HITTING THE RIGHT NOTES! Composer Chumei Watanabe on Scoring Japanese Films!

Japanese film composer Chumei Watanabe in July 2018. Photo © Brett Homenick.

Chumei Watanabe is one of Japan’s best known and most important film and television composers. His credits include such animated and live-action titles as Mazinger Z (1972-74), Kikaider (1972-73), Himitsu Sentai Goranger (1975-77), Toei’s Spider-Man (1978), Space Sheriff Gavan (1982-83), and Kamen Rider Black (1987-88). Not only does Mr. Watanabe still compose music in 2019, but his son, Toshiyuki Watanabe, is a composer in his own right, having written the scores to all three entries in Toho’s Rebirth of Mothra trilogy from the 1990s.

Chumei Watanabe (born Michiaki Watanabe) was born in Nagoya, Aichi Prefecture, on August 19, 1925. Although he is famous around the world for composing the scores for various anime and TV superhero programs, the focus of this interview is Mr. Watanabe’s early life, as well as his film music for Shintoho and Daiei. In July 2018, Brett Homenick interviewed Mr. Watanabe about these and other subjects. The interview was translated by Manami Takagi. 

Brett Homenick: Please talk about some memories of your early life, growing up in Nagoya and Aichi Prefecture.

Chumei Watanabe: My father used to work in Nagoya. When I was a child, we moved several times. One of the things I remember is that he managed a factory that manufactured screws.

Currently, the company is called Toyota, but it used to be called Toyota Shokki (Toyota Industries Corporation). My father’s factory manufactured screws for Toyota Industries Corporation. In order for the machines to work properly, the screws had to be precisely made. My father used to do a lot of research.

My father was originally from Niigata Prefecture, and my mother was originally from Kyushu. My father graduated from Meiji Senmon Gakko, but it is now called Kyushu Institute of Technology. He majored in mechanical engineering. In my childhood, I had no experience with music. My father used to listen to Japanese pop during that time.

BH: What is an example of Japanese pop during this time?

CW: My father used to listen naniwabushi every day, especially “Kokkyou no Machi” and “Circus no Uta.” This song was about the loneliness of circus performers. I listened to those songs with my father. Naniwabushi is a traditional Japanese performance art and a type of narrative ballad chanted by a reciter. Naniwabushi was influenced by the sermon ballads of Buddhism. To be understood and accepted by the public, monks preached Buddhism in an entertaining way, and later on it was popularized and became naniwabushi.

When I was in the sixth grade of elementary school, we moved to Tokyo because of my father’s work. During the break period in between classes, my friend was playing a harmonica, and I was attracted to the harmonica sound. Then I went to the Mitsukoshi department store, which was one of the biggest department stores, and I was able to find a harmonica there. I also bought an instruction manual and started playing the harmonica. The first harmonica I bought was not chromatic. There was no sharp or flat sounds, so if I needed a flat or sharp sound, I would need two harmonicas. (laughs)

When I was practicing the harmonica, I was actually very good at it. I was a natural. Then we went back to Nagoya. All of a sudden, I somehow felt that I wanted to become a film composer. During that time, the harmonica manual used numbers, so “do” would be number one, and “re” would be number two. I was able to read the numbers representing the musical scales in this manual.

To become a composer, I would have to learn music notation. When I was in junior high school, a teacher taught us music theory. He was from Tokyo, and he taught us musical structure and scales. I had to learn music notation, so I bought a shoka textbook. (Shoka are songs authorized by the Ministry of Education and sung in schools under the old education system from the Meiji era through the beginning of Showa era.)  One day, I learned C major, and the next day I learned D major. I was able to learn very quickly using numbers, so it was easy for me to learn music. I was able to teach myself easily with the book.

Photo © Brett Homenick.

The textbook I bought was for shoka, which were popular but sophisticated songs. For example, the songs of Stephen (“Old Folks at Home”) Foster were similar. Actually, it was not pop music. It was called gakko shoka, and schools taught it to children. NHK used to broadcast shoka songs. I was able to read these songs in the textbook.

