Scoring the music for a Japanese independent film

movie-soundtrackTokyo is really the place where everything happens. The sheer size of the city and its effervescence make it a very fertile ground for encounters and experiences. I had not been living in the Japanese capital for more than a month when I got offered the chance to write the music for a forthcoming film directed by a promising independent film-maker from Australia, Rionne McAvoy. He had just finished shooting his film and was looking for someone to write the soundtrack. On my side, I had been off music for a while and I was craving for some new projects to come my way.

The movie was to be called Set In Stone and it dealt with two Japanese cops, Masahiro Nara and Nobuhiro Ishii, who are spending their days (and nights) gathering evidence in order to arrest a major crime boss but for whom things will rapidly take a more personal turn and reach a tragic conclusion.

It was my very first attempt at scoring a full movie and although I was quite excited, I felt particularly nervous about how to score action scenes. I had indeed been used to write more quiet and contemplative music for travel videos, modern dance and slide-shows so I decided to greatly focus on the percussive elements used by masters such as Hans Zimmer, Trevor Rabin or Eric Serra who are my greatest heroes in that particular field.

I particularly enjoyed scoring the part where the cops are cruising in car through the city. I have always loved this kind of dynamic scenes displaying urban landscapes like those seen in movies such as Michael Mann’s Heat or in the anime realm, Ghost in the Shell. Being in love with Tokyo did help a lot to give an emotional vibe to the tune and I just wish the sequence had been longer!

Set In Stone - Cruising in the streets of Tokyo

The car scene intertwined in the first Yakuza’s arrest was a challenging one. I had to convey the relationship between the two cops, which is expressed through the dialog, but also the dual game that the young Ishii is playing. The fact that the scene was cut with a feedback of the arrest made it very hard to focus on one aspect or the other. Instead, I went down the rout of a bass line carrying the discussion and an orchestral opening when the flashback begins. Just as the film does to cut from one scene to the other, I made use of the door noise in order to ensure a smooth final transition back to the car.

Set In Stone - Flashback Scene

The action scene took me most of the writing time. Percussions play a fundamental straight away with an electronic loop marking the 16th notes before the orchestra kicks in, also very percussively. I operated a drastic change of metric, tone and instrumentation as soon as the fight starts. The idea was to bring forward the noises of the fight (which are still absent in the version that you are watching) in order to give it a more organic, flesh on flesh tone. I guess this is probably the part that I am least happy with at this time ad I will have to rethink carefully the way I process these kinds of fight scenes in future.

Set In Stone - Action Scene

I do not own the rights to diffuse the full movie but the director kindly agreed to let me present some excerpts here. Since these are working versions, the mix is heavily balanced in favor of the music and the dialogs can be hard to make out. Still I think it gives a good example of the tone I wanted to give to the movie and although I am not satisfied by everything, I consider it a good learning opportunity for the projects to come.

If you are working on a project and you feel that I could contribute to it through some music, please do not hesitate to contact me through this link, I would be more than happy to discuss about your ideas.


To go further:

  • The official website of Sceptre Japan, the production company behind the film
About the author
Guillaume Erard
Author: Guillaume ErardWebsite: http://www.guillaumeerard.com
Biography
Founder of the site in 2007, Guillaume has a passion for Japanese culture and martial arts. After having practiced Judo during childhood, he started studying Aikido in 1996, and Daito-ryu Aiki-jujutsu in 2008. He currently holds the ranks of 4th Dan in Aikido (Aikikai) and 1st Dan in Daito-ryu Aiki-jujutsu (Takumakai). Guillaume is also passionate about science and education and he holds a PhD in Molecular and Cell Biology since 2010. He currently lives in Tokyo and works as a consultant for medical research. > View Full Profile

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