Shinji Miyazaki J-Pop Exchange Radio Show Exclusive Interview
SeanBird (JPop Exchange): Hi, thank you for taking the time to speak with us, if you do not mind, please tell us something about where you were born and where you grew up. Was it in a large city or a smaller town?
Well, I was born in Kobe, and my earliest memories are of
living in a place called Teramuraaza, Oda-cho, Kamiukena-gun in
Ehime Prefecture on Shikoku Island. I was raised there in the
mountains until I was around 12, when we moved nearby to
SeanBird: Did your interest in music begin in your childhood? How did you become interested in music?
Shinji Miyazaki: Well, since both of my parents had jobs when we lived in the mountains, they were both out at work at the same time. During those times I was left in a neighbor’s house, and there was an older boy there, a middle school student, who was into music and had a shortwave radio that could get signals from all over the world. My first memories of music were listening to pop music from around the world on that shortwave, like Billboard. I doubt many people listened to Billboard as kindergarteners, but when I was over at that neighbor’s house we listened to that sort of thing, like “Le Dernier Train De L'espace” (Last Space Train) by The Spotnicks and Sylvie Vartan’s “Cherchez l'idole”.
SeanBird: Please tell us about your musical studies and training.
Shinji Miyazaki: I had none at all until I was 20. When I was 20 I entered a music school majoring in composition, with a minor in piano teaching. I just studied for a year before the entrance exam to give myself enough superficial knowledge of the material to pass. As soon as the exam was over I forgot all of the songs I had memorized and was no longer able to play them. So, it’s still not an instrument that I play all that well, even though it’s my job, which is a bit odd.
SeanBird: How and when did you decide to pursue a career in music? Was it always your intention to pursue a career in music?
Well, it’s a bit of a long story… I had tried to get into a
regular college but my heart just wasn’t in it and I couldn’t bring
myself to study for the entrance exams. I spent two years just
preparing for them. In the second year it reached the point where I
just had to get into college and I was just so impressed by the
music I was hearing on the radio that for the first time I thought
of doing it as a job. I had been interested in music, but I had
never taken any specialized lessons and I thought it would be
impossible, but it moved me so much that I began thinking about
doing so. And that was the timeline.
SeanBird: Can you give us some insight into your writing process? When you compose music, how do you progress from inspiration to creation?
While there are various patterns, I can do quite good work
when the inspiration strikes. We often use the expression, “it just
came to me.” I don’t need to worry about how to progress to a
completed form when inspiration strikes, and before you know it I
have a tune, it’s arranged in my head and I can sometimes do it
without much resistance. When I get a request like “please produce a
song by such and such a date”, then if I really cannot get it done
until just before the deadline, in these situations I don’t have any
set method for getting it done, but—how do I put it—I try to
distract myself, by looking at the most beautiful things I can or
something. I often think that I might be inspired by something out
of the ordinary and then go looking, but really I am not inspired
all that often—movies can be like this. I try to give myself time to
spare, look at beautiful things, keep up basic fitness to keep
myself in a mood where it should be easier to be inspired, but it’s
still not easy.
SeanBird: Who are your musical influences?
Shinji Miyazaki: My strongest music influence, like I said before, was the stuff I was hearing on the radio when I first thought I wanted to make music myself, especially Toru Takemitsu, a modern composer. He is deceased, but had the strongest influence on me. At that time I was still not thinking about becoming a pro myself, but Toru Takemitsu was a very important person in terms of my musical tastes.
SeanBird: What music do you listen to?
As for Japanese music, you may have heard of “enka” and
perhaps “kayokyoku”, as well as more American-style “pop music.” My
work often consists just of simple arranging so I listen pretty
evenly to classic, jazz and pop, but when I want to relax by myself
I often listen to American black and contemporary music from the
1960s and 70s.
SeanBird: How did you become involved with composing music for anime?
Like I said before, I when I first went pro I took a stance
of taking on jobs as an arranger, but my current agency has all
sorts of creators working as arrangers, composers, songwriters,
recording mixers, and so on. When they were first talking about the
“Crayon Shin-chan” project in the agency there were people saying,
“this one might be a good fit for Miyazaki”, or, “maybe not so
much”, and Saito—who is both the manager and the president—makes the
decisions about these things and offers them to the various artists.
It is common for things to start in the agency in this way.
SeanBird: Please tell us about the scoring process behind a production such as Pokémon. How does the process for television and movie production compare?
I find that television and film work has some pretty
different aspects. In
First, well, recently, 3 weeks at most. Actual composition, arranging and synthesizer entry, as well as the actual scoring, often takes about three weeks of time but that’s with no time to think or even sleep, and with having to write 2 or 3 pieces in a day there is no time to really think about it. So when the previous year’s film is done, the story or script writing is already started and there’s the director, the scriptwriter, the location team and especially the art team for that year, so I have to work in step with them as much as possible, talk to them when there’s some free time, breathe a bit together, and try to get a shared image for what I will be rushing to finish a few months down the road.