The harmonica was the only instrument that I could play, but my father told me, “If you want to become a composer, you have to play the piano.” There was a piano instructor near my house, so I went there to learn piano. My mother told me, “If you play the piano too much, you won’t have time to study.” My mother did not agree with it and was kind of against my playing piano. But my father was very supportive. During that time, I was supposed to play piano for only 30 minutes a day. Of course, I always played more than 30 minutes.

Anyway, my music class’s teacher at the junior high school was good, so I decided to take piano and singing lessons from him privately. At first, I started learning from my teacher without my parents’ permission, but later on, I had to tell them because I had to pay the monthly lesson fee to the teacher. I did not pay the fee until my parents paid it for me. My father told me, “Even if you study music, you never know if you can become a composer. So you’d better general subjects other than just music and go to university.”

My school grades were very good. Before the war, the school system was a little different from the current system. Junior high school was five years. High school was three years. University was three years. I entered Daihachi High School. The war had already started when I entered high school. First, I had to work at the factory, not study. We all had to work at the factory.

BH: Did you have to leave school completely, or was there any school?

CW: At that time, from morning till night, we didn’t go to school. We had to go to the factory and work all day. It was very hard. When the war ended, we went back to school, but there was no school building. It was destroyed in the war. But we found a place in Handa. At that school, the window was broken, so we had drafts, and there was no air-conditioning or heating. Because of the war, we were one year behind, so we had to catch up very quickly.

BH: So when you worked in the factory, it was just for one year.

CW: The labor started when I was in my second year of high school. The war ended in the summer of my third year. So it was less than one year. But we had to catch up quickly. All the teachers were trying to teach very quickly, so we didn’t understand it very well. But when we took the test, we all passed. I didn’t understand mathematics or science very well, but they let me pass. (laughs) All my classmates were very industrious and studied very hard by themselves.

My aim was to become a composer, but my parents were trying to get me to go to university, so I was thinking, “What major should I choose?” I chose psychology because I thought psychology was related to music. So I took the entrance exam for Tokyo University, but I failed the first time. The next year, I tried again and passed this time. When I entered Tokyo University as a psychology major, it was actually experimental psychology, and it was very interesting. When we wrote our thesis for graduation, we had to a lab experiment. For my experiment, the theme was sound. At that university, there was a soundproof music room that I used for my experiment. We tried to find if there was a difference between the sound we hear and the sound as mathematically calculated on paper. In my experiment, I found that there was a difference. I wrote about my findings in my thesis.

My thesis was very successful, and it was admired. It was recommended that I go to graduate school. They gave me a scholarship, and I stayed there because I wanted to study musical composition. So I decided to go to Tokyo University’s graduate school.

When I was at university (as an undergraduate), my friend from Nagoya introduced me to Ikuma Dan. I went to Mr. Dan to learn. I went to his house to learn musical composition from him.

BH: Let’s talk about Mr. Dan in more detail. Please share your memories of studying with Mr. Dan, and what did he teach you?

CW: When I was studying under Mr. Dan, we studied harmony at first. Then I wrote some music by myself, but I was very busy studying at the university. At first, not only under Ikuma Dan, but all music students around the world study harmony first.

Photo © Brett Homenick.

We practiced a lot. After they teach us harmony, they will know if we have musical talent or not. During that time, I wrote a piece of piano music by myself, but I didn’t show it to anybody. There was a piano room next to the psychology class, so I went to the piano room at night and finished my music homework. I was caught by an assistant professor who got angry and told me, “Do not use this room for anything other than experiments.” Even though I was told that, I still went there, and I was caught again! I was told the same thing.

