Composer Akira Miyagawa interview, October 2017

Published in Hyper Hobby volume 5, October 5 2017.

Many readers hear the melodies of Akira Miyagawa every morning on the NHK drama series Hiykko. Following from the previous work, Yamato 2199, Akira Miyagawa is in charge of the music for Yamato 2202. Here, we hear stories about making the music of Yamato!

Remembering Hiroshi Miyagawa as a side-coach with this recording

Interviewer: Please share your impressions of participating in Yamato 2199 starting in 2012.

Miyagawa: I’m exactly in the middle of the “Yamato generation.” When the Space Battleship Yamato series was broadcast in 1974, I was one of the first customers. I felt a tremor, a real feeling of history in the making. After that, I thought there was too much Yamato. (Laughs) Everyone laughs when I talk about this story.

I think everyone vaguely thought “Why is it ‘being forever’ after it said ‘farewell’?” To be honest, I count myself among those who was being lame in that way.

So, I was the first customer, and I was very proud of my father’s music. I was really proud of that work, from the staff to the design to the story. When I attended a meeting for 2199, all I intended to do was say, “Are you doing it again? You have to be careful.” This was in 2010, before the live-action movie had been released. Yamato Resurrection had come out, but I hadn’t seen any of them.

In fact, I’d been contacted at the time of Resurrection, but I honestly said that “It is my intention not to do it.” Therefore, I’d honestly intended to decline 2199 when I heard about it. But General Director Yutaka Izubuchi said he wanted to meet me by all means, and when I met him for the first time I half-heartedly tried to say, “If it’s like this and that, I don’t want to do it.” (Laughs) Then he said, “Akira, this is what I’m thinking, too.”

He wanted to do a remake of all 26 episodes, and that’s the part I had misunderstood. (Laughs) He appreciated my argument when he listened to my story, and he said the 26 episodes were the most creative. He asked me, “How would you rework them?” When he asked that, I responded “If it wasn’t me doing it, I’d hate it.” (Laughs)


Third day in the recording studio, November 29, 2016

It would be a shock to see “Music by Takayuki Hattori” in the credits. That’s a joke, but I once saw Takayuki Hattori beg my father to sign his copy of the Symphonic Suite Yamato LP. That meant someone named Miyagawa first made an impact on someone named Hattori with the first Yamato. (Laughs) I would suffer for it if I didn’t do it myself, so I gave my ready answer within the day. It was good to have that kind of General Director, and I thought I would be glad to give it a go myself.

Mr. Izubuchi had enthusiasm and a unique view of the world. If it had been someone who was going to assemble the story with only a view of contemporary anime, it wouldn’t have been achieved at all. I worked on Yamato with the stance of, “Let’s drink until morning and talk about space.”

I think it’s incredibly fair. Rather than starting with “the Yamato of Yamato fans,” we were people who had a sort of cosmic philosophy, with a prevailing view of the mysteries of space and the mysteries of life, how encounters are miraculous, and how good and evil are twins of each other, that it was for artists to talk of things that big, and that includes musicians.

A bureaucrat talks about ten years ahead and a politician talks about 100 years ahead, but I think it takes an artist to talk about 1,000 years ahead. Mr. Izubuchi seemed happy to see such a story. Starting with that kind of flow, that’s how I fell into 2202. There were no more rituals of declining afterward. (Laughs)

But it was impossible to say it was heaven, and I wouldn’t have accepted it if it was. Bringing up a child is both heaven and hell. For me, taking on Yamato was heavy enough to be comparable to that. If it was simply fun, I wouldn’t be able to discover anything new. It’s a big, heavy thing for anyone to bear, and it isn’t possible to do Yamato if you don’t face up to that.

Maybe I’m a bit overly enthusiastic, but I went after it with that level of enthusiasm. And so, having eaten all of 2199 after tasting the sweetness in the beginning, it kind of felt like having the bits still stuck to my fingers. That’s why I’m following up with this. (Laughs)


Third day in the recording studio, November 29, 2016

Interviewer: What has changed since Nobuyoshi Habara became the director of 2202?

Miyagawa: That’s where it’s totally different. I wondered if Mr. Habara was the type who would view the story philosophically. Maybe we haven’t had a chance to have such a talk yet, but my feeling is that Mr. Habara is a very good judge. “Which way will we go here?” When he decides which is closer to the goal, I have the impression that his choices lead to a brighter future. In Mr. Izubuchi’s case, he started with the philosophy, saying what he’d previously judged and taking little compromise. He suffered from the seeds he himself had sown. (Laughed)

There’s a place where I fell into my own trap, but I think it’s a manly attitude for a great artist. Mr. Habara keeps from falling into traps by choosing the way well, and there’s a sense of security. Therefore, I’m relieved when I see the finished work. The flow of time is so smart and dignified, I feel like there is no waste. When I saw the third chapter I thought, “Ah, this says to me ‘This is well-made’.” While I had felt a sort of meeting of the minds in making it with Mr. Izubuchi, this felt more like “My little brother’s pretty smart, huh?” (Laughs)


Live performance on stage in a Yamatalk for Chapter 2, July 6 2017

Interviewer: With 2199, the story was that you didn’t have any sheet music to start with, so you copied it all by ear. But this time…?

