Akira Miyagawa interview, October 2017

Reviving the sound of Yamato by facing the music left behind by the father!

Yamato 2202 Composer Akira Miyagawa interview!

Interview by Junichi Tsukagoshi

Published by Akiba Souken, October 9, 2017. See the original post here.

Chapter 3 of Yamato 2202, Pure Love Chapter, premieres on Saturday, October 14, 2017. Akira Miyagawa, who was in charge of the music for Yamato 2199, is the son of composer Hiroshi Miyagawa who created the music for the original Space Battleship Yamato series, which is the basis for this work. In this long interview, he talks about undertaking the music of Yamato and “What is Yamato?”

Undertaking the Yamato sound by the enthusiasm of General Director Izubuchi

Interviewer: How did you come to be in charge of the music for Yamato 2199?

Miyagawa: I’m of the Yamato generation. I was an eighth-grader when it was broadcast on TV in 1974, so I can say that I was the first customer and I trembled with the feeling of history being made! That was my honest feeling. But after that I felt there was too much of Yamato. Why would Be Forever come out in 1980 after they said Farewell in 1978? When I think about it, it seems like a half-joke, and I wasn’t up to it any more.

I was the first customer and I was very proud of my father’s music and the entire work from design to story, so when I heard about Yamato 2199 I went to the meeting intending to preach a sermon of “Are you really trying to do it again?” I’d gotten the call from Naoto Otomo [conductor of the Japan Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra for Yamato Resurrection], and I honestly intended not to do it. I wasn’t going to take the job. My intention was to decline.

But I was told that Director Yutaka Izubuchi wanted to meet with me by all means, so I went to meet him for the first time. At that time I might have said why I didn’t want to work on it, and Mr. Izubuchi said, “I feel the same way, too.” Moreover, he said, “I thought the first 26 episodes were really creative, and I’m going to make them again this time.” If that was going to be the case, I didn’t want someone else to do it. It would be a shock to see “Music by Takayuki Hattori” there. (Laughs)

Of course, I’m joking. I once saw Takayuki Hattori ask my father to sign his copy of Symphonic Suite Yamato, and that had a big impact. Yamato was a work that surpassed both the Hattori family and the Miyagawa family. I would have suffered if I didn’t do the work myself, so I immediately said to let me do it. As a result, it was a good thing.

Interviewer: Did you feel Mr. Izubuchi’s enthusiasm?

Miyagawa: It could be considered enthusiasm and a unique perspective. He wasn’t someone who would just reassemble the story in the anime. I hadn’t realized it, but he had the stance of talking about outer space all the way into the morning. He didn’t start from the generalization of making Yamato for Yamato fans, it was about “the wonders of the universe” and “the wonder of life” and “discovering miracles” and how “good and evil are twins.” He’s a person who has something like a space philosophy, so it was fun to talk.

Most musicians and artists talk about big things. (Laughs) A bureaucrat talks about ten years ahead, a politician talks about 100 years ahead, but I think it takes an artist to talk about 1,000 years ahead. Do you know what I mean? Starting with that kind of flow, we’ve now arrived at Yamato 2202.

To be honest, when 2202 came up there was no such ritual of me deciding to decline. (Laughs) However, undertaking it was no heaven. I was going to see both heaven and hell. That’s what Yamato is to me. I compare it to supporting a family and raising a child. What could you learn about yourself if it was just fun, or just heaven? Yamato isn’t only about that, is it?

Interviewer: Did you taste heaven and hell when it came to 2199?

Miyagawa: In 2199, it was like I ate all the sweet parts at first, and then there were parts where I ate all the fatty bits. It was kind of like, “I’ll get you later!” (Laughs)

Interviewer: Have there been any changes in going from Mr. Izubuchi to Mr. Habara directing Yamato 2202?

Miyagawa: It’s completely different. Mr. Habara isn’t the type to enter it philosophically. I haven’t had a chance to talk about this yet, but he seems to be a very good judge. Which one should we pick, this or this? And so on. My impression is that he’s very a good at choosing what’s closer to the goal.

Since Mr. Izubuchi came into it philosophically, he struggled to come to terms with things he had said earlier, and I think there were places where he fell into his own traps. I think it’s bold for an artist, but Mr. Habara never gets caught in traps. He makes his way by choosing wisely. So there is a great sense of security. When I see the finished work, it’s wonderful, isn’t it? The pacing is very smart and dignified, and there’s no waste. I got the impression when I saw the work a few days ago “This is so well made.”