I was a little worried because I wanted to become a movie composer, but I hadn’t written any music yet.  So I went to see many Japanese movies at that time. In those movies, the quality of the music was very low. So I felt that I could become a better movie composer than that. After the final semester of my first year of graduate school, my father developed cancer, so I went back to Nagoya. Afterward, he died. My father owned an apartment building, so I lived there. During that time, I sometimes went back to Tokyo to study music. After the war, he lost his business, so he bought land and built an apartment building, which he owned. When my father discovered he had cancer, he had an operation, but his liver was too damaged. So I took care of him when I lived in the apartment.

After a while, I felt (ready) to become a composer. So I took action. A radio station had started in Nagoya. It was called CBC (Chubu Nihon Broadcasting). I went there and asked the receptionist, “Can I see someone who is in charge of music?” Then the section chief, Mr. Koji Matsueda, came to see me. I talked to him and told him what I wanted to do. He was friendly and told me, “Please come here again.” So I went to that radio station several times. After a while, he showed me a script and asked me, “Do you want to do this?” It was a radio drama. It was my first one. After that, I was asked to do more.

BH: What year was this?

CW: It was when I was 27, so it was 1952. I had lots offers. There were other composers, but I got many offers. So maybe they liked me the best. I had never done it before, but I was able to write the music for those radio dramas. It was very natural for me to write that music. For example, when a family was eating dinner, I could naturally think of some appropriate music for that scene. Maybe that’s because I had seen many movies before I started composing.

BH: What emotion do you enjoy writing music for the most?

CW: My first work was called Atomo Boy. It was an action-oriented radio drama. I had to struggle a little bit to write action music. Other than that, they were radio dramas, so there were no radical scenes. Actually, I write music for many types of movies and TV programs, but I don’t have a favorite type. But I enjoy making music that is very beautiful and lyrical. I don’t get many offers to write this kind of music. So I had to accept the proposal I received.

Of course, I wanted to give it my best effort, but there were no such textbook to teach you how to write this kind of music. So I listened to many soundtracks and saw movies for inspiration. But in the early days when I was writing music for radio dramas, it came to me naturally. When I read the scripts, I would think of the music in my head. If I could not write the necessary music, then I could not become a composer.

BH: Which movie would you say was the best example of your beautiful and lyrical music?

CW: I only received few offers to write such music. But on the radio dramas, there was some, but I don’t remember the titles. During that time, I wrote some radio songs. Since the producer knew I could do various things, I had many offers for work. On the radio, there was a program that played music in between poetry reading. They would read poems on the air, but there would be music in between the poems.

I was working for the radio station, but I wanted to become a movie composer. So I went to see my friend in Tokyo. My friend was a high school classmate, and when I went to Tokyo University, he lived near my home. His pen name was Ichiro Miyagawa. At that time, he was working as an assistant producer at Shintoho. After that, he became a screenwriter. He wrote for the TV series Mito Komon. I made a tape of the radio drama soundtrack and gave it to him. He played it for the people at Shintoho. There was a person there who knew music, and he said, “This is good. In the future, I will give him an offer. So please wait.”

So I prepared to move. I brought a futon and some clothes and moved to Tokyo. I looked for a cheap place to stay and waited for a phone call from Shintoho. One day, I received a phone call, and the person said, “It’s fixed. You have a job.” Then I went to Shintoho. I had moved to Tokyo from Nagoya in the summer, maybe July or August. When I got the job, it was December. So I waited for a long time. (laughs)

Photo © Brett Homenick.

BH: Would that be December 1956?

CW: It was 1955. Rokuro Hara was a composer of popular songs. He was a friend of Mr. Matsueda at CBC. While I was working at the station, Mr. Hara sometimes came over to visit Mr. Matsueda. He also told me to come to Tokyo. I looked for a place to live near Mr. Hara’s place. We lived close together, so sometimes I visited his home. Sometimes he said, “I’m busy, so please do this conducting work for me.” So when I was waiting for the phone call from Shintoho, I did this kind of work.

