by Gwyn Campbell
Yamatalk 5 was held at Shinjuku Picadilly cinema at 9pm Tuesday, April 23rd. With the increased exposure the series had been receiving due to the start of Yamato 2199‘s highly publicized TV broadcast, tickets to such events were becoming harder to obtain, despite being scheduled late at night in the middle of the week. The dash from the office to the cinema was well worth it however, because this time the audience was going to be treated to a talk with sound effects composer Mitsuru Kashiwabara, the man behind the iconic sound effects from not only 2199 but also the original Yamato. Ever wanted to know the secret behind the sound of the Wave-Motion Gun? Or the breaking glass in the middle of some explosions? Well, we were about to find out.
Kashiwabara was the most experienced veteran to appear at a Yamatalk event, but was among the most enthusiastic and talkative. Sound effects were regularly played to illustrate what he was talking about, something that made for a wonderfully informative and immersive experience, albeit one that was a little difficult to effectively capture in text.
The participants: Yutaka Izubuchi (2199 supervising director), Mitsuru Kashiwabara (original sound effects), Tomohiro Yoshida (2199 audio director)
Yoshida: If we add the ages of all three of us here on stage together, we are 180 years old! Thank you for inviting me to this seniors event. (Laughter)
Kashiwabara: I think I’m the one who raises the average age the most here. (Laughter) I’m not all that used to public speaking, but thank you for inviting me.
Izubuchi: I’m sure that everyone here today is looking forward to hearing Kashiwabara and Yoshida speak. I’ve heard that Yoshida has something he intends to reveal at the end of the talkshow, so I’ll try not to speak too much today. (Laughter)
MC: Well, if you could basically MC, then…
Izubuchi: Oh, so we don’t need you then! (Laughter)
MC: (to Yoshida) Can you tell us about your first experience with Yamato?
Yoshida: As a fan, I really liked an anime called Samurai Giants, and Yamato aired right after it. I was rather shocked when I saw Yamato, so I got a tape recorder. In those days we had no way of connecting a tape recorder via direct input, so I placed the recorder in front of the TV speaker. So it picked up my voice as well–my six-year-old self yelling back at mom when she called me for dinner. (Laughter)
MC: We seem to hear a similar story almost every time. (Laughter)
Izubuchi: I know I’ve talked about this previously, but even though I did the same thing, I was a senior high school student at the time. To do it at six years old is pretty amazing.
Kashiwabara: Around that time I was already working… (Laughter)
Izubuchi: Of course you were! But in my case, similar to Yoshida, I often got mad at my mom and little sister.
MC: Well, that’s just the way it was. I mean, it was something you only had the chance to record once.
Izubuchi: There was one time when my sister recorded over one of my tapes! I really thought I was going to slug her one! (Laughter)
MC: Thank goodness you didn’t! (Laughter) So, when did you first become involved with Yamato for work?
Yoshida: Well..it was actually that ill-fated project…Yamato 2520 (laughter & applause). It was around 1994, and I did the audio for it. After that, I was involved with Columbia’s release of about 28 CDs, BGM collections, and the Sound Fantasia, so I’ll have been involved with Yamato for 20 years as of next year.
Above: the 1996 2-CD “Sound Fantasia” set from Columbia, which included a suite of classic sound effects.
At this point, the MC asked everyone to look at a pamphlet that had been handed out at the entrance to the talk show. It contained a catalogue and timeline of Yamato CDs, nearly all of which Yoshida had been involved with. He noted however, that Yoshida had mentioned the chronology on the pamphlet might have some mistakes.
MC: Do you really remember everything in that amount of detail?
Yoshida: No, not everything, but if I’m asked “what about that track?” then I have to be able to make a good guess right away at what the track in question is. There are about 1000 tracks in total, and memorizing all of them was one of the first things I did.
MC: As a fan, hearing that [and knowing you are involved] makes me very happy.
Yoshida: I remember thinking that…there’s a lot to remember. (Laughter)
MC: And within the audio, there are the sound effects as well, which you also worked on?
Yoshida: [I was involved in] the Directors Cut of Yamato Resurrection, and thought that there were certain sounds that just had to be used for the main guns, etc. I understood that, similar to voice actors, sound effects shouldn’t be changed. So it was with that in mind that I approached the latest Yamato.