“Struggling” and “agony” is the essence of Yamato!

Interviewer: At the time of Yamato 2199, the story was that there was no score left behind, so you had to write the sheet music by ear. How was it this time?

Miyagawa: It was the same this time. But I knew there was no musical score. My father had a library, but there weren’t really any Yamato scores in it. I think the multi-recording sound sources were still around, but I decided to record it all over again.

After all, the amount of visual information would change radically in both production and design, but the first thing is the texture. In old anime, there’s a place where it feels like a flip-book and that was the flavor, but there is more CG now, and the density of the music no longer matches the density of these times. Therefore, I understood the significance of re-recording, and in order to record it again, you need sheet music.

At the time of 2199, Mr. Izubuchi seemed sort of interested. He asked me, “Does this mean you’re making ear-copies?” And I said, “Well, those things happen sometimes.” (Laughs) He felt like it would be a big topic, and I thought, “Are you serious?” But on my side, I was very excited. I would get to write the sheet music for that piece! What’s the structure of that song? Writing the score is meant to clarify it, not just try to understand it again. So when you try it, it’s fun!

A composer who graduates from music college can generally make an ear-copy, so it felt like I was taking classes again, and it was fun. I had lessons like, “Father made this one-minute piece into two minutes!” (Laughs) Also, it’s good to have those skills. It’s cheap, but so good! And then when you try to do it, you know you can say, “I wrote this song in 30 minutes!”

I made a lot of discoveries while I was doing it, and though some of them were just elements, my dream would expand so much by just a semitone modulation here or there! I didn’t even notice during a normal listening, and I was happy to gain a better understanding of it by making a copy. Some of it is really genius-like. I think God resides in a few of those pieces. I thought it was great. I wasn’t wrong about Hiroshi Miyagawa, was I?

Interviewer: Do you have the same feeling with 2202?

Miyagawa: If I was going to copy it by ear, I clearly understood from the beginning that, “Right from the start, I will try to differentiate it musically from the first Yamato.” There are a lot of strange string parts. The first Yamato mainly used a rock system. There were a lot of scenes where the rhythm section played an active part, and 2202 has a large number of pieces based around the string section. I talked about that from the first meeting, since there are a lot of places where the strings replace the previous rhythm section. My father wasn’t trying to make the exact same thing over again, so I thought it was necessary to make changes in order to maintain my motivation.

Interviewer: Does it feel like classical?

Miyagawa: It is, generally speaking. Besides, there’s the pipe organ music in there.

Interviewer: A pipe organ was used for the impressive White Comet, and there’s a widely-known story that you played that pipe organ when you were a high school student. This time it was re-recorded in a form close to the original. Was there something in particular that synced up?

Miyagawa: That also started as an ear-copy. I remembered that when I played it my impression was that the sheet music was definitely like this, and I listened to my high school performance many times to prepare perfect sheet music that I handed to the organist, Ms. Hiroko Yoneyama. I had the option of playing it myself, but I thought that would be a joke, so I stopped it. (Laughs)

She plays the pipe organ in the recording, and I decided the tone and how to play it. “Gradually slow it down there.” I found out that she had studied it very closely. When I asked her, she said, “I had a CD.” And I said, “You studied the version I played as a high school student?” (Laughs) I thought that would have been ridiculous.

Meanwhile, I was standing next to her and leading here like, “It’s different here, play it a little more slowly, and add one beat to play it stronger here.” At that moment, I remembered, “That was me, too!” Hiroshi Miyagawa was conducting right beside me, and I was inspired by how he explained the music. I’d almost forgotten about that. As for me, my head was full of trying to play it without a mistake, and even if he was talking about musical things, I was like, “That’s not the problem, dad!” (Laughs) So I forgot all about it. But Hiroshi Miyagawa was certainly conducting.

There’s the passing of various batons, from musician to musician, from musicians to performers, from parents to children, and I thought it was good to remember the various meanings of that. And so, when it comes to 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 even did it where my own father was concerned. He’d come home once in a while and stir things up before disappearing off to the Ginza again, and I thought he was a good, domestic father but he was no such thing. (Laughs) When I thought about that, I conveyed specific things, and from that day I started thinking about how to pass that raw baton, so it was an unexpected phenomenon.

