The Music That Changed Everything: Kenji Kawai - Kagutsuuta Ura Mite Chiru

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18. Dez. 2010, 22:07

The title may seem strange for those not familiar with it, but this piece of music is played over the opening titles sequence of Mamoru Oshii's Innocence: Ghost in the Shell 2. The title of the piece is apparently written in antiquated Kanji and is somewhat poetic in form. From the little translation I could find, it seems to translate to 'Song of the dying puppet', in which the term dying in this instance and form takes on an aspect of bitterness or resentment. For this reason, the title may translate more closely to something like 'Ballad of a dying puppet'. Given the themes of Innocence, it's easy to understand why such a sentiment would be written about in classic Japanese style.

川井憲次's scores are amazing and Innocence is certainly no exception. Of all of his compositions, Kugutsuuta ura mite chiru is the most remarkable. It contains all of the things that he does best; haunting percussion, sparse and minimal movements then followed by traditional taiko drums that intertwine with a modern rhythm, an archaic and grand vocal arrangement and a seeming paradox of epic scale and impossibly close intimacy. Kawai's music seems to exactly match Oshii's sensibilities as far as this distance and closeness goes. Oshii is always examining existential issues of identity, of spirituality and purpose, yet at the same time regardless of the grandure and agitation of some of the exciting themes of conflict and battle that he uses, everything becomes a question for the individual in the smallest, most intimate part of their psyche where one considers one's self and determines their perception of all things.

If that weren't abstract enough in a fictional story told in the visual medium, Kawai seems impossibly able to translate it all into sound and music. From the very first haunting traditional Japanese chorus to the silence broken by his iconic bells, Kawai begins laying out his themes in the most articulate and intimate of terms. As for the lyrics, it's difficult enough for native Japanese people not versed in the classical language, let alone me who hardly speaks modern Japanese, but on reading a few translations and some commentary on them, it's evident that similar devices are at work in their meaning as are in effect in the themes of the film and its music. This complex, multi-layered and multi-faceted art-form seems to indeed come from classical Japanese and Chinese writing where a thing means many things at the same time, sometimes intentionally opposing one-another. There can be an emphasis more on the impression of ideas rather than the ideas themselves, and when one has an impression of the whole rather than its particulars, an understanding that then cannot be described in words is created. I realise I've grown up rather fond of this way of thinking, part active emotive impression, part instinct, part reflection and meditation and part intellect. For years I've watched Japanese, foreign and art-house films, read some classic English literature and a larger helping of often introspective cyberpunk, real science and science fiction. That spiritual reflection through scientific themes creates distance is both true and an illusion. The distance is there but for a purpose, part of seeing the whole, yet only by doing this can many minute things be seen and vice-versa.

This is beginning to sound like an overly spiritual discussion but these are some of the thoughts I'm left with as I listen to Kawai's masterpiece. I appreciate that its placement in a film has much to do with its colouring and that I carry over many sentiments about the film to the music, but that was important in its creation. Now I am able to listen to the music outside of the film and not consider the film's themes at all. Such is the emotive quality and power of the piece that it transcends its origins, something that I cannot say about all soundtrack compositions and rightly so. It's appropriate that a piece of soundtrack music be intimately tied to the film for which it was written, however once in a while a piece is so good it can be elevated into greater contexts.

As far as the sound itself, its recording and production, there is only one way to listen to this piece and that is loud. It shines even in the most terrible of reference hardware, but only on a well balanced system with either good woofers or responsive sub-woofer will all the detail of the piece emerge. Those drums need to feel as though they're the driving force behind the movement and rotation of the earth while transients are clear and penetrating from the percussive low-mids to the shimmering of the bells. The marriage of the choir with the subtle strings towards the end will also take on the right aspect on a good system as frequencies are clear and warm, and the mid-highs of the vocals emerge almost like the rasping of bows across strings.

In 2007 Kenji Kawai performed this piece and other selections from Innocence at the Yokohama Pacifico concert hall in a show called 'Cinema Symphony' containing many of his compositions from over the years. It is a phenomenal recording available on DVD and I strongly suggest any fan of Oshii's films and particularly Kawai's music should consider buying it and having a listen. The section from Innocence played at as loud a volume as one can bear is truly awe-inspiring.

There are times when I listen to this piece of music and feel it is the single most amazing piece ever written by anyone. As opening title music to a film, it's fitting that it is the very first piece I've chosen for this series, a romantic beginning and end of all things in a way.

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