Yamato music talk, 2023

Showa 40 Otoko is a bimonthly magazine published by Crete Planning Box with a very specific target audience: Japanese men born in 1965. It’s actually a bit broader than that, but men born in that year experienced a heavy dose of pop culture and social change that always seemed to have them in its crosshairs, not the least of which was the chance to see Space Battleship Yamato at the very ripe age of 9 or 10; precisely the right time to get the full impact and ride it all the way to 1983 when they were 18 and 19.

Thus, examinations of Yamato come up on a fairly regular basis, especially when they fit into themed issues. The theme for the February 2023 issue (published January 11) was “TV Manga Matsuri” [festival] and covered the most influential anime titles of the mid 70s. The series included this discussion on the impact of Yamato music.

Composer Akira Miyagawa interview

Space Battleship Yamato‘s music radiates eternity

Space Battleship Yamato changed the history of anime. With the appearance of Yamato, “TV Manga” became TV anime, the term “anime fan” was born, and anime was no longer just for children. We asked Akira Miyagawa, composer and son of Hiroshi Miyagawa, about the world of this masterpiece and the music that supported it.

Interview and text by Toru Yano
Photo by Makoto Yoshioka
Records provided by Hiroyuki Suzuki

First caption: The LP record Space Battleship Yamato was released on July 25, 1977, before the release of the movie version. It reached No. 1 on Oricon and was a longseller, ranking in the top 100 for 53 weeks.

Space Battleship Yamato sparked the second anime boom. It was the first full-scale science fiction anime broadcast on TV. The main characters are not children, but men and women in their high teens to 20s, and at the same time, it depicted interaction with aliens who had different values. It was also the first anime to depict radioactive contamination, and to question war and peace head on. It had a wider age range of fans than any anime before it.

The music of Yamato was created under the influence of prog rock

Yamato began airing on October 6, 1974, when men born in 1965 were in the third grade of elementary school. In October of the previous year, Mushi Pro, which had supported the Japanese anime industry, went bankrupt. Wansa-kun was the last TV series they produced, a unique anime with the style of a musical.

When preproduction of Yamato began, Yoshinobu Nishizaki, the producer of Wansa-kun, was joined by Aritsune Toyota for SF supervision and basic concepts, Writer Keisuke Fujikawa, Director Eiichi Yamamoto, and musician Hiroshi Miyagawa. Miyagawa created a completely different style from the bright, jazz/big band music he wrote for Wansa-kun.

“In the early days of Yamato, I think my father was writing music that was influenced by the progressive rock that was popular at the time.”

Akira Miyagawa is the son of the composer, who closely followed his father’s work since childhood. In 2012, he composed the music for Yamato 2199.

“When I was in my second year of junior high, my father and I used to listen to Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s records a lot. I especially liked Keith Emerson on keyboard. When I played the songs from the album Tarkus on the piano in front of my father, he was very happy. He would add brass and so on. I think he was making Yamato in a completely different direction from The Peanuts and other groups he had worked with before that.”

Hiroshi Miyagawa was known for his hit songs in the 1960s with The Peanuts, Crazy Cats, and Mari Sono, among others, In the 70s, he gradually shifted to composing film music and TV theme songs, and it was then that he started working on Yamato.

Caption: The film’s premise of despair attracted viewers.
The caption “Only a few days left until the end of mankind” made
a particularly strong impression.

A collaboration between Hiroshi Miyagawa and Yoshinobu Nishizaki

Originally, many of the staff at Mushi Pro were music lovers, with Osamu Tezuka at the top of the list. Yoshinobu Nishizaki, who served as a producer, was also quite knowledgeable about music, and gave Miyagawa various instructions on music production. This is why the score for Yamato is not just background music, but is so beautiful that you fall in love with it by itself.

The world view was conveyed through music, not just dialogue. This was first full-fledged theatrical accompaniment for a Japanese anime, the joint work of Hiroshi Miyagawa and Yoshinobu Nishizaki.

“There’s the famous scat song, The Infinitely Expanding Universe. At first, Nishizaki told my father that he wanted to create an image of a ‘funeral in space.’ My father told him, ‘You have a good way of stimulating people.’ I think he was pleased to be working with Nishizaki. They were both the type who would not bend their own opinions, but enjoyed the exchange. My father had his own taste, too.”

For Hiroshi Miyagawa, who had a background in jazz and Japanese pops, Yamato was the first time he wrote a score for a full orchestra. However, with his inborn passion for research, he was able to create high-quality music. For the first time in anime history, everyone recognized the importance of musical accompaniment.

