BELLE Principal Composer Taisei Iwasaki

It is perhaps an understatement to say that music is an important element for Mamoru Hosodathe last movie of BEAUTIFUL; after all, BEAUTIFUL revolves around a grieving girl named Suzu who finds sanctuary and salvation by creating and performing music as herself,”BEAUTIFUL,” in the virtual world of “U.” ANN’s Richard Eisenbeis had the opportunity to speak with the film’s lead composer and arranger, the award-winning actor Taisei Iwasaki (Blood Blockade Battlefront, Pilot Dragon, and live action GHOST IN THE SHELL) on the process of creating the music that is so central to BEAUTIFULstory and themes.

Music is the key that connects BEAUTIFUL together in theme and in story. What was it like tackling a project where the soundtrack is so central to the film’s success?

Taisei Iwasaki: I knew from the script and the storyboard that the music would be a really big part of it, so I felt a lot of pressure, but now that I feel like I’ve managed to create something that I’m happy with, I feel very happy now.

Can you tell us a bit about your songwriting process for this film?

IWASAKI: First I read the script and the storyboard, I had a long meeting with the director Mamoru Hosoda
to decide on the overall concept, then began writing the individual songs.

To give an example of my approach to the songwriting process, I went to Kochi Prefecture, the model city where the main character Suzu lives, and wrote the song on the bridge below that appears in the movie.

What freedom have you been given in the use of the instruments? Were you limited in any way to form a cohesive sound for the film or was that just about anything? And how did that affect the songs you created?

IWASAKI: In order to create the music for this project, I first came up with the concept of a “composition village”, then I invited several composer friends to create various pieces based on this concept. We wanted to create music that felt really good to us, so we used all kinds of instruments, from small synthesized music to big orchestras, with no restrictions on the instruments.

BEAUTIFUL is a bit different from the standard animated musical. The film’s vocal tracks tend to be diegetic—Bshe literally sings them and people around her hear them as songs. What challenges arose from creating a highly diegetic soundtrack? How does this affect the songwriting process, especially since Suzu is the one who is supposed to have written these songs in the fictional world depicted in the film?

IWASAKI: The dialogue was not sung like normal musical animation in this film. So all the songs are rooted in history. Suzu has been composing music since she was a child with her late mother who appears briefly in the film. Therefore, I had to be constantly aware of his identity when composing, which was a different challenge than normal musical animation.

©Chizu studio

B songsshe sings in the film gives deep insight into her character. Were the lyrics written in tandem with the music or did they come later? Did it present any unique challenges?

IWASAKI: For the lyrics, Hosoda-san first wrote down the main idea and shared it with us. Kaho Nakamura, who plays Suzu for the original Japanese version, rewrote the lyrics and I adjusted them to the music, which was a very unique process.

“Uta Yo” (“Gales of Song”) marks the film’s pivotal moment when Suzu is able to sing for the first time in years. What’s interesting is that it’s not a song of joy or relief, but of jealousy and pain – all the emotions still inside her that she hasn’t been able to let out. Even the characters who listen to it in the movie note that it’s a strange song. In light of that, can you tell me how this song came about and why it takes the emotional path it takes?

IWASAKI: It was Hosoda-san’s idea and it was already drawn in the storyboard. This song is Suzu’s outburst of frustration at not being able to sing, accompanied by her physical rejection. On the other hand, as is the case in our internet world, when something suddenly appears, even if it is a good thing, sometimes there are differences of opinion. Hosoda-san has a strong sense of that, and I think that’s why he was able to express it that way.

What is your favorite song from the movie and why?

IWASAKI: It’s “A Million Miles Away”. Because there are so many different stories, and they change throughout the song. It involves all the emotions of Suzu, her friends, the dragon, and the people of the U. At the end, the song becomes a celebration for everyone, including the audience. They can feel like they in Blive concert from her. To achieve this, I actually solicited voices for “La la la” from all over the world and used more than 3,000 voices that we collected. I wanted people who felt divided by the COVID-19 crisis to feel “connected” at least in the film, so I chose this audaciously difficult approach.

©Chizu studio

When and how plans for an English language version from the soundtrack come? Was it planned from the start?

IWASAKI: We decided to make an English version of the soundtrack after the film was released in Japan.

What are the difficulties of translating songs from one language to another?

IWASAKI: I always struggle to convey the fine nuances of the underlying Japanese when writing songs in English, but this time, thanks to my friend Ludvig Forssel, the process went very well. Needless to say, he has a perfect understanding of the story and the lyrics, and I believe we created a perfect translation.

I think Japanese is a pretty convenient language for songwriting, because most sentences end in a pure vowel sound, which makes it easier to rhyme sentences naturally. English songs, on the other hand, tend to have a strict poetic rhyme scheme that is much more difficult to put together. What do you think and how does it relate to translating music from one language to another?

IWASAKI: Japanese is linguistically classified as a syllable-rhythm language, which means that pure vowels are indeed pronounced clearly, but this can sometimes be flattened into musical rhythm. On the other hand, English is classified as a stressed language, which means that its rhythmic system is completely different from that of Japanese, and if we translate it directly, the rhythm of the music itself will fall apart. In the case of animation, there is also the problem of lip synchronization, so translating a song is a real challenge. So I think the most important thing is to understand the good nuances behind each other’s language and adjust them as we go along with the music.

The song “U” is filled with a unique syncopation in her voice. Did it complicate the English translation?

IWASAKI: It’s true. As I mentioned earlier, there is a huge difference in the rhythmic system between Japanese and English, and it was very difficult to translate while controlling it. However, since Ludvig fully understands both languages, I think “U” could have been translated while retaining the unique syncopation.

Are there any songs that you think sound better or work better thematically in the English version? If so, which ones and why? If not, why do you think the Japanese versions are superior?

IWASAKI: I am convinced that we were able to create two good independent versions of each other. When I was recording the English version in New York, I first told everyone that I didn’t want to do a Japanese translation, but that I wanted to do two good individual versions. As for the mix of songs, we also did the English version, so it’s not that one is better than the other, but I think we were able to create a good version of the Japanese and English versions.

I think that’s why BEAUTIFUL exist.

Both Japanese and English versions of BEAUTIFULThe soundtrack of is available now.

Richard is an anime and video game journalist with over a decade of experience living and working in Japan. For more of his writings, see his Twitter and Blog.

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