So I went to Shintoho. I was given a script for Dandy Sashichi Detective Story: Six Famous Beauties (1956). It was my first movie at Shintoho. The director asked me to compose it using only guitar music. I was excited, so I said, “I’ll do it.” But Mr. Kentaro Kashiba, who was the one who knew music at Shintoho, asked, “Are you sure? Maybe you can use timpani. Are you sure you’re OK?” But I said, “I can do it.” I was thinking I could use many guitars. So I prepared six guitars.

At that time, I prepared six guitarists, but now I think that maybe two guitars, two contrabasses, and a drum set would have been better. But I didn’t have that idea during that time. Anyway, six guitars can make a good harmony, I thought. For example, an electric guitar, a classical guitar, and so on. But it went well.

BH: So the director allowed you to use six guitars.

CW: Yes, he allowed it.

BH: The director was Nobuo Nakagawa.

CW: To make the film music with only guitar music was the first challenge for Mr. Nakagawa. Maybe that is why Mr. Nakagawa offered it to me because he thought a new person would be appropriate for this new type of music. There was a very famous (French) movie called Forbidden Games. That movie’s theme music was done only with a guitar. That theme music became very popular in Japan. The Third Man was another score that influenced me. I remember that I was so excited to write the music for this movie. I earned a good reputation from that movie. Afterward, I received many job offers. I received 10 job offers every year.

BH: Let’s talk about Mr. Nakagawa. Please tell me your first impressions of Mr. Nakagawa, and then generally tell me more about working with Mr. Nakagawa.

CW: Mr. Nakagawa usually didn’t seem very friendly, so he didn’t speak a lot. So he didn’t say much about how he wanted the guitar music. He didn’t tell me any details. For a while, I was working with Mr. Nakagawa. Of course, I also worked with other directors. But we were like a set for a while. Since I had many job offers at the time, a secretary would reject some of the offers because I was too busy at the time. In those days, there were many movies. Two movies were released per week.

The theme music of Starman was lyrically beautiful. At Shintoho, there was a conductor who specialized in movies. He had a stopwatch, so he would time each scene. It had to match perfectly. This conductor introduced me to TV people and other companies like Nikkatsu. That’s how my work started to spread. That conductor was very good. Sometimes, directors would change their minds and change a scene.

Photo © Brett Homenick.

When that happened, I usually talked with the conductor about how to adjust the music. During that time, they recorded the music into the film directly. In the old days, American movies were made the same way. So Shintoho did the same thing as those old American movies. Other companies did it differently. They recorded the music separately and dubbed it in afterward. But Shintoho did not have the necessary equipment to do that. So the music was recorded directly into the films. When they recorded the soundtrack, the sound effects were also recorded at the same time. They recorded everything all together. If it’s recorded separately and then put into the film, the quality of the sound would get worse.

BH: In this situation, would you have the orchestra and the sound effects man in the same room?

CW: They were in different rooms.

BH: But it’s all happening at the same time?

CW: They were in different rooms, but they did it together at the same time. So if the orchestra made a mistake, they would all have to start over again at the same time – sound effects and music.

They recorded it all at the same time. So they could not deviate from the plan. They had to stick to the plan. Later on, they incorporated the dubbing system. But before that, they made films like that for a short time. It was recorded in pieces.

When I was a child, I lived in a residential area. But there was a small shopping area with a movie theater. At that time, there were silent movies and talkies. Even though it was a silent movie, there was a person (katsudo benshi) who narrated it. It was all live. When Edison established a film company, it sold music books for the organists. In Japan, a shamisen was used for the background music of jidai geki movies.

So at first, most movies were silent, but then talkies started to come to Japan. “All talkie” was the popular phrase at the time. They recorded into the film using a microphone, so the sound was not good quality. So when I watched talkie movies with my grandmother, she said that she didn’t understand what actors or actresses said very well. Not only Shintoho, but most Japanese movie studios recorded it the same way, like America did. They recorded it directly into the films.

So during that time, movies made by Shintoho didn’t have soundtracks because there was no recording that only had music.