MC: (to Kashiwabara) Could you please tell us a bit about how you came to be involved in the original Yamato?
Kashiwabara: During the first meeting, the staff who had approached me about the project said, “It’s a space ship, but the Yamato is a military vessel, similar to a regular ship. Please don’t forget this basic idea.” So, whether they are in the ship or on deck, there’s going to be a rhythmic sound like an old fashioned engine constantly audible in the background. So the first thing I did was make a sound like this for use in space.
(Yoshida then played the sound in question, Yamato‘s engines as heard in exterior space scenes.)
So, with that in mind, I combined two sounds: one was what I thought something that could go between dimensions would sound like, a kind of creaking sound, and the other was a sort of tinkling/clinking sound and this is how I made the sound of the Yamato traveling through space. It’s something I was quite happy with.
MC: It’s certainly a sound that drew the viewer in, don’t you think?
Izubuchi: Oh, you’re talking to me? Actually, there’s a lot more I’d like to ask, but I’ll just say that yes, it drew us in. I can’t really agree with any fan of Yamato who claims otherwise. (Laughter)
MC: I’m sure that everyone here feels the same. I’d like to ask a bit more about SE [sound effects]. What it is to you, and what your process is for making them.
Kashiwabara: In the case of animation, I think that the most important thing is actually music. In the case of Yamato we had the utterly wonderful music of [Hiroshi] Miyagawa. When I first heard that, I thought “Sunofabitch, how dare he use such great music! But I’m not going to lose, I’ll make SE that are even better!” But, the core of sound effects is that they can’t conflict with the music. They can’t drown out the music. Depending on the placement and use of the sound effects, they can raise and enhance the music. This is how I think of SE, and at the same time, it’s what I have to be careful of when making SE.
MC: So, in other words, you listened to the BGM once it was made, and then made the SE.
Kashiwabara: Yes. With other productions I do that as much as possible as well. I believe that music is the most important thing [in animation].
MC: So, as you’ve said, in animation you have the voice work, then the music, and then finally the SE. The SE is, of course, used for things like the main guns firing or the ship traveling, as you’ve explained. Since this is SF, how do you approach the SE for things that don’t actually exist?
Kashiwabara: Actually, I’m a very good liar because I convince people, and myself, that these are the sounds of things we have never actually seen or experienced. (Laughter) “This is how the Gamilas base sounds, with this deep bass.” I tell them almost as though I’ve been there with a tape deck and recorded it myself. If things go well, they will like the sound and include it, which means I’ve been successful. That’s basically what my work entails.
MC: I understand how you could possibly make sounds from things in everyday life that already exist. For example, you could take the sound of a tea cup clinking and use a filter on it. But what about sounds that don’t exist? How do you imagine them, and when do you have that “Aha, this is it!” moment? What do you base things on?
Kashiwabara: Well, I’m a fan of SF and have read quite a bit of the genre. In my younger years, I used to imagine the sounds that went along with things as I was reading. For example, I’d try to imagine sounds that weren’t from the present day. So first I imagined the sounds in my head, but then I had to make them somehow. So I’d use a tape recorder–we didn’t have the sort of equipment that’s available these days, so it was an old analog tape recorder–and slowly, painstakingly create the sounds I wanted.
MC: So you recorded sounds, like banging objects together, and then layered them together?
Kashiwabara: I didn’t use them as they were. I played them backwards, played with the playback speed, etc. I used a lot of techniques, even going so far as to purposefully damage the tape before playing it back in some instances.
MC: You damaged the tape??
Kashiwabara: Well, I didn’t use that technique too many times, because it wouldn’t really create much of a sound. For example, when I wanted a sound effect of a sick demon, I’d record myself coughing, then crumple the tape and play it back to see how the sound changed. But if I did this I could usually only play the tape back once.
MC: It’s like you were performing experiments.
Kashiwabara: That’s right. I’d try it, and if I thought it was interesting then I could use the same technique elsewhere as well.
MC: Yamato included many sound effects. When you were making these, is there any one SE that, in your opinion, was made in a particularly interesting way?
Kashiwabara: The one I have the most confidence in, and that can also be said to be representative of Yamato, is the SE and audio buildup just before the Wave-Motion Gun is fired.
MC: Not WHEN its fired, but BEFORE?
