A soundtrack has the power to dramatize the film and it significantly affects how a scene is perceived, and the emotional reaction of the audience. So it is easy to think that much thought is brought into the soundtrack in filmmaking.
When it comes to soundtracks of Japanese films, the main theme of Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence is noteworthy. The film is a joint production among Japan, the UK, Australia, and New Zealand, and the famous main theme is created by Ryuichi Sakamoto, one of the most internationally accredited Japanese musician. The melancholic and beautiful sound has become iconic, but what other music do the Japanese film industry offer?
Generally speaking, it is common for blockbusters in Japan to have a main theme composed and performed by popular J-pop and J-rock artists. The main theme of Your Name. by Makoto Shinkawa, a film that ranks fourth in the revenue rankings of Japanese films, was created by RADWIMPS, a popular Japanese indie rock band. The Moon and a Cabbage, a film by Tetsuo Shinohara has Masayoshi Yamazaki, a successful singer songwriter as the actor olaying the role of the protagonist and the singer/composer of the main theme. It is also common for idol groups like Arashi (a popular boy band that performs the main theme of Boys over Flowers) to perform the main theme of films. Many Studio Ghibli films have main themes created by acknowledged artists like Yumi Matsutoya and Ayaka Hirahara. However, Joe Hisaishi, the beloved composer of Studio Ghibli is behind most of the main themes of Ghibli films.
It might come to you as a surprise that the films that have main themes that become successful as individual songs, and appeal to the young audience are rarely awarded in the Japan Academy Awards. Some of the artists that have receive this award numerous times are Suo Yoshikazu, Shinichiro Ikebe, Keiichi Suzuki, Masaru Sato, Toru Takemitsu, and Joe Hisaishi. Although their works are highly praised, they are not necessarily phenomenons of the pop culture, so it’s easy for the general audience to miss these masterminds in charge of the soundtracks.
Furthermore, there are plenty of other underappreciated film music makers that do not catch the light. One notable underrated artist I recommend is Tenmon, who is a musician that often creates soundtracks for video games and anime. He has worked with Makoto Shinkawa, the rising director of anime films, and I believe that the soundtracks that Tenmon created for his earlier works, should be appreciated more considering the success of Your Name. and its soundtrack by RADWIMPS that took over Japanese pop culture. The profound soundtracks that Tenmon creates are very silent but powerful, and Shinkwa’s earlier films are not complete without them.
There are hidden gems in the deep ocean of Japanese film soundtracks. You might get caught up with the plot of the film, but remember that the film music is what guides you into the world that unfolds in the film.
Written by Sion Lee