Interviewer: I think there are also some pieces in 2202 that you composed yourself. What did you think about in order to make the original songs and your songs live together?

Miyagawa: To answer that question correctly, I have to say I didn’t think about it, because in the beginning I didn’t have much confidence. I had musical director Tomohiro Yoshida listen to it, to which he said “This is good, isn’t it?” and such, after a lot of hemming and hawing. When I finally sorted them all out at the recording, I felt there was no mismatch at all! My style is different, and I’d dared to write music that my father wouldn’t write.

After all, it was good to sow some seeds with 2199. Mr. Izubuchi had prepared some of my work. For the anthem of the Garmillas Empire, he asked me to make up a school song from a military academy. He asked if I could make a melody that would embrace the aspirations of the young. That plan seemed extremely logical to me. Since I was prepared to say that I had no song like that, this was easy to do. And when I tried to finish it, I was glad that I wasn’t the only one feeling uncomfortable, but apparently my guest did, too. Like father, like son, I guess.

Whether a song is similar or not, I think they are all influenced by something. Whether you’re longing for “a fashionable harmony” or “a cool rhythm” or “a curvaceous melody like a great dragon,” everyone has something similar. I don’t know whether it comes from experience or DNA, but that’s what’s in the tunes of Yamato.

After that, I suppose I have a strong desire to decidedly express the era. That can be true even if you don’t use a computer. Like Hiroshi Miyagawa, I’m not using it because I can’t, it’s because I think the music needs to be recorded in one shot. And so the Miyagawa parts may sound a little different… However, it feels like Miyagawa music, and joins together naturally.

Interviewer: What do you feel when confronting a piece of Hiroshi Miyagawa music?

Miyagawa: I don’t think there was any problem my father couldn’t overcome, but when someone says, “Write something that isn’t similar,” the writer is in big trouble. There’s a lot of good battle scene music, but since the next enemy is different you need to write different music. He built up over 900 pieces. That’s why I call it looking into hell, since he wrote battle scenes over and over again.

I do think that the previous stuff was fine, though. (Laughs) When doing it, even when out of ammo, I wonder if my father would fight on resolutely and I think he really didn’t.

But I noticed that Yamato is itself the act of struggling. Yamato is a struggle. Why is it the Battleship Yamato from World War II? Why not the Battleship Nagato? Anyway, it would be no good if it wasn’t Yamato. It wouldn’t be Yamato if you didn’t ask yourself that question. I don’t know what kind of feeling viewers have when watching Yamato, but I wonder if they think of struggling together.

I hated the ending of Farewell to Yamato. At that time, we were carefully studying the war in the school I attended. For summer vacation I was writing my impressions of Listen to the Voices from the Sea, and when I saw Farewell even a high school student could understand that “This is the same as the Kamikaze unit.” Still, I thought “This is cool!” “I’d do this scene!” and then I began to question “Who am I?”

Weapons are cool. A battleship is a weapon, so that’s cool. The tools of killing are cool…so what does that make me? What is a human? That’s the story, isn’t it? So I struggled with that and thought about it, and it’s in the true character of Yamato not to give the answer to that debate. I’ve wondered why it was so fascinating to me as a high school student. I guess I’ll be associated with the disease now. Therefore, when I’m working on Yamato it is heaven and hell, the relationship between parent and child. I think it will become a true legend.

Interviewer: Are you also struggling now?

Miyagawa: Last time, I wrote music that wasn’t requested. I came up with melodies and had the staff listen to it, and the story became that we should record it for use separately. We took a lot of time to do it. It took up a lot of studio time. We didn’t know where the music would be used, but I recorded it so there would be something there. I take on the struggle because it’s Yamato. It feels like shaking a baton hard.

When I struggled with the composition it was, “Is this cool? Is it something new? Does it feel like Yamato?” It was fun to see which pieces were used. For me, Yamato starts from such a place.

When I was on my own, my father told me to write one piece of music for him for a battle scene, and I thought, “I hope Yoshinobu Nishizaki likes it.” I wanted to return to feeling that starting point again. Sorry about the budget, though. (Laughs) It’s my argument that it isn’t Yamato if I don’t do it. Otherwise, if I only made what could sell, all the music would be the same.