SeanBird: Where in the process do you, as a composer, become involved? Do you get to see the animation ahead of time? Does it differ depending upon whether it is a television or movie production?
Shinji Miyazaki: As I discussed before, when a previous work is released we start on solidifying the image for the, how should I put it, the next year’s output. They say “this is how we want to move forward”, but it does not always come across well. After the director and every department have spent an entire year working on one long project, starting work on the project for the following year is like a boxer trying to get his strength back in the one minute he has to recover after the first round is over. I try to get into the director’s head as much as possible, and to give him as much time to explain as he needs, even if it isn’t much. While I am officially participating from that time, like I said, my actual work of starting to compose really begins maybe 3 weeks later when I start scoring, and in those weeks something called a music menu comes, and while sometimes the menu that comes is the same as the one we had discussed in advance months earlier, sometimes the music menu that comes is a different story. So, I think I am in fact really participating in the project for a few months before release.
SeanBird: How do you feel when you actually see it?
So it’s done! Really, just like that. I particularly enjoy
the feeling of seeing everyone having worked on a tight schedule and
gotten it done another year.
SeanBird: Are there particular instruments that you prefer to use in your compositions or orchestrations? For example, I have noticed your use of the alto glockenspiel…
Not particularly. I like strings and French horn. For
Pokémon, they depend on the story, or you could say on the
characters. Strings, horns, and brass all make music with a lot of
energy, so in using those instruments you are using nerves. I have
always liked those instruments so I pretty much always put them in
the mix, but I do think that they are pretty versatile.
SeanBird: Of all of the background music you have composed for the Pokémon series, are there any particular pieces that stand out as favorites or have a particular significance for you?
The first Pokémon movie was made a year after the TV series
started, and since I was also in charge of the music for this long
anime movie I put a lot into it. There was pressure and time was
itself tight, so I was just writing until time was almost out. When
I went to the movie theatre and the title of the film,
Mewtwo Strikes Back, came
on screen as the musical theme of the same name played, I really
felt that I had done a good job with the brass and strings in the
fanfare-esque melody. There had been so much pressure, but seeing it
released in the theatre really moved me, and since that theme was
often used in the movie I was quite thrilled. I think of that piece
as being particularly important to me.
SeanBird: What is the difference between theme songs and background music?
Many theme songs are not just instrumental but also have
vocals, and thinking about the music for those vocals is about 99%
of the work. This is pretty agonizing. Like I said before, while a
lot of jobs require arranging orchestra parts other than vocals,
when requested to compose a vocal melody, I end up with a tune that
is nothing but trouble from the beginning of the singing to the end.
Can’t get rid of this, can’t get rid of that. When arranging, you
listen to vocals that have ups and downs and you have the changes in
the music fit in with that, but just putting the nice parts together
doesn’t work out. Really, composing for vocals is the hardest thing
SeanBird: Have you ever considered releasing a CD comprised entirely of your own work?
I haven’t ever thought about it. But I really would love to.
SeanBird: Is there anything you would like to talk about that we have not discussed thus far?
Nothing specifically. But you asked me before about who had
influenced me musically. Well, there is a jazz arranger name Gill
Evans who was an arranger until he was about 80 years old and also a
very fine pianist, and his arrangements were what you could call
“the peak of arrangement”, which was really cool. If I have the
chance, and this may just be too extreme to consider, but a part of
me would really like to become like John Williams, a person who can
reasonably be called a “maestro”. But there is also a part of me
that is extremely glad to be able to do a job that lets me both
compose and arrange, and I would like to be able to keep doing this
for as long as possible. I would also like to release an original CD
sometime in the future, if the timing is right.
SeanBird: Can you give us any hints about some of the themes you’re working on for the newest Pokémon movie in Japan?
That is a pretty difficult question to answer, but I’ll give
it a shot. The film I’m working on is the final part of a trilogy in
which the “God Pokémon” appear. These “God Pokémon” are imposing
beings possessing great power, I think based on something from Greek
legends of 2000 years ago. My image for their musical theme has not
yet solidified, but I want to come up with something that really
captures the sort of musical essence that suggests that this could
be the sort of music that was played back in those ancient times.
Something large, and spatially broad. This is the concept I am
thinking of working with.
SeanBird: Is there anything you would like to say? A message for your American listeners?
Shinji Miyazaki: When I heard my own song on an American FM radio station I was very happy, it was truly an honor. When I had myself started writing music I was into European pop, classical, and so on, but most of all American music, and so for my music to be heard by Americans is, well, a bit strange. Not just for them to be hearing it, but to actually want to listen to it. And so, I have been impressed by American music, trying to catch up to it and go beyond, and although I do not think I am there yet, in giving this interview I feel that I should sort of put the brakes on my feelings and study more.
When I was in the middle of working on music for the Pokémon project there were several Japanese artists who I was personally impressed by, very good pros, whose music I would very much like for people to listen to as well as mine.