Akira Miyagawa interview, October 2017

Filling in a blank area, though it’s not completely rock.

Published in Yamato 2202 Newspaper 2, October 13, 2017. (See it from cover to cover here.)

When speaking of Yamato, what comes immediately to mind is “music.” We spoke directly to Yamato 2202 composer Akira Miyagawa about the music that everyone has heard once.

How to handle a pipe organ

Interviewer: What are your thoughts about the re-imaging of Farewell to Yamato into Yamato 2202?

Miyagawa: When contemplating Farewell to Yamato, it’s difficult to express it in a word. I was a high school student when it was released. I vividly remember going to the movie theater across from the Koma theater in Shinjuku with my girlfriend.

Interviewer: Any memories of youth?

Miyagawa: I vaguely remember that she was crying at the last scene. But my feelings were complicated, and it was a shock. “They’re just ending on them charging in?” Also, in my high school the curriculum was focused mainly on carefully learning about war experiences. During summer vacation I read Listen to the Voices from the Sea and Black Rain from front to back and wrote an essay of my impressions. I think that goes on in every high school, but mine put particular emphasis on it, and I thought about more various things than an ordinary student. So even though I was just a high school student when I saw Farewell, my thoughts were like, “Is this OK?”

Interviewer: The ending was shocking for me, too.

Miyagawa: Far too shocking, isn’t it? Yuki Mori was revived in the first Yamato. I didn’t think it was possible, and there were pros and cons, but I liked it. The design of the White Comet was shocking, including the lower portion. When the rotation stopped, a huge city empire appeared, and when you think it has exploded a stronger giant battleship appears.

Interviewer: It had overwhelming strength.

Miyagawa: Your impression tilts toward despair.

Interviewer: But after all, there’s the music that’s played in 2202 in the scene where Great Emperor Zordar appears! I’m a fan of that, but is there a part that was intentionally rearranged this time? Also, is there are part where you dared to leave it as is?

Miyagawa: It all comes down to how you handle the pipe organ. The person who came up with that idea really hit a home run, didn’t he? The first part of the melody is very good, and Hiroshi Miyagawa must have made it to match the image of the pipe organ. With him, multiple independent melodies combine to form a piece of music, and I compose based on the “counterpoint” theory used by Bach. At that time, I was studying every day for my entrance exam to the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music. I came to ask him, “Hey, is this right?” and he’d answer, “It’s nice here, but a little strange here.” He said, “That’s how it is in a textbook, but it’s not good.”

Interviewer: That’s a great story.

Miyagawa: When I think about it now, expressing the evil theme using counterpoint is very sophisticated. It’s easy to remember an emotional melody, and when it’s knitted together using sophisticated counterpoint technique, the lack of satisfaction makes it a theme of evil, which is exactly like the structure of the city empire. Even if you break through the exterior, its image is concentrated at its foundation.

Speaking of music, if you’re burning through a single melody in a fight and that melody disappears, you can run on with just the baseline and it gives a feeling that you’re still alive. (Laughs)

Interviewer: That’s an interesting way of thinking, isn’t it?

Miyagawa: Also, it’s true that we’re using a pipe organ, which is the only instrument you won’t find in an orchestra.

I want to avoid simply tracing the original

Interviewer: Where did the idea of using the pipe organ come from?

Interviewer: I think it was conceived either by Hiroshi Miyagawa or Yoshinobu Nishizaki. Wasn’t the first Yamato well-made? I had the impression that they swung the bat blindly and got all home runs. There was the fight of the TV broadcast schedule (and various other circumstances), but great music was born in spite of that. It just so happened that the bat hit all the balls. But it’s said that such a thing can’t happen twice. This time they had to consciously hit it. The ball was coming in, but would it go to the same place? You can’t hit the next one the same way. The idea of using a pipe organ might have fit into that sort of scramble.

Interviewer: The pipe organ has a sound you can’t get any other way. It was probably the first time that sort of music passed through the sound of a pipe organ.

Miyagawa: At the same time, the tone of the next story shifted, and the second film’s view on life and death was beautifully expressed by the pipe organ, wasn’t it? Was it the idea of Yoshinobu Nishizaki, or the achievement of the wicked spirit in Hiroshi Miyagawa? Either way, it was a big hit.

That’s why I was so worried when I was going to do 2202. Would I follow it and do it just as it was, or change instruments, or not use that song? Even if I struggled with it, it wouldn’t have the impact it did back in those days. The one who discovered it was strong, wasn’t he? There’s no reason I couldn’t use a pipe organ. On the other hand, I wanted to avoid simply tracing it. There is also some pride at work here. (Laughs)

Even so, what made that melody? When returning to the starting point and thinking carefully about why the pipe organ was used, I asked, “Why was the pipe organ there for the better part of the story?” There are other ways to harmonize that song, you know. It became an idea. Taking that into consideration, I couldn’t finish this without planning and recording new songs, so I keep that in mind as I continue working on the main story.

Interviewer: What parts were you particular about this time?

Miyagawa: I had no choice but to be particular about how to handle the pipe organ. But in terms of the music, the authors were pretty obsessed at the time of Farewell. To break away from the symphonic rock route of the first Yamato, they shifted to classic string lines, or the artistic line.

