An Interview with Composer Akira Miyagawa

Published in the theatrical program book for Yamato 2199 Chapter 4, January 2013.

For the new music, I emphasized the “poetic sentiment” that was my father’s favorite phrase.

Interviewer: Please tell us about your first encounter with Space Battleship Yamato.

Miyagawa: I watched the first TV series from Episode 1. Seeing it got me excited. “Something great has begun.” Of course, I didn’t miss any of it all the way to the end. If the caption read “Earth has only XX days left,” there was no way to stop. (Laughs) I went to see the movie version while still suffering a lingering fever.

Interviewer: You were impressed as a fan regardless of your father’s work on it.

Miyagawa: Of course, I thought that the music my father created was wonderful, and I was also glad when my father’s name came into the limelight as the composer of Yamato‘s music. I watched the work being done for the Symphonic Suite and was even asked for advice sometimes. I guess it was because I was the closest fan, and also because I was studying music. At that time I hadn’t yet thought I would turn around and make my own.

Interviewer: Farewell to Yamato paved the way for that. You played the White Comet theme during the time of music recording.

Miyagawa: As soon as he’d finished that music, my father was in high spirits and boasted to me, “I’ve really made something incredible,” and it did seem to be something that was near and dear to his heart. He definitely takes the sort of music you hear all the time in SF space films and polishes it up in a way that makes it unique.

Besides, it’s catchy and memorable, with a powerful sense of dread on just the right scale. He wrote that wonderful music for a pipe organ, even though he had never played one. I wonder if he thought, “I must be a genius!” (Laughs) As for my playing this product of my father’s self-confidence, it began with him asking, “Have you ever played an organ?”

I was in the second year of high school at the time. It was recorded at a place called the Musashino Academy of Music, and it seemed that an instructor there declined to perform it. I think it was probably because he didn’t have the confidence to play music by a professional pops composer like my father, so my turn had come. However, I had only played a rock organ, which was not at all like playing a pipe organ, so there was a lot of pressure and I flubbed it dozens of times. I was miserable and my tears flowed non-stop. If I do say so myself, the rice bowl I ate for dinner was awfully salty. (Laughs)

Still, I worked hard on it even thought I was discouraged, and the instructor who’d turned it down praised me for being “a wonderful son.” As for me, I thought, “only because you wouldn’t do it…!” (Laughs)

Back in those days, there was a disco version of this song on the Polydor album Eternal Space Battleship Yamato New Disco Arrange. I reworked it and recorded it in my own way, this time with a Hammond organ instead of a pipe organ, so I think I finally got my revenge.

[Translator’s note: the album mentioned here is also known as I Adore the Eternity of Love, or simply “Disco Yamato. After languishing in copyright jail for decades, it was finally released on CD in 2012 as part of the Yamato Sound Almanac series from Columbia. Read more about it here.]

Interviewer: What was the first Yamato music that you made?

Miyagawa: At the time of Be Forever Yamato, I tried to write the music for the first time the soldiers appear and start dropping. There were two or three versions, longer and shorter, and eventually the shorter one was adopted. Producer Yoshinobu Nishizaki was present for the recording of the longer one and said, “Mr. Miyagawa, I thought something was wrong,” since it seemed to be quite different from previous music, and my father took the time to praise me later, saying, “that was really good.” But when I heard the recording on tape later, I thought, “I could never write music like that for father.”

Basically, father was a pops composer, but I was studying to be a classical composer. In the wake of this, father let me write music for every recording without being concerned over whether or not it would be used. So far as he was concerned, he may have thought that as I progressed through the Tokyo University of the Arts, I’d begin walking the same path as him.

Above left: Cassette tapes onto which Akira Miyagawa recorded compositions for Be Forever Yamato and Yamato III. Although he announced at the October 23, 2012 Yamatalk that the track for Be Forever was not used in 1980, it was confirmed to have been used in Yamato Resurrection. Read all about that Yamatalk event here.

The next time, I wrote a track called 18th Armored Division for Yamato III, and another one called Great Dengil Empire for the Prelude to Final Yamato album, which was released about a year before the movie. For this, father started off writing two melodies that would become the main theme, then said, “edit them together as you like later.”

