Behind the Scenes Part 7: Yoko Kanno (Music Composer) I

The music for Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex is like jewelry sprinkled all over, glittering in an assortment of colors. From a minimalist rhythm to a scratchy guitar passage, a cool vocal in Russian and a singing piano melody, the background music for the Ghost in the Shell: S.A.C. series is a medley of numerous compositions.

We interviewed Yoko Kanno, who has been for five years responsible for the music score of Ghost in the Shell: S.A.C. from the first season in 2002 to the latest Solid State Society in 2006. How did she fulfill her mission?

Part 7: Yoko Kanno (Music Composer)
"I had this image of a formal and rigid "manly" world for the original comic. So I tried to think of ways to destroy that world."

Profile Born on March 18, in Miyagi Prefecture, Yoko Kanno is a music composer, arranger and pianist. She has written and performed music for many commercial films, TV dramas, feature films, animation and video games, and is currently one of the most world-renowned of Japanese musicians. She wrote the score for famous animated works, including Macross Plus, Cowboy Bebop, Vision of Escaflowne and Wolf's Rain, and is the most trusted composer by veteran and new-wave directors such as Yoshiyuki Tomino, Shinichiro Watanabe and Shoji Kawamori..

Do you remember your first thoughts when you were offered to compose music for Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex?
I had heard of the name, "Ghost in the Shell" but I had only a vague idea of what it was really about. When I told my staff that I had an offer to work on this "Ghost in the Shell" thing, they were jumping with joy. Especially the male staff. They all loved it and said, "You must!" So I checked the original comic, and boy, it's very erotic. (lol) Most of the crew was composed by males in their 30's or 40's, so I thought, "Wow, this is what they like?"

You thought Stand Alone Complex was going to be an erotic anime! (lol)
That's right! But when I met with Director Kamiyama, he said he wanted to do J.D. Salingers' The Catcher in the Rye. You know that my first impression of the comic was erotic, (lol) so I was really curious how that would relate to The Catcher in the Rye! After talking with him, he turned out to be naive and sounded quite pure hearted. Above all, he had passion. And besides I like literary works including English works, so I thought I might be able to fulfill that task.

"I thought what I'd do was, I'd pretend I was one of those deaf-mutes"  a line from J.D. Salingers' The Catcher in the Rye appears in the Laughing Man logo (left). In the first season of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, we can see numerous copycat offenders that simulate the Laughing Man, like Aoi (right). However, the original Laughing Man never makes his appearance in the series.

What was your intended musical approach to Stand Alone Complex?
I had this image of a formal and rigid "manly" world for the original comic. So I tried to think of ways to destroy that world. The theme I had in mind was, "be human." It represented the sentiment of "why don't we take it easy and be more like a human being?" - instead of being a workaholic salaried man working for his company. Or be it Tachikoma wishing to become human. I wanted to express these "tangible fuzziness," sort of. For the opening theme song called "inner universe," I had an image of digital bits and composed a score consisting of recurrent quick beats.

What were the actual exchanges between you and Director Kamiyama in the process of composing the scores?
Actually, Kazuhiro Wakabayashi, the sound director, gave me a menu to follow while composing the soundtrack. He has an extraordinary talent with words. He communicated delicate emotional feelings to me with his writings that were like poems. For example, in S.A.C. 2nd Gig, he wrote, "A man with a Japanese sword, Kuze. Things that go through his mind..." It was like I could imagine a scene from a movie. That was the menu I got.

What was your impression of the first episode, "Section 9" of Stand Alone Complex?
This is something like a habit of mine, but when I team up with a new staff member, I get into a thorough discussion until I am totally clear about the project. As for Stand Alone Complex, when I saw the first episode, I felt I understood what the director was aiming at, but I felt that was not "initiated" yet. So after the first episode was completed, I had a discussion with the director and Wakabayashi-san. We actually talked about things that were not at all related to the anime. For instance, we debated about the current entertainment environment. I expressed my idea of "what" and "how" we should connect to the audience. Others talked from their point of view. It was very stimulating. We were like students activists  naive and green, too much thinking, all talk and no action, sort of. Not that I was into it, no. (lol)

The melody run rabbit junk was used in the scene where Motoko barges into a high-end Japanese restaurant in episode 1. This score is now used as the theme melody when Section 9 strikes the offender's hideaway, but using that music for that scene in the first episode was in fact Kanno's idea.

Creating the music for Stand Alone Complex, that counts 52 TV episodes and one feature-length OVA, resulted in a 5-year endeavour. It is not very common to work on a project for such a long time, is it?
I think I've been very lucky to be a part of many successful projects. Actually, when a title is positively received, I'm often asked to do the music for the sequel, too. But at that time I get very panicky, because I feel a certain pressure to do better than the previous work. But strangely enough, I didn't have that dilemma with Stand Alone Complex. Maybe that's because when I worked on the first season, I had to deal with enormous pressure and inner conflict. The original manga was already immensely popular and when they decided to transpose it into animation it, there was a lot of pressure. So when I worked on S.A.C. 2nd Gig, I simply enjoyed working with a staff that had accumulated experience. It was obvious that the director himself as well as the staff around him were all more experienced than when we worked on the first season. I felt I didn't have to rush to accomplish something. That was a good thing. I had no worries.

I see. The progress Director Kamiyama and his staff made became a secure foundation for the project.
Simply put, they were the brainy theory-loving kids when we started out with Stand Alone Complex, but by the time we were working on S.A.C. 2nd Gig, I felt they were expressing more emotion and made good use of their intuitions. I sensed that sort of change in Director Kamiyama and his staff.

(1 - to be continued)

Originally published in Japanese on clappa!

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