Twelve Questions with Ryosuke Tanzawa

photo by Sean Gordon-Loebl, Ryosuke’s producer and “personal American tour guide”

Ryosuke Tanzawa’s videos are marked by the fact that he and his camera almost recede from presence – imagery so organic they seem more like the product of a curious passerby trying to document a passing moment. Watching his videos, it’s as if Tanzawa isn’t even there. His visuals are a submersion into the details of reality, in all its beauty, (seeming) irrelevance, simplicity, and significance.

Born in Japan and based now in Brooklyn, New York, Ryosuke Tanzawa works professionally as a freelance editor, with an edit reel that includes videos for Run the Jewels, Schoolboy Q, Fetty Wap, and Takuya Kuroda (jazz musician and Tanzawa’s friend) as well as commercial videos for brands like Google, Adidas, Reebok, and Tequila.

Yet, he is most energized by his independent collaborations with musicians. Tanzawa is the prolific visual artist behind an array of standout videos from several popular rappers and singers: within the last two years, he’s shot, directed, and edited Navy Blue’s “Simultaneously Bleeding” and “Higher Self”; King Carter’s “Run it Up”; Wiki’s explosive “Litt 15”; Ovrkast’s tranquil “Try Again”; and MIKE’s pulsing “what’s home?”

In October, Wiki released a video for “The Act,” shot, directed, and edited by Tanzawa, and later that month, standout vocalist and producer KeiyaA dropped a Tanzawa-directed video for her song “I! Gits! Weary!” This past December, Tanzawa added to his tally and crafted two new videos for Navy Blue: “Moment Hung” and the majestic “1491.” Two weeks ago, the filmmaker released a video with Navy Blue for “Durag Anthem,” and just a few days ago, MIKE dropped “Evil Eye” – a Tanzawa-shot-and-edited video.

Many of these musicians are producing music out of New York City, releasing their art independently and away from mainstream settings yet still garnering a global audience (a couple of Tanzawa’s music videos have accumulated over a hundred thousand views). These are (mainly Black) young artists trailblazing innovative and alluring paths through the expanse of hip-hop and Black music, and Tanzawa has been integral to helping visualize these sounds: a match formed through collaborative freedom and Tanzawa’s eye.

A couple weeks ago, I emailed Tanzawa thirteen questions, and he chose twelve to answer. His responses are edited lightly for clarity.


Why filmmaking as your choice of expression?
I like making things in my own little space and film editing does that for me. I started directing & shooting music videos a few years ago, but I still enjoy the editing process the most for that reason.

When you create music videos, what’s your goal? How or when do you know that you’ve ‘succeeded’?
Each project is very different, so sometimes it takes a lot of versions to get it right and other times the first edit is the pretty much final cut. But usually if I watch what I edit yesterday and still feel good, that is a very good sign I’m on the right path. Sometimes I would be like, “what the hell was I thinking last night?”, which is not a pleasant feeling.

What are some of the things that influence your work?
I don’t want to sound like an old man, but I like just walking around the city listening to the track I’m supposed to make the video for. You will never run out of the ideas by just watching people here in New York City. Isn’t that the best part of living in the city?

Searching for “inspirations” on the internet always feels a bit ingenuine. Not that I don’t do it all, tho.

How does your Japanese heritage inform your art, if at all?
I don’t see much of the aesthetic of what I like/am proud of about Japan in most of what Japanese make these days, but it was in early Takeshi Kitano’s movie or in (again, early) Haruki Murakami’s novel [that influenced me]. Generally speaking, it’s about appreciation of subtleness or indirectness, say-less-do-more type of mentality, but not in a pretentious way.

So, yes, I’m definitely influenced by the art from where I came from, more or less, which I am fine with. 

A lot of your short videos — and obviously your music videos — are dynamic and responsive to sounds and music. How do you think about sound and rhythm as an element/tool/guide of your visuals?
My friend and director Amilcar Gomes, who I sometimes edit videos for, made me realize how sound effects can do a lot to add texture to the images. And it’s not just emulating what it’s supposed to sound like…you can do a bit more than that by experimenting.

I like music and film over paint and photography because it has a timeline. It allows you to make transitions, changes. It’s when a DJ mixes the tracks – you can cut in, or do a long mix, or whatever works to move forward. And I am obsessed with the feeling of changes. So I like doing that with visuals as spontaneous as possible like a (good) DJ does.

And I like to edit videos off the rhythm sometimes. I can’t really explain well, but certain discomfort is refreshing. And I like J Dilla and Madlib!

Tanzawa’s musical flair is especially evident when watching some of his short works. One example is the video he created for YanYan (below), a Chinese knitwear brand. Shot with film, Tanzawa balances dreamy imagery of plants and YanYan clothing, lulled along by the sunlight and a quick-moving soundtrack. Matching Tanzawa’s swift transitions, we hear the calm of birds chirping alongside a frenetic drum solo, as well as a satisfying harp melody dispersed throughout the video. Tanzawa wields sound masterfully in his videos, using the audio to carry, but also fill in, his visual choices.

