Music Producer

Junji Fujita

A music producer has the important role of making musicians create compositions that match the world of the story. In "MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM THE ORIGIN" (hereafter referred to as "THE ORIGIN") the job of music producer was given to Junji Fujita, who served as music director on the "MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM" TV series (hereafter referred to as "GUNDAM") 35 years ago, as well as the three-part theatrical version. We talked to him about his thoughts on being involved as a music producer on both works 35 years apart, and the situation both then and now.
- Mr. Fujita, when "GUNDAM" was broadcast, you were a music director at King Records and you were helping to sell soundtrack albums. Was "GUNDAM" a work that brought on a major revolution in terms of truly musical anime music?
Fujita: The release of the "GUNDAM" soundtrack album was influenced by the album sales for "SUPER MACHINE ZAMBOT 3" (hereafter referred to as "ZAMBOT 3") which was broadcast before it. At first, we only released the main theme song of "ZAMBOT 3" as a single, and we didn't have anything to do with the soundtrack. But after it had finished airing, it was decided to release an album, and as a result a lot of opinions came back to us from the customers. What age were the fans of this music that Mr. (Yoshiyuki) Tomino had been so careful about? How did they feel about it? We found out from the feedback. We also learned that the customers weren't children, so we felt the things we hadn't achieved with "ZAMBOT 3," we wanted to make a reality with "GUNDAM."
Because of that, even musically, the background music (BGM) of "GUNDAM" was consciously recorded using what were then the newest recording systems. As a result, when people heard the album they said all the music was there from the beginning to the very end, and the stereo was great, and things like that. They said it felt unlike any of the music that came before.
- In terms of the atmosphere at the time, was there actually a feeling that – after the success of "SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO" – anime can be enjoyed by adults too?
Fujita: Regardless of "SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO" being such a big hit, at the time, an album of compiled BGM had never been made. Up until the time of "SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO," anime companies created BGM solely to be used in the shows. So the record companies devoted their energies to songs and orchestral suites. I suppose BGM was perceived to have little value. However, at King Records back then, we didn't believe that. BGM itself is original music, and offering music from TV to customers in the best form possible was important to us as a record company. Up until then, no other record company was doing anything like that.
- So after altering your consciousness like that, how did it go?
Fujita: We released two "GUNDAM" albums. When we put out the first one, sales were all right, but it wasn't an explosive hit or anything. The explosive hit came with the second album. On the first album we used anime cel art for the jacket, but on the second we used a purpose-made illustration by Mr. (Yoshikazu) Yasuhiko called "On The Battlefield" on the jacket, and it was incredibly popular. After that the first album, which had the main compositions on it, started to sell too, as if pulled up by the second.
- That's very famous jacket art, isn't it? Why was it that the jacket art changed between the two albums?
Fujita: At the time, Mr. Tomino admonished us, saying the jacket art was too childish. His opinion was completely right, but the system back then was that the jacket art was treated as a licensing illustration. So we put in a request with Sunrise's licensing department, ordered a package, and had them draw cel art, and that was how the process went. So with the first album we had no choice but to use anime art. However, when it came time to do the second, we said, "This is what the music is like, so we want the jacket to be more grown-up as well." Mr. (Yoshinori) Kishimoto, Sunrise's president at the time, listened to our opinion and took the request to Mr. Yasuhiko himself. Thanks to Mr. Kishimoto doing that, that album was able to sell.
- In fact, after that "On The Battlefield" jacket illustration, Mr. Yasuhiko and Mr. Kunio Okawara become involved with a lot of the licensing art.
Fujita: In the course of "ZAMBOT 3," "THE UNCHALLENGEABLE DAITARN 3," and "GUNDAM," the age range of the fans included children, but was getting older and older. There were junior high and high school kids of course, but anime was spreading among college students as well, and it was the same with the music. But it was when the "On The Battlefield" album came out that we really felt the importance of the jacket design and artwork. So I think Gundam really changed the world in many ways.
- You worked on that series as music director, but on THE ORIGIN you're the music producer. What does being a music producer actually entail?
