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Shinji Miyazaki Game Freak Sound Team “Talk about Pokémon Music”

The following interview was translated from the booklet included with the TV Anime Pocket Monsters Original Soundtrack Best 1997-2010 (TVアニメ ポケットモンスター オリジナルサウンドトラック ベスト 1997-2010) CD box set.


Shinji Miyazaki – Composer/Arranger who handles the music of the TV Anime “Pocket Monsters”
Junichi Masuda – Director of the game series “Pocket Monsters”
Go Ichinose – Sound Leader of the game series “Pocket Monsters”
Hitomi Sato – Sound Staff Member of the game series “Pocket Monsters"

- First, may I inquire about your musical roots, Shinji Miyazaki-san?
Miyazaki: Thinking back, I’ve trivially listened to music since I was small. There was a slightly rich boy in our neighborhood (laughs) and he had a shortwave radio at home. And whenever I visited the boy at home, we would listen to the Billboard music of that time. I remember listening to The Spotnicks and many other things.

- So you mostly listened to Western music?
Miyazaki: No, I also listened to Kazuo Funaki-san and Sylvie Vartan’s “Search for the Idol” (Cherchez l’idole) and other things.

- And what made you want to become a professional?
Miyazaki: I liked music, but I hadn’t received any specialized education on it, so I tried to attend a normal university. However, I couldn’t give up on music, so I worried myself, wondering if there were any connections. Shortly before that, I just happened to listen to Toru Takemitsu-san’s music and was incredibly moved. I also read Takemitsu-san’s literary work and thought, “This person is amazing.” That’s when I started brooding and went all the way to Tokyo to meet him.

- What, all of a sudden (laughs)?
Miyazaki: Yes (laughs). I visited a reporter who had written an article on Takemitsu-san in the newspaper and told him that I’d like to meet him. But I was told that he was not in Japan but in Paris at the moment, attending a music festival or something. There was nothing to be done about it, so I thought, “What now? Should I go home?” and was just lazing around at Yotsuya station, when this poster from a music academy caught my eye. Not to mention, it said, “basic course”. I wondered, “What do you do in a basic course? Could it be something I could do as well?” And so I ordered an application form and…

All in all, I listened to different kinds of music and just dimly thought, “It would be nice to enter a world like this”, but it wasn’t until I was twenty that I approached it concretely.

- Where do the musical roots of the Pokémon sound team lie?
Masuda: I was in third or fourth grade in elementary school. We had the soundtracks of “The Bridge on the River Kwai” and “Ben Hur” at home and I remember listening to them and trying to emulate them with my recorder. I feel like that was the first moment in which I thought, “Music is interesting!” Other than that, there was the YMO (Yellow Magic Orchestra) I listened to when I was in fifth or sixth grade. From then on, I became more of a techno type. Tangerine Dream, Ultravox, Kraftwerk and such. My parents bought me a radio-cassette player, but I only listened to rock and Western music. That’s why there was almost no one in school I could relate to (laughs). Not to mention, records were expensive so you couldn’t buy them so easily.

- So that’s when the radio airchecks came in, right (laughs)?
Masuda: Yes. But even when a song was played, I didn’t know who sang it and what is was called. That’s why I bought magazines and read them to get information. That’s how it was back then.

- For you, Masuda-san, what era constitutes the base of your music works today?
Masuda: It was when I entered junior high school, I think. I had pestered my parents into buying a synthesizer called MS-10 for me. And since there was someone at school who liked those things as well, we used our two cassette decks to do multiple recordings together (laughs). So I never actually studied music as my specialty.

- Is that so?
Masuda: In high school, I was part of a brass band and played the trombone, but I never studied it (laughs). Basically, I like techno and rock. Those are far away from the Pokémon world. That one goes more in the direction of Marilyn Manson and Slipknot.

Ichinose: Masuda-san’s taste in music from back then is reflected in the battle tracks (laughs).

- Where do your musical roots lie then, Ichinose-san?
Ichinose: When I was in kindergarten, I was forced to attend a swimming school and a music class. As for the swimming school, I kept crying until I didn’t have to attend any more, but I remained in the music class the whole time. It’s just that I never did my homework, so my music teacher told me, “I won’t let you advance to higher classes.”

That’s when I switched to the piano. But even then, I didn’t practice unless it was a piece I liked. That went on until junior high school, I think. In terms of piano [music], I liked Chopin the most. I often thought, “I want to play this piece!” and put a lot of effort into practicing a difficult piece. It was also during junior high school that I got into game music. Famicom [Family Computer] music, Game Center music and things like that. I also took recording devices to the Game Center and recorded the sounds, then played them on the piano.

