Hollywood magic

LA-born magician Cyril Takayama, who is performing in Thailand for the first time, developed his unique style from his years living hand-to-mouth in Tokyo

Cyril performs on stage.

Hailed as one of the pioneers of street magic, with multiple international magic awards under his belt, Japanese-French magician Cyril Takayama will soon be bedazzling Thai audiences for the first time at his "Cyril Magic: Up Close & Personal Live In Bangkok". The show is scheduled for June 16-19 at KBank Siam Pic-Ganesha Theatre, 7th Floor Siam Square One.

Ahead of his performance, the master magician sat down with Life to discuss his passion for magic and the hardships he has endured in its pursuit.

"I first saw magic at a Las Vegas show some friends of my parents brought me to when I was six-years-old," he began.

"At the time, I had no idea what magic was, as I had never seen anything like it before in my life. I thought magic was real! That's when I knew I wanted to be a magician, to have the power to make miracles happen."

Takayama's first transformation into a practitioner of magic began in earnest when he received a 10-lesson magic course for his 10th birthday. After learning some fundamental magic tricks (like making a card disappear, making it reappear, etc.), the young Takayama finally made his debut performance aged 14, where he performed a three-minute magic routine for their school talent show.

"It was just three minutes, but it felt like forever because I was so nervous," recalled Takayama.

"The show turned out to be quite well received, so I eventually hired a school cheerleader to be my assistant and did my first paying job making bunnies and doves appear for 50 bucks. From there, magic just sort of became my way of life."

Takayama's dedication to magic meant he always had a deck of playing cards on him, even at school. This would eventually land him in trouble with his school principal and, more importantly, his strict Japanese father.

"My dad was so embarrassed when the principal called him to say he caught me bringing playing cards to school," he said.

Cyril Takayama.

"Like most parents, my parents weren't very supportive of my interest in magic. They wanted me to become a lawyer or doctor, but I was just playing with cards, silks and birds all day. I had nine doves in my room at the time!"

Later expelled from school for behavioural problems, 15-year-old Takayama was anything but thrilled when his father told him he was going to be leaving his birthplace of Los Angeles, California to live with his grandmother in the Japanese suburbs of Okinawa.

"My grandmother lived in the very suburbs of Okinawa, where all the lights went out at 7pm. There were no stores, no entertainment, nothing for me, someone who grew up in Hollywood," he said.

On his way from America to Okinawa, Takayama's flight made a stopover in Tokyo, where he got off the plane and never got back on. Instead, he moved into a small apartment with a friend -- the only soul he knew in Tokyo -- and lived there for three years, making do with whatever little money he earned from performing magic on the streets and nightclubs of Japan's capital city.

"My father sent me to Japan with US$1,500 (53,000 baht), which I promptly spent within three or four days, as I knew nothing about Tokyo and had no idea how expensive everything was. Since my father wasn't able to send anymore money after that, magic saved me, as it became the a way for me to survive."

Takayama's friend would later encourage him to perform at Japanese nightbars, saving whatever meagre tips he could to buy food.

"I had to grow up very fast at the time," recalled the magician.

"I had no mentor, no friends. Magic was my only means of survival. If I didn't make enough money, I wasn't going to be eating any food. My friend and I were so poor we often had to share a single bento lunch set or udon bowl. It was a very hard time."

The challenges Takayama faced during his time in Tokyo eventually wound up becoming the main reason behind his international success. Deprived of the resources and support systems available to him back at his home in the US, Takayama soon developed his own style of magic, bringing the splendour and showmanship of the Las Vegas magicians he idolised to whatever space he was performing in.

"When I arrived in Japan, there was no place for me to do magic. My stages were nightclubs, and my dressing rooms were emergency fire exits or bathroom stalls, where I would prepare all my props."

Takayama's big break finally came when he was approached by a Japanese TV producer, who wanted to create a magic TV show similar to famous American magician David Blaine's 1997 programme Street Magic, a very influential TV magic show at the time. The show's production took six months, during which Takayama realised that all his years performing magic in undesirable locations has been training him for this moment.

"I realised that all those years that I've been crying that I didn't have the proper facilities to do my magic was actually a training ground for me; it was me being able to do magic in the worst condition ever, in the hardest places."

Today, Takayama is known across the world as one of the most influential magicians in the world, having earned the "Magician of the Year" award from the 39th Annual Academy of Magical Arts Awards, also known as the "Academy Awards of Magic" in 2007. This puts him in the same company as magicians such as David Copperfield and Siegfried & Roy.

The magician ended the interview with a message to all of his Thai fans, who he has prepared a very special trick for.

"I would like everyone to come with an open mind and be ready to have fun. I don't want people to come just so they can scrutinise and figure out my secrets. If that's what your intentions are, you can totally do that, but I'm telling you, you're gonna have fun. It's my life's work contained in two hours, and this is just the beginning."

"Cyril Magic: Up Close & Personal Live In Bangkok", at Kbank Siam Pic-Ganesha Theatre, 7th Floor, Siam Square One, June 16-19 (7.30pm on weekdays, 2pm and 7pm on weekends. Doors open 30 minutes before showtime). Tickets are 1,500/2,000/2,500/3,000/ 3,500/4,000/4,800 baht. Visit www.thaiticketmajor.com.

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