Kashiwabara: Yes. That scene, by design, has no music. And all the energy from Yamato is necessary to fire it. All other power is turned off, so everything can be focused on the Wave-Motion Gun.
Izubuchi: That’s right. It increases the sense of tension.
Kashiwabara: I was really worried about how I could convey that sound.
Yoshida: This sound, right? (plays audio file)
Kashiwabara: I had to use two or three tape recorders at once to get this sound and mix it, although you could do something similar quite easily with today’s technology. Once I’d done that I added yet another sound to it, and then increased the tempo as if it was building to the [Wave-Motion Gun’s] firing.
MC: Normally you’d have character’s lines and music and then the SE, but in this one instance you didn’t have either of those first two elements.
Kashiwabara: Yes, so I was allowed to basically do this the way I wanted.
MC: So there’s that build up and then BOOM! It’s really good.
Kashiwabara: And this relates back to how the images on screen and the sounds connect. Right before the Wave-Motion Gun fires, it builds up and then‚Ä¶
Izubuchi: It cuts out.
Kashiwabara: It cuts out. That pause is just great! (Applause)
Izubuchi: When we were making 2199, the staff, such as [mechanical director Masanori] Nishii-san, felt that they wanted to draw the scene in such a way to [emphasize] how the sound cuts out. So we stuck with this [sound] in 2199 as well.
Kashiwabara: [That sound] is really necessary, I think.
MC: So you made the sound with that gap and then had them pause the animation for it?
Kashiwabara: No, it was originally animated that way.
MC: And then you came up with this sound to fit it.
(Yoshida then plays the Wave-Motion Gun firing sound)
Izubuchi: So you can hear that pause in the sound, right? Although it wasn’t always present after the original Yamato.
Kashiwabara: They didn’t have time for it because they would fire off [the Wave-Motion Gun] quickly. (Laughter)
MC: That pause in the sound makes the viewer focus more. It makes you think, “what’s going on?”
Kashiwabara: Yes. It makes you think, just for a second, “Did they fire it in time? Is it going to fire?” I think that’s what that pause does.
Izubuchi: It’s a shame, but there were many times I wanted to talk to the late [supervising director Noburo] Ishiguro about this [sound]. Right around the time he passed away, Kashiwabara and I were talking about it after a recording session. He also told me that Ishiguro was actually really good at giving shoulder massages. (Laughter) He told me some great stories, and I remember becoming really choked up.
MC: So we just discussed the Wave-Motion Gun, could you please tell us a bit about the sound for the main guns?
Kashiwabara: Well, again, while I came up with this sound from my imagination, I also thought that this might be the way the guns on the original battleship Yamato would have sounded. That’s what I made the sound like. So then with Yamato 2199, we wanted to use the same [base] sound but change it to sound like the beams are rotating, so the SE just sounds really nice. In the original, the guns fired with a simple ‘BOOM’ kind of effect, but with Yamato 2199 it sounds like the beams are actually traveling through space, not artillery rounds, but [shock cannon] beams. I knew that these had to sound as though they were actually twisting as they flew through space, which why I did the sound the way I did.
Izubuchi: The timing between the firing sound and the sound of the beam traveling was done really well, to the point that when someone else did the layouts in a way that didn’t properly reflect the sound, Tomita-san said “I’m going to redraw all these myself!” (Laughter)
MC: I remember thinking, “Ah, so THAT’S what a beam shooting through space sounds like!”
Izubuchi: While we of course animated the shock cannon beams so that they twisted, you can really hear the twisting in the SE, too. There were times later on in the original where the beams didn’t twist or were fired too close to the target to twist, but in 2199 we made sure they did, although they have to travel a certain distance before twisting fully.
MC: The sound that they make traveling through space is really convincing.
Izubuchi: The sound of the Gamilas main cannons was much more difficult in a way. All that was written to describe the effect was “guweeeen.” I had no idea how that would sound and thought to myself, “it’s probably best not to try to describe sound effects like this.”
Yoshida: Actually, having even that much of a description is really helpful in visualizing the sound effect.
Izubuchi: Really? Actually, there were many occasions when upon hearing a sound effect I thought, “Oh, he got it right! That’s Yoshida-san for you!” There were other times where we would meet beforehand to discuss specific scenes and hash things out.
