Interview: Kensuke Ushio, composer of The Heike Story

Based on a classic Japanese literary work of the same name, Heike’s story The anime tells the story of the fall of the Heike clan through the perspective of a biwa player. ANN spoke with kensuke usio, who has already collaborated with the director Naoko Yamada on critically acclaimed films such as A silent voice and Liz and the Bluebird, on the issues of creation Heike’s storyis a hauntingly beautiful soundtrack.

©Heike’s story Project

What prompted you to join the Heike’s story lively?

USHIO: The director made a request for me. It was a great honour.

What kind of requests have you received from the director Naoko Yamada about the music? Were there any differences in the way you did things together compared to previous titles you both worked on?

USHIO: When we create something, the director and I start with conceptual work. This time was no exception.

The anime we’ve worked on so far has focused on one or two characters. However, this time the scale is very large, so even though we started the creative process the same way, there were a lot of things that we were challenging for the very first time.

Also, because we were producing a series rather than a movie, there were a lot of differences in what we needed for the visuals. Specifically, instead of tailoring the music to each specific scene, we needed music that could be used generally throughout all 11 episodes. The director told me that the timbre of the biwa should dominate, so I didn’t have to be too conscious of the historical aspect when it came to the background music himself.

The diversity of musical styles in the soundtrack is amazing. What inspired so many different styles to be represented?

USHIO: Let me start with a small digression. Heike’s story is a work of classical literature that is part of compulsory education in Japan. Events and dramatis personae are historical; I think it’s generally viewed with an air of detachment from flesh-and-blood people, like lining up events on a timeline.

Heike’s story that we took upon ourselves, on the other hand, was something that we felt strongly as a tangible event, featuring people who felt like they lived next to you, and incidents that you could imagine appearing on your timeline social media. So we nestled close to every person and every event, and I think the result of our attempts not to indulge in the stereotypes of historical fiction has been this diverse music.

On the other hand, the background music– especially the timbre of the biwa – has a strong meaning, so at the beginning of the production, we experimented a lot on how to put together its sound and how to deal with Japanese instruments that are not in the western musical scale.

Some tracks, however, represent your very characteristic ambient piano style. Was there any difficulty fitting that style into such an eclectic soundtrack?

USHIO: On the contrary, by incorporating the historical elements, the traditional Japanese instruments, we were able to create a diverse sound. Before I got into production, I thought it would be difficult, but having that structure turned out to be a help.

How familiar were you with traditional Japanese musical styles and Biwa music before embarking on this project?

USHIO: I knew it, of course, because living in Japan, I hear about it from time to time. But I was far from knowing him well. At most, it was just something I had heard before. This was especially true of the sound of the biwa. I could produce the timbre of the biwa using computer software, but an actual performance sounds completely different. It was “amazing”, as we say in English.

Do you have any comments for your overseas fans watching Heike’s story?

USHIO: Besides being a classic and part of Japanese history, Heike’s story is beautiful literature. This anime adds to the original Heike’s story by portraying people who might live right next to you and how their anxieties, thoughts and actions have shaped the story. I hope you can relax and enjoy it without making it a stuffy affair. It will be fine. Even the Japanese watch it with Wikipedia open because there are so many names (laughs).

On the other hand, some aspects may be difficult to understand, such as why opposing surnames are allies, or why the Emperor never tried to change the Heike when they boasted such influence. . It is difficult to explain each thing individually, so this anime can also serve as a gateway to understanding Japanese history. If it piques your interest even a little, or if it makes you want to pass on the stories like Biwa, I wouldn’t like anything more.

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