Before the final recording, a demo tape is made with a small orchestra, and in one of the meetings Mr. Nishizaki said, “let’s bring in a bass drum.” In response to this, I thought up a composition in which the instruments progressed like in Ravel’s Bolero. I’m still proud of that work even if I do say so myself. I could finally say that I could make the kind of music Mr. Nishizaki wanted. I’d come a long way since that salty rice bowl. (Laughs)

Interviewer: I think it was natural for you to get the offer to compose for Yamato Resurrection, but…

Miyagawa: There was an offer, but at the time I declined by saying, “There are other things I’d like to do.”

This was despite receiving a personal phone call from conductor Naoto Otomo. I didn’t have the self-confidence because I knew how much my father suffered over the material. When Mr. Otomo asked me to write the music, I thought that all I’d manage to do on my own is just ape my father’s work. For similar reasons, I declined to do 2199 at first. However, I changed my mind when I heard it was a remake of the original series. Father had already passed away, and besides that, it wouldn’t feel right to have someone else do it.

Interviewer: It seems Director Izubuchi said there was no point in doing it if it didn’t use the music of Mr. Miyagawa.

Miyagawa: To the extent that Yamato‘s music was only made by my father, I think it has become an indispensable part of the work. However, since so much has been done to redesign the picture with such extensive use of CG, it is illogical to use the old tracks, so I decided to re-record all the music father left behind.

Since the score was lost, I rewrote it by ear by listening to commercial CDs. At this stage, I corrected parts that I considered to be performance errors and thought about the sound I wanted. I carried out little trials in the new recording. In the performance and recording of such music, a metronome is essential because of the need to work with computers, but it probably couldn’t be used at the time of the original broadcast.

It was work from the world of craftsmen who’d just say, “And a one, and a two…” and then just perform it for the recording. Therefore, though I cannot say it with complete certainty, a lot of tracks were performed and recorded with the metronome removed. Naturally, the tempo is going to differ from the old days, with a “live” feeling rather than “imitation,” and I think it’s important to Yamato to take that approach.

Interviewer: You’ve not only revived old tracks, you’ve also written new ones.

Miyagawa: When I got the offer from Director Izubuchi, he wanted me to make about 30 new tracks, such as the Gamilas national anthem and the music used during the picture book scenes in Episode 9, “A Clockwork Prisoner.”

Interviewer: In terms of differences in the BGM [Background Music], how conscious do you have to be of the sense of distance?

Miyagawa: My father was concerned with melodies that were easy to hum, and often spoke of a “poetic sentiment.” This time, rather than stress over what details were the same and what weren’t, I paid more attention to how it felt.

When he was writing music for the first work, my father liked the British rock band Emerson, Lake & Palmer, and we often listened to their records together. I suppose Yamato music has its roots in that, and I thought I should aim to extend that as a direction for the new music. It’s quite important to take into account the type of music he liked at the time.

Interviewer: Were there any new discoveries with this work?

Miyagawa: My father wrote about 70 pieces for the original series, and he wrote them in about a month. Because they are such excellent pieces, I guess you could say God must have come down when you hear them. When I returned to them for this renewal, I learned how to make music that was very systematic.

For instance, when you make the 8-bar melody that forms the main theme, you can change the key as it’s repeated, later playing it one note higher or possibly a note lower. Thus it becomes something that stands up to the test of time and is also useful as a companion to the drama. A song that develops too boldly has limited use, but if you come and go between two points, pretending to expand on it, then really bring it back, it can be used regardless of the length of a scene. For short scenes, you can just cut it in the spot before the key change. I thought this technique was really clever.

Of course, Mr. Nishizaki was a producer with a deep and profound knowledge of music. If not for him, I don’t know if my father would have waved his baton so vigorously. I loved the music and theme song he did for Wansa-kun before Yamato, and Mr. Nishizaki was the producer for that, too. I learned that later, and became convinced that it was a reflexive memory.

The End

Special thanks to Neil Nadelman for translation support.

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