MC: Speaking of Gamilas, I noticed that there’s quite a difference in engine and in-ship sounds between the Yamato and Gamilas ships.
Kashiwabara: Well, I had to try to imagine what the Gamilas ships’ power source was.
MC: Ah! Because that is what would echo throughout the interior of the ship!
Kashiwabara: Yes. On the earth side well. I imagined Yamato as if it ran on heavy oil. Of course it’s a spaceship, but the image of it was more of an analog machine. As for Gamilas, well I wasn’t sure exactly what their ships ran on, but I presumed they had all sorts of amazing science and that as a result the power source of their ships was something different. So with this in mind, I made the sound effect using a synthesizer, a sound that I felt expressed a really powerful power source. It was important to emphasize the difference in power sources.
Izubuchi: I thought it sounded really mysterious. It was a sound that hadn’t been heard before, that made you think, “Maybe we don’t know what this is. Maybe we can’t know what this is.”
MC: When it comes to Gamilas, not only their ships, but their planet sounds very mysterious as well.
Kashiwabara: At first we were due to have something included in the BGM. When I was asked to make a sound effect, I wondered how one would feel when seeing a planet that looked like that. So I layered some sounds together. This ominous clang which was then followed by that distinctive BGM. I don’t mean to brag, but the first time people heard this in the studio, Nishizaki turned to me and said, “Kashiwabara! What sort of machine do you have hidden in your head? How is it you are able to come up with this sound?”
Izubuchi: You could say that was his highest form of praise.
MC: There’s one more thing I’d like to bring up. Back when we were preparing for today’s talkshow, you mentioned that there was a specific sound that Izubuchi told you absolutely must be included. I believe it was used in both the old and new series. When Yamato gets hit, of course there’s an explosion sound, but there’s also this sound of breaking glass… (Laughter)
Izubuchi: Actually that was first used in Farewell.
Yoshida: (interrupting) Actually, it was first used in episode 24 of the original series, but only twice–during the bombardment in the final battle on Gamilas.
Izubuchi: (Looks shocked) REALLY?? (applause) I’d only noticed it in Farewell! (Laughter) Everyone! If you have the DVDs or Blurays, be sure to double check! (Laughter)
MC: It was only used twice?
Yoshida: Yes, only twice. But that alone had a huge impact on some viewers.
(The sound effect is played)
Izubuchi: In the studio, we speculated that that was the sound of Dr. Sado’s glasses breaking. (Laughter)
MC: It definitely makes you wonder what it is! Why was the sound included?
Kashiwabara: In the case of Farewell, since it was a movie, there was a great variety of different explosion sounds–explosions that blossom upwards, those that blossom outwards, etc. But if you were to play them back to back they’d start to sound the same, which is boring. I made them all in order, and as I was adjusting them I’d occasionally add the breaking glass for some uniqueness. I was really just playing it by ear.
MC: So you had to run the sound through an editor to get that effect?
Kashiwabara: Yes, that’s right.
Izubuchi: And Yamato was the first [anime] to include this.
MC: You definitely feel that it’s a part of the show. And then it became used more often from Farewell onward.
Izubuchi: We had also planned to use it in Yamato 2199 from the start as well. Nishimura from the staff is a huge fan of Kashiwabara and kept asking if we were going to use it, to the point that he even bothered me in the bathroom about it saying, “surely you can use it in this scene,” etc. He was really persistent. (Laughter)
So, for Yamato 2199, we decided to use the glass breaking explosion sound only when Yamato receives a direct hit. But since the speed of the scenes is faster compared to the original, there actually weren’t too many scenes where we were able to use it. Normally when the sound was used [in the past], there was an explosion [following a direct hit] and then a bit of a pause, and then the breaking glass. But [in 2199] we usually cut away quickly, so there’s no time to add the sound. So at one time I was in the dubbing studio and I thought, “wait a sec, where’s the breaking glass?” And I was told that it wouldn’t fit within the scene.
MC: So in other words, there was no time for the sound [to finish playing].
Izubuchi: I was surprised. The main times we can use the sound are in scenes where, after being hit, we show Yamato reeling or rolling from the explosion. But in more hectic battle scenes there’s no time to use it.
MC: Well, there’s a lot of battle scenes to come, I’m sure, so maybe we’ll be able to hear it at some point?
