The film Koe no Katachi (A Silent Voice) was released in Japan on September 17, 2016. It’s the latest film produced by Kyoto Animation and directed by Naoko Yamada.
The film music is composed by Kensuke Ushio who is known as a solo artist called ‘agraph’ as well as a member of LAMA. This is his second film score following the composition of a soundtrack for the 2014 TV anime Ping Pong The ANIMATION.
Prior to the opening of the film, he told us about co-producing the soundtrack with Director Naoko Yameda.
[Interview: Tsukasa Takase]
Koe no Katachi (A Silent Voice)
Released in Japan on September 17, 2016
* Please be aware that this interview may contain spoilers.
I was told that there had been nothing like our kind of music composition
First of all, could you please tell me how you became a part of the film crew for Koe no Katachi?
Kensuke Ushio (Ushio)
I am a musician, and I don’t normally work on film soundtracks. However, Director Naoko Yamada happened to know my music and thought my music may be good for the film Koe no Katachi. So, she contacted me via the agency. I always liked anime, and it made me happy to have this chance since I had openly expressed how keen I was to work with Director Yamada in the past.
What did you think of Director Yamada when you met for the first time?
I was actually more surprised than happy, because we had so much in common as artists and no problems to communicate with each other. Even at the very first meeting, we had good talks through what we like and what has influenced us, not just about music and films, but paintings, sculpture, dances, photographs and architecture by naming specific nouns.
Do you think such similarities in you two have an influence on the making of this film?
Yes, I think so. The conversation we had first, like what we personally think it’s good and appropriate for this film, has become the core concept of the film Koe no Katachi. Normally, a sound director or audio staff gives me something called ‘a music menu’ that requests what kind of music he/she likes and I need to create for certain scenes. However, I got such requests just for two to three pieces in this film. This is because we thoroughly talked about the film and understood its concept together at the very beginning.
When you say “at the very beginning”, what stage was it in the filmmaking process?
It was when the big part of the storyboards still needed to be completed, which means it was still a quite early stage. The film hadn’t had a concrete course of action. Around that time, with Director Yamada, I began exchanging rough drafts, what we call ‘audio sketches’ that is like a music version of storyboards. By the time the storyboards were completed, I think there were already 40 pieces of music ready.
Does that mean your music might have even influenced some visual scenes?
I would say it wasn’t just being influential, but the film is a result of successful coordination between visual scenes and sounds. I mean that I and Director worked in the recording studio once a week after the completion of ‘audio sketches’. We matched the music to some scenes and made some touches or created new pieces if it was necessary. We worked together intensely, so we actually had a private working space just for me, Director Yamada and audio engineers as if we were in one-on-one sessions.
That sounds pretty unusual.
I think so, too. Even the film producer said there had been nothing like our kind of music composition (lol). So, it’s a great honor to experience this in such a bigger scale for a theatrical film.
As for Sound Director Yota Tsuruoka, how did you work with him?
Regarding music, I submitted an overall plan and concepts to Mr. Tsuruoka, and I and Director Yamada completed our part in the studio as soon as he gave us the go ahead. Then, we showed what we created to him for further check. Basically, I did all the details with Director Yamada, and Mr. Tsuruoka supervised the overall process.
How many pieces in total did you create in the end?
There are 61 pieces on the soundtrack (released on September 14), but we composed 82 in total including those for audio staff to work with. In the end, about 50 pieces are actually used in the movie. Many of them are piano pieces, but we didn’t select them because of that. It happened to be so just as a result.
Who led the music selection process?
Of course, it all came down to Director Yamada’s decisions. However, generally, it wasn’t just me or Director. Both of us likely made decisions together in the meetings.
As you include a visual element ‘graph’ in your solo stage name ‘agraph’, you mentioned that your music could derive from a concept with beautiful views in the previous interview. Did you have anything like that this time?
Sure. I created the music mostly based on the concepts that I and Director had established. However, the music piece for the last scene is inspired by a particular view. I had an opportunity to visit Kyoto on business when I was in trouble making this music piece. Director Yamada told me about the riverbank very close to Kyoto Animation. Apparently, that’s the place Director got an inspiration when she was struggling with the last scene of the film Koe no Katachi…so, I went there after work. Next thing I noticed was me standing on the edge of the riverbank with tears rolling down one after another (lol). I was very lucky to experience this ‘awareness’ on the film last scene in the same way as Director did while standing on the same spot and looking at the same view.
Did the original manga give you some inspiration as another means of visual images?
I read the original manga when I first got this job in 2015. I thought that it wouldn’t be too ideal to create the music based on the manga for its great intensity. So, that’s the only time I read the original manga…and I actually tried not to remember the manga again, because I believed in the need of creating the music for the film Koe no Katachi based on the concept established with Director Yamada. I haven’t opened the manga since then, so I have no idea if the film is close to the original manga or considerably different from it.
The shape of the concept
You repeatedly mentioned the importance of the concept. Could you tell me more about it, please?