Fujita: Put simply, you could say I'm the connection that ties the composers together with the anime production staff, including the director. Kind of like a translator. You could also call me a catalyst. When creating music for anime, you need a chemical reaction, but I myself am not changed by it. So that catalytic kind of activity is what the music producer does. On "THE ORIGIN," Mr. Takayuki Hattori was placed in charge of the music. To improve the communication between Mr. Hattori, and Director (Takashi) Imanishi and the rest of the staff, as an interpreter I turn anime language into musical language and relate that to Mr. Hattori. Or the reverse: Mr. Hattori puts something in musical terms, and now I have to put that in words for the anime production side and relate it to the staff. There was a lot of that on this project. People may have this image of a producer being a decision maker, but that wasn't my job on this occasion. Previously, when I was at the record company, my job might begin with the selection of the musicians. But even on "GUNDAM," Mr. Tomino was the director, and they had already chosen Mr. Takeo Watanabe for the music and put Mr. You-she Matsuyama in charge of the BGM. As a music director at King Records back then, my job was to untangle Mr. Tomino's complex explanations so they were easier for Mr. Takeo Watanabe and Mr. You-she Matsuyama to understand.
- The general image people have is that a producer is involved only at the very start, but you're there firmly through to the end, aren't you?
Fujita: When I have time, I'm there for the post-recording and dubbing. This isn't an issue with Gundam, but on some projects people use the music in chaotic ways. Sometimes they cut off the music part way through and tack something else onto it, and I have to beg them to stop. For study purposes, I check how they record dialogue at the studio, I watch how they work out the levels and timings for sound effects and music, and I think about, "Is it hard to use the music we recorded?" and "Since the melody is a little light, would it be easier to use if we delivered it with increased melody for the BGM?" So it doesn't end with the recording. I try to stay involved in as many ways as possible until the film is complete, and do my best to see that the music is used in a good form.
- How did you go about asking for Mr. Takayuki Hattori?
Fujita: We have a parliamentary system on this project, so there are staff meetings with the director at the center. In them, we offered up specific names of composers we'd like to recruit, and we talked about who would be good. After that, we ordered the candidates by priority and moved into negotiations. Of those, this time Mr. Hattori's name came up as number one and he gladly agreed, so it was easily settled.
- Do you take into account a musician's inclinations and contemporariness when choosing them?
Fujita: Well, the music of Gundam has always been symphonic, with the BGM recorded using an orchestra, so that tacit understanding was there. So we couldn't really suggest any candidates who couldn't write BGM for an orchestra.
- Mr. Hattori is known for his musical involvement with famous TV dramas and movies. How do you feel that matched him up with Gundam?
Fujita: That is interesting. Mr. Hattori is widely experienced, from music targeted to women to TV dramas, movies, and the Godzilla series. I really wondered what part of that range would express itself in "THE ORIGIN." And I think Mr. Hattori wondered about it himself.
- Did Mr. Yasuhiko or Mr. Imanishi make any requests in terms of the music?
Fujita: From his position as author of the original manga and character designer, Mr. Yasuhiko told Mr. Hattori directly what Gundam was all about. Mr. Imanishi talked more about the direction and story this time around, how it was more concentrated thematically, and about the overall mood and atmosphere. But Mr. Yasuhiko used the vocabulary of a manga artist, and Mr. Imanishi used the language of a director creating visual art. Things like "upheaval" and "independence movement" are not musical terms. When communicating this to Mr. Hattori, I tried to reference specific music and composers' names, but not to the point where Mr. Hattori's own image would be constrained. On the other hand, it wouldn't be good to simply copy the original music which Mr. Takeo Watanabe and Mr. You-she Matsuyama created for "GUNDAM", but it's impossible to work on it without being conscious of that. So I told Mr. Hattori to apply his strengths to the world of Gundam, while keeping that other aspect in check.
The music for the 90-second trailer that was released initially was going to be important, so there was unease whether the music we created for "THE ORIGIN" would be a good fit. We had very detailed preliminary discussions, and worked on it, and listened to it, over and over. Then once Mr. Hattori was told, "This music is good, this is a really great composition," he seemed to gain confidence. That had been my job, so once Mr. Hattori had received the assurance that "This is Gundam," then there wasn't much left for me to do. From the very first piece, he wrote a perfect one, and I expected Mr. Yasuhiko and Mr. Imanishi would both say, "This is absolutely it" about it. In my heart I felt, "This Gundam called 'THE ORIGIN,' drawn in the Heisei era, Takayuki Hattori, he is the one composing the music."
- What did you emphasize when speaking to Mr. Hattori about actually creating the music?
Fujita: What I really harped on about was, "This isn't music for children" and "We don't need good-defeats-evil music." I asked him to think about it as movie music, or music for a war movie, when he wrote it. Mr. Hattori said to me, "Is that really okay to do in an anime?" (laughs). I said, "That's what the imagery is like, so yes." And, "It should be music that would fit just as well with a war movie, ideological movie, or war documentary."