The sound supervisor is essential for the Yamato sound

Interviewer: What do you need to compose a piece of music?

Miyagawa: In my case, it’s a title. I always want to express it in two to four kanji characters. “Passion” or “Emotion” for example. If it’s a fight, it could be “Back and forth” or “Victory streak.” When I write for such a title, the dream expands. After a storyboard is completed, they say they want music from this point to that point, and that’s when I get into it. If I can come up with a very specific title, that’s about enough to stimulate me into action.

Interviewer: In that sense, the music for the scene when Yamato and Andromeda pass each other in Episode 5 was breathtaking. It’s a place where the picture and the music combine. Is that technique unique to Yamato?

Miyagawa: That was cool, wasn’t it? But in terms of matching, the sound director Tomohiro Yoshida thinks about everything. From the time it gets recorded, he’s thinking “There isn’t any music in that scene,” or “Let’s put this on here,” and it seems he’s already putting the puzzle together for Chapter 7. “I’ll use this a lot later.” “This fits well there.” Or “This piece is perfect for that spot, I’ll move the one I thought I’d use to somewhere else.” I hear such conversations a lot, so I think about that.

Interviewer: Do you sometimes perform it to the picture if you have a movie?

Miyagawa: Of course, there is that, too. I think it’s a good mixture. First of all, the image is made up freely by the writer, then it fits tightly into place. But if the music doesn’t quite fit, a scene can change like a puzzle in order to have a special feeling. But in so-called film scoring, it gets recorded according to a measure [of time].

I think it’s healthy to do it both ways. If it’s done only as film scoring, the purpose is for it to fit the picture, and there are sometimes cases where the original energy of the music doesn’t go in the direction I want it to. Isn’t that a little dangerous? Leonard Bernstein. (A musician who was a mainstay of the classical music world in the latter 20th century.) There are documents left behind showing that he was angered for some reason and swore not to do movies.

Interviewer: Because there are both the craftsman and the artist sides?

Miyagawa: Yes. Both sides are the true character of the writer. They are obviously both a craftsman and an artist.

Interviewer: Have there been any moments where a scene used music in a particularly interesting way?

Miyagawa: I think the most interesting image-matching was the three-way fight between Gatlantis, the Garmillas Empire, and Yamato [in Ark of the Stars]. That was all film scoring. Garmillas from here! Gatlantis from here! Then that part goes to The White Comet. It was fascinating to make it. When it connects well, that’s when I got a chance to show what I could do as both a craftsman and an artist. It was a real pleasure. The musicians played it hard for the recording, because it is fun.

Then Mr. Yoshida loosened the reins a little. Since I wrote a piece to match the scene, it was strange when it didn’t perfectly fit every scene, so he said, “just play it with ease.” Since I did it with my imagination in full bloom, suddenly it didn’t fit. Then they adjusted the picture a little and put in sound effects at certain moments and shortcuts at other moments, and it connected beautifully. In the performance, it maintains consistency, with the technique never racing away.

Interviewer: Hearing that, and that the musical director is continuing, is related to the sense of security.

Miyagawa: Without Mr. Yoshida, the drama of Yamato could not be recorded.

Interviewer: Final question. You’ve told a lot of stories so far, but who is your favorite character?

Miyagawa: Who is it? (This was his most troubled moment of the day) That’s hard to say…it’s my personal hobby. All the women are pretty. There’s no help for that. And those uniforms. “Whoah, whoah, whoah!” I feel like, how can I restrain myself? If that’s what I think, I think it’s very cruel to the men of the Yamato crew. Therefore, you can’t look at a female crewmember from the front. What could you do if such a pretty person was in front of you every day? I think too much about that. (Laughs)

Interviewer: I completely agree.

Miyagawa: Of course, Yuria Misaki is a good one. I really like the beautiful Kaoru Niimi, who wears the glasses. She makes me antsy. The feeling of, “Lift up your hair and show yourself.” After that, Makoto Harada is very cute! And Yuki Mori, of course. That’s a formidable lineup.

But if I had to choose just one, I’d say it’s Analyzer. (Laughs) I’ve liked Analyzer since junior high. Since I really liked such robots, I thought that since Analyzer was there three years before Star Wars, I felt the joy of slaying a demon. (Laughs)

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