To work on the concept for this film, I and Director brought in various images and ideas, such as collections of paintings and photographs. For example, we focused on concrete names like Giorgio Morandi and Vilhelm Hammershoi, if we’re taking about painters, to get some musical inspirations to build up the concept.
So, are those inspirations directly reflected to the soundtrack?
Yes. In the composition process, I have converted so many artistic factors into sounds, including the shadow from Morandi’s still life and the way Hammershoi captured the light. In other words, I replaced the visible physical phenomena that could be a smudge of the shadow or a blurry focus of a lens with another kind of physical phenomena called sounds. For instance, we see an effect called light falloff on edges of lenses according to the Binet’s formula based on ‘Cosine Fourth’ Law (vignetting). I thoroughly looked into this to see what happens if I apply this effect to music. I took this kind of approach at the early stage of concept building and shared it with Director.
You have pursued your own music with combined inspirations from some artists like Marcel Duchamp and Joseph Kosuth, and it’s a unique Mr. Ushio-like approach. How did Director Yamada react to your approach?
Amazingly, she understood the importance of concept building and ideational thinking more than I expected. I have worked with so many artists in the past, but I can’t think of anyone else but her that I can share my thoughts. She seems genius with a feminine perception, doesn’t she? When I watched her previous film Tamako Love Story, I was simply shocked how Director described the characters in their complicated youth. It made me impressed that she illustrated the body movements out of uncontrollable feelings, facial expressions and behaviors so easily. However, I realized that the way she delivers her film is not based on her gender nor genius talent. She made it happen through repetition of careful consideration and replacements based on a certain concept.
I did my best for Koe no Katachi and I’m proud of it.
The heroine, Shoko, is deaf. I assumed that makes it tricky to deliver it musically. What sort of concept did you come up with?
First, I did some research on hearing impairments. I found out that the types and degrees of them vary depending on individuals, and so I didn’t take deafness as a concept. Instead, I focused on a hearing aid, which plays an important role in the film. A hearing aid is basically an amplifier for your ear, so theoretically, it should create some noise. Then, I began to think how much noise to pick up, what sort of difference we hear between noise and musical tones and what makes noise become meaningful. All those thoughts led me to one conclusion, an upright piano. The fact that my parents were holding music lessons at home might have helped me, but upright pianos clearly stood out as an instrument that I could control the noise as much as possible. Upright pianos could produce noises from nails clicking on keys, a hammer clunking by pressing keys, a felt part on a soft pedal when it’s pressed down and a soundboard creaking as strings echo. In order to complete the concept of recording all those noises, I dismantled a piano and set up a microphone inside. By doing so, I was hoping to capture and record the sound as a whole including such noises, not musical tones.
That sounds like you went through really deep conceptual thinking.
On top of that, I also realized that it was actually interpreting the film Koe no Katachi itself. For example, the main character Shoya isolates himself from the warm and beautiful world that surrounds him. So, the surround sound with such piano noises needed to fill inside a movie theater to picture and deliver the world around him.
Could you give me other examples like that?
In this film, I included Bach’s ‘Invention’ composed as a practice piece, because I believe that it could symbolize how Shoya gradually steps out to the world outside. As mentioned, ‘Invention’ is a practice piece, but it’s also called The Well-Tempered Clavier that teaches players the beauty of keyboard instruments. This is a collection of practice pieces, and it is designed for your body to learn such beauty through the practice. Then, you eventually manage to compose a piece of music. For that reason, the scenes where Shoya puts himself through two hours of practice to survive is accompanied by Invention No.1 in C major.
In a way, this film covers the whole ‘Invention’ during the entire two hours. ‘Invention’ is consisted of three different parts, and we divided the film into three structures as well to match them with those musical parts. In the first part of the music piece ‘inv’ derived from ‘Invention’, you hear the tone row seen in between measure 1 and 6. The second part only contains the tone row from measure 7 to 14. Then, ‘Invention’ can be finally identified as such in the climax scene. That indicates a conclusion of Shoya’s survival practice as well. Using the original ‘Invention’ at the end of the film is Director’s idea.
I think the collaboration between you and Director was so extreme and intense. Would you like to work with Director Yamada again?
Of course, I’d love to. Thanks to this project with Director, I now know what I have to do next. I even feel like both I and Director may have a new challenge ahead that we can approach differently from this time. I’m excited for our futures, and I believe new opportunities and possibilities are waiting for us.
Lastly, please give a message to our readers
In the interview, I may have sounded a little too serious…but I am truly amazed by this film Koe no Katachi for its perfect balance of conceptual and entertaining factors. So, it is of course great for anime fans, but it is also perfectly enjoyable for other audience. On top of that, it may become more interesting to watch the film again after listening to the original soundtrack and/or reading this article. All I know is that I did my best for Koe no Katachi and I’m proud of it. Hope you all like it!
source : http://animeanime.jp/article/2016/09/16/30521_2.html