Nishizaki, who placed great importance on music, supported Yamato with a music production budget of an unthinkable scale. However, despite the huge budget and time spent to record various songs and takes, some were rarely used on TV and later released on records. When the movie version was a big hit, the first Yamato LP (released in July 1977) was the first anime soundtrack to reach No. 1. on the Oricon chart.

Symphonic Suite Space Battleship Yamato (released in December 1977), arranged by Hiroshi Miyagawa for a full orchestra, reached No. 3. This was the first time the anison market was recognized by the public. [Translator’s note: “anison” is a portmanteau of “anime song.”]

“There’s a piece called Gathering the Fleet that’s my favorite accompaniment to the story. It’s used in the scene where the warships of Gamilas gather side by side. It’s similar to the music for the chariot race in Ben Hur, and I think it shows my father’s taste. Another piece, Black Tiger, is the quintessence of my father’s taste. It’s a battle scene of a fighter jet, but it has a comical chorus. The piece for coming into contact with aliens is also excellent. I think he composed the music carefully because the overall structure of the story is so solid.”

In fact, Yamato was the first work since Eight Man that involved a science-fiction writer. It was also the first time “warp navigation” was expressed in anime, three years before Star Wars. SF writer Aritsune Toyota drafted the original idea of a radiation-contaminated Earth, and at the same time came up with the idea of an alien species that could live on radiation.

This kind of serious science-fiction may have been one of the reasons for the growing number of enthusiastic fans among older generations. Unlike today, the only image of radioactivity for Japanese people at that time was the peaceful use of nuclear power, so this was a shock to them. It was 12 years before the Chernobyl accident.

By the way, how popular was it on TV? In fact, Heidi Girl of the Alps, which was already being broadcast in the same time slot, won hands down. Heidi‘s viewership exceeded 20%, while Yamato was at 6~7%. Perhaps because of this, small changes were made along the way.

“In the first three episodes, a male chorus recommended by Mr. Nishizaki performed the theme song with a heavy intro. After that, it changed to a brave and flashy intro that my father was pushing for. That is the theme song you all know now.”

However, what was unacceptable to Akira at the time was the ending theme. The Scarlet Scarf sounded like a mood song, and he felt uncomfortable with it. He said it reminded him of Una Sera di Tokyo by The Peanuts, which was a hit for Hiroshi Miyagawa in the 1960s. However, as Akira grew older, he came to appreciate the song and thought it was a good one.

It’s worth noting that even though the stage, enemies, and weapons often changed with each week’s episode, the composition of the music was of high quality throughout, and was arranged for full orchestra, which Hiroshi was not accustomed to. Naturally, it was a difficult task. The producer’s orders were also very strict. Does this give us some hints about the compositions?

“When my mother entered my father’s workshop, she was surprised at the amount of material he had. There were many foreign records, and he seemed to be studying the music of Henry Mancini of France and Heinz Kiesling of Germany. Keith Emerson, who I mentioned earlier, was also included. I think the music of Yamato is a combination of Japanese lyricism and my father’s humor.”

We should have chosen love over fighting

In reality, Yamato ended its run earlier than planned due to poor ratings. But here is where the miracle begins.

First, it won the fan-selected Nebula Award at the Japan Science Fiction Convention. In the summer of 1975, Yamato began to be rerun in the Kansai area, and in the fall of the same year, it was re-broadcast nationwide. In January 1976, Yomiuri TV began another rerun, and the ratings caught up with Heidi, reaching a record high of 20%.

With the support of the fan clubs and anime shops that sprang up all over the country, a reconstructed theater version was released and became a big hit.

The original film Farewell to Yamato was released in 1978, and its popularity was confirmed. It set a box-office record of over 2.1 billion yen, the highest for anime at the time, and ranked 4th for all Japanese films in the postwar period. This record was not broken until Kiki’s Delivery Service premiered in 1989.

With Farewell, the direction of Yamato became clear. Rather than glorifying war, Susumi Kodai says, “We should have chosen love over fighting.” The film makes you think deeply about it again as an adult.

“I want people to see the essence of Yamato as a gateway to think about things more deeply, beyond the world of anime. I think it’s a work that provides clues. Even while I struggle, I want to make music for Yamato that future generations will be able to sing along to.”