Another example is “portfonia” (below). Titled after the Raymond Scott song that Tanzawa plays throughout the video, the minute-long clip is entirely black-and-white. In it, Tanzawa spontaneously captures Tokyo, weaving together a portrait of the people and the city atop the song’s drifting and poking synths. As the video develops, we’re led around the city through Tanzawa’s wandering, ever-curious lens.

As he unifies sliced footage, Tanzawa’s editing style and cadence are visual evidence of the very art of sampling and production he is inspired by – not unlike the producer who sculpts a beat from chopped samples after scouring an old record. I’m captivated by his short videos: these quick and slicing – yet enveloping – vignettes of life; visuals snatched from moments in time. There’s no attempt to explain the impromptu nature of these videos. Somehow, the specificity of these videos and their kaleidoscopic character bring us closer to how Tanzawa sees the world.

Ryosuke and his girlfriend Deborah, who was featured in the Yan Yan video.

What would you be doing in your life if not filmmaking?
My mom, maternal grandparents, and most of my relatives are teachers, and they are very proud of what they do. Since I haven’t contributed to society for this time of life that much, maybe I should try to be a teacher for the next one. Or a drummer.

What are you most excited for as you continue your creative journey? I remember you mentioning an experimental short film you’d been developing?
Yes, I’ve made this short film, I’ve got music from my friends, including MIKE, Wiki, and Corey King, and musicians I’ve been a fan of, like Show Me The Body and Slauson Malone. And Sage did some voice over for the film. I am thinking of posting the whole thing on my instagram soon. It’s really hard to explain what it is, but isn’t that the point of making videos rather than writing books or Medium?

Also, I am making a photo zine with my talented friend Abe aka AINT WET. Those are my own projects and not necessarily an interpretation of something already made by others, so it’s a bit scary to put it out, but that’s what musicians do all the time. Got to respect that.

Consistent in Tanzawa’s work is how it seems like there is nothing too random, simple, or out-of-place to appear. His videography turns objects into compelling symbols, as he slips into his videos everything from a clock’s ticking hands, to a Styrofoam mannequin head wearing glasses and lipstick, or a close-up of a doorknob. Not to mention Tanzawa’s affinity for nature: lively streets, planes and birds in the sky, waves crashing. All of which emerge with new significance alongside the music and under Tanzawa’s gaze.

scene from MIKE’s “what’s home?”

Tanzawa’s work with Navy Blue, too, evidences the filmmaker’s distinct approach to naturalizing his film. The video for “Simultaneously Bleeding(still images below) opens into an intimate side-profile of Navy Blue’s speech, dramatically lit and contrasted by a deep black backdrop. “Shoulders ain’t for crying on, my brothers know,” he raps, “Hold ’em close / Privately, we cope.” Never looking directly into the camera, Navy Blue recites his lyrics moreso to himself than any audience; the black background keeps our focus on him, but his disregard for the lens makes watching the video feel like eavesdropping through a closed door.

And Tanzawa is the fly on the wall inside the room, accumulating footage, documenting and contextualizing. Reporting out for the world to see.

I want to ask about a few specific videos you’ve created. First, though, what’s it been like working with all these unique young artists around the city? Why do you think your visuals work so well with their music?

I think there is something common to all of them but at the same time, their music is very different. So each video is a completely different process and I enjoy doing that.

King Carter’s video is filled with fast-paced and slicing transitions. Was there anything you hoped to convey?

There are a lot of faces on the street, from murals to statues, and I thought it would be interesting to show a ton of them. I forgot why tho.

credit to Doug Durant, the Director of Photography

How did you approach KeiyaA’s video? The footage feels as warm and vivid as the song’s beat.

The song is titled “I! Gits! Weary!” so I figured having her walk makes her tired…as we all do. The fighting scene and jumping rope were her ideas, which worked perfect!

Watching Navy Blue’s “Higher Self,” there’s something so pensive, calming, and grounding about the footage. What was the creation process for that video?

Again I had just very simple ideas, which is to have Sage walk on the street, and lip sync in front of the mirror as he says “I told my image, I ain’t scared of you.

What about the video you just made for MIKE?

That one is homage to MF DOOM’s Dead Bent. If you are fan of DOOM you would definitely notice, as it’s pretty straightforward… But we decided not to mention cause if you know, you know. And that’s why it’s edited & shot by me, not directed. But in all fairness, I think MF DOOM saw Sugar Water by Cibo Matto. And I love the fact he dig them.


Introduced to Tanzawa through the musicians he’s worked with, I’ve grown fond of how his visuals have added another layer of expression to the dynamic sounds sweeping through today’s hip-hop and (broadly) Black creative music. As we watch KeiyaA and and Navy Blue and Wiki and MIKE through Tanzawa’s lens and skillful manipulation of footage, we grow near the moods and attitudes of the artists, and we see their music’s purpose and atmosphere – perhaps, in some ways, the foundational task of a music video. At the same time, through the images we also see Tanzawa himself, as we become witness to – and are swept along – his tinkered renditions of music, life, and memory.

Ryosuke Tanzawa filming rapper Wiki.
 photo by Nicholas Briggs