang: "Our greatest goal is to dominate the medal podium." He also added his personal goal: "I still don't have a Paralympic gold medal, so I definitely want one."

Satoru Sudo, Kazuhiro Takahashi and Mikio Annaka, representing the Japan para ice hockey team, requesting support for the PyeongChang Paralympics

Saito on a para ice hockey sledge

World champion Taiki Morii, and Sochi Paralympic gold medalists Akira Kano and Takeshi Suzuki , representing alpine skiing

A special movie featuring the three PyeongChang medal hopefuls in alpine skiing premiered at the event.

Next, totally blind singer-songwriter Kohshi Kishita wowed the audience with his beautiful voice. Kishita also performed at the first ParaFes. The audience were invited to wear blindfolds during the performance to experience "listening from the heart." There was also a one-time-only collaboration of "Stand By Me" by Kishita and Bastos. HIFANA, an up-and-coming sound creator and breakbeat band, created a new type of "Para sport noise" music. They aired an impressive digital movie combining sounds of memorable moments from the Rio Paralympics and the medals that rattle when shaken.

A blind concert experienced with heightened senses

Bastos, a "superhuman" who dexterously plays guitar with his toes

The climax was a performance by WANIMA, a rock band from Kumamoto, Japan. They performed five songs ("THANX," "Iikara," "CHARM," "Tomoni" and "Yattemiyo,") and elevated the audience into a swirl of excitement.

At the very end, all performers came on stage to give their final comments: "It was a blast!" (Morii), "Please offer your support for the PyeongChang Paralympics!" (Sudo), "Let's make the Paralympics exciting together" (Kishita), "I am happy to be standing here" (Nakamura), and more.

HIFANA's performance expressed the fun of para sports through sound.

WANIMA united the crowd with their moving performance.

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