BH: Do you remember what you thought when you were first offered Starman?

CW: I don’t remember when I got the job offer, but I thought, as an action story, it was different. So I felt it might be a little difficult for me. But I tried my best.

BH: Did Mr. (Teruo) Ishii, the director, have any recommendations for you?

CW: Usually, directors do not make any requests. Mr. Ishii did not make any requests. Of course, he had seen the movies I had done before. He trusted my work, so he didn’t make any specific requests. Most times, directors do make such requests of their composers. Of course, Mr. Nakagawa requested guitar music, but the only thing he said was to use guitars only. That was all.

Photo © Brett Homenick.

BH: With Starman, or Shintoho movies during this time, how long would you have to write the music?

CW: At first, they gave us five days. Of course, it would be shortened. Usually, the shooting would get delayed. That meant my time to write the music would get shortened. So sometimes I would have to see a rough edit of the movie in order to think about what music to write and to start preparing. Otherwise, I could not complete it.

So that I could write the music, they put together a rough cut of what they had done. One time, there was a Toei movie being filmed in Kyoto. The next day was the recording day for the music. The day before we recorded the score, we had the meeting for the score. I had less than 24 hours to write the music! It had to be recorded the next morning, and at midnight they called and said, “The editing is finished. So please come over and see it.” Of course, I had been preparing up until that day. Otherwise, I would not have been able to complete it. But I had to get some sleep that night. So I went to sleep at 3:00, woke up at 9:00, and left for work at 10:00. So in three hours, I wrote the score. Afterward, I gave it to the copyist.

Then the copyist wrote the scores for each instrument, such as the score for just the trumpet, violin, viola, and cello. He made a copy of the score for each instrument. They didn’t have time, either, so at midnight, I handed it over to the copyist, and they didn’t sleep at night. They made copies of the score for each instrument. Sometimes, when they were playing some other music, the copyist had to keep working on it. So it was always rushed like that. Japanese movies were always made like that.

For Hollywood movies, there is a three-month period to write the music after the film has been finished. The Japanese movie style is very different from the States. In Japan, they have to plan and make the movies in such a short period of time. Recently, they have tended to have more time. Now they can give DVDs to the composers to show them what they have done.

BH: About Starman, did you have any inspiration? Where did you get your ideas from when you were writing the music for Starman?

CW: I used my imagination. I don’t know about inspiration, but I used my imagination. But I remember that the action scenes were difficult. So I did those at the end. I had to write it, so I did it.

BH: I noticed that you did the first few Starman movies. After that, other composers took over. Is there a reason that you stopped doing the Starman movies?

CW: I don’t know, but maybe they wanted to try a new composer. Riichiro Manabe took over from me.

BH:  What are your thoughts on his music type, and do you have any personal memories of Mr. Manabe?

CW: He wrote music for Nagisa Oshima’s movie called Night and Fog in Japan (1960), and he won the Blue Ribbon Award for his music. I remember it was guitar music for a lyrical scene. But he was a little bit strange. (laughs)

Photo © Brett Homenick.

BH: You did a couple of Mr. Nakagawa’s horror movies, such as The Depths (1957) and Black Cat Mansion (1958). Let’s talk about working with Mr. Nakagawa on these films and talk about the process of writing the music for these films.

CW: There was not much conversation between us. He trusted me completely, so he didn’t have to say anything. But after the movie was completed, the assistant director said, “Wow, the movie is scary!” For the music for The Depths, I combined a style of Japanese traditional folk songs with a chromatic semitone, so I want you to listen to it. But there’s no soundtrack CD. So you have to see the movie to hear the music.

The time period I had to write the music was also short. So from morning until midnight, I had to work on writing the music for those movies.

BH: Working with Mr. Nakagawa, generally speaking, let’s talk about his personality. What is something that Mr. Watanabe knows about Mr. Nakagawa that the rest of the world doesn’t?

CW: He was quiet and didn’t seem so friendly. But in himself he must have been very passionate. Of course, he had passion inside, but he didn’t show it. He was very quiet.