- Hearing your story, it sounds like you became part of Game Freak because you were destined to do so.
Ichinose: But the thing is, at that time, I wasn’t even thinking about making music. I only entered Game Freak because I wanted to acquire some qualifications. I just happened to find they were recruiting people for part-time jobs and said, “Excuse me, please let me study here.” So I studied programming, but I couldn’t seem to make progress and before I knew it, I was making music (laughs). Also, I’ve just remembered something else that lead to my starting with music: Once while we were moving, I discovered a record for prenatal care in our house. Apparently, it was music I used to hear when I was still an unborn child; when I checked the playlist, I realized it was full of pieces that I had selected to play on the piano.

Sato: Does that mean you had listened to Chopin?

Ichinose: Yeah. Chopin and Liszt and such. That’s why I think prenatal care does have an effect (laughs).

Sato: I had a similar experience. Apparently, when I was still 0, my father constantly let me listen to a record that contained yodeling. He told me that one morning, before I had learned to talk, I was suddenly standing on my futon and yodeling (laughs). That’s when my parents began to hope that “this kid may have musical talent” (laughs). I began playing the piano at age 3 and continued all the way until second grade in high school.

Also, since I always went to Christian-oriented schools, I was very familiar with hymns. That’s why I listened to little else but hymns and piano music until I was 17 or 18 years old (laughs).

- How did you end up working for Game Freak?
Sato: There was a job advertisement stating that Game Freak was looking for planners. I worked as a planner for about 7 or 8 years, but then I happened to hear that someone from the sound staff had quit. I had told them once that I could play the piano and when I was asked if I wanted to give it a try, I said yes.

Ichinose: Well, Sato had amazing hearing, you see.

- Regarding the fact that neither Ichinose-san nor Sato-san were originally part of the sound team; does Game Freak often make personnel changes among members?
Masuda: No, it’s not personnel changes; it’s more like we approach people who are familiar with music and ask them, “Hey, do you want to try and make a music piece like this?” When we find someone talented, we slowly tell them to “come over here” (laughs). So it’s not like they change sections and become part of the sound team.

Ichinose: We say, “We’re a bit busy, wanna help us out?” That’s what it feels like.

Masuda: After we let them produce something, we tell them that they’re talented.

- On this CD, all music pieces from the games that were arranged by an orchestra and used for the TV anime are recorded, though it seems like some pieces are used differently in the anime than in the games.
Ichinose: You’re right. For example, Disc 2, Track 9 “Crossing the Ocean”. It’s a track from “Ruby & Sapphire” and originally plays while you move from a certain place to a town with a boat. It’s a lively piece that feels speedy because of the boat motif, but during the game, it’s only played for a very short time. In the anime, that piece was turned into a magnificent and moving tune. I thought, “This is great! How interesting!”

- In the case of the anime, a menu (list of the tracks needed) is written beforehand to fit certain scenes and characters. How are they [music pieces] produced in the case of the games?
Masuda: First we bring the necessary scenes to light and fortify what kind of image we want to give off in them, but as the production of the game continues, instances where we say, “I want a tune like this” occur as well, as it was the case with the aforementioned boat scene. So instead of determining how we imagine everything beforehand, we often let the people in charge of the sound actually play the game and then have them produce the tunes.

Ichinose: Being able to produce while looking at the screen would be the most ideal way, but since scenes are still being produced during the development phase, we work with just our imaginations sometimes.

Masuda: If it’s a scene where you walk through a city, we produce thinking how the main character feels. Also, in the game, the timing of the scene changes is entirely up to the player. That’s why they [the tunes] always loop. Even if we think, “At this moment, I’d like to build up excitement” and add figures somewhere, chances are that the player doesn’t switch scenes during that moment. We have dilemmas like this sometimes, but there is something enjoyable about it as well.

- Miyazaki-san on the other hand, uses those game tunes as bases to extend arrangements to be played by an orchestra for the anime. What are the difficulties you experience?
Miyazaki: During the early days of Pokémon, the number of sounds (that could be played at once) was low.

Masuda: Yes, during the days of “Red & Green” it was 3 sounds plus background noise.

Miyazaki: So there were actually sounds that didn’t resonate. But I’m sure those sounds did resonate in Masuda-san’s mind as well. How did they resonate in Masuda-san’s mind? What if my world is entirely different from his? Those were the most difficult questions. The first arrangement does kind of determine the direction, after all. I was very worried and wondered, “Is it really okay this way?”

Masuda: In that sense, you make me think you’re amazing, Miyazaki-san. I really felt like you “picked up all my sounds.”