Miyagawa: It’s the same. My father’s library is still there, but there really aren’t any Yamato scores there. It was stunning that there was no sheet music for the first Yamato at all, sometimes just a single page or some kind of debris. And I’ve never seen a score for Farewell to Yamato either. Anyway, the visual information will change radically. Of course, production and designs will change, but it’s the texture that changes the most. Many parts are done in CG now, and the pacing of time and music from the past don’t fit any more. Therefore, I understand that the flow of the music has to be re-recorded to some extent. Therefore, there is a musical score on the day we re-record it. (Laughs) Mr. Izubuchi seemed fascinated that “You copied this by ear?” I said, “Well, such things happen.” He said, “This will become a big topic.” I thought, “Are you serious?”

On the other hand, I was very excited. It was like, “I get to write the score for that piece?” It meant that I could clarify the score as sheet music, and get to know it all over again. In the end, that was fascinating. Now the ear-copy can be used by anyone who graduates from a music school.

However, the most interesting part was that I was taking lessons in the midst of the 2199 story. It was like taking lessons from my father. Lessons like, “Father made this one-minute song into two minutes.” That’s a good kind of technique. It’s cheap, but really impressive. Knowing “This song was written in 30 minutes” makes me want to try and write music like that, too.

“Although there was only this one element, just a semitone change here made my dream expand so much!” And then, “I dropped back down a semitone!” I don’t usually notice things like that if I don’t do the editing. If I do the ear-copy, I understand all of that. That was fun. There were a few songs where you could say that God resides in their genius. But no, that was Hiroshi Miyagawa all along.


Back in the studio, August 4 2017

Interviewer: What discoveries have you made as you make ear-copies of music from Farewell and Yamato 2 for Yamato 2202?

Miyagawa: We’re calling this work “salvage.” After all, if I do an ear-copy I understand that “obviously, we have to plan for musical differentiations from the first Yamato.” There are a lot of strange string parts. The first Space Battleship Yamato had a basis in rock, and there were a lot of scenes with activity from the rhythm section. But Farewell to Yamato was intentionally based on a string ensemble, so there is a lot of music in this world that doesn’t use codenames. I replaced the former rhythm section with mostly strings. I’d planned to differentiate it from the previous work, and I thought this would start with changing the instruments around to maintain my motivation.

Interviewer: It has a classical impression.

Miyagawa: That’s right. As a result, in general terms, it sounds classical. Morever, the pipe organ comes in there like Bach.

Interviewer: There’s the famous story of you playing the pipe organ for Farewell as a high school student. I think another performer came in for it this time. How was the recording?

Miyagawa: I did an ear-copy of White Comet once again. I remembered that the music I played was certainly like this, and I prepared a complete score while listening to my performance as a high school student many times. So I handed it to the organist, Ms. Hiroko Yoneyama. There was the possibility that I might play it myself, but I thought that was a joke and stopped it. (Laughs) So the day of the recording came, and I was next to the organ confirming how to play it when Ms. Yoneyama sat down and chose the sound touches. She said, “The phrasing here and there…yes, I know that.” I asked, “Did you study it properly?” She said, “Yes, I have a CD.”

“Eh? What do you mean? You studied what I did as a high school student?”

But it wasn’t illogical. (Laughs) Then when I was conducting strenuously next to the pipe organ, I suddenly remembered, “Yes, that was the same timing I had back then!”


From a promotional video for Chapter 1, February 2017

Hiroshi Miyagawa was at the side, directing with all his might, encouraging me and explaining the music. I completely forgot about that. I was already full in those days. Playing continuously with tears in my eyes, doing all I could to play without a mistouch,
and when he’d say that I’d played it pretty well or say how good or bad it was musically, I was doing it under the circumstances of thinking “All right, I get it! That’s not the issue here, dad!”

I forgot such things over a long time, but I remember Hiroshi Miyagawa coaching me from the side during the recording in those days. It’s the passing of the baton from parent to child, and also from musician to musician, and also from composer to player. I thought it was good to remember the various meanings of that. And so, even regarding my own children, I’ve spent every day repenting that. Not just showing them my back, but occasionally passing on what needs to be passed on.

I’d hoped to be a better father to my children, being more family-oriented than the Miyagawa who’d occasionally come home and stir things up before disappearing again to the Ginza, but I may not have been. When I thought about that, since that day I began to think about conveying the baton of life at important times.

On 2199, I thought that just by copying the music, I’d taken the lessons from that world and this one. And when I did, the amazing thing was that the memory of my father standing beside me, scaring me to death, telling me how to do this, that, and the other thing, became incredibly nostalgic. Like I was recalling a slumbering memory that I was now seeing. It was a mysterious experience.

Interviewer: Thank you very much. I look forward to 2202 in the future!

Special thanks to Neil Nadelman for translation support.

Visit Akira Miyagawa’s Twitter page here.


Studio recording, August 4 2017

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