BH: Did he have any unique traits? Did he wear something all the time?

CW: Akira Kurosawa always wore sunglasses. When Mr. Kurosawa took off his sunglasses, he looked very ordinary. That’s why he wanted to look different. But Mr. Nakagawa wasn’t that way. He looked very normal. He looked like an old man from the countryside.

The other day, I was watching a TV program, and Mr. Kurosawa was on it. He took off his sunglasses, and it was my first time to see him without sunglasses. He looked like an ordinary man. So I think the sunglasses changed his entire look.

BH: Let’s talk about one of your most famous movies, Ghost of Yotsuya (1959).

CW: That movie was very unique and wonderful. It had a taste of kabuki. It’s a very unique work. The time schedule for me on this movie was also tight, as usual. Maybe the director gave me some suggestions about the music. The music had to show the sadness of the main character. So this music had to be traditional and show her sadness. In Japan, we exchange New Year’s cards every year. Mr. Nakagawa always put on his card, “The music for Oiwa is a masterpiece.” He wrote that to me every year.

BH: You worked with Seijun Suzuki.

CW: Yes, once (on Age of Nudity). When he was making that movie, it wasn’t so different. It was normal. After that, he became more artistic. But at this time, his work wasn’t so artistic. It was more usual.

BH: During this time at Shintoho, you worked on many types of movies. What did you like working on the most? What was your best memory at Shintoho?

CW: Any type of work was welcome so that I could be challenged. Even the more unusual type of work was welcome so that I could have a challenge.

BH: A movie that we’ve talked about (before the interview) is Hell (1960).

CW: Usually, Mr. Nakagawa never gave me any suggestions. But for Hell, during the title sequence, he asked me to do something spontaneous. I was surprised by his suggestion. But it worked.

BH: What did you do?

CW: There were a few assistant directors, as well as the person in charge of recording, and also some musicians. I remember I told them, “Do whatever you want. Play whatever you want.” Somehow it worked out well. It’s very rare that a director tells you, “Do whatever you want.”

BH: What was your reaction to the theme of the movie?

CW: When I got this job offer, I felt some difficulties at first. But Mr. Nakagawa made some specific suggestions, such as to use Goeika, which is a type of Buddhist music. So I made it with a female chorus.

Photo © Brett Homenick.

BH: Do you have any memories of when Shintoho went out of business around this time?

CW: Before I happened, I heard a rumor that things were not going well. I felt sorry about it, but I also felt that it was inevitable. Many popular actors had quit Shintoho.

BH: What would you say are some of the biggest reasons that Shintoho went out of business?

CW: One of the main reasons is that all the stars left Shintoho. Shintoho was created after a split from Toho. They brought some famous actors, but they were all gone. Actors are very important for the movies. The second reason is just a rumor, so I don’t know if it’s true or not. But I heard that the president of Shintoho took more than his share from the company. But I’m not sure.

BH: You spent your early career at Shintoho. How would you describe your overall experience at Shintoho?

CW: I wanted to become a composer, and Mr. Nakagawa was the first person who gave me a job offer as a film composer. So I have a lot of appreciation for Shintoho. They gave me many job offers, so I was able to write many different types of music. That helped me in my career. At Shintoho’s the recording studio, when good music was played, I heard people’s reaction to it.

BH: After Shintoho went out of business, you worked for Nikkatsu, Daiei, Toei, Shochiku, and Toho – all the studios. Generally speaking, talk about some of the differences between working with the studios in the ‘60s.

CW: At Shintoho, I could not listen to what they played because it was recorded directly into the film. So it was inconvenient. At Nikkatsu, they had good equipment, and the musicians were good, as well.

Nikkatsu had big stars, such as Yujiro Ishihara. But Nikkatsu Studios was pretty remote. I stopped at Fuda Station, but I had to walk a long way through farms to get there. The next stop was Chofu Station, and there were some taxis there. So sometimes I took a taxi from Chofu. But Nikkatsu Studios was pretty far.