Miyazaki: There is this opening piece that’s also often used in movies (Disc 1, Track 1-3); I think that’s my number one, personally. The tune itself is a good piece, but I also think that if it wasn’t for that [piece], the situation regarding Pokémon music might not be like this today.

Of the Game Freak people, is it you who determines the worldview and decides things like, “It’s a good tune, but it doesn’t fit the image”, Masuda-san?

Masuda: Since I’m working as a director for the games now, it appears to be that way. And when it comes to troubling aspects, it’s one of the things I worry about very much. For example, if we made one CD and it consisted entirely of heavy rock, you’d become exhausted, wouldn’t you? That’s when you say things like, “Let’s take it a little easier in this scene” or something. We also try to create a flow that adapts to the chronological order of the adventure. Those are things I’m always concerned about.

Ichinose: The things Masuda is particular about – for example, whether something is important scenario-wise or concerning places that are important for the worldview – those are things for which he conveys a very clear image. However, other than that, everyone implements their own respective images and if Masuda says nothing, everything is OK.

Masuda: There aren’t that many “no-go’s” getting submitted anyway. But, for example, while the Jouto region had cities around Kyoto serving as models, I said something like, “Don’t make it too Japanese.” By adding non-Japanese music to a Japanese place, I want to create a new, slightly different worldview.

- In what way do the arrangements for the anime version show guts?
Ichinose: Pokémon tunes use “input music”, a special trait of the games, and have a tendency to be composed without favoring playing methods for musical compositions or harmonic concepts. Considering all this, it must be very complicated to make orchestra arrangements. What do you think?

Miyazaki: Choosing the instruments is easy. Determining whether their respective figures and orchestra arrangements are effective is also easy. However, I think the difference is that, compared to input works, the feeling of broadness may get lost. For example, when the original tune uses a variety of synth strings, there is a broadness to the timbre, but if the chords are played with real strings, it doesn’t seem that way any more.

Ichinose: I see.

Miyazaki: It often happens with the music used with battles.

Ichinose:There is one tune among the ones you arranged, Miyazaki-san, that I really like. It’s Disc 2, Track 14, “Minamo City”. Surprisingly, the sub-melody (the melody that complements the main melody) and the harmony weren’t changed, so it turned out to be extremely close to the original tune. I must say I was very happy and thought, “Miyazaki-san must have approved of this.” (laughs)

Miyazaki: Please (laughs). There are some compositions where I’d refuse even if I was asked to change them.

Ichinose: I’d like to know more about them (laughs).

Miyazaki: There are cases where, if I try it with the key for the instruments I had in mind, it doesn’t sound as I imagined it or, if I change the key, it doesn’t bring out the feeling the original tune had carried.

- So that means pieces created with the input method cannot simply reproduced by an orchestra as-is.
Miyazaki: I mentioned it earlier, but the battle tunes from the early days couldn’t be left as-is, no matter what. That’s why I slowed down the tempo a little. Having done that, I was torn on what to leave out and what to include. For example, the sound range of the trumpets used in the games is surprisingly high…

Ichinose: That’s true. Low tones don’t come out of game consoles speakers very well, but high tones do. That’s why we often use high tones.

Miyazaki: But if I left that as-is, it’d sound a little acrid. Then again, I think the mood it gives off is one of the characteristics of Pokémon. That’s why I leave the high sound range as-is sometimes.

Sato: We really are careless, writing pieces that the orchestra can’t play… How do you get through this?

Miyazaki: Well, if I didn’t have some trouble doing it, it wouldn’t be an arrangement (laughs). Also, if I just try, it’ll work out somehow.

Sato: So we can go on without keeping our heads down (laughs)?

Miyazaki: Writing pieces that are close to mine might make me worry in a different way. I might think, “Is it really okay if I just leave this as-is?” (laughs)

Sato: I see (laughs). Well then, please bear with us in the future (laughs).

Masuda: What interests me the most is how you work on the arrangements, Miyazaki-san. Do you write them down on the score directly?

Miyazaki: Much has changed over the years. Lately, before I record a live performance by the orchestra, I try to simulate the timbre using synth instruments and make a demo in order to make sure how the overall image of the composition comes across. But in the beginning when I’d just started working, I had no score at first, so I began with copying everything using my ears and then created the image while looking at the music I’d copied and checking the menu I’d been given by the sound director.

Masuda: This music, do you write it in pieces for the respective instruments? Do you line everything up at once or do you write the music piece by piece?

Miyazaki: I do both. If the tune has an impressive melody, I’ll copy the melody first and then think of an appropriate chord. In reverse, if the rhythm is the focus of the tune, I create the rhythm and then think further while playing that.