Akira, who was a high school student at the time, played a part in the music for Farewell when he played the White Comet on a pipe organ. It was the pride of his father. At this point, a mystery arises. There are themes for planets, fleets of ships, outer space, and weapons, but why is there no “Susumu Kodai theme” or “Yuki Mori theme” for individual crew members?

“I guess planets and battleships are the main characters of Yamato, rather than individuals. For my father, I think Yamato was the main character.”

The theme and message of Yamato is the infinite universe, war and peace, a view of life, interaction with aliens, and other things that are universal to human beings. Music is no different. I would like to take another look at Space Battleship Yamato with this in mind.


The music of Yamato symbolizes the life of Hiroshi Miyagawa

In 1998, after the funeral of another conductor, Hiroshi Miyagawa said to Akira: “When I die, make it Yamato.” When Hiroshi Miyagawa passed away in 2006, a CD of his hits was played throughout the funeral service. When the coffin was being carried to the car, a musician played The Scarlet Scarf live on trumpet. And when the car “sailed” away from the funeral home, he played Space Battleship Yamato to send him off.

The music of Space Battleship Yamato and its times

What did anime, tokusatsu, and movie music give to boys and girls?

From Sarasate, a magazine for string players
(Vol. 112, Sekireisha, May 2023)

March 12, 2023, Arcrea Himeji amphitheater
Hiroshi Miyagawa X Kentaro Haneda, Space Battleship Yamato of two people

“Memories of sound” are important memories in people’s lives. That is our mission as performers.

Some famous songs are strongly etched in the memories of those who were boys and girls in the 1970s and 1980s. These works, along with those on TV and in movies, had a powerful presence that strongly influenced their lives. One of them, the Space Battleship Yamato Grand Symphony, is back! It was performed by top-notch pros, and people’s passionate thoughts were gathered there. Two concerts were held, in Fukuoka and Himeji. We interviewed them at Arcrea Himeji.

Music instantly evokes human memories

Fuminori Shinozaki played violin brilliantly in Hiroshi Miyagawa X Kentaro Haneda, Space Battleship Yamato of two people. He said, “Odors and sounds instantly evoke a person’s memories. Moreover, the live classical sound, not the electronic sound, connects them even more strongly.”

“It still takes me right back to the age I was when I first heard that song and it hit me. I still imitate Ultra Seven when I finish playing the first movement of Schumann’s piano concerto. It’s not just for elementary school students. We had ‘dreams’ back then. When you have dreams, you have a future. It doesn’t matter if it’s classical or pops. The memories of that sound have become important for me. It is our mission as performers to figure out how to reproduce them. If we don’t do that well, the listener’s memories will not come back in abundance.”

Shinozaki says that performing what the notes tell us through the performer’s interpretation should be a moment that changes the times.

“It’s not that something will change drastically, but it will change with a little nuance. It’s the gradual accumulation of these nuances that will make the times evolve. That is where the meaning of having different people perform comes into play.”

“There is still a lot of good anime music and film music from that time. I think you can experience it anew when you listen to it.”

Shinozaki says that Space Battleship Yamato is a work that the creator put a lot of effort into.

“That’s why the music has stayed with me. The space battleship and the uniforms were repeatedly redrawn, and all the fighter planes were depicted properly. If they hadn’t been so particular, the music might have been sloppy.”

At the time, Yamato was made with the feeling that the future was in some kind of crisis. The same is true of Ultra Seven, a tokusatsu work that was created out of a sense of crisis about the future and was praised as “wonderful.” It is precisely because the message of the work was so strong that the music has survived. When you listen to the music, you will be reminded of that message over and over again.

Space Battleship Yamato must be played by someone from Kokura

Shinozaki is from Kokura, the same city as Leiji Matsumoto, the original creator of Space Battleship Yamato.

“When you think of Kokura, you think of Leiji Matsumoto,” Shinozaki said. “He’s a familiar celebrity. That’s why Space Battleship Yamato is the town’s great hero. That song is Kokura’s music.”

When Yamato was broadcast in 1974, electronic music was becoming popular, and it was often heard in movies and children’s TV programs. that made it shocking to hear the orchestral music of Space Battleship Yamato.

“For the children who were watching anime back then, an orchestra was not at all familiar. When you think of musical instruments, you think of the piano or the guitar. When I suddenly heard the sound of the orchestra, I was shocked and it sounded amazing. Ultra Seven had been broadcast before then, but I wasn’t aware of it. I thought Schumann’s piano concerto was Ultra Seven music, because it is played when the Seven are fighting at the end. It was only much later that I learned it was a Schumann piece.”