At Nikkatsu, there were no cafes or restaurants around the studio. But in the studio there was a big restaurant, so people at lunch and dinner at that restaurant in the studio. Even the big stars and famous composers ate there, too. That was only at Nikkatsu. Usually, at other studios, we ate elsewhere.

BH: What about some of your other experiences at other studios, like Toei, Daiei, and so forth?

CW: Shochiku Studios was very old. It was located in Ofuna. There was a recording studio for music there. But the floor was dirt! It was a big recording studio, and the next room was for the sound effects. In the back of the room, there was a movie screen, and we played the music while watching the movie. The size of the screen was almost the same as in movie theaters, but maybe a little bit smaller.

BH: How about Daiei?

CW: In the United States, when an orchestra plays the music, the room is usually very big. Perhaps Japanese studios chose to imitate this concept. So Japanese recording studios were also very big. Even though there were only few people, the recording studios were very big. All the movie studios looked the same. They were very similar.

BH: What was your work with Toho?

CW: Toho Studios was similar, as well. It looked very new. I remember working on one movie for Toho, but I don’t remember the title. My music portion was very small, and I don’t quite remember.

BH: Let’s talk about 100 Monsters (1968). Of course, this is at Daiei Studios. The director is Mr. (Kimiyoshi) Yasuda. Please talk about how you got offered this job, and Mr. Yasuda’s suggestions or requests, if any.

CW: I don’t know how they chose me, but one day I received a call from Kyoto. Shinobi no Mono (1962) was my first work at Daiei. The director was Mr. Satsuo Yamamoto. He gave me many job offers. I think he recommended me to Mr. Yasuda. Since I did Shinobi no Mono, I received job offers from Daiei directly.

He didn’t give me any suggestions or requests. Most directors don’t make any suggestions or requests. Usually, I see the movie shown on a screen, and then I write the music. That’s how I write music. If directors are deeply attached to the music in another film, such as Hollywood movies, and make specific requests, it won’t work out well. If a composer writes film music that is too similar to that of other movies, it would cause copyright problems. It would be better for composers if directors do not make many suggestions. Mr. Kurosawa usually made specific requests or suggestions, so his composers had such trouble. (laughs)

Photo © Brett Homenick.

BH: At this time, was the process different from what it was at Shintoho? Did you have more time? Did you have more of a sense of how to make music for genre movies like this?

CW: I didn’t have much time to write the score for 100 Monsters, either. I was always rushed. Usually, I see what they have filmed, and I prepare to write the music. That’s how it goes.

BH: Did you have any inspiration?

CW: 100 Monsters has a comical tone, so it was not that scary. So I enjoyed writing this music. But Along with Ghosts was scarier. I had difficulty writing the score for that movie.

BH: Let’s talk about Along with Ghosts (1969). You worked with Mr. (Yoshiyuki) Kuroda and Mr. Yasuda. They were co-directors together. Please talk about writing the music for this movie.

CW: It’s hard to express in words, but I had difficulties writing the music.

BH: What was difficult about it?

CW: To make the tone scary, the music has to be unstable. So it is not the type of music I can write easily. It was so difficult to make it scary.

BH: Did you work much with Mr. Kuroda or Mr. Yasuda on this movie?

CW: During that work, I didn’t have any specific conversations with them. They didn’t have any suggestions or requests. As usual, I saw the movie, and then I wrote the music.

BH: Did you have much of a relationship with Akira Ifukube or Masaru Sato?

CW: I didn’t have a relationship with other composers. There were no parties among composers at that time. One day, Masaru Sato and I took a same taxi cab, but we spoke very little while we were in the same cab. This was because composers were not so friendly to each other generally, I think. Now that has changed. My son Toshiyuki is a composer, and he belongs to an association for composers. Katsuhisa Hattori’s son is the chairman.