Masuda: In this sense, it might be a good thing if the timbre isn’t predefined. Personally, I’m one of those who think that, since we’re going through the trouble of making a new game, sounds that haven’t been heard before are preferable. That’s why I use the timbres in a slightly different way every time and hope that, when they’re given to you, Miyazaki-san, you’ll arrange them to have a different shape.

- Miyazaki-san, is there anything you would like to ask the people of Game Freak?
Miyazaki: I’d like to ask when you get your ideas for the pieces. For me, more often than when I’m sitting at a desk, it’s when I take a bath or when eating that they come gushing forth…

Masuda: In that regard, we’re the same, I think. When I’m sitting in the bathtub or the train, I suddenly get an idea. Then I whistle it into my cell phone. And then I listen to it afterwards. Although there are times when it turns out to be really bad (laughs).

Ichinose: Like Miyazaki-san, I think of the melody or the framework of a piece while taking a shower or something. The instance I’m freed after having been pressured by the deadline for my work is the best time for me to think of music pieces. Sorry if the story sounds hopeless (laughs).

Sato: I’m the opposite; if I don’t sit at a desk, nothing will come out. And when I think, “I have little time left. Just one more hour!” everything comes out at once.

- So they [ideas] come out more easily when under pressure?
Sato: Yes. I just can’t think of melodies, you see. I start with the base and the grace notes, so I begin with entering all the grace notes I want to include at once and when I have one more hour left, I enter the notes I haven’t used yet and it starts resembling a melody (laughs).

- Like drawing a sketch and then filling it out afterwards.
Sato: That’s right.

Masuda: I see, so you’re among those who think of the melody later.

Sato: I never have any ideas.

Masuda: I’m one of those who think of the melody first.

Ichinose: Me too.

Miyazaki: I start with the melody as well.

Sato: I have no friends (laughs).

- Please tell us about one track you’re fond of.
Masuda: It’s still the fight theme from the first games, “Red & Green” [Disc 1, Track 6 Fight (VS Wild Pokémon)].

Miyazaki: There are some subtle differences between the versions.

Masuda: This arrangement was even more fantastic than I imagined. If I tried to arrange it myself, it’d end up going in the same direction, you see (laughs).

Miyazaki: Perhaps it’s that, even if you think there are many possible directions, there is only one truth (laughs). You just think that this is more or less how it should be.

Masuda: The first time I heard it was on TV (laughs), but at the very beginning of the TV series, there’s this scene where game sounds are suddenly replaced by an orchestra. I still remember that scene.

Ichinose: For me, it’s Disc 2, Track 9, “Crossing the Ocean”. “A track of mine was arranged and became such a magnificent piece”, I thought. When I heard it for the first time, I actually soliloquized and said, “Thank you so much” (laughs).

Sato: For me, it’s Disc 2, Track 34, “Hakutai Woods”. The original piece was made with a “forest-like” image in mind, but when I listened to the arrangement, it was a lake-like piece. Since in the games, the scenes where you meet the legendary Pokémon take place at lakes, I was incredibly moved when I heard that it was changed that way. I thought, “There is a feeling of mystery to it that I couldn’t bring out.” Another one would be Disc 2, Track 36, “Route 206 (Day)”. It’s played in a place called route 206, and actually, it’s the first piece I ever made. When it was played at the beginning of the first episode of Diamond & Pearl, I was so happy I almost cried.

Masuda: It seems like the direction the arrangements take is what stimulates the sound team.

Ichinose: You’re right.

- Lastly, I’d like a small message from everyone.
Masuda: Lately, I’ve done nothing but battle tracks and I feel bad about how they resemble each other (laughs), and since I’m slowly running out of ideas, I thought it would be nice to change directions at some point. To make Pokémon-like music with a new shape.

Ichinose: For a while, I’ve been thinking that, since “Pokémon” is a game millions of people play, the tracks included in it are heard by millions of people as well. In that regard, it’s a production which exerts a lot of influence. Even putting aside whether the same goes for the music, I’d prefer to do new things that differ from others. Concerning this CD, one of the things one should look forward to is hearing diverse endings (the last part of a track) that aren’t present in the games. I’d be happy if game fans as well as anime fans looked back at Pokémon music with fond memories when hearing live performances.

Sato: Among those who play the games, there might be some who aren’t very interested in music. I’d like to put something into the worldview of the tracks that makes those people think, “This is a nice piece” and that awakens their interest.

Miyazaki: I might stray off a little, but I think it would be nice if we could have an event where people involved with Pokémon music gather.

- It would be great to see that! Thank you for today.

Translated by Sushi
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Last updated 11 Jun 2020 18:46 by Sunain.
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