Toru Fuyuki (the composer and music director) used classical music for Ultra Seven. For Shinozaki, who was a child at the time, it was just “a very good song.” It was only when he became an adult that he realized what it was.

The music of Star Wars was the biggest shock to me

“While film music was being replaced by electronic sounds, I heard Star Wars and I couldn’t believe my ears. It was 1977, so I was in high school,” says Shinozaki, enthusiastically describing the shock he felt at the time.

Since then, more and more films have used symphonic music. He says he loves the music that has been passed down from one generation to the next.

“So when people ask me about what music I like now, it will still be Star Wars or 007. But it’s not that I reject new things.”

He still sometimes thinks of Death in Venice when he hears Mahler’s music.

“It’s not about what music you use or who you ask, it’s important that the music matches the work. Like The Devil Comes and Blows the Flute (composed by Shiro Fukai). Someone who can write a spicy passage like that is definitely the best.”

In the midst of a trend toward production of only temporary accompaniments, “something indisposible comes along once every few decades.”

Iscandar, a piece from the Yamato Grand Symphony performed on this day, is a good example. The moment you hear it, the planet Iscandar reappears, floating beyond the planet Gamilas, in the minds of all Yamato fans.

“I wonder how many people in the audience today were moved to tears just by hearing that.”

About 500 people? Most of the audience gathered that day must have had that experience.

Yamato fans remember. It has to be that impressive. Just by listening to it, you will be transported back to that era, and the scene will come to mind. I want that kind of music to be born. That is what will weave the future.”

The happiness of being able to play Yamato with my own orchestra

Daisuke Kitaguchi, Cellist

“I was very moved to be able to perform Space Battleship Yamato with my own orchestra,” says Daisuke Kitaguchi as he talks about his treasured signed CDs and scores. He loves Yamato music so much that he even incorporated a Yamato phrase into the cadenza of a Haydn cello concerto.

His first encounter with Yamato music was Farewell to Yamato and Yamato 2 (1978). At the time, he was just beginning to get into music. He recorded Yamato‘s music onto cassette tapes and listened to them intently. He even set up a cassette deck in front of the TV to record music.

“The chords are very cool. I still vividly remember how many times I tried to find the sequence of notes on the piano,” Kitaguchi said.

In Scherzo, the second movement of the Yamato Grand Symphony, the music of Final Yamato (1983) is used as a motif. Kitaguchi praises the music of Final Yamato: “I’ve wanted to perform that for thirty years,” he said. Being able to perform in combination with Fumiki Shinozaki and the Japan Century Symphony Orchestra to which he belongs and Fumiki Shinozaki prompted him to say, “I couldn’t have been happier than to have been part of that symphony.”

Kitaguchi says that because he is always thinking about music, he hears all kinds of experiences without even being aware of it. He says the most appealing thing is that, “Even if it’s a battle scene, the music is beautiful, which in turn doubles the sense of tragedy. I had never heard a beautiful melody in a battle scene before, so the music of Yamato was a real shock to me.”

Kitaguchi looked very happy when he said he got to know Akira Miyagawa for the first time today.

“I definitely want to play with him again!”

February performance in Fukuoka. Photo at right posted on Twitter by Michiko Hayashi

Fans from all over Japan were impressed by the excellent talk and performance

For fans of Space Battleship Yamato who are fascinated by its music, the Symphonic Suite Yamato born in 1977 and subsequent live orchestral performances have special meaning. The original score was lost, so Akira Miyagawa, son of Composer Hiroshi Miyagawa, transcribed it by ear.

Great Love from Farewell to Yamato was performed in addition to Kentaro Haneda’s Grand Symphony, which uses many famous motifs from Final Yamato. Fans from all over Japan were attracted to Fukuoka Symphony Hall on February 23 and Arcrea Himeji on March 12, as well as parents and children in the neighborhood. Some were dressed in naval uniforms and carried trinkets. They listened to the music both quietly and enthusiastically.

The first half started with a talk between Conductor Akira Miyagawa and solo violinist Fuminori Shinozaki. He gave an excellent talk and played three pieces, including Ultraman, as “music that influenced me in those days.”

Next, the Yamato Suite was performed. In Overture, the dispersed chords of Funeral in Space were followed by Michiko Hayashi’s scat of Goddess of the Universe, taking everyone back to “that time.” Iscandar came in with nostalgia, followed by Sortie, which flowed into Great Love from Farewell to Yamato.