BH: When your son, Toshiyuki, was growing up, did you mentor him or teach him about music?

CW: I thought that since this is my son, he must become a composer. So I educated him and let him learn and educate himself. He took private lessons to learn piano. He has a very good ear.

He went to private piano lessons in our neighborhood when he was small. My wife gave him acoustics training in German. But when he was seven years old, in his first year of elementary school, he said, “I don’t want to study music anymore, and I don’t want to be a composer!” I thought that perhaps I pushed him too hard. But later on, he became a composer.

Even though he said he didn’t want to become a composer, he still liked music. He heard The Beatles’ “A Hard Day’s Night” on a commercial, and he said, “I want to make music.” I asked him, “What do you want to do?” He said, “I want to play the drums.” I thought the drums would not be good for a composer. So I suggested, “How about the guitar?” He said, “No, I don’t want to play the guitar.” So I decided to buy a cheap drum set. He practiced and became very good at it very quickly. When he entered junior high school, he formed a band with his school friends.

One day, I listened to a song he wrote and performed, and I thought it was very good. So I was not worried about what he was doing and let him do what he wanted. My family lived in Nagoya, and I lived in Tokyo at the time. He moved to Tokyo from Nagoya and lived with me and entered Aoyama Gakuin High School. He played the drums, but he wanted to learn musical composition. He started taking drum lessons at Yamaha Music School every weekend.

At that time, the band called Akai Tori was seeking a drummer. The shop manager at Yamaha Music School recommended him to them. So he became the drummer for Akai Tori. At that time, he was a freshman at Aoyama Gakuin University, but dropped out to concentrate on the band. This band belonged to an agency, and later Masashi Sada joined the same agency. At that time, Masashi Sada had a band called Grape. But Mr. Sada wanted to go solo, so Mr. Sada asked my son to become his backup player. At that time, my son was able to play the piano, so Mr. Sada asked him to play the piano and arrange the songs. That’s how his career started.

BH: Did you have any Western influences?

CW: I was influenced by rock music. They play in minor pentatonic scales. It is similar to traditional Japanese folk music. Mr. Koizumi who is a researcher of traditional Japanese folk music said the same thing. It has a certain quality that the Japanese like.

I was thinking, “Someday, I want to use this.” When I was thinking this, I got a job offer for an action TV show. So I tried using it. In the old days, I was not able to use this style in the movie. But with animation, it’s more flexible. I was able to use it in animation.

BH: So Elvis and The Beatles – that type of rock music?

CW: I was inspired by The Ventures. “Warabe Uta” is an old Japanese song, and it’s very similar to the music of The Ventures.  It wasn’t always the case, but there was a period in which I wrote a lot of music in that style. It’s called “Chumei Style.” The theme song of Himitsu Sentai Goranger is in the Chumei Style. It’s in a minor key, but it doesn’t have a sad tone. It’s very exciting.

BH: Who would you say was the biggest influence on your career? Would it be Ikuma Dan, or somebody else?

CW: I don’t think anyone influenced me. I only learned the basics of music from Ikuma Dan. So I don’t think I was influenced by anybody. I also learned from Sadao Watanabe. He studied jazz at Berklee College of Music.

BH: What are you most proud of in your music career?

CW: For animated and tokusatsu TV shows, I had to write all the theme songs before they started filming. I had the planning papers and the scripts. I was used to writing songs without seeing the shows, but there were so many songs I had to write before they started filming. So that was tough. I talked and exchanged opinions with the music arranger and wrote the songs.

But animation is more flexible, so I could try many things. For example, the tone of rock music is not so acceptable in movies for adults. But I could use it in animation. Columbia released some albums of my music. The lyricist and I chose the songs they used. There are some rare songs. Since I have made so much music, it’s hard for me to choose this one or that one. I don’t want people to listen only to Mazinger Z. One of the scores that I am proud of is The Depths. I put a lot of energy into it. But music is not something that I’m very proud of. So it’s hard to say what I’m most proud of.


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