Izubuchi: Certainly. I’ll try my best. (Laughter)
MC: (To Kashiwabara) in Chapter 5 of Yamato 2199, which we just watched, when it comes to sound effects was there any one scene that particularly stood out to you?
Kashiwabara: Well, something that came to mind recently, and those who watched today may also have noticed, was the sound when Balan explodes. The screen goes black and then, as the bridge lights turn back on there’s this sort of vibration sound. I thought it was quite good.
Also, there’s the [flashback] scene where the Yukikaze launches. Nishimura originally asked me to include sounds for all the ships that were taking off. But when I was dubbing the scene I realized that, well, not only is it a flashback, but if you omitted the engine sounds and just played the BGM it had a lot more impact. So I talked to Nishimura about it, and while he wasn’t too happy, he agreed to delete all the ship sounds we had previously so painstakenly added.
Izubuchi: I’m sure he also realized it worked better that way. The plan was to add the sounds and see, but then we decided it was better to remove the sound effects and just focus on the music from the point where Mamoru and Sanada are at the docks together.
MC: So this goes back to your policy then that the music is the most important element.
Kashiwabara: That’s right.
Izubuchi: Actually, I went and redid all the storyboards for that launch scene. I wanted the ships to move in a certain way. The original storyboards by Matsui were great, but when it comes to mecha scenes…I probably got involved in most of them.
Izubuchi: And Nishimura had adjusted and added sounds for each and every one of those ships in that scene. The Yukikaze‘s engine sound alone took hours to tweak.
MC: (To Yoshida) Are there any sounds or scenes in Chapter 5 that you’d like to mention?
Yoshida: There’s so many that it’s difficult to talk about any particular one. But in Chapter 5, the scenes with Mamoru, Sanada and Niimi together‚Ä¶I stressed quite a bit over selecting the correct music to use in those scenes.
MC: Speaking of BGM, I’d like to announce Yoshida’s big reveal today. At a previous Yamatalk, we played a piece of music that had never been released. Since then, a few people noted that they had actually heard it before. So, for today, Yoshida has prepared a piece of music that has REALLY never ever been released.
Yoshida: There are quite a few tracks that have been recorded but weren’t needed, or else the scenes they were for were later cut. Over 10 years ago while on a trip to Columbia Records with the late Miyagawa, he mentioned to me, “We sure made a lot of tracks” and, “I wonder if there’s any way of using this or that track,” etc. As a result, we managed to use at least one of these songs in Yamato Resurrection, and if there’s ever a sequel to Yamato 2199, like the White Comet Empire or something like that‚Ä¶ (Laughter/applause)
Izubuchi: Um‚Ä¶that’s not something I can really say. Let’s change the subject! (Laughter)
Yoshida then played not one, but two previously unreleased pieces of BGM, one from The New Voyage and one from Yamato III. Afterward, he noted that these pieces had never been used or released on CD and that at present approximately 100 other unreleased tracks exist. [Editor’s note: unless this reference is to a previously-undisclosed vault of unused material, these tracks are gradually being published in the Yamato Sound Almanac CD series from Columbia.]
MC: If at all possible, it would be great if we could do some sort of one-night-only event where people could hear these pieces. (Applause) Unfortunately, we are nearly out of time tonight, and the audience is going to be hard-pressed to make the last train home, so could I please ask each of you to leave us with a final comment?
Yoshida: We have about 6 or 7 episodes left, and while it’s going to be tough, we’ve made it this far and will do our best until the end. Please continue to support us.
Kashiwabara: I hope that Izubuchi continues to make the show with the same spirit of excitement and passion.
Izubuchi: At the beginning of this project about five years ago, before we had even decided to call it Yamato 2199, there were certain elements that I considered absolutely necessary in order for it to work. Among these were Miyagawa’s music and Kashiwabara’s sound effects. I was very fortunate to somehow get both, and what we have achieved is due in no small part to them. Actually, there’s a lot of things that Kashiwabara and I talked about in the studio that I wanted to discuss here tonight, but unfortunately it appears that we are out of time. For example, I wanted to mention that Kashiwabara did the sound effects for the first ever Tokusatsu TV series, Ambassador Magma. It came out a week before Ultraman! (Laughter) Hopefully we can talk about this at a future event.
Read another interview with Mr. Kashiwabara here.