- Part of the music is arrangements of compositions written by Mr. Takeo Watanabe and Mr. You-she Matsuyama. What was the back-and-forth process like there?
Fujita: As for choosing which compositions to use, Mr. Imanishi and Mr. (Sadayoshi) Fujino, the sound supervisor, made those decisions. The old compositions which they wanted to use were taken to Mr. Hattori to arrange and orchestrate. Mr. Hattori used their compositions as reference when writing the score, so though I think it was hard work, he readily took it on and gave them a form that has a sense of unity with the other compositions. If you ruin the harmonies and rhythms of the original music, the fans would be angry, so the basic framework had to be completely intact, and he did it perfectly. It really made me realize again what great sensibilities he has.
- And it's not just BGM. Mr. Hattori also wrote vocal music for this series too, right?
Fujita: Well, with the vocal music, this wasn't going to be screened as a theatrical movie, so we could assume we didn't need to employ a singer for any weird publicity value. Fans have supported Gundam for decades, and it's a beloved work, so Mr. Yasuhiko and Mr. Imanishi said they wanted music that matched the flavor of the story. Mr. Hattori also expressed his desire to write vocal music. So we had multiple preliminary discussions, and he read through the material and understood what Gundam was all about, and then he said, "I would like to write the song that plays over the ending of a series like this one." As a result, Miss yu-yu, who Mr. Imanishi wanted, agreed even though she was on hiatus, and the final outcome is really wonderful. It's great how the music and song are connected together right to the very end, without any gap.
- In episode 2, there's a scene where Hamon sings at Club Eden. I heard that it reflects Mr. Yasuhiko's preoccupations. Can you talk about what kind of back-and-forth there was?
Fujita: I think people who know the original manga will be very familiar with this, but Mr. Yasuhiko drew that scene in the original himself, so he had a concrete image of the music and the atmosphere in his head. So using Mr. Yasuhiko's ideas as a base, we talked with Mr. Hattori about what kind of music we would write, and what kind of song Hamon would sing. Hamon is backed by drums and bass, and there's kind of a jazz feel and a certain tempo, and those ideas were not to be changed at all. So we had him make a demo tape with some ideas that might be good, and Mr. Yasuhiko and Mr. Imanishi listened to those and narrowed them down. With music, the more everyone likes it, the more personal taste comes out. And organizing those individual tastes into a single thing is very difficult. So with Hamon's song on this project, recording it was very difficult.
Also, the singing mouth movements have to match the anime, so they brought filming equipment into the studio and recorded the entire performance. They also needed to film the musicians' movements, so a recording that would normally have taken two hours took four or five instead. They made the singer make certain movements, and made various demands so they could collect lots of material and use that to create the visuals. It was a very elaborate way of working.
Gundam projects demand that kind of attention to detail. It's not just the staff, the musicians can't compromise either. Gundam comes with those sorts of standards.
- "THE ORIGIN" is a work with the same atmosphere and period feeling as "GUNDAM." What are your thoughts on being involved with it again after a space of 35 years?
Fujita: To be able to work on something again 35 years after I was first involved with it, this time as a producer, is certainly deeply moving. It's sad though that Mr. Takeo Watanabe has passed away. And Mr. Kishimoto, who made Mr. Yasuhiko's jacket illustration a reality. And the sound supervisor, Mr. (Noriyoshi) Matsuura. Some of the voice actors have passed away, too. To be able to help with the music again is a true honor, a blessing, and I am truly happy. Since it's based on "GUNDAM," I think that's what made it possible for me to put in an appearance again. We're not doing things the same way we did 35 years ago. We've created new music and new Gundam compositions to suit the current times, and it was important to me to what kind of advice I could offer. When you're involved with a project, you're always left with thoughts of, "Couldn't it have been more like this?" But this time I think we really perfected it, and I'm totally satisfied with the way episode 1, "Blue-Eyed Casval," turned out.
- Well then, finally, please tell us some musical points to notice for those who will be watching the series.
Fujita: From the opening scene to the end roll, they've packed in as much of Mr. Hattori's music as they could. Of course it's good that they also used some music by Mr. Takeo Watanabe and Mr. You-she Matsuyama, but basically Mr. Hattori created all the music right up to the ending song, and the story unfolds with music that has a sense of unity underlying it. I would be so pleased if people enjoy that sense of unity from the film. There's not a single bit of the music that feels unnatural or forced, so please look forward to episode 2 and the rest as well.