Interviewer: It certainly has a solid feeling…

Miyagawa: The sounds and touch are feminine. There was much more rock in the first Yamato, and it had a boyish image. On the other hand, Farewell has very little rock. I think that was the commitment of the original authors. I don’t know whether they were stuck or just trying to change or were particular about the difference in nuance. It’s obvious that the score changed. Based on that, I’m using strings in my own way on 2202 and adding some rock elements. I’m trying to fill in a blank area between the first Yamato and Farewell, though it’s not completely rock.

Director Habara is an expert with balance

Interviewer: What were your impressions of Chapter 1 and Chapter 2?

Miyagawa: I think they bring out very good characteristics in Director Habara. I feel his characteristic is to somehow give the whole thing a sense of uniformity. I think we’ll stay afloat all the way to the seventh chapter.

Mr. Habara is an expert who preserves balance while avoiding pitfalls. I haven’t had any long talks with him, but that’s how I perceive him. He also feels like a younger brother through the work. The younger brother never falls into the traps that his older brother fell into. When you watch your older brother or sister fall, you can avoid it. Still you never really lose that sense thinking how funny it is when the fall comes, and how much that tea bowl is going to get chipped when it happens. (Laughs) Anyway, he’s good at avoiding trouble. Cautious, and I think he manages to not be cheap about it, but grand instead. He never, ever gets caught in the traps I set for myself.

On the other hand, in the case of Director Yutaka Izubuchi, he seemed to have a more bumpy ride on 2199. There’s a sense of taste and personality and it has an arguably rough feeling, but it’s fun to watch. That’s how I interpret 2199. The interesting thing about Mr. Izubuchi is that he was addicted to his own traps and couldn’t get out. Regardless of how I feel about that, I really like him as a person. (Laughs)

Interviewer: In that sense, this is a line with a different color. Director Habara has a sense of stability, doesn’t he?

Miyagawa: That’s indelible. There is a sense of stability. His filmmaking and compositional style leaves no room for guessing at unseen or unshown parts. It doesn’t go that deeply, but you get a much stronger sense of it as we go from chapter 1 to chapter 2.

The visual and auditory information are blended

Interviewer: There are a lot of places where Chapters 1 and 2 made an impression, including the music.

Miyagawa: I’m glad I made an impression. Which scenes are you talking about?

Interviewer: I wondered if it would open with the pipe organ as expected. And then suddenly Great Emperor Zordar appeared.

Miyagawa: That’s right. There are various other impressive scenes, and all I can say is that the use of music does not stick out too much. In this work, the pictures and music are blended. When I think of Ark of the Stars, the scene of beating the drums left an impression, and the music completely won over that scene. It was Mr. Izubuchi who thought up the drum and I thought, “Ah, now this is more music than picture, right?” (Laughs) As a musician, I feel like I win when the music wins. Anyway, the visual and auditory information are blended this time.

Interviewer: Meaning that they link well.

Miyagawa: I think harmony is another of Mr. Habara’s characteristics. Maybe his motto is “harmony.” Therefore, when you watch 2202, you don’t get the feeling that any one scene sticks out. When you see the whole thing, it would be a bad thing if only one or two points make an impression. That may be his way of thinking. I don’t remember any moments where something stuck out and seemed out of place.

You want to make a Yamato music university!?

Interviewer: It’s a long way to Chapter 7, but how are you doing now?

Miyagawa: My work will last another two or three weeks. When that’s over, the next thing I might work on is a Symphonic Suite Space Battleship Yamato 2199~2202, which I think is necessary. But I’m not sure yet.

Interviewer: Personally, I want you to do a concert. I think there’s a lot of music that sounds great when you hear it from a raw orchestra.

Miyagawa: I want to do a drastic concert. I’d do all the songs. A Space Battleship Yamato Cycle. All 1050 songs! But that’s just hypothetical.

Interviewer: You can dream, right?

Miyagawa: Or maybe I’ll start a Yamato music college. I’d like to have a music school where I do a recording in an area with 2,000 students watching. Or music study and space philosophy and how-to anime. It seems like that would be an interesting summer course, doesn’t it? I’d do a live-music concert as the culmination. And hope it would be used for some new movie music.

Interviewer: It would be magnificent, wouldn’t it?

Miyagawa: Actually, a promise came out the other day at the Lake Kawaguchi Music Festival: “If you want to do something, it can be done.” So that’s good, isn’t it?

After I said, “I’d like to do an arrangement lecture,” I did an arrangement of Yamato music for winds as an example. There are no strings in wind music, so the string part is played on clarinet. But if you just play it as is, the sound will stop. Therefore, the strings and clarinet are not exchanged one-for-one. I talked about counterpoints and chords and showed my arrangement. Then it became a story of the length of the chords and the melody side. Only in music is the freedom of melody compatible with the reason of chords. Society is the model for music theory. Such a music course would be possible because everyone knows Yamato music.

It then becomes something like, “How about performing a work by Gustav Mahler or something there, right?” But based on the premise that everyone knows Yamato music, that baseline would become the first step in counterpoint.

Interviewer: That would be great, a Yamato music lecture.

Miyagawa: I’d travel around the country with all the money I’d make… (Laughs)

Interviewer: Finally, what is Yamato to you?

Miyagawa: Heaven and hell, that’s what.

Interviewer: It seems to have a lot of meanings. Thank you very much for today.

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