March performance in Himeji, photo posted on Twitter by stagehand Yusaku Yoshida

Yamato Grand Symphony, which filled the second half, was written as an exceptionally powerful symphony from the beginning. The second movement, Scherzo, was especially intense, capturing the hearts of the fans with the beauty and harmony of the melody. The excitement of the audience grew as the piece unfolded with a skill that the players had never demonstrated before.

The clear and willful virtuosity of the two soloists in the fourth movement, Hope for Tomorrow (Doppel Concerto), was reminiscent of the grand scale of the planet-shaking Aquarius. The audience was intoxicated and moved to tears by the orchestral sound and first-class soloists.

The encore was the Symphonic Suite version of The Scarlet Scarf. The concert closed with a passionate atmosphere.

(Text by Amane Ito)

BONUS: Vintage song reviews

This book, titled Japan Nostalgic Anison Compendium, was released by Tatsumi Publishing in October 2018. “Anison” is jargon for “Anime Song,” dozens of which are profiled in a comprehensive overview of the art form over the decades. (order a copy for yourself here.)

Since Yamato was a major milestone in this history, the following two songs got their due…

296,000 light-year roman! The Scarlet Scarf

Space Battleship Yamato is an epic science fiction anime about Yamato and her crew, who travel a 296,000 light-year round trip to save the Earth from extinction. It was popular mainly among junior high school, high school, and college students, and this popularity exploded with the release of the film version in 1977.

The opening title, a famous song used throughout the Yamato series, depicts the sense of mission and determination of the crew to the rhythm of a Spanish march. However, the ending, which expresses the feelings of a man traveling through the vastness of space, is also a song that deeply touches the heart.

The lyrics focus on the reflection of a woman in the eyes of a departing man. Its contrast with the vast universe highlights the loneliness and melancholy of the song. Lyricist Yu Aku thought that a sentiment like that of She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, an American folk song about a woman’s concern for her distant lover, might be suitable.

However, Hiroshi Miyagawa expressed “Space Roman” with a moody tune reminiscent of his hit song Una Sera di Tokyo. The emotions that are suppressed in the first half of the song overflow from the male chorus as “the man who departs on a journey.” Isao Sasaki’s heartrending vocals are also very moving.

The song was included in Episode 10, when the Yamato crew communicates with their families for the last time, adding to the sadness of the story. In the end title, scenes of planets in the solar system and a large galaxy appear and drift away. When an episode ended and this song came up, it showed a different side to the sci-fi battle story of this work. This is a “journey through the universe,” a romantic world that could only be depicted in an anime song.

“Julie sings anison” was a big event. From Yamato With Love

The TV broadcast of Space Battleship Yamato in 1974 did not get good ratings, but the true value of the series was highly regarded among avid anime fans. The movie version (released in August 1977), which was a re-edited version of the TV series, ignited a boom. In November of the same year, it was decided to produce the next film. Unlike the previous film, which was a compilation, Farewell to Yamato would be completely new.

The theme song, From Yamato With Love, which plays after the shocking finale, was performed by Kenji “Julie” Sawada. It was composed by Katsuo Ohno, who was in charge of many of Sawada’s songs at the time. It was created in competition with Hiroshi Miyagawa, who had created all of Yamato‘s music from the previous film. Ohno’s composition was adopted, but Miyagawa also participated as an arranger.

The lyrics were entrusted to the irreplaceable Yu Aku, who had written both the previous Yamato songs and Sawada’s biggest hits. The single was not released by Nippon Columbia, which had handled Yamato‘s music until then, but by Polydor, the label to which Sawada belonged.

Sawada’s single Jiyaku Shyattegara [Do What You Want] was released in May 1977, and won the triple crown of the Japan Record Award, Japan Song Award, and Japan Cable Award in the same year. It was extremely unusual at the time for a popular singer like Sawada, who was at the peak of his fame, to sing the theme song for an anime movie. The single sold 270,000 copies, but did not reach the 700,000-seller level of Jiyaku Shyattegara. Sawada has continued to sing it in his recent live performances.

Farewell to Yamato changed the form of theatrical anime from the “manga movies” aimed at children to a completely new format aimed at middle and high school students and above, not re-edited from TV programs. By the same token, From Yamato With Love was one of the major events that symbolized the shift from “TV manga songs” to “anime songs.”

From Yamato With Love got top billing on this LP from Kenji Sawada, titled Now for the Glorious Banquet, released by Polydor on August 10, 1978. The mix on the album version differs slightly from the single heard in the end titles of the film.

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