What’s your impression of the original manga?
I think it’s a terribly important reading that harmoniously blends various elements such as cool battles, funny gags, the life of the Ainu, and the world based on the history of Hokkaido in the Meiji era. It’s a work with strong core, solid story based on historical facts both known and unknown. That’s why I think the work is amazingly alive without the various elements and the characters with strong personality falling all over the place.
What image did you have about the music for the anime?
The first thing I wondered about was what Ainu traditional music was like. If I was going to use the music, then I wanted to actively take part in it, and so I went to Hokkaido myself to do research before the preparatory meeting for the anime. There, I was able to visit the Ainu folk museum, and asked questions to instructors of Ainu language, and for me who was never taught these things in my compulsory education, they were nothing but new discoveries. One of the things that left a strong impression on me was that the Ainu is a peace-loving ethnic group. Even in their language, there are few words relating to conflict. Then, if dispute arises, representatives of the village would exchange arguments with the other party in what is called the charanke, maybe something like what we’d call a rap battle nowadays. I was told things like “Sometimes it would last three days and three nights” and “The one who used more beautiful words would win”.. I thought what a very beautiful culture it is, having a way to settle disputes without shedding blood like that. That spirituality is also manifested in their music, and all Ainu music has this peaceful, tranquil atmosphere. And thus, the solution that I got through my research was maybe I should not push too much to use Ainu elements in the music.
And what did you talk about in the preparatory meeting after that?
Director Nanba (Hitoshi) and sound director Aketagawa (Jin) wanted the music to have indigenous ethnic touch, but they said it’s okay not to stick to Ainu music. So, first of all, I thought of making cool music with this entertaining feeling of powerful battle and modern gags. In addition, I visualized the historical background of the work, and tried to apply it to the music. Golden Kamuy superbly interweaves the life of the Ainu with historical facts like the existence of the Shinsengumi, and it has this strength that makes us think, Did this story really happen? I think music can make the depth displayed by the work even more convincing. It’s what I always try my best to achieve, not only for this work.
Was there any specific order concerning the direction of the music?
I got an instruction from the producer that the main theme should give this feeling of the spectacle of the gold bullion, with a Western atmosphere to it. This was pretty difficult, and I had to make three patterns before finally it was OK-ed. The first song I submitted felt mature somewhat, following the concept of “Historical romance set in Hokkaido“ that I had in my mind. But since I was asked to make it more playful, I built on the first song I submitted, trying to make it exude Western atmosphere more clearly. Thus, inspired by the music Ennio Morricone made for the Dollars Trilogy (Western films starred by Clint Eastwood: A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly), I put whistling at the intro. Moreover, since just Western style won’t fit the work, afterwards I made it into more rock music. The concept is thus “ethnic rock music”. (Western here = gunfighter film genre – GKC)
Morricone is the composer you admire, isn’t he.
I have always loved him, and I still listen to his music a lot. Since there was a clear instruction to make a Western-styled music this time, I took inspiration from his representative works.
Other than the main theme, did you compose many songs with rock taste?
No, not really. Because I was told that the opening theme would also be a rock song, I decided to limit the rock songs to maintain variety.
Since you did not have to stick to Ainu music, did you not incorporate Ainu elements at all into the background music of this anime?
There are several songs using Ainu music instruments. Those songs are for the scenes that take a close-up look on Ainu culture. I used Ainu music instruments tonkori and mukkur this time, but both produce few notes, and if we only listen to the notes, the impression we get is simple and comical. And because there’s an instruction to make a song with the image of osoma for the comedy parts, I used the instruments in that song. Also, although there are many Ainu songs that feature music instruments and voice rounds, there are also songs with singing voice. If it’s a real round, we can hear as if villagers really singing in the anime, so I have used such voices.
Please tell us whether you used any distinctive instruments.
I was asked to make separate songs for fights and for emotional moments, but I used flute a lot regardless of the song’s grouping. I used various ethnic instruments such as tin whistle and quena. Because of that, the recording for the flute was behind schedule, it’s screwed up. (laughs) And then, to give more ethnic feeling, I also used quite a lot of percussions. And although it’s not musical instrument, I guess I could also mention the Bulgarian Voices-like feature.
Was there any personal challenge for you?
The second of the three patterns of the main theme that I made was of the type of songs that I had never made often, so I aimed for something that gives the feeling that some big story will start in the future. At the beginning of the orchestration, I also aimed for an atmosphere like in Hollywood films set in the Middle East. By doing so, I wanted to make a song that conveys the feeling of a wide world that feels multinational yet can’t be pinned down as Japanese or any other country. This was the song used in the second trailer.
Other than that, please tell us about the songs with an interesting idea behind them, if any.
Other than making the three patterns of the main theme, I also made a main theme for Asirpa, a song that sounds Celtic-esque. Asirpa has many cooking and hunting scenes, and the atmosphere of Celtic music fits such daily depictions. Moreover, using harp that can express femininity can also cover the sentimental feeling when she’s remembering her late father.
Other than Asirpa, are there any characters with their own theme song?
There were individual instructions for Shiraishi and Ushiyama. However, for Shiraishi, the order was not for the character’s theme song, but for a comedic song called ‘Shiraishi’ (laughs). The song itself is playful, with wooden instruments and flute. Ushiyama’s song too, instead of a theme song, is more like a song for fight scenes, a song that feels like pushing through with all power, like the character’s image. I have also made about three songs as Shinsengumi’s theme, but in a sense they can be called Hijikata’s songs.
As for the Shinsengumi theme songs, do they have a strong taste like the background music of period dramas?
No, because the instruction was to make songs that do not have too much of the Japanese style*, so I made the songs to have an atmosphere like the background music of yakuza films. It’s because I thought it would be able to express this thrilling force that Hijikata has. To differentiate these songs from others, flute was not included, and string instruments were representatively used.
Speaking of great force, the 7th Division group led by Lieutenant Tsurumi will also appear.
Of course they have their own image songs. When I saw a scene of Tsurumi playing the piano in the manga, I got the impression that he’s quite familiar with the Western culture, so I made songs with classical music taste for him. Moreover, I also made songs with ordered rhythm like a military march, and used string instruments for melodies to create an atmosphere of scheming something.
Many perverted characters too will appear. Did you make songs for them too?
There was indeed an order to make a “Perverted” song (laughs). There are many characters like Henmi who perish, so it ended up as a song that expresses the moment of ecstasy with music. However, this one too didn’t get an OK on first submission, so I made two patterns. Originally, during the preparatory meeting I suggested a hymn-like song, and I tried to include a female voice with an image of ascending to heaven guided by Mother Mary, but it felt like an overkill. Therefore, I on purpose had a man who’s not a professional opera singer to sing like it’s an opera, and I made another version that expresses the feeling like having gone somewhere.
Even just by listening to your story, I could see that you’ve made many songs with rich variations. How many songs did you compose in total?
At first I was instructed to make 49 songs, but with the extras the total is 53 songs. That’s quite a lot for one cour of anime.
The anime finally will be broadcasted soon. Lastly, please give a message to the fans.
I’m looking forward to the broadcast because I want to see which images the director came up with, and how Aketagawa (Jin)-san attached the music to them. It’s a work that can provide us imagination of various historical background, so I made the music with my top priority being delivering the charm of the entertaining work. I would be very glad if that effort succeeded and we could present an enjoyable work to you all.
* Suehiro used the words ザ・和風, “the wafuu”
Original interview here.
For more information about the anime, go here.